Stereophile's Products of 2010 JOINT BUDGET COMPONENTS OF THE YEAR
2010 RUNNERS-UP (in alphabetical order)
ASUS Xonar Essence ST/STX soundcards ($199.95; reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.33 Nos. 1 & 9 review)
Audio-Technica AT-PEQ3 phono preamplifier ($119; reviewed by Michael Fremer, Vol.32 No.12)
Benchmark DAC1 HDR USB D/A headphone amplifier
CEntrance DACport USB headphone amplifier
Channel D Pure Music iTunes front-end program
Grado SR60i headphones
HRT Music Streamer+ USB D/A processor
Linn Majik 109 loudspeaker ($1590/pair; reviewed by Robert J. Reina, Vol.33 No.4 review)
Marantz PM5003 integrated amplifier ($449.99; reviewed by Robert J. Reina, Vol.33 Nos.1 & 4 review)
Musical Fidelity V-DAC D/A processor
NAD PP 3 USB phono preamplifier ($199; reviewed by Robert J. Reina, Vol.33 No.10 review)
Pro-Ject Debut III turntable
PSB Image T6 loudspeaker ($1199/pair; reviewed by Kal Rubinson & John Atkinson, Vol.33 Nos.3 & 7 review)
Stello U2 USB-S/PDIF converter
YBA Design WD202 D/A headphone amplifier ($879; reviewed by Jon Iverson, Vol.33 No.6 review)
I hope you know by now that Budget Component of the Year is, by far, my favorite category of this lighthearted (but altogether serious!) event. Why? First of all, money does not pour out of my ears; I can't afford a pair of Wilson Sashas or a Spiral Groove SG2 turntable, but I can afford the fine products we praise here. Second, just as JA taught in his seminal "The High End, Mid-Fi & Pretend High End," our Budget category reminds us that high-end doesn't necessarily have to mean high-priced. There is no magical price point that characterizes a product as "high-end." If a component strives to convey the emotional truth of music, leaving the listener enthralled by the musical performance, then that component is worthy of the High End. Despite their relatively low cost, the products listed here achieve that feat.
The Dynaudio Excite X12 is appropriately named. From Bob Reina to Sam Tellig to me, it seems to excite everyone who sees and hears it. Its attractive cabinet is available in real-wood veneers of maple, cherry, rosewood, or black ash (sexy high-gloss white or black adds $75/pair), and it combines the airy treble, rich midrange, and realistic bass found in much more expensive designs. "With the Dynaudio Excite X12, there are no tradeoffs," enthused Bob. "It sets a high standard of excellence in every meaningful sonic parameter, whether in absolute terms or with respect to its price and size." JA agreed: "A well-engineered speaker like this makes it hard to justify spending more on a bookshelf speaker unless you can afford one of the cost-no-object models."
Like the Dynaudio Excite X12, the lovely little Logitech Squeezebox Touch network music player has a way of enchanting its users. To touch it is to love it: Reviewer Kal Rubinson bought his review sample, and so did cover photographer Eric Swanson! If the ultimate mark of an audio component is the ability to forge a closer bond between listener and music (and I believe it is), then it's no wonder the Squeezebox Touch proves so compelling. With one connected to a home network, users have immediate access to the wide world of Internet radio and downloads of up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution. Hate computers? The Touch will play files stored on a USB drive or SD card, allowing it to be used without a host PC. In addition, modifications, apps, and tweaks abound, suggesting that the Touch has yet to reach its full potential and promises to change the way we interact with our music. In Kal's words, "The Touch has transformed my listening habits." All that for just $299? Wow!
Finally, with the BDP-83SE, Oppo takes their already impressive, bargain-priced, universal Blu-ray player and replaces everything in it, from DACs to jacks, with some of the most cutting-edge chips on the market: the Sabre32 family of DACs from ESS Technology. "The two-channel performance of the Oppo BDP-83SE, playing either PCM or DSD recordings, was a significant improvement on the BDP-83," said Kal. Don't you love it when hi-fi companies start with great value and turn it into incredible value? John Marks, too, was stunned. He called the $899 Oppo "an amazing player," and felt it fared well against the $4990 Luxman DU-50. (Okay, so the Oppo lacked some bass and overall coherence. So what?) Amazing, indeed.