Stereophile's Products of 2013 Joint Amplification Components of the Year

Joint Amplification Components of the Year

Audio Research Reference 75 power amplifier ($9000; reviewed by Robert J. Reina, May 2013, Vol.36 No.5 Review)

Ayre Acoustics AX-5 integrated amplifier ($9950; reviewed by Art Dudley, August 2013, Vol.36 No.8 Review)

Dan D'Agostino Momentum monoblock power amplifier ($55,000/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer, February 2013, Vol.36 No.2 Review)

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

Technically, with 12 total votes apiece, the D'Agostino Momentum and Devialet D-Premier topped our pack of contenders, barely edging out the Audio Research Ref75 and Ayre AX-5, each of which earned a total of 11 votes. But when we took a closer look at the tally, we were surprised by what we saw: More of our writers voted for the Ayre than the D'Agostino; and when it came to first-place votes, the Devialet just edged out the ARC. These results, combined with everything we've heard from these four outstanding products throughout the year, made the verdict clear: a four-way tie.

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Audio Research's Reference 75 power amp follows in the footsteps of its big brother, last year's decisive winner, the Reference 150. A half-power version of that model, the 75Wpc Ref75 uses four KT120 and two 6H30 tubes. Two front-panel VU meters provide a touch of old-school cool and double as adjustment meters for biasing each KT120—style, utility, and convenience. A relatively simple, straightforward circuit design enables short signal paths, while high-quality output transformers offer 4 and 8 ohm taps, with a common ground. The typically calm, collected Bob Reina was roused by the Ref75: "I enjoyed listening to music so much through it that every time I entered the listening room and saw its silvery hulk beckoning to me, I turned it on and played some music." Hello, you silvery hulk you.

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Like the Ref75, Ayre's statement integrated amplifier has good genes. The AX-5 uses a variable-gain transconductance circuit trickled down from the KX-R, Ayre's top-of-the-line preamp and our 2009 Amplification Component of the Year, and adds a class-A/B diamond-circuit output section to deliver 125Wpc into 8 ohms. Even a devoted tube lover like Art Dudley had to appreciate the solid-state AX-5's combination of warmth, color, and clarity: "Heck, it's one of the finest amps I've lived with, period. . . . I can imagine this product becoming something of a standard, and deservedly so." (If only it had tubes! If only it produced massive amounts of third-harmonic distortion! Kidding!)

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We knew it was just a matter of time before Dan D'Agostino returned to high-end audio, and we knew that when he did, he'd do so with style and class. But not even Mikey Fremer could have expected D'Agostino's stunning Momentum monoblock. A large, round power meter dominates the front panel, giving the amp the look of a luxury timepiece. Thick copper side panels gleam like new pennies and act as heatsinks, and the amp's compact (12.5" W by 5" H by 21" D) chassis is machined from a single aluminum billet. And the Momentum is just as impressive under the hood: The low-feedback, fully complementary, balanced design uses 1% metal-film resistors and two dozen 69MHz output transistors in a direct-coupled, discrete, bipolar output circuit with a claimed frequency response of 20Hz–20kHz, Ò0.1dB. Mikey loved the Momentum's tube-like midrange, authoritative bass, and overall coherence. "Dan D'Agostino's Momentum is clearly his best design yet," he concluded.

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Perhaps the most radical amplifier we've ever reviewed, the French-made Devialet D-Premier is a remote-controlled, WiFi-capable, solid-state integrated with internal D/A section, switch-mode power supply, and high-efficiency output stage specified to deliver 240Wpc into 6 ohms. It combined remarkable versatility and a future-proof design with a sound that was clean, clear, detailed, and dramatic. "Devialet's D-Premier is the most extraordinary product I have reviewed for Stereophile," JA summed up. Enough said.

Runners-up: (in alphabetical order)

Audio Research Reference 5 SE preamplifier ($13,000; reviewed by Brian Damkroger & Robert J. Reina, November 2012 & February 2013, Vol.35 No.11 & Vol.36 No.2 Review)
Bel Canto Design e.One C7R receiver ($2995; reviewed by Erick Lichte, March 2013, Vol.36 No.3 Review)
Croft Phono Integrated integrated amplifier ($1895; reviewed by Art Dudley & Stephen Mejias, October 2013, Vol.36 No.10 Review)
Lamm ML3 Signature monoblock power amplifier ($139,490/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer, September 2013, Vol.36 No.9 Review)
Pass Labs XP-30 preamplifier ($16,500; reviewed by John Atkinson, April 2013, Vol.36 No.10 Review)
Simaudio Moon Evolution 880M monoblock power amplifier ($42,000/pair; reviewed by Brian Damkroger, June 2013, Vol.36 No.6 Review)
TAD C600 preamplifier ($42,000; reviewed by Michael Fremer, June 2013, Vol.36 No.6 Review)
Ypsilon Aelius monoblock power amplifier ($36,000/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer, April 2013, Vol.36 No.4 Review)

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COMMENTS
anthony.aaron47's picture

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

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

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

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

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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