2012 Recommended Components Surround-Sound Components

Music Surround-Sound Components (other than speakers and disc players)

A

Anthem Statement D2v: $8999 ✩
The latest enhancement of the Statement D2 audio/video processor is the Anthem Room Correction kit (ARC), which includes a calibration microphone and stand and all necessary software and cables. Its versatile controls allow the user to modify the recommended crossovers, insert a variable room-gain bump, and set the upper-frequency limit for corrections. With the ARC’s settings in place, soundstages were wider and more open. “Using the optimized ARC Advanced settings elevated my system’s performance to a new level,” said Kal. The “honest immediacy” of ARC’s v1.2.5 upgrade benefited movies and video, but for music Kal preferred the Audyssey’s “silky smoothness and harmonic integration.” Latest version adds HDMI 1.3 port. (Vol.31 Nos.9 & 11 Read Review Online)

Arcam AV888: $7900
The Arcam AV888 is “one potent machine” with a great assortment of inputs and outputs, including: four optical and three coax digital audio inputs; optical and coax digital outputs; seven R/L analog audio inputs and three R/L analog audio outputs; R/L phono input, 7.1 RCA analog inputs, 7.1 RCA analog outputs with three subwoofer jacks; Sub-D connectors for iPod and RS-232, IR, and trigger jacks; Ethernet and USB jacks. Compared to Kal’s Integra DTC-9.8, the Arcam “provided a richer, more immersive audio experience,” with a wider soundstage, smoother treble, and excellent bass. “Highly recommended.” Current production conforms to HDMI 1.4. (Vol.32 No.11 Read Review Online)

Ayre Acoustics V-6xe: $8500 ✩
The 150Wpc V-6xe, Ayre Acoustics’ only multichannel product, is a modular amplifier available in configurations of three to six channels and containing three independent power supplies. It uses zero-feedback, fully balanced circuits with 16 high-power devices per channel and incorporates the Ayre Conditioner RFI filter. The V-6xe’s impressive transparency and broad soundstage produced voices that sounded “human, glorious, and present,” while its “utterly open and sweet” midrange was matched by “powerfully rich and taut” bass, said Kal. Price is for the three-channel version. Additional channels add $1250 each. (Vol.31 No.9 Read Review Online)

Bryston 9B-SST2: $8095 ✩
The 9B-SST2 power amplifier (called 9B-THX at the time of the review) boasts five channels, 120Wpc into 8 ohms, and is built like pro gear; ie, like a tank. Hand-soldered, double-sided glass-epoxy boards and elaborate grounding scheme front special-grade steel toroidal transformers. According to JA, “the excellent set of measurements indicates solid, reliable engineering.” LG was impressed by this amp’s speed, power, extension, its tightness and definition in the bass, and its “excellent” midrange. Fully the equal of more costly amps, with wide dynamic contrasts and “involving” vocals, and sonically similar to previous Bryston ST amps. THX conformance, a 20-year (!) warranty, and a reasonable price make this beefy, reliable amp an attractive package—a perfect choice, suggests LG, for home-theater and multichannel music systems. KR’s long-term multi-channel reference. (Vol.23 No.9 Read Review Online)

Classé CT-SSP: $9500
With its clean front panel boasting only a small touchscreen and a single knob, the solidly built CT-SSP surround-sound processor has an all-business look and is extremely simple to use while retaining complete control. It offers 10 output channels and multiple subwoofer configurations, and can support up to 20 audio/video source assignments and six different speaker configurations. Inserting the CT-SSP into KR’s Connecticut system resulted in a deeper, wider soundstage, more impressive imaging, and seamless integration of the subwoofer and speaker outputs. “The performance of my system was elevated to a level beyond anything previous,” said Kal. The CT-SSP sounded clean, tight, and powerful in KR’s Manhattan system, with greater low-end weight and impact than the Meridian HD621/861 but a less expansive soundstage. (Vol.33 Nos.7 & 11 Read Review Online)

