Stereophile's Products of 2012 Product of the Year

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

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Comments
mrplankton2u's picture
Long Year?

Really Stephen, it's been a long year for you and "now it's time to party"?

And what is it that you folks do 320 days a year? Listen to music and write dorky articles about the "pace, rhythm, and flow of amplifiers" or how a turntable "sweeps obvious vinyl surface noise to the side walls of the listening space"?

 

Yeah, right...

 

I'd say it's been a bit more than a long year - more like a very long decade waiting for some reality to seep back into the audio equipment review business. Your year end "best of" lists are a predictable case in point. Did anyone bother to look at the average cost of components in each list? How do you compare a $3k pair of Golden Ear Tritons to TAD "mini" monitors costing $40k or a $144,000 (gulp!) DartZeel to a "cheap" $1995 Rogue Audio Titan?

I know it might sound really complicated and revolutionary but... do you folks think you could actually break out a list of subcategories for each component category like:

Outrageously priced stuff, under $50,000, under $20,000, under $5000, under $1000

??????

You see, some people might actually buy a copy of Stereophile to find the current recommendation for products in their particular search price bracket. Now maybe on your tremendous Stereophile contributor salary, Stephen, cost is no object for you. $150,000 for an amp is chump change. But take my word for it, that's not the case for a lot of other folks in the real world. They have these annoying things called budgets.

John Atkinson's picture
Recommended Components Collector's Edition

mrplankton2u wrote:
do you folks think you could actually break out a list of subcategories for each component category...

What you are describing is more-or-less our "Recommended Components Collector's Edition," which is available on newsstands now or from our eStore - http://ssl.blueearth.net/primedia/home.php. By contrast, our "Products of the Year" is exactly that.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

mrplankton2u's picture
I see Mr. Atkinson

So what you're saying is that the "products of the year" are "by contrast" - not "recommended products"?

 

Your title might be Editor-in-Chief however, your consistent interference, defensive, and sometimes offensive posturing in these comment threads has earned you a new title from where I stand:

 

John Atkinson - Stereophile Equivocator, Bloviator, and Deflector -in-Chief.

 

I wish I could say - "stick to your day job" - unfortunately - THAT IS THE PROBLEM.

Regadude's picture
Grow up...

Hey plankton, grow up! Do you have to cry like a little girl at everything Stereophile posts? Get a life...

mrplankton2u's picture
Are you the official censorship cheerleader?

You're obviously happy with Stereophile's "product" and impact on the marketplace. I can accept that. Given your username of "Regadude", that certainly makes sense. But can you accept that others are not happy with Stereophile's "product" or impact on the marketplace and think it could do better? I really wonder.
 

Regadude's picture
Start your own magazine...

If you dislike Stereophile so much, stop reading it! I think you like complaining and criticising a lot more than you like music, or the audio gear that reproduces it.

If you know so much, why don't you start your own audio magazine. You could call it "Cheap audio"; where every reviewed component is under 500$. No point in spending more... 

You could have Johnny on the swing and George Holland review gear and write columns.  

JohnnyR's picture
Oh Golly

Lets not have ANY naysayers speaking their mind on here. I mean we should all join up and support "team Stereophile" regardless if they are right or wrong.

If "best" isn't among the "recommended" then how are they the "best"?  Cost, preformance, snob appeal, just another excuse to print something for the gullible to buy?

Geurity's picture
Out of touch

The editors of Stereophile are simply out of touch. And this type of article shows exactly why I canceled my subscription. 99% of your audience cannot afford most of the products you review and showcase. And somehow the editors think showing such expensive products will make us want to own them. Ha!

bachrocks's picture
Stereophile Rocks

I rarely post on forums as I dislike the nonsense that some provide, but today, I'd like to submit my strong support for Stereophile. I love your magazine and website. I think your team is not simply outstanding, but, at times, borders on genius. Stereophile rocks!

tmsorosk's picture
Hifi-high price

I get a laugh from these na-sayers that complain about the high cost of equipment reviewed in Stereophile. If they actually read the mag they would know there are more low priced reviews than high. Anyone that suggests Stephen ( the entery level advocate ) has $150,000 amps clearly has not read Stereophile. There's equipment in the pages of Stereophile to suit every budget. 

