Stereophile's Products of 2015
But this is no mere nostalgia: Only once every 12 months do we set aside our complaints, our contentions, our niggling criticisms, and simply declare: Here are seven products that kicked righteous wads of ass and made it worthwhile to be an audiophile this year. And precisely half of our top-place winners are priced within reach of the average consumer.
How do we do it? The process begins in early September, when we supply Stereophile's official astrologer with the dates, times, and places of birth of the designers whose products were featured in our pages during the previous 12 months. We draw from that data a chart, which we then overlay with a graph showing how much money each of those companies spent on us for food and drink and advertising, and we circle the seven most conspicuous points of intersection. And voilàthere are our winners, staring us in the face.
I'm joking, of course: Our real methods aren't nearly so scientific. All we really do is listen to the stuff, write about it, and sometimes measure it. Then, come September, when the air is crisp and the leaves turn red and the shelves of our local Walmart fill with Christmas decorations, editor John Atkinson asks for nominations from all of us whose reviews were published in the last 12 monthly issues: from November of the previous year through October of the current year.
The candidates are limited to products that were the subjects of full Equipment Reports or Follow-Ups in the pages of those dozen issues of Stereophile, or were written about in a column by me or one of my colleagues: Michael Fremer, Michael Lavorgna, John Marks, Herb Reichert, Kal Rubinson, and Sam Tellig. We do not consider products that took top honors in any previous year's PotY celebration, or whose designers were born when Mercury was retrograde.
JA asks us to nominate up to six eligible products in each of seven categories: Analog Source Components (turntables, tonearms, phono cartridges, phono preamplifiers, phono transformers, and sundry step-up devices); Digital Source Components (D/A processors, transports, external clocks, media servers, and CD players); Amplification Components (preamplifiers, power amplifiers, and integrated amplifiers); Loudspeakers (including subwoofers); and Accessories (headphones, headphone amplifiers, cables, isolation devices, and media-cleaning products. Two overarching categories remain: Overall Component of the Year, and Budget Component of the Year. In 2015, the price ceiling for the latter is $1500; if Stereophile still exists in 2054, that ceiling will be $28,000.
In the next step, JA compiles and distributes a list of every component that was nominated by a minimum of three Stereophile contributors, the idea being to ensure that every one of those finalists was heard by as many of our reviewers as possible. Then the Stereophile contributor's job is to cast three votes in each of the seven categories: to give three points to his first choice, two points to his second choice, and one point to his third. In that manner, the results reveal a certain density of information: Surely, there are distinctions between the product that receives three first-place votes and the one that receives nine third-place votes.
Beginning last year, we writers, we band of brothers, have been asked to select our own Personal Product of the Year, in which each Stereophile contributor honors the one item that impressed him beyond all others. I think you should read mine first (an actual quote from a fellow audio writer!).
The final step: JA asks me to compose this essay, and allows me to tart it up with jokes about other writers. Indeed, it is JA who tallies the votes, so it is JA to whom the noncomplacent should send notes of praise or vituperation. (See his comments on the voting process here.)
On reflection, I see that I've made very few major purchases, houses and surgical procedures excepted, without checking to see what my favorite magazine writers had to say about each. Consequently or not, my career as a consumer has been largely successful, and my few failureswhich include my sadly unreliable 2010 Volkswagen Tiguan and a Sealy Posturepedic mattress that I think might be a counterfeitprobably couldn't have been predicted without an astrolabe and a lifetime subscription to Cosmopolitan. My colleagues and I hope that Stereophile's Products of the Year selections for 2015, however personal they may be, will prove similarly useful.
The prices listed below were current as of August 2015. To order back issues mentioned in this article, call (888) 237-0955, or visit shop.stereophile.com (MasterCard and Visa only). "Review" indicates that the review is available free of charge in our online Archives.
And the winners are . . .