40 years of Stereophile: The Hot 100 Products Page 6
First Stereophile review: January 1984 (Vol.7 No.1; also Vol.7 No.7, Vol.8 No.6, Vol.10 No.1, Vol.19 No.12). The Planar 3 was perhaps the plainest plain-Jane high-end turntable ever to sell in large numbers, though its glass platter was simple and ingeniously effective. But it was the RB300 tonearm that lifted the Planar 3 into the ranks of the great when it was added to the 'table in the early Reagan era. "The greatest bargain in the history of audio, and one of the 10 best tonearms you've ever been able to buy at any price," says erstwhile Listener editor Art Dudley, who adds, "If this level of design and manufacturing ingenuity were ever applied to the rest of a system, it would be dangerous." "Was ever so much produced for so little?" concludes Sam Tellig.
: Adcom GFA-555 power amplifier
First Stereophile review: August 1985 (Vol.8 No.4; also Vol.8 No.7, Vol.12 No.12, Vol.13 No.10). The best-selling Adcom defined what an inexpensive solid-state amplifier was all about—power, power, and more power—without losing sight of the refinement essential to musical satisfaction. Some feel the less powerful, even cheaper GFA-535 was the better-sounding amp, but the '555 defined the genre.
: The Mod Squad Tiptoes
Stereophile review: January 1986 (Vol.9 No.1). If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Steve McCormack must be the most flattered man in high-end audio. Like all great ideas, the Tiptoe was superbly simple—which was probably why, before Steve, no one had thought of it. I believe he still has the patent hanging on his office wall—not much of a testimonial to the efficacy of patents!
: Spendor BC1 loudspeaker
Stereophile review: March 1978 (Vol.4 No.3). Designed by the late Spencer Hughes after he left the BBC, the BC1 was perhaps the finest all-'round loudspeaker to come out of the UK until the B&W 801 Series 2. Too bad its somewhat loose low frequencies were not the optimal match for typical mid-1970s LP playback, and that the CD came too late to save it from relative obscurity.
: Thiel CS3.6 loudspeaker
First Stereophile review: May 1993 (Vol.16 No.5; also Vol.17 Nos.3 & 5). While almost every Stereophile writer nominated one of Jim Thiel's designs, it was the CS3.6, from the early '90s, that was mentioned most often, rather than one of the Kentucky company's flagships. This is because the '3.6 was the finest all-'round package in terms of time alignment, neutral balance, power handling, bass extension, and industrial design—all for about $3000/pair, which, in hindsight, looks like an unbelievable bargain. While Jim Thiel has since designed speakers that exceed the CS3.6 in one, two, or more areas of performance, the '3.6 represented the first full flowering of his talent.
 (tie): BBC LS3/5A & Wilson Audio WATT loudspeakers
First Stereophile reviews: BBC, Spring 1977 (Vol.3 No.12; also Vol.4 No.1, Vol.7 No.2, Vol.12 Nos.2 & 3, Vol.16 No.12); Wilson, February 1988 (Vol.11 No.2; also Vol.14 Nos.6 & 10, Vol.18 No.11, Vol.19 No.10). These two tiny speakers—which, apart from being intended to serve as location recording monitors, are as far apart in their design starting points as is possible to imagine—redefined the art of the miniature loudspeaker: the LS3/5A in the mid-1970s, the WATT a decade later. The LS3/5A perhaps represented the finest flowering of a team of audio engineers assembled by the state-run broadcasting company, and which included Dudley Harwood and the late Spencer Hughes.
: MartinLogan CLS electrostatic loudspeaker
First Stereophile review: September 1986 (Vol.9 No.6; also Vol.9 No.7, Vol.10 No.1, Vol.14 No.12, Vol.15 Nos.2 & 3, Vol.17 No.6). The elegant and transparent (both visually and sonically) CLS brought electrostats into the mainstream consciousness—you can find MartinLogans on both the small and silver screens.
: Audio Research D-150 power amplifier
Stereophile review: Winter 1975 (Vol.3 No.11). This massive Minnesotan amplifier used modern circuit design to set a new direction for high-end tube components and to highlight contemporary solid-state gear as sounding edgy and unmusical in comparison.
: Mark Levinson LNP-2 preamplifier
(No Stereophile review.) This no-frills preamp gave birth to the High End, in terms of both sound quality and its being synonymous with expensive audio jewelry. It also created the Levinson livery of heavy anodized faceplate with contrasting machined knobs, a look that other companies emulated lest they be thought not high-end.
: Monster Cable (original) loudspeaker cable
(No Stereophile review.) Yes, it was not too different from heavy-gauge zipcord, and yes, its copper conductors showed a premature propensity to turn green. And Monster didn't create the high-performance cable category. But it was Monster that established the importance of using good cables, Monster that established cables as a separate component category, and Monster that made cables mainstream. (Monster Cable has also trained more audio industry professionals than any other organization except, perhaps, Harman.) More controversially and in my personal opinion, it was Monster, that opened wide the "anything goes" floodgates, and it was Monster that taught dealers to rely on the profit margin offered by cables. This was to high-end audio's benefit, in that margins on electronics and speakers were lower than they might otherwise have been; and to its detriment, in that high margins discourage sales initiative and marketing expertise.
: NAD 3020 integrated amplifier
(No Stereophile review.) Designed by Bjorn-Erik Edvardsen, who had worked with Tom Holman on the Advent receiver, the ridiculously inexpensive 3020 showed that an amplifier didn't need machined faceplates, intimidating heatsinks, or technically glamorous components—its output stage was based on cheap and slow 3055/2955 complementary transistors—to be able to drive real-world speakers. It put NAD on the map, but they never matched the 3020's overall achievement, in my opinion.
: Audio Research SP10 preamplifier
First Stereophile review: June 1984 (Vol.7 No.3; also Vol.7 No.7, Vol.9 No.7). Throughout the 1970s and early '80s, many "SP"-series all-tube preamps emerged from William Zane Johnson's drawing board, and all have their advocates as being the most important Audio Research component. But the two-chassis SP10 was the finest of them all.
 (tie): Krell KSA-100 (original) & Mark Levinson ML-2 power amplifiers
(Neither reviewed in Stereophile.) Two Connecticut amplifiers with class-A output stages that defined the high-end solid-state amplifier as being a true voltage source—it will swing the same volts into a load no matter how many amps are being sucked from it—but also as being massive, expensive, and Bauhaus brutal in its looks. Yes, Krell's Dan D'Agostino and the Madrigal design team have produced successively better-sounding amplifiers in the more than 20 years since the ML-2 and KSA-100 hit the scene, but these plowed that first furrow.