2013 Recommended Components Surround-Sound Components

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

Class A

Anthem Statement D2v 3D: $9499 ✩
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 and includes 3D and new passthrough. (Vol.31 Nos.9 & 11 Read Review Online)
Arcam FMJ AV888: $7900 ✩
The Arcam FMJ 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)
Bryston SP-3: $9500
The SP-3 combines a true analog preamp and a full-featured multichannel digital audio processor in a beautifully built, relatively compact (17" W by 5.75" H by 14.25" D) case. It uses Bryston's high-quality 24-bit/192kHz DACs and offers a full suite of connections, including: eight HDMI inputs, two HDMI outputs, a 7.1 set of analog inputs and two 7.1 sets of outputs, four S/PDIF inputs, two AES/EBU inputs, and USB, RS-232, and Ethernet jacks. The sound from the SP-3's analog stereo inputs was "absolutely pristine, powerful, and a breath of fresh air," while digital S/PDIF or TosLink datastreams sounded transparent and convincing, with especially detailed and extended treble. "I think the Bryston SP-3 is the first great audiophile preamplifier-processor," KR concluded, "It almost redefines Class A sound for a surround processor." (Vol.35 Nos.5 & 7 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: $2700 $$$
Though similar in appearance to Integra's DTC-9.8 and its successors, the DHC-80.2 preamplifier-processor adds a host of features, including: HDMI v1.4 (eight inputs, two outputs, Audio Return Channel and 3D), two USB inputs, two subwoofer outputs, a Universal Port for an iPod dock or HDRadio tuner module, network connectivity, and the latest versions of Audyssey MultEQ XT32, Dynamic EQ, and Dynamic Volume. Compared to the DTC-9.8, the DHC-80.2 had a more dynamic, better-balanced sound, with a fuller midrange and improved transparency. "The Integra DHC-80.2 redefines value in a multichannel preamplifier-processor for the serious music lover or home-theater fan," said KR. Early production samples suffered from an incorrect implementation of Audyssey's MultEQ Pro room correction software, resulting in a glassy midrange and dull treble; a later firmware update corrected the problem and produced smooth high frequencies and a balanced overall response. Current 80.3 version added new video circuitry and additional features. (Vol.34 Nos.7 & 9 Read Review Online)
Krell Evolution 707: $30,000
The beefy, impressively built Evolution 707 Reference weighs 56 lbs, and is nearly 9" high and over 21" deep. It includes Krell's Automatic Setup/EQ and provides single-ended, balanced, and CAST connectors for 12 output channels, including seven main channels, four subwoofers, and an additional center-channel. It had a forward, dramatic, and detailed sound with "devastatingly big and tight bass," said KR. "It is as great-sounding a digital processor as it is an analog preamp," he concluded. (Vol.33 No.9 Read Review Online)
Marantz AV8801: $3599.99 $$$
The Audyssey-equipped AV8801 is an 11.2-channel preamplifier-processor with a hefty toroidal transformer and a heavy copper-plated chassis. Behind its front-panel dropdown door are a brilliant display and a plethora of controls and jacks, including ports for headphones, the Audyssey calibration microphone, iPod/USB and HDMI/MHL, as well as three jacks for analog audio and video. Around back, the AV8801 has a moving-magnet phono input and 13 XLR and RCA analog outputs. All 13 channels feature 32-bit/192kHz DACs driving proprietary Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module circuits. Setup was simple. The Marantz offered a coherent, powerful sound with a smooth treble and clean midrange, said KR. "Overall, the Marantz AV8801 is the best-sounding preamplifier-processor I have heard at or below its price," he concluded. (Vol.36 No.3 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 A 31: $3000 $$$
Based on circuitry developed by John Curl for the highly praised Halo JC 1, the three-channel A 31 power amplifier is rated to deliver 250Wpc into 8 ohms or 400Wpc into 4 ohms. Like other Halo models, the A 31 is solidly built and has a clean, attractive, brushed-aluminum faceplate. On the rear panel are three groups of connectors/controls, one per channel, including balanced and unbalanced inputs and gain controls. Though it lacked some upper-bass richness, the A 31 had a "clean, luminous" overall sound, with a sophisticated, detailed treble; rich, clean midrange; and firm, extended bass, said KR, adding that "the sound is full, balanced and detailed and packs a wallop." (Vol.35 No.9 Read Review Online)
Parasound Halo P 7: $2000 $$$ ✩
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)

