40 years of Stereophile: The Hot 100 Products Page 4
First Stereophile reviews: Musical Fidelity, October 1989 (Vol.12 No.10); Arcam, February 1989 (Vol.12 Nos.2 & 10); PS Audio, no review. The first of many. Did standalone digital processors introduce more problems than they solved? Possibly. At least some of the time. But what they also did was make use of the CD's open-source data structure to trigger simultaneous explosions of design energy and hardware market expansion. Those intent on restricting outsiders' access to raw SACD and DVD-Audio data take note.
: Audio Alchemy Digital Decoding Engine v1.0 D/A processor
First Stereophile review: August 1991 (Vol.14 No.8; also Vol.14 No.10, Vol.15 No.10). Audio Alchemy was a once-in-a-lifetime commingling of design talent with entrepreneurial flair. The DDE sounded good enough and cost little enough that, for a brief glorious period, it and its successors managed to inject gobs of energy and excitement into this all-too-often stuffy hobby—until AA discovered they were losing money on every sale and couldn't make it up in volume, as the old saw has it. So long, Mark and Peter, and thanks for all the fun.
 (tie): Oracle Delphi, SOTA Star Sapphire, VPI HW-19, Well Tempered turntables
First Stereophile reviews: Oracle, June 1986 (Vol.9 No.4; also Vol.14 No.8, Vol.20 No.12); SOTA, February 1984 (Vol.7 No.2; also Vol.9 No.4, Vol.10 No.5, Vol.11 No.1); VPI, February 1984 (Vol.7 No.2; also Vol.8 No.4, Vol.9 Nos.4 & 5, Vol.12 No.11, Vol.15 No.8); Well Tempered, March 1988 (Vol.11 No.3; also Vol.16 No.4, Vol.17 No.10, Vol.22 No.8). The Linn Sondek showed the way in the 1970s; the 1980s saw a flurry of US design activity intended to show that the Linn could be surpassed. The SOTA was the 'table "Newton would have designed," the Oracle was stunningly beautiful, the WTT was the result of inspired lateral thinking, and the VPI demonstrated what could be achieved by obsessive attention to detail. All four were "better than the Linn" in at least one area of performance, but it took a long while for any to reach the original goal.
: Roksan Xerxes turntable
First Stereophile review: April 1986 (Vol.9 No.3; also Vol.13 No.3). The English Xerxes was introduced more or less at the same time as CD and was almost profoundly influential, according to Art Dudley. The Roksan's influence involved the way hi-fi was sold more than designed, in that it was the product that broke the Linn-Naim stranglehold in the UK (and the handful of like-minded stores in the US). "Before Roksan," says AD, "people who valued a component's rhythmic and melodic capabilities had only one real turntable choice, the (still splendid) Linn LP12. But the first Roksan Xerxes was so good, and so superior to the pre-Lingo LP12, that honest listeners among the so-called/self-called 'Flat-Earthers' had no choice but to say so." The floodgates opened, and soon it was okay for all but the most brainwashed to acknowledge good performance from products by companies other than Linn, Naim, and Rega.
 (tie): Audio Power Industries Power Wedge 1 & PS Audio P300 Power Plant
Stereophile reviews: API, November 1991 (Vol.14 No.11); PS Audio, December 1999 (Vol.22 No.12, Vol.23 Nos.5 & 12). There had been other components intended to clean up the AC supply, most notably the Tice, but the improvement in system sound quality wrought by the cost-effective Power Wedge, with its high-quality isolating transformers, was the first to convince me that I indeed had a problem that needed fixing. Paul McGowan's PS Audio piece takes the philosophy to the limit by synthesizing a whole new AC signal. Skeptical? Just give a listen to your preamp plugged into the wall, then plugged into the Power Plant. Who'd a-thunk it?
: KEF Reference 107 loudspeaker
First Stereophile review: June 1986 (Vol.9 No.4; Also Vol.9 No.7, Vol.10 No.2, Vol.14 Nos.5 & 10, Vol.18 No.10). Yes, the elegant R107 was the first high-end speaker to successfully implement a "bandpass" or "coupled-cavity" woofer, but its real importance lay in the fact that it finally rammed home the lesson that speaker design primarily involved engineering rather than art. Yes, art is still an essential part of designing a musically satisfying speaker, but only when that art rides on a platform of solid engineering.
: Apogee Scintilla loudspeaker
Stereophile review: July 1985 (Vol.8 No.3). It wasn't the first all-ribbon loudspeaker from Apogee, it wasn't the biggest, and it probably wasn't even the best-sounding (that was probably the Duetta). It was also a pig to drive, with perhaps just the big Krells up to the task of sinking power into what was, at some frequencies, little more than a short circuit. But the Scintilla was the Apogee speaker that convinced me that the magnetically driven ribbon, with its effortless coupling to the room and its lack of sonic character or coloration, was more than just a historic backwater of speaker design.
: KLH 9 electrostatic loudspeaker
First Stereophile review: Spring 1966 (Vol.1 No.12; also Vol.2 No.10). An American classic at least two decades ahead of its time. I heard the 9 only once, but I still shiver at the memory.
: Convergent Audio Technology SL-1 preamplifier
First Stereophile review: November 1986 (Vol.9 No.7; also Vol.15 No.12, Vol.17 Nos.1, 9 & 11, Vol.18 No.12, Vol.19 No.12, Vol.21 No.3, Vol.22 No.8). The ultimate tube preamplifier for more than a decade, until the Conrad-Johnson ART appeared. But CAT lovers are a loyal bunch.
: Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 3D CD player
Stereophile review: October 2001 (Vol.24 No.10). In an era when consumer digital media are available that inherently exceed what is possible from the antique CD format, Musical Fidelity introduced what is possibly the finest-sounding CD player that was ever made. As only 500 were made and all 500 were sold, that point will be academic for almost all audiophiles.
: Nagra-D open-reel digital recorder
Stereophile review: January 1996 (Vol.19 No.1). Using a VHS scanner to record four channels of 24-bit data (two channels at 88.2kHz or 96kHz), this Swiss jewel of a recorder showed what could be achieved from high-resolution digital audio.