Stereophile's Products of 2012

It's been a long year. Now it's time to party.

Each December since 1992, Stereophile has named a few special components its "Products of the Year." These are products that not only define the present audio landscape, but that we hope will someday be seen as classics—products you'll want to pass on to future generations of audiophiles and music lovers. Traditionally, we've awarded this distinction to components in five primary categories: "Loudspeakers" (including subwoofers), "Analog Sources" (turntables, tonearms, phono cartridges), "Digital Sources" (transports, processors, music servers, disc players), "Amplification Components" (preamplifiers, power amplifiers, and integrateds), and "Accessories" (all those extras that keep us busy and satisfied). In 2010 we added "Headphone Components" and "Computer Audio Components," two categories of gear whose popularity and potential for reaching an audience outside our own little world were then, and continue to be, unrivaled: when people aren't wondering how to play music from their PCs, Androids, and iPhones, they're taking it with them on their jogs and commutes. Finally, our two favorite and most important categories are the "Budget Component of the Year" and our overall "Product of the Year"—the former leaves us with the most cash to spend on new records; the latter made the biggest splash of all.

In the next few pages you'll read about phenolic resins, femtoseconds, bubbles, a DAC named for a gem, a DAC named for a bug, a DAC with a feminine touch, and much, much more—something for everyone, we hope.

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 published from November 2011 through October 2012, in a full Equipment Report, a Follow-Up review, or in one of the regular columns by Art Dudley, Michael Fremer, John Marks, Kalman Rubinson, Sam Tellig, or 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. Thirteen of the magazine's writers and editors 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, the winners became clear. John Atkinson tallied the votes; address your love letters and hate mail to him. (See JA's comments on how the voting process works.)

The prices listed were current as of the end of September 2012. To order back issues mentioned in this article, call (888) 237-0955, or visit (MasterCard and Visa only). "Review" indicates that the review is available free of charge in our online Archives.

And the winners are . . .

jokeka's picture

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

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.

Stephen Mejias's picture

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?

No, it wouldn't be fair to "pass over" affordable products, which is why we haven't. Yes, several of our winners are very expensive, but the magazine also awarded some very high-value products, such as the Rega RP3 ($1095), which happened to beat out some extremely expensive competition, including the $15,0000 Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement phono cartridge and the $45,000 Wave Kinetics NVS Reference turntable. Our very most affordable winner of the year was the $250 AudioQuest DragonFly, which itself beat out some very worthy competition, including the $7000 Weiss DAC202.

And we've awarded many affordable products over the years, including the "cheap PSB products" you mention—the PSB Alpha B1 ($299/pair) was our 2007 Budget Product of the Year and made a very fine showing in our overall Loudspeakers category. It also happens to be my reference loudspeaker.

And I agree that Emotiva deserves attention. We've reviewed their products favorably, and I'll be visiting the company's Nashville headquarters next week.

JohnnyR's picture

......a $1095 turntable isn't a bargain. You keep pushing outdated tech. Remember your compulsion a year or so ago to get back into cassette tapes? What next 8-track tapes and Lear car players to play them on?

Pinault's picture

Hello fellow audiophiles, In my opinion it's obvious there are two different sides to this conflict. On one side we have the guys behind a magazine who want to produce engaging and interesting articles to keep readers coming back. To achieve this most magazines like said before in the blog will have to include the expensive top of the line almost impossible to acquire but highly aspirational products. Who wouldnt want to buy a Ferrari once in their lifetimes right? And this is what keeps new people coming to this sport by the way which is important for all of us who care about this. if there aren't aspirational products it would seem quite boring and not interesting to engage in high end audio. So what most of us do is dream about the Ferrari and go out there and benchmark what best fits our budget but would drive as close to that ferrari right? So we buy the camaro. lol but ferraris keep the news interesting how boring would car magazines be if the would only review Mazda 2 and ford fiesta and Chevy spark... Obviously we all want an expert opinion on every budget level and that's why we come to the experts before we go and buy our components.  But one thing I have found among audophiles since I have been engaged in this sport is that the most important opinions always follow "go hear for your self" so this pretty much sums it all. We all get nice opinions on stereophile on what to expect from high quality components but at the end we go out to the market and look for some of those attributes on our own budget.

Changing subject For a moment I want to tell you all that recognizing the high end technology is very important for all of us who don't have the resources for the expensive components. The research world is very simple, the most wealthy people who are the early adopters of the new technology pay the high price for this developments and us the more mortals will benefit later on as we will get that technology for much less which would have not been developed sans their patronage and later sold at a more affordable prices. For me I chear stereophile for promoting the accomplishments of all of this high end ridiculously expensive audio equipment who need to find homes in order to get those developments paid for. Which by the way I enjoy reading about cause I know a few years ahead when they come with new models I will be able to get this quality at a budget that works for my wallet. So everybody wins. On the other side it looks like some readers aren't happy that they are not getting recommendations at their budgets so maybe this is an area of opportunity for stereophile, try to see how to inform us of that high end technology that has cascaded into more affordable product lines once new generations of components are launched. Cause at the end we want the best audio experience we can afford. Editors just please know that youbhave a responsibility to us readers, we trust your opinions and we deserve honest answers and recommendations please don't fall into the business game in which more mentions are for the companies who buy more advertising and give every manufacturer a fair treatment. We will all benefit from this.

Please have fun! That's all that counts.

JohnnyR's picture

"reading about how they sound"

Uhhhhhhhh......yeah I guess reading about how  $150,000 speakers sound is marvelous. I would expect speakers to be just about damn near perect for THAT price.

