Stereophile's Products of 2012 Product of the Year
Audio Research Reference 150 power amplifier
"Product of the Year" had more contenders (15) than any other category, appropriately reflecting the wide-ranging tastes of our reviewers. The voting was scattered and peculiar: Of those 15 contenders, nine, from the revolutionary Kuzma 4Point tonearm to the versatile Bryston SP3 preamplifier-processor, were awarded first-place votes. Though four of our writers voted for the Vivid Oval K1, our Loudspeaker of the Year failed to place among the top three Product of the Year finalists. Both the AudioQuest DragonFly (Computer Audio and Budget Component of the Year) and the MSB Diamond DAC IV (Digital Component of the Year) received votes from three writers, but neither made a serious run for our most prestigious spot.
It should come as no great surprise that our overall winner is an amplifier: As Art Dudley states in our Recommended Components Collector's Edition, an audio amplifier is the true heart of any music system. With votes from five of our writers, including three first-place votes, it was the Audio Research Reference 150 power amplifier that pulled away from the pack.
Though its 150Wpc may not be enough to drive the most demanding loudspeakers or fill the largest listening rooms, the ARC brought out the best from every speaker we threw its way. When pairing the Ref150 with either his Revel Performa F30s or the big Marten Djangos, Erick Lichte so admired the ARC's open, neutral, finely textured sound that he decided to make it his new reference power amplifier. And when JA needed just the right amp to add some midbass weight to the fast, articulate Lansche 5.1 loudspeakers, he, too, found satisfaction with the Ref150.
It's also important to note that, with the Ref150 in their systems, both EL and JA found themselves listening to a great variety of wonderful music. Any truly special hi-fi component will send us deep into our music libraries and quickly to the nearest record shop, in search of more and more music. The Audio Research Reference 150 is that sort of component: built to last, made to please, destined to be a classic.
Runners-up (in alphabetical order)
Aerial Acoustics Model 7T loudspeaker
AudioQuest DragonFly D/A processor
Bricasti Design M1 D/A processor
Bryston SP3 preamplifier-processor
Classé Audio CP-800 D/A preamplifier
darTZeel NHB-458 monoblock power amplifier
Joseph Audio Pulsar loudspeaker
Kuzma 4Point tonearm
MBL Radialstrahler 101E Mk.II loudspeaker
Meridian (Sooloos) music server
MSB Diamond DAC IV D/A processor
Sonus Faber Amati Futura loudspeaker
TAD Compact Reference CR1 loudspeaker
Vivid Audio Oval K1 loudspeaker