Keep up the good work folks, your more in touch than most.

mrplankton2u's picture
Your reputation precedes you (shill)

Anyone who reads Stereophile very likely is familiar with a particular haunt of its fans and lackies - Audio Asylum. Your username bears a striking resemblence to that of an Asylum member. It is also common knowledge that most members of the Audio Asylum are tweak, cable, and analog fanatics.  It is also common knowledge that certain Asylum moderators advocate strongly for pseudoscience that supports the magical claims of tweak products that are advertised on the Asylum website. Yes, "Asylum" is a very fitting word. Unfortunately, not everyone connected with the audio business wishes to be associated with an Asylum. Perhaps most of the writers of Stereophile do as they frequently comment there. 

 

All that background (on you) aside, I'm familiar with Meijas. His role with "budget" items is irrelevent to the problem with the "best of list".  Most "normal" people with a reasonable grasp of english associate a "best of" list with the characterization that said "best of" products would be construed as "recommended". Now maybe you like other members of the asylum agree with Mr. Atkinson that there is or should be a "contrast" between what is considered "best of" and what is "recommended".  I don't. and I have a hunch most "potential" readers would take issue with the same problems I see:

1)unfair or innappropriate comparison of apples to oranges ($144,000 and $42,000 "statement products" to $2,000 and $3000 "budget products")

2)not acknowledging obvious redundancy between a "best of" list and "recommended" list and failure to adopt the same standards of cost categorization in each

3) not presenting products on a comparative basis that would assist readers in making choices that are relevent to their personal situation (emphasis on budget)

philipjohnwright's picture
No place for trolls

Plankton

If you've got something valid to say why hide behind the anonymity of a silly user name. Man up and let us know who you are

And yes that is my real name

mrplankton2u's picture
Unlike you and other trolls...

Unlike you and other obvious trolls that frequent these web pages - I focus on the topic and message - from time to time giving evidence of background motivation for those who comment here. My posts are always on topic. You, like the Editor, clearly have a comprehension problem when it comes to the definition of "troll". Therefore, I'll cite one:

 

In Internet slang, a troll (play /ˈtrl//ˈtrɒl/) is someone who posts inflammatory,[1] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[2] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.[3] The noun troll may refer to the provocative message itself, as in: "That was an excellent troll you posted."

 

It is evident that you and Atkinson, among others, feel that anyone who posts a message that disagrees with your world view is a troll. That, clearly, is not the definition of a troll. As a matter of fact, those who routinely post messages with the intention of intimidating, stifling, frustrating, or personally castigating other posters - at the exclusion of any content aimed towards the original poster's discussion - DO IN FACT MEET THE DEFINITION OF TROLL.

latinaudio's picture
Congratulations, Stephen!!!

I had been reading Stereophile for 15 years, every single month.

Some columnists had been present since then, some others.. simply dissapeared.

You represent the best thing that Stereophile have discovered in the last years, and along Mr. Tellig (the best) and Mr. Atkinson (the force) you are now the core of the magazine (ooops, Mickey, you too!)

"To be a contender, a product had to have been reviewed .... by .... or ME"

Yes, Stephen, you deserve it, congratulations and keep the excellent work!

P.s. : Will you please post a picture of your inspiration (N and N)? 

philipjohnwright's picture
Anonymity

Plankton

I used the term troll in a loose sense, my main point, which I shall make politely this time, was that I use my real name and you do not.

The definition you use is taken from Wikipedia. If you read the rest of the long article it also discusses, amongst other things, the issue of anonymity, which i do not use. If you look at other definitions online they also refer to the issue. Conversely Wikipedia is the only one that refers to a troll being off-topic or extraneous. 

So I don't think I fit the definition. My post was just a little rude. My apologies. 

