2015 Recommended Components

Components listed here have been formally reviewed in Stereophile and have been found to be among the best available in each of four or five quality classes. Whether a component is listed in Class A or Class E, we highly recommend its purchase.

Each listing-in alphabetical order within classes-is followed by a brief description of the product's sonic characteristics and a code indicating the Stereophile Volume and Issue in which that product's report appeared. Thus the May 2014 issue is indicated as "Vol.37 No.5."

Some products listed have not yet been reported on; these are marked (NR), for "Not Reviewed." We recommend that you read any product's entire review before seriously contemplating a purchase (products without reviews should therefore be treated with more caution)-many salient characteristics, peculiarities, and caveats appear in the reviews, but not here. To obtain back issues of the magazine, visit our website: www.stereophile.com. We regret that we cannot supply photocopies or e-mail copies of individual reviews. All full reviews are reprinted in our website "Archives" Section: these are marked "WWW." More are added each week, so check the on-line listing.

In general, components do not remain listed for more than three years unless at least one of the magazine's writers and editors has had continued experience with them. Discontinuation of a model also precludes its appearance. In addition, though professional components-recorders, amplifiers, monitor speaker systems-can be obtained secondhand and can sometimes offer performance that would otherwise guarantee inclusion, we do not generally do so. Stereophile's "Recommended Components" listing is almost exclusively concerned with products currently available in the US through the usual hi-fi retail outlets.

How recommendations are determined
The ratings given components included in this listing are based entirely on performance-ie, accuracy of reproduction-and are biased to an extent by our feeling that things added to reproduced sound (eg, jitter, distortion, colorations of various kinds) are of more concern to the musically oriented listener than are things subtracted from the sound (eg, deep bass or extreme treble). On the other hand, components markedly deficient in one or more respects are downrated to the extent that their deficiencies interfere with the full realization of the program material.

We try to include in "Recommended Components" every product that we have found to be truly excellent or that we feel represents good value for money. Bear in mind that many different tastes are represented. The listing is compiled after consultation with Stereophile's reviewing staff and editors, and takes into account continued experience of a product after the formal review has been published. In particular, we take account of unreliability and defects that show up after extended auditioning. The fact that a product received a favorable review cannot therefore be regarded as a guarantee that it will continue to appear in this listing.

The prices indicated are those current at the time the listing was compiled (January 2015). We cannot guarantee that any of these prices will be the same by the time this issue of Stereophile appears in print.

There is a near-universal consensus that at some point in the upward climb of component prices, severely diminishing returns (performance versus price) set in. However, there is no agreement as to the exact price level at which that takes place. Where we have found a product to perform much better than might be expected from its price, we have drawn attention to it with a $$$ next to its listing. We also indicate, with a ✩, products that have been on this list in one incarnation or another since the "Recommended Components" listing in Vol.35 No.4 (April 2012). Longevity in a hi-fi component is rare enough that we think it worth noting (although it can also indicate that the attention of design engineers has moved elsewhere).

We are not sympathetic toward letters complaining that the Symphonic Bombast A-123 that we recommended heartily two years ago no longer makes it into "Recommended Components." Where deletions are made, we endeavor to give reasons (there are always reasons). But remember: Deletion of a component from this list does not invalidate a buying decision you have made.

Individual reviewers mentioned by their initials are: John Atkinson, Jim Austin, Paul Bolin, Lonnie Brownell, Martin Colloms, Brian Damkroger, Robert Deutsch, Art Dudley, Michael Fremer, Larry Greenhill, Jon Iverson, Fred Kaplan, Michael Lavorgna, Erick Lichte, John Marks, Stephen Mejias, Paul Messenger, Thomas J. Norton, Wes Phillips, Herb Reichert, Bob J. Reina, Kalman Rubinson, Markus Sauer, Jonathan Scull (J-10), Chip Stern, and Sam Tellig.

dalethorn's picture

Interesting that Digital Processors and Signal Processors are separate categories, given that I encounter the term 'DSP' (Digital Signal Processor) so often. Maybe it's a hardware-software thing.

corrective_unconscious's picture

The digital processors are DACs or things to route digital sound somewhere. There is some overlap if there's a CD player with inputs to its DAC, and some overlap with preamp/DACs, some of which of those might have some additional, secondary digital EQ functions.

The signal processors are mostly about varieties of digital EQ, with again a few hybrid products having some secondary functions.

The separation seems clear enough to me. It is the whole universe of modern audio which seems complex, i.e., the products themselves.

John Atkinson's picture
dalethorn wrote:
Interesting that Digital Processors and Signal Processors are separate categories, given that I encounter the term 'DSP' (Digital Signal Processor) so often.

The Digital Processors category is almost exclusively digital/analog converters. The Signal Processors category is reserved for things that do something to the signal and includes analog-domain processors, such as the BSG Q0L.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dalethorn's picture

I'm going to profess a bit of ignorance here, so .... one of the places where DSP or some variant shows up in my world is related to music players such as built into the Pono device, or in computer software such as Foobar2000 etc. The great thing about EQ included in these players (or as plug-in software) is that the digital data gets EQ'd before it hits the DAC, so that whatever DAC or amp is used, the EQ remains constant in playback. Ignoring any negative impact on the EQ due to which peripherals are used, I've always assumed that EQ pre-applied to the digital data as described will reduce the resolution of the playback. If that's true, are there common analog EQ solutions that would provide better sound?

tdixon's picture

Does this mean there are no plans for an app being released like there were in previous years?

John Atkinson's picture
tdixon wrote:
Does this mean there are no plans for an app being released like there were in previous years?

Unfortunately, that's correct. No plans. However, this website reprint replaces the standalone free app.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Dushyant's picture

From your comments prefacing the Recommended Loudspeakers 2015, I understand that category A (Full Range) has LF extension down to 20Hz. What about B (Full Range) and C (Full Range)? Do they also need to have LF extension down to 20Hz? If not, what is the LF extension for inclusion? For the restricted LF I assume that LF extension is to 40Hz for all categories. Clarification will be helpful and appreciated.


leesure's picture

Despite there being 25 Class A preamps, there are only 2 Class B preamplifiers (both from the same company) and NO class C Preamps? There are 18 Class A Power Amps and Zero Class C or D Power Amps? I thought, "Perhaps there are just no products that fit those categories any more. No more Adcom's. No more B&K's." But then I looked around and found that there ARE musically satisfying budget electronics.

So I am left to wonder...do they no longer submit their products for review or is Stereophile no longer interested in reviewing them?

I began reading Stereophile in my 20's when there was no way I could even consider a $10,000 amplifier. I aspired to a system like that, but also loved reading about gear that I could stretch to afford. I loved building a musically satisfying SYSTEM for well under $10,000. Had I only been able to read about the gear that was so far out of reach, I would likely have dropped the hobby altogether. Without the bridge, I would never have been able to get across to the ultimate destination. That bridge is being taken away from the next generation of Audiophiles.

I think that's a real shame.