Stereophile's Products of 2013 Editors' Choices

Editors' Choices

Pioneer SP-BS22-LR loudspeaker ($129.99/pair; reviewed by Robert J. Reina and Stephen Mejias, July & September 2013, Vol.36 Nos. 7 & 9 Review)

In almost any other year, the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR loudspeaker would have easily walked away with the award for Budget Component of the Year. Despite an unusually strong group of contenders, it did well in the category, winning three first-place votes, including my own. That the Pioneer also stole four total votes, including one first-place vote (from [ahem] Bob Reina) in our Loudspeaker category, is further testament to the high regard it enjoys among our writers. At just $129.99/pair (often discounted), the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR is, without a doubt, one of the greatest bargains in all of hi-fi.

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From time to time, people ask me whether I've grown tired of reviewing "the cheap stuff." Ha! I've got the best beat in the business. When it comes to hi-fi, I find nothing more exciting than a great-sounding component that my friends and I can actually afford. I suspect most audio engineers feel the same: They want as many people as possible to hear their designs.

While reviewing the SP-BS22-LR ("The Entry Level," September 2013), I asked Pioneer's Andrew Jones whether he thought it important that the high-end audio industry provide such affordable products.

"I think it's crucial," he replied. "You only have to look at the comments when expensive hi-fi is mentioned on the blogs. I would say that such articles receive almost universal condemnation and derision in the comments sections. We need that to change, and the only way is to provide products at low enough entry prices that we attract new blood onto the upgrade path, so that they begin to understand that listening to hi-fi can be intensely rewarding and that the expensive product does ultimately justify itself in the performance it provides. It's also important that the very high-end companies take part, to show that we care about encouraging new listeners and that we are not just an elitist club."

I completely agree. Thank you, Andrew Jones and Pioneer. The SP-BS22-LR is my very favorite product of 2013. I recommend you buy a pair for yourself and additional pairs for two, three, or 1500 friends.—Stephen Mejias

Devialet D-Premier integrated amplifier ($15,995; reviewed by John Atkinson, January & June 2013, Vol.36 Nos. 1 & 6 Review)

The Stereophile issues published between November 2012 and October 2013 contained reviews of products of extraordinarily wide ranges of price and performance. But of the 15 products I reviewed in those issues—which included the wonderful KEF LS50 and the cost-no-object YG Acoustics Sonja 1.3 loudspeakers; Pass Labs' XP-30, the finest preamplifier I have ever experienced; and the superb Ayre Acoustics QA-9 A/D converter—the Devialet D-Premier integrated amplifier lingers longest in my memory. Yes, at $15,995 the Devialet (rhymes with Chevrolet) is expensive. But this slim, elegant component, the size of a small pizza box and just over an inch thick, from a new French company founded by erstwhile telecoms engineers, is so much more than an integrated amplifier.

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"THE AMPLIFIER REVOLUTION STARTS HERE," proclaimed the cover of the January 2013 issue of this magazine. And the Devialet D-Premier is indeed a revolutionary product. The circuit, which combines a high-quality, class-A output stage for voltage delivery with a unique class-D output stage for current delivery, has just two resistors and two capacitors in the analog signal path. It takes both digital and analog inputs, including phono, and has an SD card slot to allow its input and output configurations to be customized. It features a 24-bit A/D converter that allows you to digitize analog input signals and rip your LPs. It allows its owner to stream audio from a computer via WiFi. The remote control even features a traditional volume-control knob!

Devialet's D-Premier is truly an "exit-level" product. The well-heeled music lover need add only source components and a pair of speakers to have a sonically superb, extraordinarily flexible, future-proof system.—John Atkinson

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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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