Class 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 MM8077: $2399.99
The 150Wpc MM8077 is a seven-channel power amplifier. Each channel has selectable unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR inputs, driven by a common power supply equipped with a huge transformer and a generous capacitor reservoir. The MM8807 matched the much more expensive Bryston 9BST in terms of power, transient response, and imaging, but lacked some bass definition and control, said KR. An excellent multichannel amplifier, and a perfect partner for Marantz's AV8801 pre-pro, he concluded. (Vol.36 No.3 Read Review Online)
NAD T 187: $2999
The versatile T 187 preamplifier-processor's modular construction enables various combinations of: 7.1-channel inputs and outputs, six pairs of stereo analog inputs and outputs, several video inputs, up to six HDMI inputs, three each coaxial and optical inputs, one each coaxial and optical output, an Ethernet jack, and a mini stereo jack for mobile players. Additionally, the NAD's unique application of Audyssey's MultEQ XT room-correction software includes a custom target curve developed by Paul Barton. Easy to set up and use, the T 187 offered a full-bodied sound with a smooth, detailed treble, said KR. Paul Barton's target curve added a touch of warmth, with stronger, tighter low bass. "Even if it doesn’t do everything possible, the NAD T 187 does everything right," concluded KR. (Vol.36 No.1 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)

Class K

exaSound e18 DAC.

Class Deletions

Ayre Acoustics V-6xe not auditioned in a long time.

Share | |
COMMENTS
guitarist9273's picture

The Beats Solo HD is now a Stereophile reccomended component... That sounds like a (funny) joke. They're certainly attractive looking & very stylish, but they sound very...well, bad. They're Class D...but I'm genuinely curious as to why they'd be included at all.

There are a lot of decent choices when it comes to headphones in the portable/sealed-on-ear-headphones-under-$300 category, now, that it's hard to see the B&W P3 and the Beats Solo HD making it onto the list. (Anyone interested in heaphones should check out Stereophile' sister online publication on personal-audio/headphones---InnerFidelity.)

Thanks for this awesome compilation, by the way! I sincerely enjoyed reading through such a wide sampling of great loudspeakers, amps & such. The balanced objectivity is always refreshing, considering other publication's purely subjective approach.

RobertSlavin's picture

Being able to see the photos of the components next to their descriptions, as found in this online version of recommended components, is nice.

However, Stereophile used to charge for this section online. Why is it giving it away for free now?

There's not a tremendous amount of money in magazine publishing. I'd prefer that the magazine make a reasonable amount of money from this section.

John Atkinson's picture

RobertSlavin wrote:
Stereophile used to charge for this section online. Why is it giving it away for free now?

Unless I am having a senior moment, we never used to charge for on-line access to Recommended Components. In fact, we have only been making it available in its entirety on-line since 2012, which is when we launched our free iPad app.

And regarding charging for it, my bottom-line policy is that the magazine's content should be available free on-line.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Poor Audiophile's picture

Thanks for that JA!

EU-USA Stereophile Fan's picture

Maybe some other EU makers could have been included such as Phonar (Germany) or PMC (UK)

John Atkinson's picture

Quote:
Maybe some other EU makers could have been included such as Phonar (Germany) or PMC (UK)

"Recommended Components" exclusively concerns products that have been reviewed in the magazine. In turn, to be reviewed in Stereophile, a product needs to be available in the US; see  www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/307awsi/index.html.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Glotz's picture

WOW, I love it!  

I think I have memorized the entire RC over the years, and seeing each component again (some for the first time) is wonderful!  

I wonder who went through the trouble of procuring all of those photos for RC online.  

I won't even pretend there will be photos (for the next RC) in the magazine.  I imagine it would be 500 pages long... 

Ariel Bitran's picture

photos were gathered by myself and reformatted by Jon Iverson.

Downforce's picture

Has the excellent Emotiva ERC-2 been discontinued?  And for JA, the link you posted isn't working.  Thanks for the lists.

John Atkinson's picture

Downforce wrote:
Has the excellent Emotiva ERC-2 been discontinued?

Not according to Emotiva. It's there in Class C of Disc Players.

Downforce wrote:
And for JA, the link you posted isn't working.

Fixed. Thanks.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

stereomag's picture

Wow! Here they (Stereophile) go again. Still no review of any Accuphase preamps. Why is that, Stereophile?

weitn's picture

M30.1 got impressive reviews from Stereophile and Absolute Sound and recommended by both. I have auditioned it and ordered a pair the other day. Out of curiosity, what happened to the M40.1? It was listed in the 2012 recommended list.

destroysall76's picture

Great recommendations, but I'm curious in the LS50 from KEF. Is it really that much better of a speaker to be a part of the Class A (Restricted LF) over the Harbeth P3ESR and the Proac Tablette?

Also, is the Rega RP1 the better table buy this year over the Project Debut Carbon?

X
Enter your Stereophile.com username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.
Loading