Stereophile's Products of 2011
What makes one particular hi-fi component stand apart from all others in its class? In this issue's "The Entry Level," I state that an outstanding hi-fi component will fuel the listener's desire to explore new music. If a component does not achieve that fundamental goal, it has failed altogether and should be passionately heaved from the nearest listening-room window to hit the unforgiving asphalt with a definitive, satisfying boom (or traded on one of the online auction sites). But that rule is most pertinent when the discovery of new music is the listener's only goal. Most of us want our hi-fi components to also be attractive, well-built, versatile, and user-friendly; we want them to represent good value for our hard-earned money; and we would appreciate it if they stuck around for a while, rather than have to be too soon replaced by something new and "better."
If a hi-fi component achieves all that and manages to make the listener's life easier, better, fuller, and more satisfying, then we feel it should be honored. Since 1992, Stereophile has named a few choice components its Products of the Year. In doing so, we recognize those products that are capable of providing musical pleasure for many years to come. These are products that not only define the current audio landscape, but that we hope will someday be seen as classicsheirlooms to be passed along to future generations of audiophiles and music lovers.
Traditionally, we have awarded components in five primary categories: "Loudspeakers" (including subwoofers), "Amplification Components" (preamplifiers, power amplifiers, and integrateds), "Digital Sources" (transports, processors, music servers, disc players), "Analog Sources" (phono cartridges, tonearms, turntables, FM tuners), and "Accessories" (all those little extras that keep us occupied and satisfied). Last year, in recognition of the fastest-growing and perhaps furthest-reaching branches of the hi-fi hobby, we added "Computer Audio Components" and "Headphone Components." Finally, the two most important categories are our overall "Product of the Year," the one that made the biggest splash of all, and our "Budget Component of the Year," which leaves us with the most cash to spend on new records.
The voting is simple: Each of Stereophile's hardware reviewers is asked to nominate up to six components in each of the nine categories. To be a contender, a product had to have been reviewed in one of the 12 issues of Stereophile from November 2010 through October 2011, in a full Equipment Report, in a Follow-Up review, or in one of the regular columns by Art Dudley, Michael Fremer, John Marks, Kalman Rubinson, Sam Tellig, and me. That way, only those components could be nominated for which a writer had put his opinion in print for public scrutiny. We then put together a ballot form listing all components nominated by three or more writers and/or editors. This process ensures that most of the nominees in most of the categories will have been auditioned by most of the reviewers. Each of 13 of the magazine's editors and reviewers gave three votes for his first choice in each category, two votes for his second choice, and one vote for his third choice (if any). As the votes came in, an unambiguous picture emerged and the winners became clear. John Atkinson tallied the votes; address your questions and comments to him. (See JA's notes on how the voting process works here.)
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And the winners are . . .