Integra DHC-80.3 preamp/processor: $2600 $$$
Though similar in appearance to Integra’s DTC-9.8 and its successors, the DHC-80.2 preamplifier-processor adds a host of features, including: HDMI v1.4 (eight inputs, two outputs, Audio Return Channel and 3D), two USB inputs, two subwoofer outputs, a Universal Port for an iPod dock or HDRadio tuner module, network connectivity, and the latest versions of Audyssey MultEQ XT32, Dynamic EQ, and Dynamic Volume. Compared to the DTC-9.8, the DHC-80.2 had a more dynamic, better-balanced sound, with a fuller midrange and improved transparency. “The Integra DHC-80.2 redefines value in a multichannel preamplifier-processor for the serious music lover or home-theater fan,” said KR. Early production samples suffered from an incorrect implementation of Audyssey’s MultEQ Pro room correction software, resulting in a glassy midrange and dull treble; a later firmware update corrected the problem and produced smooth high frequencies and a balanced overall response. Current 80.3 version added new video circuitry and additional features. (Vol.34 Nos.7 & 9 Read Review Online)

Krell Evolution 707: $30,000
The beefy, impressively built Evolution 707 Reference weighs 56 lbs, and is nearly 9" high and over 21" deep. It includes Krell’s Automatic Setup/EQ and provides single-ended, balanced, and CAST connectors for 12 output channels, including seven main channels, four subwoofers, and an additional center-channel. It had a forward, dramatic, and detailed sound with “devastatingly big and tight bass,” said KR. “It is as great-sounding a digital processor as it is an analog preamp,” he concluded. (Vol.33 No.9 Read Review Online)

McIntosh MX150 A/V Controller: $12,000
With arrays of trigger and sensor inputs, IR and power control ports, data inputs/outputs, and RS-232, Ethernet, and USB connectors, the McIntosh MX150 preamplifier-processor is powerfully equipped to interact with and control other components. It offers nine digital audio inputs (four coax, one AES/EBU, four optical), 11 analog audio inputs (eight RCA, two XLR for stereo, one RCA multichannel), phono (moving-magnet only), and legacy video inputs to support almost any need. The MX150 had a smooth overall sound with solid images and a seamless soundstage, while the included RoomPerfect room-correction system tightened and extended the lowest frequencies. “Everything functioned properly, sounded superb, and was a pleasure to use,” praised KR. (Vol.34 No.1 Read Review Online)

McIntosh MC303: $10,000
The three-channel, 300Wpc MC303 amplifier measures 17.75" wide by 12.4" high by 22" deep and weighs 155 lbs. Its large front panel is home to three blue power-level meters, two gold-rimmed knobs for meter illumination and power, and two substantial handles. Driving KR’s B&W 802D loudspeakers, the MC303 delivered “the relaxed spaciousness and transparency of master tapes.” There was a smoothness that extended through the frequency spectrum and seemed to erase the 802Ds’ crossover transitions. The Mac couldn’t quite match the firm bass or natural treble of the Bel Canto Ref1000 Mk.II mono­blocks, however. (Vol.32 No.5 Read Review Online)

