40 years of Stereophile: The Hot 100 Products Page 5
First Stereophile review: March 1991 (Vol.14 No.3; also Vol.14 No.8, Vol.18 No.6, Vol.21 No.2, Vol.24 Nos.1 & 10, Vol.25 No.7). "Simply the most practical, easy-to-use, and superb-sounding arm to be had today," enthuses Paul Bolin, adding that Bob Graham's masterpiece, now in its 2.2 incarnation, is "maybe the best all-'round tonearm ever." All I can add is to point out the Graham arm's impossibly elegant engineering and idiot-proof installation procedure.
: SME 3009 tonearm (original)
First Stereophile review: September 1965 (Vol.1 No.11; also Vol.2 Nos.10 & 12). "Scale Model Engineering" was the original name of Alastair Robertson-Aikman's machine shop, and when ARA turned his attention to audio components, the result was a fastidious work of engineering art to turn the heads of even the Swiss. The version listed is the one with the nondetachable headshell, which worked superbly in its day with feather-light trackers like the Shure V15 Mk.III. The current SME IV and V are much better overall and much better suited to medium-high-mass MCs. But you never forget your first SME.
: Meridian D600 digital active loudspeaker
First Stereophile review: November 1989 (Vol.12 No.11; also Vol.14 No.10). More recent Meridian loudspeakers exceed the D600's performance in every way, but this modest floorstander was the first to show what could be achieved by integrating power amplification and digital technology in a speaker design.
: Celestion SL-600 loudspeaker
First Stereophile review: May 1989 (Vol.12 No.5; also Vol.15 No.8). The first popular compact supermonitor, introduced in 1983. The English company's Graham Bank and Gordon Hadaway decided that, as the main source of coloration in a box speaker is the box, they would effectively do away with it by making it from the Aerolam material used in airplane construction. The copper-dome tweeter used in the SL-600 and its wooden-box SL-6 sibling also pioneered the resurgence of interest in moving-coil drivers with pistonic metal diaphragms. "Had anyone even 1) tried to make a compact monitor sound this uncolored, or 2) charge as much?" asks Wes Phillips. Nope. But what a sound!
 (tie): Cello Palette analog & TacT R2.0 digital equalizer-preamplifiers
First Stereophile reviews: Cello, June 1992 (Vol.15 No.6; also Vol.18 No.7); TacT, September 2001 (Vol.24 No.9). The Palette, designed by Richard Burwen and Tom Colangelo and the first product to come from Mark Levinson's Cello after he'd been forced out of his eponymous company, broke the primary rule for analog equalizers by featuring enormous overlaps between the operating bands. But because of this, it was perhaps the finest-ever equalizer for dealing with music program's tonal problems, as opposed to room and acoustic problems. The latter are far more effectively dealt with by TacT's DSP (digital signal processing) engine, a revolutionary device that implements in a simple consumer product the technology pioneered by the professional Sigtech device, which in turn evolved from work done by Bob Berkowitz and Ron Genereux at Acoustic Research in the early 1980s, when "research" was still actually part of that company's mission.
 (tie): Cary Audio Design CAD805 & Halcro dm58 monoblock power amplifiers
First Stereophile reviews: Cary, January 1994 (Vol.17 No.1; also Vol.17 Nos.2 & 5, Vol.21 No.3); Halcro, October 2002 (Vol.25 No.10). While not the first modern tube amplifier with a single-ended output stage, Dennis Had's gorgeous-looking and -sounding '805 is the culmination of all that this retro technology has to offer. By contrast, the Australian Halcro might well be the finest solid-state amplifier made. "An engineering tour de force and quite possibly the planet's best component," writes Paul Bolin. "Not bad," I'm forced to agree with my usual English understatement.
: Meridian MCD Pro CD player
First Stereophile review: October 1985 (Vol.8 Nos.6 & 7). It's hard for audiophiles younger than 40 to comprehend how truly unmusical most early CD players were. This was compounded by the resolution of the data on the discs themselves, which was limited by the professional converters and the fact that some of the early digital editors lacked dither and thus reintroduced quantizing artifacts. But Bob Stuart's radical reworking of a first-generation Philips chassis revealed that the discs weren't as bad as we thought, and that the medium did have true audiophile potential—just as he's now doing for DVD-Audio almost two decades later.
: Sony SCD-1 SACD player
Stereophile review: November 1999 (Vol.22 No.11). The DSD encoding used by Super Audio CD may be technically controversial, but sonically there's no doubt that it's a significant step up from CD. The SCD-1 makes the list because it was the first commercially available SACD player, but let it not be forgotten that it was also a damn fine-sounding CD player.
: Mark Levinson No.30 Reference D/A processor
First Stereophile review: February 1992 (Vol.15 No.2; also Vol.15 No.7, Vol.16 Nos.6, 11 & 12, Vol.17 Nos.1 & 10, Vol.18 Nos.3 & 4, Vol.22 Nos.10 & 11). With digital audio technology now fully mature, it's hard to remember how difficult it was to get true high resolution from CD playback, even 10 years after the medium's launch. Madrigal's first digital product used heroic engineering to achieve that end and was rewarded by becoming Stereophile's first-ever "Product of the Year." Eleven years later, with most of its innards replaced by up-to-date and even better-performing modern circuitry, the No.30 is still a top-ranking performer, underscoring its "Reference" appellation.
 (tie): Great American Sound (GAS) Ampzilla & Naim NAP250 power amplifiers
(Neither reviewed in Stereophile.) Ampzilla, from James Bongiorno, was a beefy 200Wpc design that was one of the first silicon-deviced audio amplifiers to use a complementary output stage, where the speaker feed was taken from the joined common emitters of NPN and PNP power transistors. The first, if I remember correctly, was the South Western Technical Products Tiger (footnote 1). By contrast, Julian Vereker's NAP250 stuck with the quasi-complementary topology, in which the output stage comprised an NPN silicon device with an active NPN load. But both were seminal 1970s solid-state amps—Ampzilla in the US, the Naim in the UK—and showed that solid-state designs could produce musical results to rival the best that tube designs had to offer. Ampzilla had a short life, but the NAP250 has only recently been replaced in Naim's line.
: Audible Illusions Modulus preamplifier
First Stereophile review: November 1984 (Vol.7 No.6; also Vol.19 Nos.2 & 9). Even when they went solid-state to drive the speakers, many audiophiles stuck with tubed preamps because of their inherent musicality. Some writers lobbied for the Conrad-Johnson PV1 to be included in this listing, but I finally decided to go for the Audible Illusions because of the sheer length of time it has remained in continuous, if limited, production. In all that time I've never met an unhappy Modulus owner—quite a tribute, given the fickle audiophile nature.
Footnote 1: I did not remember correctly. The first amplifier to use a complementary output stage, I was informed by reader Kevin Gray, was the JBL "T circuit," designed by Bart Locanthi back in 1966. Bongiorno's Ampzilla was the first to feature complementary circuitry from input to output.—John Atkinson