JA - I won't prolong this discussion, just wanted to apologise. 

mrplankton2u's picture
About Anonymity

I used to participate in online forums without regard to my identity. Along the way, I realized that in most forums where there is an attempt to share technical information, the discourse rapidly devolves into pissing matches. As Ken Kantor once suggested to me in another forum - professionals in the audio business avoid internet forums like the plague. They are akin to virtual bar room brawl arenas. I happen to agree with his sentiment. Therefore, I've made an effort to take myself (my experience, qualifications, and reputation) out of the discussion - instead focusing on the facts presented in the discussion. I've found this to be a marginally successful approach although in some forums, if you present facts that disagree with opinions of moderators, you often find your posts deleted - particularly when your cited facts make the moderator look like a fool. This happens time and time again which is why I participate very little these days on most forums. Most are essentially fiefdoms for moderators and website owners who have an agenda. Run afoul of their agenda and you find yourself "banned" or otherwise stifled - who needs that?

Up to very recently, I've found a different sort of moderation here. Site moderation seemed to understand that I have a genuine concern for the industry and the magazine's role in promoting a stronger, more vibrant future. I understand that my view is not universally held. I willingly accept that. I just wish others were more willing to do the same.

Blu's picture
Fair and balanced

Sorry to use a tag line from the infamous not fair and balanced Fox network, but I find this best products of the year list, neither favouring the overpriced or budget, but to be just right. You have a full range of price points in the products listed for each catagory, so whatever your budget their is a product for you. 

I must also add thank you to all the great writers who keep me entertained all year. Keep up the good work and best wishes for the season from Australia. 

mrplankton2u's picture
Really?

Blu said:

 

" You have a full range of price points in the products listed for each catagory, so whatever your budget their is a product for you. "

 

I and I believe the facts disagree. 

Twelve amplifiers and only 1 barely under $2000 dollars?  A lot of folks in my world (hopefully the real world) would consider a thousand dollar amplifier to be on the high side of "budget". There is a vast array of high performance amps available on the market that cost considerably less than $1000. I would guess that the majority of amplifiers available for sale around the world fall into this category. So again, although I respect your right to your viewpoint, I disagree strongly with your sentiment

Staxguy's picture
Price Categories and Products of the Year

What's the problem?

1) Products of the Year vs Recommend Components

Why can't everyone figure out this distinction? If you were collecting equipment, then you might wish to collect products of the year. If you were assembling a system, then you might wish to select from recommended components. If you were selling hi-fi, maybe you would wish to use both lists to sell your products.

I think it's customary to look over the past year, and see what the hilights were. Often, bloopers are mentioned, also. Here we have "over-achievers". What's so wrong with that...

2) Price Categories

If you look at the winning products of the year you will see that they fall far from the upper-price categories, and perhaps far from the lowest-also.

A MBL 9011 pair goes for $106,000 USD which would be entry-level into the upper price ranges, so $13,000 is about mid-level pricing in amplifier territory, I would say. about 10x more, over $100,000 / pair and you are talking upper-model amplifiers from Solution, FM Acoustics, Goldmund, Analog Domain, Boulder, Gryphon, Vitus, etc. and the other "big boys."

If someone would want to spend over $100,000 on their mechanical daily watch, likely they would on their hi-fi components, also. :) Which gives more pleasure?

The same $13,000 would get you a pair of Classe CTM-600 monoblock amps, or for $15,000 you'd get a Bryston 28B-SST2 pair, say, or $16,000 a Devaliet D-Premier integrated amp : not exactly the upper eschelon of price, all equivalent to working full time and saving about $6/hour off your salary for one year.

If I'm reading Top Gear, I'm not going to get depressed if their Car of the Year, a BAC Mono, costs $130,000, and isn't readily available. I'm only getting depressed if I can't insure it easily for road use once I decide I want it! :)

Likewise, I shouldn't get upset if Stereophile gives a Speaker of the Year award to something I don't own, or plan to. :) I'm not in the business of selling speakers.

