Stereophile's Products of 2016
I wished for more choices: choices with less money behind them, choices I wasn't merely expected to make, alternative choices that stood a chance of winning.
I wished for a better sense of the world around me: Why hadn't I strayed outside my comfort zone a little more often? Why hadn't I tried harder to listen as others do?
Most of all, and simplest of all, I wished for more time: Damn it all, I'm too busy! Why can't I have another month to make up my mind?
But no. John Atkinson was insistent: "Please don't abstain," he wrote in an e-mail under the subject heading "2016 Product of the Year Final Ballot." "The fairness of the . . . system depends on everyone voting." I rolled up my sleeves and got busy.
The importance of voting wasn't lost on me: For the first time in my 13 years at Stereophile, I had had a hand in editing every one of the reviews we've published in the preceding 12 months. Owing to the powers of description of our team of contributing editors, I felt I knew each of those products as more than just a photo on a press release. And in mid-September, when JA compiled and distributed to all of us the list of over 130 individual products covered in our November 2015 through October 2016 issues, I was reminded all over again: Ortofon SPU #1S? TotalDAC d1-tube-mk2? Elac Debut B6? First Watt J2? Not a bad year at all! There were more, and more varied, choices than I, in my fearful crankiness, had remembered.
JA asked my colleagues and me to nominate up to six products in each of seven categories: Analog Source Component of the Year (turntables, cartridges, phono preamps, etc.), Digital Source Component of the Year (DACs, CD players, etc.), Amplification Component of the Year (amps, preamps, integrated amps), Loudspeaker of the Year (including subwoofers), Accessory of the Year (cables, equipment supports, passive vibrating thingamabobs, etc.), Budget Component of the Year, and Component of the Year. We chose these from among commercial goods that had been the subjects of full Equipment Reports or Follow-Ups in that year's worth of issues, or had been written about in columns by Michael Fremer, Michael Lavorgna, Herb Reichert, Kalman Rubinson, or me.
We did not consider products that had taken top honors in any previous year's Products of the Year (POTY) celebration, and, owing to revelations that have their origins in the scientific communityonly recently have I learned that, in the four millennia since 2000 BCE, the Earth's axial tilt has shifted enough that the astrologers of today are not looking at quite the same celestial objects as did their ancient predecessorswe were ordered to disregard the sun signs of the products' designers and to base our votes exclusively on firsthand experience. In other words, as founder J. Gordon Holt had done beginning with the first issue of Stereophile, we listened, then chose the things we liked best.
After that first round of nominations, it was the job of each of us to cast three votes in each of the seven categories: to give three points to our first choice in that category, two points to our second choice, and one point to our third. Thus do we choose our winners. And thus do the results reveal a certain density of information: Surely there are distinctions between a product that receives three first-place votes and one that receives nine third-place votes.
Incidentally, two of my favorite products of 2016 didn't get votes from anyone who isn't me, and four of my favorite products of 2016 got no votes at all. See if you can guess which they are.
Since 2014, all Stereophile contributors have also selected a Personal Product of the Year. I have a special fondness for that category, if only because it provides an opportunity to honor those out-of-the-mainstream things that might otherwise fall through the cracks. Think of a Personal Product of the Year award as a cabinet appointment for the candidate who, in inspiring the very few, comes close to outshining the triumphant.
As always, because it is JA who tallies the votes, it is JA to whom The Anxious should send notes of praise and approbation (footnote 1).
The prices listed below were current as of August 2016. To order any of the back issues mentioned in this article, call (888) 237-0955, or visit shop.stereophile.com (MasterCard and Visa only).
And the winners are . . .
Footnote 1: See John Atkinson's comments on the voting process here.Art Dudley