Meridian Reference 861: $18,995 ✩
Multimedia controller with video, DSP-based decoding for matrixed and discrete multichannel audio sources. Functions as analog preamplifier-controller, digital and video controller, and A/D–D/A converter. Built-in, reprogrammable decoding of multichannel sources (Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Digital, DTS, Ambisonic, etc.), plus THX and Trifield output from two-channel sources. All inputs digitally processed. Of Trifield’s synthesized front-three-channels output, KR observed, “I came to regard the loss of air and the narrower soundstage as acceptable concomitants of the richer, tighter, better-defined central images. ‘Audiophile air’ began to seem an artifact rather than an enhancement.” DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 music recordings “injected” ambiences whose acoustics superseded his room’s. Multichannel is immersive, but our KR would rather not sit in the middle of a string quartet or orchestra. For two-channel, “equal to the best...beyond significant reproach.” Multichannel, he declared, is the future, and Meridian is ready now. Logical but complicated setup and option procedures entered via PC; heavy dealer involvement is key to getting the best from this ultimate component. But when the 861 is programmed for precise time alignment and amplitude balance among the speakers, and the crossover and bass management adjusted independently for the main, center, and rear channels, “everything seemed just right, and it made for consistently satisfying listening,” he decided.”The TriField DSP is a greatly advantageous feature that deserves more recognition. I felt confident that whatever little silver disc I put into the 800-861, it would sound superb.” Meridian’s new MConfig program replaces pages of configuration options with a drag-and-drop graphic user interface, and offers guided channel-level settings and room-correction setup routines. KR: “The upgraded 861 Reference’s sound was delightfully and characteristically transparent....Still Class A after all these years.” The updates in Version 6 of the 861 preamplifier-processor include SpeakerLink connections for Meridian’s DSP speakers, an “endpoint” card for optimal performance with Meridian’s Sooloos music-server systems, a proprietary apodizing upsampling filter for all digital inputs, and 24-bit/192kHz DACs. The 861 v6 partnered a delicately pure and transparent midrange and treble with exquisite delineation of voices and instruments, said KR. “The 861 has always been and still is the best-sounding audio processor I have heard,” he concluded. Price varies with options chosen. Outboard HD621 processor (see “Digital Processors”) adds HDMi capability. (Vol.23 No.2, Vol.26 No.8, Vol.29 No.7, Vol.34 No.5 Read Review Online)

Parasound Halo P 7: $2000 ✩ $$$
The Halo P 7 is a full-featured analog stereo preamp with six stereo inputs, balanced and unbalanced outputs, front-panel headphone and MP3 jacks, and an MM/MC phono preamp. It also provides two 7.1-channel unbalanced inputs that can be set for home-theater bypass, optional bass management for all sources, and RS-232/12V connections to integrate with modern A/V systems. With its “delightfully open, balanced sound” and outstanding versatility, the Halo P 7 is “the category killer of analog multichannel preamps or HT bypass,” raved KR. (Vol.32 No.1 Read Review Online)

B

Anthem MRX 700: $1999
Made in China, the 90Wpc MRX 700 is Anthem’s top-model audio/video receiver. It has all the requisite A/V connections, including USB and Ethernet inputs; is compatible with HD radio and iTunes tagging; comes with a complete Anthem Room Correction kit; and uses a large toroidal power transformer. Though it lacked the transparency of Integra’s DHC-80.2 and couldn’t match the bass clarity of Bryston’s 9B-SST, the Anthem offered a warm midrange, well-focused images, and a deep soundstage, said KR. (Vol.35 No.1 Read Review Online)

Emotiva XPA-5: $899 $$$
The XPA-5 five-channel power amplifier is rated to deliver 200Wpc into 8 ohms, all channels driven. It measures 17" W by 7.75" H by 19.5" D and weighs 75 lbs. In terms of materials choice, electrical design, and appearance, the XPA-5 offered no innovations, but nevertheless exuded an overall solidity and competence. Though it lacked some high-frequency transparency and resolution, the XPA-5 had a generally warm sound with powerful, extended bass and an agile, detailed midrange. “I am greatly impressed with the Emotiva XPA-5,” said KR. Sold direct with a 30-day money-back guarantee. (Vol.34 No.11 Read Review Online)

