Recommended Components: 2018 Edition

Components listed here have been formally reviewed in Stereophile and have been found to be among the best available in each of four or five quality classes. Whether a component is listed in Class A or Class E, we highly recommend its purchase.

Each listing-in alphabetical order within classes-is followed by a brief description of the product's sonic characteristics and a code indicating the Stereophile Volume and Issue in which that product's report appeared. Thus the May 2017 issue is indicated as "Vol.40 No.5."

Some products listed have not yet been reported on; these are marked (NR), for "Not Reviewed." We recommend that you read any product's entire review before seriously contemplating a purchase (products without reviews should therefore be treated with more caution)-many salient characteristics, peculiarities, and caveats appear in the reviews, but not here. To obtain back issues of the magazine, visit our website: www.stereophile.com. We regret that we cannot supply photocopies or e-mail copies of individual reviews. All full reviews are reprinted in our website "Archives" section: these are marked "WWW." More are added each week, so check the on-line listing.

In general, components do not remain listed for more than three years unless at least one of the magazine's writers and editors has had continued experience with them. Discontinuation of a model also precludes its appearance. In addition, though professional components-recorders, amplifiers, monitor speaker systems-can be obtained secondhand and can sometimes offer performance that would otherwise guarantee inclusion, we do not generally do so. Stereophile's "Recommended Components" listing is almost exclusively concerned with products currently available in the US through the usual hi-fi retail outlets.

How recommendations are determined
The ratings given components included in this listing are based entirely on performance-ie, accuracy of reproduction-and are biased to an extent by our feeling that things added to reproduced sound (eg, jitter, distortion, colorations of various kinds) are of more concern to the musically oriented listener than are things subtracted from the sound (eg, deep bass or extreme treble). On the other hand, components markedly deficient in one or more respects are downrated to the extent that their deficiencies interfere with the full realization of the program material.

We try to include in "Recommended Components" every product that we have found to be truly excellent or that we feel represents good value for money. Bear in mind that many different tastes are represented. The listing is compiled after consultation with Stereophile's reviewing staff and editors, and takes into account continued experience of a product after the formal review has been published. In particular, we take account of unreliability and defects that show up after extended auditioning. The fact that a product received a favorable review cannot therefore be regarded as a guarantee that it will continue to appear in this listing.

The prices indicated are those current at the time the listing was compiled (January 2018). We cannot guarantee that any of these prices will be the same by the time this issue of Stereophile appears in print.

There is a near-universal consensus that at some point in the upward climb of component prices, severely diminishing returns (performance versus price) set in. However, there is no agreement as to the exact price level at which that takes place. Where we have found a product to perform much better than might be expected from its price, we have drawn attention to it with a $$$ next to its listing. We also indicate, with a ★, products that have been on this list in one incarnation or another since the "Recommended Components" listing in Vol.38 No.4 (April 2015). Longevity in a hi-fi component is rare enough that we think it worth noting (although it can also indicate that the attention of design engineers has moved elsewhere).

We are not sympathetic toward letters complaining that the Symphonic Bombast A-123 that we recommended heartily two years ago no longer makes it into "Recommended Components." Where deletions are made, we endeavor to give reasons (there are always reasons). But remember: Deletion of a component from this list does not invalidate a buying decision you have made.

Individual reviewers mentioned by their initials are: John Atkinson, Jim Austin (JCA), Paul Bolin, Lonnie Brownell, Martin Colloms, Brian Damkroger, Robert Deutsch, Art Dudley, Michael Fremer, Larry Greenhill, Jon Iverson, Fred Kaplan, Michael Lavorgna, Erick Lichte, John Marks, Stephen Mejias, Paul Messenger, Ken Micallef, Thomas J. Norton, Wes Phillips, Herb Reichert, Bob J. Reina, Kalman Rubinson, Markus Sauer, Jonathan Scull (J-10), Jason Victor Serinus, Chip Stern, and Sam Tellig.

COMMENTS
supamark's picture

You have the KEF Blade II listed class A full range, and the KEF Reference 5 in class A (restricted LF) yet their frequency respnse in JA's room is essentially the same at 20 Hz (both have a -10dB point below 20 Hz in JA's room)... what's up with that?

link to Ref 5 review measurements page:
https://www.stereophile.com/content/kef-reference-5-loudspeaker-measurem...

John Atkinson's picture
supamark wrote:
You have the KEF Blade II listed class A full range, and the KEF Reference 5 in class A (restricted LF) yet their frequency respnse in JA's room is essentially the same at 20 Hz (both have a -10dB point below 20 Hz in JA's room)... what's up with that?

Judgment call on my part.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

waynel's picture

Was surprised to see this amp on the list considering you said you could not recommend it.

