Stereophile's Products of 2017

The mice in the walls call summer to close while nets come down and leaves turn dead red, but by the time you see this there'll be holiday music in the air . . . and some generous soul might, just might, sneak a few looks through this issue of Stereophile to see what gifts to buy before the tree goes up and presents are opened—and all will be nice!

And what better way to serve those possible givers of audio gifts—and, at the same time, honor our hobby's most deserving designers and manufacturers—than with our annual Product of the Year awards?

When it's all said and done, some of us will remember 2017 not only as the year when the vinyl renaissance became more entrenched and MQA began making serious inroads, but as the year Stereophile revived a category in our annual competition: Headphone Product of the Year. No more will headphones and headphone amplifiers suffer the indignity of being lumped in with cable suspenders and quantum-field hollerers!

By the same token, some of us will remember this year's competition for results that are . . . interesting. Our first-ever Headphone Product of the Year is not a pair of headphones. Our Accessory of the Year is something so intangible it lives in a cloud. And our Overall Product of the Year won by an Electoral College–style fluke. Well, dog my cats.

What happened
How did we do it? The process began in early September, when editor John Atkinson asked my colleagues and me for nominations in each of eight categories: Loudspeaker, Amplification Product, Analog Component, Digital Component, Headphone Product, Accessory, Budget Product, and Overall Product of the Year. Eligible products were those that were reviewed in the November 2016 through October 2017 issues.

The candidates were limited to products that were, in the pages of those 12 issues of Stereophile, the subject of a full Equipment Report or Follow-Up, or were written about in a column by me or my colleagues Michael Fremer, Michael Lavorgna, Herb Reichert, or Kal Rubinson. We did not consider products that took top honors in any previous year's PotY celebration.

In the next step, JA compiled and distributed a list of every component that was nominated by at least three Stereophile contributors, the idea being to ensure that every one of those finalist products was heard by as many of our reviewers as possible. Then each Stereophile contributor's job was to cast three votes in each category: 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 two years ago, we writers, we band of brothers, have been asked to select our own personal Product of the Year, in which each honors the one item that impressed him beyond all others. These are listed at the end, under "Editors' Choices."

The final step: John Atkinson asked me to compose this essay, and allowed me to tart it up with jokes about manufacturers, politicians (one swipe each at a Republican and a Democrat), and corporate food-product manufacturers. Indeed, it is JA who tallies the votes, so it is JA to whom the noncomplacent should send notes of praise and approbation. (See his comments on the voting process here.)

The prices listed below were current as of August 2017. To order any back issue mentioned in this article, call (888) 237-0955, or visit (MasterCard and Visa only).

And the winners are . . .

stereoGoodness's picture

I'm not sure I understand the following:

"One can parse this in any number of ways, but to me, all those second-place votes speak of voters who may have lacked full confidence in the Kii's ability to take top honors, but who nevertheless said to themselves, while pulling the lever, 'Maybe this one isn't as crazy as we think?' Can't think what that reminds me of . . ."

Can someone less obtuse than I please enlighten me?

dalethorn's picture

The price isn't out of line for PotY, but given the relatively low price plus the fact that it's self-amplified *and* it's DSP-controlled is extremely unusual. After all, you're accepting not only its amplifiers and preamps, but whatever the DSP codec does to the sound.

Kal Rubinson's picture

They are, of course, inseparable and that should make one's assessment less complex, not more.

Glotz's picture

Would the unit be considered as an extension of the original DAC1 and its variants?

The Kii system does seem very next gen, and I agree, it reduces a set of system variables by the integration of its technologies. If I had the dosh...

John Atkinson's picture
Eligible products for the 2017 Awards had to be reviewed between November 2016 and October 2017. The Benchmark DAC3 is reviewed in the November 2017 issue so will be a contender for the 2018 awards.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Shangri-La's picture

Did the GoldenEar Reference speakers not make the cut to compete in this year's competition, or it was included but just not good enough to win/be nominated for anything?

John Atkinson's picture
Shangri-La wrote:
Did the GoldenEar Reference speakers not make the cut to compete in this year's competition?

As it says in the introduction, eligible products had to be reviewed between November 2016 and October 2017. The GoldenEar Triton Reference speaker is reviewed in the January 2018 issue.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

scottsol's picture

The Ayre does not have “an abundance of analog and digital inputs”. Only digital inputs are available. The unit is now also available at a lower price by excluding the USB and/or Ethernet inputs.

sb6's picture

Late to the game, but I'd like to understand more about criteria. Specifically, was price or more explicitly sonic value per $ considered when each reviewer made their picks?