Myself, I like the $180,000 Focal Grand Utopia III EM this year, but I'm not holding my breath until Stereophile agrees with me that this sounds better than Vivid. Maybe Vivid rocks? I just haven't heard it, and am not in a rush to as I don't really like the styling.

But to get back to price categories, the top end of speakers price wise is about $2,000,000 (Transmission Audio Ultimate), with a few more expensive gold ones from other companies being made as sculptures, largely.

I don't see Stereophile rushing to review such products, which would put everyone but the "1%" out of the hi-fi game, entirely. The net worth of the top US postal codes per family is about $30M, which makes it hard to sell products other than houses and cars at such relatively high price points.

TAS recently did a review of Amplifiers under $5000, and included the $900 Odyssey Audio Khartgo in their review. It's my guess that people complaining about the price-points of this Products of the Year article, either are confronted by financial challenges, due to various factors, or else aren't quite following the hi-fi news. $960 is about what my trusty Rotel RB-980BX ($600, 1993) would cost today, so it's not like relatively affordable hi-fi products are not getting produced, reviewed and recommened. You can find affordable hi-fi out there, if you look.

Personally, i would like to see more variety of products reviewed: inclusion at both the upper-price levels (European and Asian luxury products), well over $100,000 per component, and lower-price also, geared to enthusiasts.

So, why not reviews of every Emotiva electronic product, say, to allow for inclusion into active readership and ownership of not only the economically squeezed older folk (who seem to be speaking out here), but also the college or high-school kid, who wants to listen to alt-rock, or hardcore electronica, at amazing levels, and win the prize in adulation for the best dorm-room or basement hi-fi!

Reviews of products like Emotiva or Odyssey Audio would go along way into helping new-product sales, and not just fuel audiogon searches into the second hand older model or fire-sale market.

Alessandro1's picture
price categories, apples oranges and potatoes

I have been following Stereophile for many years and an audiophile for about 30.

While I surely appreciate the information and opinions expressed by this magazine like others, I keep my ears and personal demo experience and not their comments as sole judge for my purchases.

More than once my personal experience has been less than exciting with the same gear that others named product of the year so I learned to be less impressed by certain enthusistic comments reported by the press.

Besides never forget that most audio gear perform quite differently from one audio system to another due to their specific synergies so each one of us can have quite different experience with the same piece with different outcomes from excellent to so-so ........

Not sure if it all the gear tested for this award are in the same room with the very same audio chain. Probably not....

I agree with many other postings that having a category winner  priced at several thousand of $$$ closely followed by a contender priced at only few hunders of $$ makes little sense and it is confusing. 

Each category should have probably a recommended product for three levels of budget:  low, mid and high.

Is the low priced item placing so well because the result of the genius  of an incredible mind and the high priced one instead the sole expression of cost no compromise implementation with little creativity and inspiration? Are they really sonically so close? Probably not.

 What about very expensive products not even mentioned?  Are they a rip off ?  I don't think so.   

What about very solid and good sounding gear that have been in production for years that just because aren't new on the market aren't even part of the pool of products up for consideration?

While we all appreciate the introduction of new products with the hope that may be some of them is even worth their substantial price tag, there should be nothing wrong in stating "hipotetically" that :  "Even this year a five years old running gear is still the best sounding out there".....but hey this would be so booring and more importantly not helping these magazines to fill their pages with new products ads, so here is their struggle which is that they sell them self as being on the consumers side....but in reality not quite......

Nobody wants ever to be the first to say loud that the "King is naked" nevertheles it will ever happen in this struggling industry.

Your years and demo are everything you will ever need.....

 

junker's picture
IP Ban mrplankton2u?

Thanks for the list Stereophile. It's much appreciated.

I'd support banning mrplankton2u. He's seems to have long ago lost the ability, capacity, or desire to be constructive, and has just gone off the deep-end of his confrontational ad hominem attack. Maybe he's off his "meds", but he seems like quite a douchey nit emboldened by on-line anominity is his lapse of propriety or restraint. 

