Stereophile's Products of 2013 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.
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 KT120style, 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.
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!)
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 20Hz20kHz, 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.
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)