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 classicsthings 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 Yearthe 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 websitesInnerFidelity.com, edited by Tyll Hertsens; and AudioStream.com, edited by Michael Lavorgnawe'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 fidelitya 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 . . .