Stereophile's Products of 2009

I was sitting in the main listening room of In Living Stereo, a small Manhattan hi-fi shop nestled between Greenwich Village and the East Village, when my conversation with store owner Steve Mishoe turned to the economy's current dismal state. In the face of slow sales, Mishoe had noted an encouraging trend: Because we have less money to spend, we want to make sure that what money we do spend goes for products that not only deliver the thrill of something new, but also promise enduring quality. If this is true, then we have reason to celebrate. By shifting our focus from the so-called "latest and greatest" to that which will provide lasting enjoyment, we set ourselves up for some real happiness and fun. Editor John Atkinson had this in mind 17 years ago, when he began our "Products of the Year" ritual. He felt it important to distinguish the truly good products from all the flashy pretenders that too often win the affections of our capricious hearts.

Annually since 1992, then, Stereophile has named a few choice components as its "Products of the Year." We believe these are special products capable of providing musical pleasure far beyond our formal review period. To keep the awards procedure straightforward, we have just five primary categories: Loudspeakers (including subwoofers), Amplification Components (preamplifiers, power amplifiers, etc.), Digital Source Components (transports, processors, music servers, disc players), Analog Source Components (phono cartridges, turntables, tonearms, FM tuners, etc.), and Accessories (all those little extras that keep us busy and satisfied). In a more recent tradition, each of our writers and editors also gets to declare his favorite product. Finally, the two most important categories are self-explanatory: Our overall "Product of the Year" is the best of the best; and my favorite category, Budget Product of the Year, leaves us with the most cash to spend on new records.

The voting went like this: Each of Stereophile's 16 hardware reviewers and editors was asked to nominate up to six components for each category. To be a contender, a product had to have been reviewed in one of the 12 issues of Stereophile from November 2008 through October 2009, in a full Equipment Report, a Follow-Up review, or in one of the regular columns by Art Dudley, Michael Fremer, John Marks, Kalman Rubinson, and Sam Tellig. That way, only those components could be nominated for which a writer had put his opinion in print for public scrutiny. We then compiled a ballot form listing all components nominated by three or more writers and/or editors. This process ensured that most nominees in most categories will have been auditioned by the most reviewers. Each editor or reviewer gave three votes for his first choice in each category, two votes for his second choice, and one vote for his third choice (if any). An unambiguous picture emerged as the votes came in, and the winners became clear. John Atkinson tallied the votes—address your love letters and hate mail to him at stletters@sorc.com. (See JA's comments on how the voting process works.)

The prices listed were current as of the end of September 2009. To order back issues mentioned in this article, call (888) 237-0955, or visit www.stereophile.com (MasterCard and Visa only). "WWW" indicates that the review is available in our free online Archives.

And the winners are . . .

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