Stereophile's Products of 2012 Amplification Component of the Year
Audio Research Reference 150 power amplifier ($12,995; reviewed by Erick Lichte, Vol.35 No.7 Review)
Demonstrating the depth and variety of our "Amplification" category, eight different contenders received first-place votes, and four of those received at least two first-place votes. The winner, however, was clear: With three first-place votes and 16 total votes, Audio Research's Reference 150 power amplifier received a total of twice as many votes as our closest runners-up, the versatile Classé CP-800 D/A preamplifier and the drop-dead-gorgeous darTZeel NHB-458 monoblock.
Built like a tank, the 75-lb Reference 150 uses eight KT120 output tubes and four 6H30 driver tubes to deliver 150Wpc into 8 ohms. Compared to earlier Reference models, the Ref150 uses new, larger, higher-bandwidth output transformers, designed in-house and made in the US, to better match the impedances of the KT120 output tubes.
Erick Lichte was the lucky beneficiary of all that smart engineering. Whether he was listening to chamber music or Black Sabbath, EL was floored by the Ref150's combination of power and grace. He raved: "With its open soundstage, neutral tonal balance, finely textured musical presentation, wide dynamics, and supremely musical feel, the ARC Reference 150 connected me with my music better than almost every other amp I've heard."
Runners-up (in alphabetical order)
Bryston SP3 preamplifier-processor ($9500; reviewed by Kal Rubinson, Vol.35 Nos.5 & 7 Review)
Classé Audio CP-800 D/A preamplifier ($5000; reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.35 No.9 Review)
Conrad-Johnson Design Classic 60SE power amplifier ($5000; reviewed by Sam Tellig, Vol.35 No.4)
darTZeel NHB-458 monoblock power amplifier ($144,500/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer, Vol.35 No.8 Review)
Fi 421A power amplifier ($4575; reviewed by Art Dudley, Vol.35 No.1 Review)
Lamm M1.2 Reference monoblock power amplifier ($23,890/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.35 No.4 Review)
Leben CS300 integrated amplifier ($3395; reviewed by Art Dudley, Vol.34 No.11 Review)
McIntosh Laboratory MC275 power amplifier ($6500; reviewed by Robert Deutsch, Vol.35 No.10 Review)
Rogue Audio Titan Atlas Magnum power amplifier ($1995; reviewed by Erick Lichte, Vol.35 No.4 Review)
Sutherland Engineering Phono Block mono phono preamplifier ($10,000/pair; reviewed by Brian Damkroger, Vol.35 No.1 Review)