Marantz AV7005 preamp-processor: $1599.99
Replete with connections, the stylish, user-friendly AV7005 preamplifier-processor offers built-in Audyssey MultEQ XT room-correction and has six HDMI inputs, two HDMI outputs, four composite and four component inputs, three composite and two component outputs, four digital audio inputs and one output, seven stereo analog audio inputs (including one for phono), and four stereo RCA outputs. There are also connectors for AM/FM stereo antennas, Sirius satellite radio, Ethernet, RS-232, Marantz’s MX port for wireless control/streaming, and trigger and flasher terminals. Despite its slightly forward overall balance, the AV7005 had a clean, exciting sound, and was particularly impressive with hi-rez FLAC files. “It’s hard to fault the Marantz AV7005 for sound, appearance, or ergonomics,” KR concluded. JI says that with its Pure Direct audio mode that disables everything not needed to send the signal out the back (including shutting off all video circuits and front panel lights), this is the perfect preamp for a system that does double duty for audiophile music and HD movies. (Vol.34 No.3 Read Review Online)

Rotel RSP-1572: $2199
This compact, handsome preamplifier-processor offers six HDMI, two component, and two composite video inputs; two HDMI, one component, and four composite video outputs; four optical and three coaxial digital audio inputs; eight stereo analog inputs; one 7.1-channel analog input; and one USB input. Audio outputs include one optical, one coax digital, two stereo analog, and one analog 7.1-channel preamp output with dual jacks for two center and two subwoofer outputs. While the RSP-1572 lacks auto-setup and room EQ capabilities, its variable filters allow the user to effectively deal with room acoustics. The Rotel offered transparent highs, a clean midrange, and full bass, said KR. “Those of us who don’t mind getting our hands dirty with some measurement tools can have it all with the RSP-1572: great sound and great looks,” he concluded, though he adds that the room EQ is a bit challenging. (Vol.35 No.3 Read Review Online)

K

Bryston SP3, Parasound A31.

Deletions

Harmonic Technology Harmony Rainbow cables, Sherwood Newcastle R-972, discontinued; RS Audio Cables apparently no longer available.

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COMMENTS
Martin Osborne's picture

I understand that this is part of 'what you do', but thanks for bringing this altogther in one place - a lot of work has gone into it and I for one appreciate it. 

 

 

JItterjaber's picture

Making your product recommendations available to the digital generation will certainly help more people see your publication.  Thanks for trying to keep current!

www.hifiqc.com

Ajani's picture

This is a really good move! I know a lot of online users have been hoping and waiting for the recommended components to be released on the website. 

smittyman's picture

I've always appreciated how much content Stereophile makes available on this site.  I also always figured that Recommended Components was something that was held off the website to give us some incentive to purchase the magazine in either paper or on line form so I was really pleased to see this added.

soulful.terrain's picture

 

 This is great!  Thanks to all the staff for putting this valuable info together for us neophytes like myself. ;-)

Timbo in Oz's picture

One of the problems of the 'buy it yourself' approach to audio a Magazine is stuck with is that the path of modifying upgrading used gear gets short shrift, let alone doing it yourself. Those parts of the high-end are off the radar here.

This partciularly applies to FM antennas. The best results from FM stereo can only result from pointing a directional antenna with gain at the desired station. One sure way to get such results is an external directional antenna up high. This ensures that the FM front end will be in (i) full limiting and (ii) that there is minimal multi-path on the signal.

Few indoor antennas are really good at either (i) or (ii), unless your lucky and close to a desired staion or two. Just one type is capable of doing both, but you can't buy one. This best indoor FM antenna is the wire rhombic with sides approaching 3 metres long (or exceeding). The gain is high because each element equals the desired wavelength and becasue it is also a highly directional antenna. The cost in money is very low, 14 to 20 meters of twin ribbon, some resistors and a balun to feed coax to your radio.

When made from 300 ohm twin ribbon (the same stuff used for T folded dipole antennas) it will have twice the already high gain. Don't worry you are most unlikely to overalaod your FM front-end.

You can hide it on a suitable room's ceiling or under a large rug. A suitable room is the largest one which has a long diagonal pointing in the right direction - ie at most of your desired stations. Note also that the acceptance angle of a rhombic can be adjusted in and out a couple of ways, see the article referenced below.