Regadude's picture
Well said!

Well said Junker.

mrplankton2u's picture
Nice.

I think I've been rather kind overall considering what Stereophile has become and what the "audiophile hobby" has become as a result of the continued exploitation of OCD sufferers at the hands of advertising whores and sham product "manufacturers". I've watched over the past 25 years the community shrink and "normal" people at tradeshows being displaced by freaks and neurotics. Stereophile in the minds of a lot of professionals in the equipment business needs a name change:

STEREOPHOOL.

The term "audiophool" actually has a place in the urban dictionary now thanks to the cadre of snake oil pushers and pseudo audiophiles who wouldn't actually know one end of a microphone or XLR cable from the other.

Audiophool-

One who spends mass amounts of cash on ridiculous Audio components and accessories. They truly believe they can tell a difference, and come up with elaborate excuses to justify these purchases.

 

The above lists (including $144,000 amp and $42,000 mini monitors are a disgrace and not at al representative of what the industry stood for and promoted 30 years ago when I approached it as a hobbiest.

Now instead of continuing to attack me, perhaps Junker and Regadude have some turntables to polish or Bybee Golden Goddess Speaker Bullets ( I shit you not) to caress...

Regadude's picture
Turntable

Plankton, I do have a turntable. It has a nice glossy finish, so I don't have to polish it. I just wipe it with a micro fiber cloth when needed.

But, most of the time, I use it to listen to music. You should try that sometime...

JohnnyR's picture
He Probably Listens.........

.........to digital format music. You know, the type that accuratly captures every note and leaves out all the pops, ticks,hiss, rumble and wow of vinyl? You should try it sometime and join the modern world.Now go back to wiping your shitty turntable.

GeorgeHolland's picture
Mrplankton2u has been way

Mrplankton2u has been way more constructive than you have.He's aways on topic and informative.What have you brought to this topic?Complaining? So calling some one a "douchey nit" is mature? Perhaps your goal is to be hired as a Stereophile writer with that sort of language. I think Stereophile should inforce an automatic ban of people who call for others to be banned. Would cut down on the BS in here.

tmsorosk's picture
Junker

I think Junker said all that needs to be said. Well done.

GeorgeHolland's picture
and I think MrPlankton2u said

and I think MrPlankton2u said all that needed to be said. Well done!

jokeka's picture
c'mon

Just because I can't afford all the cars they feature, I still enjoy reading Road and Track and Car & Driver ... just because I can't afford to go to every show on Broadway doesn't mean I don't read the reviews ... just because I can't afford $150,000 speakers doesn't mean I don't like reading about how they sound, how they are made, and how others enjoy them; then I turn the page to read about something I might be able to afford.  Maybe that's they key for some of the naysayers here: Turn the Page.    

mrplankton2u's picture
Your perspective is somewhat valid, however...

As noted, there is a universe of amplifiers and speakers that cost less than a thousand dollars. And with the right subwoofer(s), a lot of these systems will come remarkably close in performance to some of the $50,000 and up category. I support "audio porn" as much as the next guy/gal. That's not the issue here. The issue is that there are a lot of companies such as "Emotiva" mentioned earlier that are doing a damn good job with the products they make. Is it fair to pass over them or "cheap" PSB products in these "best of" comparisons because someone else is making a marginally better amp or speaker for 80 to 100 times the price? These "best of" lists are important because they have the potential to not only reward companies that produce the "finest flagship products" but also the products with the highest level of value and ingenuity that may not necessarily cost 6 figures. I'm sure there are a lot of companies that would love to say that their $500 widget received Stereophile's "best of the year" award. But clearly, that is not the market segment Stereophile has been focusing on- at least with this current rendition of its "best of" list. And that trend in the review press industry can be very destructive if left unchecked. And that is where "chronic complainers" (as I am being labeled) come in. Nobody likes a critic. But if we all stand around and pat ourselves on the back while problems go on unchecked, it can have consequences.  Just sayin.

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