Stereophile's Products of 2013

It's time to celebrate another memorable year in high-end audio. Each December since 1992, Stereophile has named a few special components its Products of the Year. These are components that not only define the present audio landscape, but that we hope will someday be seen as classics—things you'll want to pass on to future generations of audiophiles and music lovers. This year, we've awarded components in five primary categories: Loudspeakers (including subwoofers), Analog Components (turntables, tonearms, phono cartridges, phono preamps, phono accessories), Digital Components (transports, processors, music servers, disc players, DACs), Amplification Components (preamplifiers, power amplifiers, integrateds), and Accessories (all those extras that keep us busy and satisfied). Our two favorite and most important categories are Budget Component of the Year and Overall Component of the Year—the former leaves us with the most cash to spend on music; the latter made the biggest splash of all.

From 2010 to 2012, we gave awards for Headphone Components and Computer Audio Components, two categories of gear whose popularity and potential for reaching an audience outside traditional hi-fi were then, and continue to be, unrivaled. However, because the lion's share of headphone and computer-audio reviews now appear, respectively on two of our sister websites—InnerFidelity.com, edited by Tyll Hertsens; and AudioStream.com, edited by Michael Lavorgna—we've decided to omit those categories from this year's competition. As you'll see in the following pages, headphone contenders were judged within our Accessories category, while computer-audio contenders were judged within Digital Components. Also note that previous winners were not eligible for nomination in this year's competition; despite the strong continued success of such products as AudioQuest's DragonFly USB DAC and Rega's RP3 turntable, you won't see them here. In one last bit of housekeeping, we've reinstated our Editor's Choice category, with personal selections from John Atkinson and me.

While every year sees at least one or two products that manage to reveal more detail in our cherished recordings or set new benchmarks for what can be achieved at certain price points, this year, more than any other in recent memory, we auditioned a number of products that exhibited high performance and unusually high value. Let's hope this marks a return to true high fidelity—a hi-fi renaissance in which all music fans will turn their backs on poor MP3s, earbuds, and boom boxes, and come to expect their favorite music to be readily available in CD-quality (or better) sound, reproduced using real high-end gear. And please remember that high-end does not necessarily mean high-priced. As I mention in this issue's "The Entry Level," the lines that once clearly separated audiophiles, music lovers, and the general public are becoming increasingly blurred. Intelligent audio companies are producing high-quality products that are attractive, easy to use, and truly affordable. And while there will always be cost-no-object components designed for a few very privileged enthusiasts, there's no longer any reason we can't all enjoy high-fidelity sound.

We select our winners using a two-part process. First, each of Stereophile's hardware reviewers is asked to nominate up to six components in each of the seven primary categories. To be a contender, a product had to have been reviewed in one of the 12 issues of Stereophile published from November 2012 through October 2013, 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). John Atkinson tallied the votes; address your love letters and hate mail to him. (See JA's comments on how the voting process works here.)

The prices listed were current as of the end of September 2013. To order back issues mentioned in this article, call (888) 237-0955, or visit shop.stereophile.com (MasterCard and Visa only). Almost all the reviews are available free of charge in our online Archives.

And the winners are . . .

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Comments
anthony.aaron47's picture
A worthwhile alternative ...

As a refugee from high-end audio (my former spouse got custody of our system), I'd like to offer a counterpoint to what is offered here.

A competing audio site recently (October 24, 2013) reviewed a pair of Omega Super 3T Single-Driver monitors and a Dared 2A3C integrated amplifier.

Based on that review, and some phone conversations with the owner of Omega Speakers and the US Importer for Dared, I purchased a pair of Omega Super 3S speakers (the flagship of the Omega Super 3 series) and the Dared 2A3C SET integrated amplifier, plus Kimber Kable 4PR 8' cables. Total cost, less than $2k.

Thie sound of this system is magical -- even without being fully broken in yet -- and it just keeps getting better as the listening hours pass. The sublime sound of each component is dependent -- and revealing of -- the other. Neither operates in a vacuum. The speakers offer a wide and layered sound stage, fine detail when it's in the recording, and depth down to 38 Hz. The amplifier is dead silent -- and at 8 wpc is well able to push the sound out to these magnificent 4.5" full-range drivers.

This is a sublime system -- and, even though I've had a system that I considered excellent at 7 or 8 times the price -- I'll take this one any day.

bwright's picture
KEF LS50

I have to comment on your review of the KEF LS50, as I have listened to these speakers at length.  

The bass is incredible for an enclosure of this size.  It is smooth and expansive.  The midrange is gorgeous and clear, and the air and space that this speaker lends to all recordings is superb.  In those areas, it far surpassed the other models I recently auditioned in the $5000 range.

But given the reviews, it was the aluminum tweeters that left me scratching my head.  On certain tracks, the treble was sharply etched, and had the same harsh and 'ringing' character that 90% of the metal tweeters I have heard typically exhibit.  

On occasion, you will find metal tweeters executed beautifully - Vivid loudspeakers are a notable example.  But in my experience, they are the exception to the rule.

I realize human hearing can be subjective.  Maybe it's just me.  Or it was the recordings or components used.  But that wasn't the case with other models I listened to, and with the exact same amplification and source.

In the areas mentioned, this speaker was truly incredible, and a remarkable achievement.  If your system is a bit more forgiving than most, then you'll love them. 

JohnJ's picture
Thumbs up for John Atkinson this time :)

I just want to give John Atkinson thumbs up for giving "awards"/saluting year awards to the two low budget speakers KEF LS50 and Pioneer SP-BS22-LR :  Great !!

I also want to thank him for his enormous amount of component measuring during many years: I have learnt a lot on where great hi-fi can be found from his conclusions of the measurements: For instance that Benchmark Media and Bryston make excellent measuring gear for a low/sensible amount of money while in contrast DartZeel and Edge are bad value for money.

 

John Atkinson's picture
Re: Thumbs up for John Atkinson this time :)

JohnJ wrote:
I also want to thank him for his enormous amount of component measuring during many years: I have learnt a lot on where great hi-fi can be found from his conclusions of the measurement...

Thanks very much. This aspect of the magazine is very much a labor of love on my part.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

 

bwright's picture
Update

I'll now humbly revise my comments above.  I returned to the dealer who had originally arranged my auditions with the LS50.  They mentioned that I had been one of the first to listen to this particular set of speakers.  Since that point, they had been auditioned numerous times, and could now be considered fully broken in.  

I figured it was worth investigating, and set up the speakers with the same CD, source, cables and amplification.  Indeed, the hardness in the treble noted previously had completely disappeared.

This taught me an important lesson, and made me wonder how many other components I had written off in a similar way.  But one thing I did realize - the Stereophile award was spot on, and the LS50 is an incredible value.  The presence and warmth they add to vocals is stunning.  And if your desktop is big enough, these could be the ultimate computer audio speakers.

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