The article about them and how to make one was published in the now defunct magazine 'Audio' and is available at the Audio Asylum's FAQ section, near the bottom of the listings.

If you can drive a good tuner into full limiting with a strong low multipath signal and have even one station that broadcasts live acoustic simply miked concerts, you have a true high-end source.

Tim Bailey

 

 

 

JohnnyR's picture

Cable reccomendations without a single measurement, just "oh it sounds just dandy" approach. How lame.This is useless.

Glotz's picture

This subjective review resource has around for decades, in print form.  You are the 4,895,235th 'listener' that thinks he knows more than these guys...

Bwahahahahahhaahhaahahhah!  Yeah, really.

Tim Lim's picture

Dear Stereophile,

This report is indeed welcome but may I ask how are the different classes differentiated? What are the criteria for any model to be included in their respective class? I don't see this guide anywhere.

Regards,

Tim

earlnightshade's picture

Total new guy here, but a quick question about the rating of the Peachtree Dac it.  To confirm I'm understanding correctly, is it considered so poor quality it gets a letter grade of "K"?  As in not even worthy of an "F"?

 

Thanks

smittyman's picture

They haven't reviewed it yet.  It is not several grades below an F

nleksan's picture

Okay, so sound quality is as subjective as the music itself, I get that.

But seriously, you include the ATH-M50's and ATH-AD700's (good headphones, don't get me wrong), but not the SR225/SR325 from Grado?  What about the absolutely SUBLIME RS1i or its little-brother the RS2i?  The PS1000's?

I own all of the above, and for studio work I favor the RS1i's above anything else, especially Sennheiser, as monitors don't have to be PAINFULLY Flat to listen to, they just have to be accurate to the source while able to replicate other sources, which the RS1i's/RS2i's/PS1000's do with aplomb!  The dynamic design and solid-mahogany cups make the music sound much more "alive", and the editing/mixing sessions sound identical to the recording sessions; this is in contrast to many others that neuter the sound to the point that it just goes flat.

I realize I am here spouting off my opinion, but as I am pretty sure that's like 87% at least of the job description for being an "audiophile", so I'm okay with it ;)

I just hate to see TRULY deserving headphones get passed over because they don't have the same "prestige" as Bowers&Wilkins or the like, nor the brand recognition of Sennheiser (who are, by the way, on track to becoming the BOSE of the headphone world.... I'll give them 5 years).  I challenge anyone to spend ~20hrs with a pair of Grado SR325's (NOT the SR325i's, but the original Mahogany ones), the RS1i's/RS2i's, the PS1000's, or even the SR225's (again, NOT the SR225i's), a strong headphone amp (everyone has their favorites, but I find that these do best with a good amount of overhead), and the best source material you can get, ideally a very high-end system with DVD-Audio quality sound or better (don't even think about any kind of lossy compression, because you WILL hear every "off" sound).  Heck, I get fantastic results with simply plugging any of the aforementioned 'cans directly into the headphone port on my HT|Omega Claro Halo XT sound card in my very high end workstation/overclocking rig (who says you can't mix business and pleasure??)...
I will admit that every pair of Grado's that I've owned has needed some break-in time, with as little as 40 hours for some SR80i's to ~120hrs for the SR225/SR325 cans to really shine (RS1i's = 75-80hrs, RS2i's = 70-75hrs, PS1000's = 90hrs), but I do my "break-in" a bit differently than most: I set up everything through my computer, including DAC/amp/etc running off an M-Audio card, and I have a specific playlist I use for breaking them in that consists of 125-175x ~3:30 to ~11:15 long Audio Tracks (full, uncompressed recordings and masters; the 125 songs take up about 3.7GB of space! yes, about 30MB per track, at 192Khz/48bit "RAW") of varying types/genres set in "loop" for the first playthrough and then "looping random" after that, and the volume automatically adjusts based on elapsed time.  For those who wonder, I use: Sigur Ros, Pink Floyd, OK GO, Led Zeppelin, Bowie, Florence & the Machine, Grateful Dead, Incubus, Jay-Z, Jose Gonzalez, Pete Yorn, (recently added) Trent Reznor & Karen O's "Immigrant Song" cover from Girl w Dragon Tattoo, K'Naan, Manfred Mann, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Metallica ("One"), Norman Greenbaum, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Scala ("Blower's Daughter"), Shwayze, Sufjan Stevens, RUSH, Tegan&Sara, Tom Petty, The Roots, Them Crooked Vultures, and a bunch more; as you can see, it's a mix of male and female vocalists, every instrument under the sun, all types of music, and so forth (quite eclectic).  BUT IT WORKS!
I PROMISE YOU that if you properly break-in any pair of Grado's, they will become one of your favorite listening headphones, if not your number one.  Having tried everything from the bird-poop-looking iPod iEarbuds (kill me please) to most of the consumer-level stuff (Sony MDR's are Amazing for the price, Beats by Dre are absolute junk and I've left stuff in the porcelain chamber with more musicality than that overpriced BS), to headphones that cost more than many peoples' cars and proclaim to be "hand-assembled by a team of naked supermodels over the course of 123 days with all work done only under a half-crescent moon while Mars and Jupiter align, emparting magical sonic characteristics into the hand-carved African rare wood covers and plated with Rhinocerous poop, well known for its excellent bass enhancement"... Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not THAT much.  YET I KEEP COMING BACK TO THE GRADO'S!!!