It's rich man excess. The older I get the less high priced "toys" impress me. Ho hum oh look it's yet another super fast spors car I can't afford and the idiots who can can't even drive it without wrecking it in a two week time span. After a certain price it just becomes a status symbol and nothing more.Look at how many Ferraris and Lamborghinis are totaled each year by incompetent drivers. I'd not sell one untill the buyer takes a serious driving course to prove they can handle the car.

The trouble with "turn the page" is even the lower priced audio equipment has to be put through the subjective BS of the month club routine by whatever "reviewer" in Stereophile . God help you if JVS "reviews" something. Doesn't believe in measurments yet swears that every cable or power cord he's "listened" to sounds different. Yeah right.

Regadude's picture

Why do you doubt JVS when he says he hears differences in cables? Because you cannot? 

Just because YOU cannot run the 100 meters in 10 seconds, it does not mean that no one can... Such hubris on your part.

I have exotic cables in my system, and yes, I DO HEAR a difference and an improvement compared to cheaper stuff. Deal with it.

JohnnyR's picture

Thanks for admitting that you are on the same team as JVS. Now everyone can see just how gullible  you are! Ever do a SBT or DBT on those cables?  NO is your answer. "I know what I heard" BS is the norm on here. How laughable. "Say so" means NOTHING when it comes to proof. REAL testing DOES.

Talk about hubris on YOUR part. I'm seriously laughing so HARD right now xD

Regadude's picture

Johnny, you have never been to my home, and you have never heard my system. But, of course, you know how my system sounds better than I do. Do you have quantum resonating tri-molecular, temporal displacement hadrion capacitator ear drums?

You call exotic cables snake oil. It sounds to me like your reasoning and golden ears are the snake oil around here...

JohnnyR's picture

Oh I'm sure your system sounds the best in the youself so enjoy your overpriced cables. So reason is snake oil? YOU are the one claiming to have golden ears. [flame deleted by John Atkinson]

Atkinson, if you could control your members and stop deleting every little TRUE criticism I post on here, you might have a ratonal for being on here instead of claiming to work 60 hours a week and making EXCUSES for not doing tests on accessories. Maybe you could test Regadude's cables for him. Fat chance though.

John Atkinson's picture

JohnnyR wrote:
Atkinson, if you could control your members and stop deleting every little TRUE criticism I post on here, you might have a ratonal for being on here...

I warned you and others 2 weeks ago that I would delete flame postings and flames without notice. The content of yours that I have deleted and the posting of yours and Regadude's that I have deleted were just that, flames and personal comments addressed at other readers, not "true criticism."

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

junker's picture

Now not to give this guy any more attention than he deserves I wanted to move on and make a request for something I would like to see on the pages of stereophile - technical primers. For example, maybe an issue dedicated to amplifier design and some respresenative examples (possibly broken down by value, price, or topology) of each design with their pros / cons etc. For each topic maybe bring in a panel of diverse experts like say Papa Pass and Head of Engineering at McIntosh, etc.


I'd love to learn more about the current state-of-the-art in any number of topics including: speaker design (crossover), DA conversion, optimizing room acoustics, and even how-to manage digital files.


I think this kind of "deep dive" series could be very interesting and help out a lot of current, and potential subscribers. No need to be esoteric.

Many thanks!



JohnnyR's picture

Please don't make demands of JA he has a magazine to run and he will do what he wants!  Well that's the message he's been telling me and others lately.

Frankly I suggest some other forums to learn about what you suggested, There are plenty of good ones out there full of honest real info.

Regadude's picture

This website is great. Sure, you can consult other sites. But Stereophile is among the best. 

JohnnyR's picture

.........spoon feeding you what they want you to read. There are plenty of better websites for the technical and objective side, you know the REAL science of why and how things work.

Regadude's picture

Then why don't you read those sites instead of complaining here all the time, little Johnny?

JohnnyR's picture

........ignore my posts if you don't like them?  [flame deleted by John Atkinson]

GeorgeHolland's picture

Try the following: DIYaudio, Parts Express Tech Talk, Zaph Audio, Hydrogenaudio, Elliot Sound Products, Sean Olive's Audio Musings, Audio Karma,  Electrician Talk, Bad Caps Forums, Ethan Winer.........too many to list just start reading and you'll find links to everywhere.

stereo slim's picture

mrplankton2u wrote:

Stereophile in the minds of a lot of professionals in the equipment business needs a name change: STEREOPHOOL.

Now to support your claim, will you please mention a couple of persons who think so, or do those "professionals" prefer to hide in anonymity, too?

JohnnyR's picture

............everyone of them that post elsewhere and doesn't bother with this laugh track of a forum.

mrplankton2u's picture

Instead, I'd list websites like Gearslutz, AV Science Forum, and a few others where professionals exchange ideas and experiences. As an example, I'd suggest you google Gearslutz and Jon Risch.  Jon Risch is a public person who "moderates" at the Audio Asylum - a website that frequently promotes a great deal of "questionable" tweak products and what a lot of "us" consider to be snake oil sham products. If you google Gearslutz and Jon Risch, it will take you to a page that has this quote about Jon Risch:

"Oh he's serious. I've had many run-ins with him. He's a bonified crackpot."  


Now you may disagree with the credibility of Gearslutz members. That's certainly your perogative. However, they constitute mostly industry professionals who are heavily engaged in producing/recording live music. I could list other people specifically as I said above but I would need their permission to quote them. It is pretty pointless to doubt that a large percentage of the population think today's typical "audiophile" is a nutjob. As I said earlier, "audiophool" is in the urban dictionary. I didn't make it up and it is a term that is frequently used on websites that pertain to music reproduction systems and music reproduction techniques.

seank's picture

Once again, no recognition for my Bose Wave Radio.  Sad.

Ariel Bitran's picture



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