John Atkinson's picture
waynel wrote:
Was surprised to see this amp on the list considering you said you could not recommend it.

This amplifier didn't measure well but I defer to my reviewers' judgments on sound quality when deciding on the ratings.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

supamark's picture

fair enough.

Joe8423's picture

but I've been reading JA's opinions for quite a while and I've concluded that his personal opinions on audio components are the product of terrible hearing and/or terrible taste. I have no criticisms of how he does his job as editor of stereophile. I just can't get my head around his opinions of specific components/speakers.

John Atkinson's picture
Joe8423 wrote:
I've been reading JA's opinions for quite a while and I've concluded that his personal opinions on audio components are the product of terrible hearing and/or terrible taste.

I do have my hearing checked regularly, so it must be my taste :-)

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

mrkaic's picture

...this is a lovely artful reply. Congrats, dude!

Indydan's picture

This is off topic. But, Will Art Dudley or someone else be visiting and reporting on the Montreal audio fest?

John Atkinson's picture
Indydan wrote:
Will Art Dudley or someone else be visiting and reporting on the Montreal audio fest?

Art Dudley and Robert Schryer will be attending the Montreal show for Stereophile.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Indydan's picture

Thanks for the information.

FredisDead's picture

I have learned over the years not to take the rankings seriously, but these are essentially the same speakers, one designed for larger rooms and one designed for smaller rooms. I can't help but believe that the magazine is unduly influenced by John Devore's description of the O/93 as being built down to a lower price point. I don't think JD was fair to his own babies. Since it was Art Dudley whom was the major proponent of the O/96 and since he now has a smaller listening room, it would be great if he were to audition the O/93's in his new room and let us know if he hears a qualitative difference.

ken mac's picture

John [DeVore] has no influence on how we write or review his speakers.
I owned and reviewed many of Johns' speakers (owned 8, Super 8, Nines; reviewed Super 8s, 3s, Nines, O/93) long before I joined Stereophile.
The 2 speakers are not really alike, and not designed for different sized rooms, I believe. I've heard both many times and prefer my O/93s. John makes extremely natural sounding loudspeakers that work well in many systems, hence their popularity.

tonykaz's picture

I'm not much of a Fan of Vinyl nowadays but still... shouldn't there be a phono cartridge in the Same Class as that A+ Turntable for $30,000 or the one for $104,000 ? and.. are there only two "A+" Turntables ?

I can understand, of course. I was a Big Time Phono Cartridge Shop, once upon a time. I know fully well the difficulties involved in proper set up of Phono Cartridges and their Arm and all things tracking, etc,etc,etc,etc,etc,etc,etc..... phew.

Committing to review Phono Cartridges is an elaborate set of burdens to put upon any competent reviewer lacking an Assistant ( like ole HP at TAS had ).

We at Esoteric Audio reviewed ( and had "Active" ) every phono Cartridge we sold, it was an exhausting commitment. Koetsu was A+.

Proper playback of RedBook via one of the many A+ Rated Players is a God Send compared to the Mechanical Complexity of revolving mechanisms and those mechanical transducers having astonishingly low output.

My two great Audiophile Philosophers ( HR & Steve G ) still have vinyl "lives" and rather vast vinyl collection commitments that I'm happily well past, their commentaries have substantial merit because they both have that vast history of experiences giving them the heft of "Earned Confidence" so.....

Stereophile should give them both the A+ Recommended placement : HR for Writing and Steve G for Vlog.

Tony in Michigan

z24069's picture

The list once again contains (many of the same) names of some great offerings from many manufacturers.

It is still beyond explanation however (IMHO) how Esoteric offerings are totally missing from yet another issues of recommended components. The K-01X (now K-01Xs), Grandioso K1, etc...are among some of the finest digital playback gear (same to be said for the 2-box and 4-box options) in the world. Clearly they belong on this list and the lack of focus on evaluating and listing these products with their peers definitely needs to be cured once and for all.

Great issue over all; you are however missing several key entries from Esoteric and others.

Thank you,

John Atkinson's picture
z24069 wrote:
It is still beyond explanation however (IMHO) how Esoteric offerings are totally missing from yet another issues of recommended components.

I have explained this before. If we haven't reviewed a company's products in the past 3 years, they are not included in "Recommended Components." With the changes in Esoteric's US distribution, we have been waiting for things to settle down. However, we do have a review of the Esoteric N-01 scheduled for our August issue.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Ola Harstrom's picture

Was interested to see how this would be rated.

Is HR's coverage (Gramophone Dreams #11 -->so it should perhaps have been in the Fall of 2017 edition...?) not considered a formal review?

Tx!

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