JadenKrosis's picture

This product recieved rave reviews in Stereophile. It scored well in comparisons and has even become JA`s go to device for USB audio playback.

Without going into too much detail of Micheal Lavorgnas` review I`m quite sure I`m safe to say he liked it very much also. 

Is it possible this product was overlooked amid all the shock and awe created by the Dragonfly?  (not that there`d be anything wrong with that, I want one too!!!)

John Atkinson's picture

Quote:
Is it possible this product was overlooked amid all the shock and awe created by the Dragonfly?

The Halide was reviewed in August 2012, after this "Recommended Components" was prepared. It will be included in the next update, due in April.

The Halide was also included in the Collector's Edition of Recommended Components, available from newsstands and form the shop on this site: http://ssl.blueearth.net/primedia/home.php

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JadenKrosis's picture

Thank you John and I look forwards to reading that April issue.

bmilwee's picture

In your October 2011 issue, the VPI classic 3 gets an A rating, but here it seems to have been demoted to a B.   Tthe Rega RP3 is class B here, but in the anniversary edition it gets a C rating.  Which is correct?

John Atkinson's picture

Yes, sometimes as the result of further experience of the product or of competitive products, sometimes because the initial rating is provisional, for a product that is reviewed in the same issue as the updated list. But whenever a rating has changed, it is the most recent rating that reflects our current opinion of the product.

In the case of the VPI Classic 3, it has been reinstated in Class A in the listing that will appear in the April 2013 issue.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

shp's picture

I have been a binge reader of stereophile ever since high school when my first job was in a high end stereo shop (Threshold amps, KEF 104.2's).  

My brother is an architect and my colleague an electrical engineer.  They both deride the idea that giant audiophile cables make a difference noting that the wire that delivers electricity to the house and through the walls is only this big.

Not having the budget to try an assortment of (sometimes very expensive) cables I've kept mine pretty modest.  But I will concede they can sound different.  

But I am a little confused that Stereophile has ratings for digital data connects without any measurements. 

Digital cables either deliver bit-perfect data streams or they don't. And their accuracy should be reported even if Stereophile also wants to report the sonic affect of any digital distortion.

If I spent a lot of money on a music server, DAC, amplification and speakers, the last thing I want is the cable altering the bits. 

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