Recommended Components: Fall 2020 Edition

All products listed here have been formally reviewed in Stereophile. We consider all the products listed, regardless of rating, to be genuinely recommendable.

Products are listed in alphabetical order within classes, each followed by a brief description of its performance characteristics and a note indicating the issue of Stereophile in which its review, and in some cases Follow-Up reports, appeared; ie, "Vol.42 No.6" indicates our June 2019 issue.

Stereophile's Recommended Components listing is concerned mainly with products available in the US through the usual hi-fi retail outlets, although some products can be ordered online. Components available only through dealers must have a well-established dealer network. Companies that sell their wares only online must demonstrate the capacity for adequate customer support, preferably domestic.

We recommend that you read our Recommended Components synopses to get an idea of which products you're interested in, then carefully read each product's review before seriously contemplating a purchase. Many salient characteristics, peculiarities, and caveats appear in the review that are not included in the circa 200-word synopsis. Almost all recent reviews are published online at; these are marked WWW in parentheses at the end of the synopsis. More reviews are added online each week. Back issues of the magazine can also be ordered from the website. We regret that we cannot supply photocopies or email copies of individual reviews.

How We Did It
We try to include in Recommended Components every product that, in a formal review or column, we have found to be truly excellent or to represent good value. The listing is compiled after consultation with Stereophile's reviewing staff and editors—including, notably, Technical Editor John Atkinson. Our ratings take into account not only what we heard during the review period but also our continued experience with the product (if any) after the formal review has been published. Defects discovered after auditioning may cause a product to be downgraded or removed from the list. A favorable review cannot therefore be regarded as a guarantee that a product will continue to appear in this listing. We always endeavor to report why a product has been removed from the list.

The Class ratings we give are based entirely on performance—ie, faithfulness of reproduction to the original in as many aspects as possible. Products markedly deficient are downrated to the extent that their deficiencies interfere with the full realization of the program material—except that obvious "deficiencies," such as limited bass extension in a minimonitor, are assumed. Measurements that indicate poor engineering or reveal a potentially audible defect may cause us to downgrade our rating—but the reviewer's sonic experience is the most important thing.

All our reviewers have their own points of view—something that we who publish them take pride in. Recommended Components is a funnel into which all of their opinions are poured—so, well, it's complicated. It's best not to expect perfect thematic or methodological consistency. You may see on occasion a very expensive and well-regarded product receive a B while a far less expensive, competing product that has deeply impressed one or more writers gets an A. You may find a high-tech amplifier with vanishingly low noise and distortion listed alongside an old-school tube amp; what they share is the ability to facilitate musical bliss in their respective reviewers. We editors sometimes intervene in the assignment of ratings to smooth those steps into a more reasonable-looking wave—but readers are advised to get to know the tastes of the various reviewers; recommendations are most useful to those who share the reviewer's tastes. Of course, if you can, you should always audition a component yourself before buying.

The prices indicated are current at the time the listing was compiled (July 2020). We cannot guarantee that these prices will be the same by the time this issue of Stereophile appears in print. Note also that, in products for which multiple finish options exist, the price we list is for the base-level finish.

There is a near-universal consensus that at some point in the upward climb of product prices, severely diminishing returns (performance vs price) set in. However, there is no agreement as to the price level at which that takes place. Where we have found a product to perform much better than might be expected at its price, we have drawn attention to it with a $$$ next to its listing. But otherwise, Class ratings do not explicitly take price into account, except to the extent that impressions of value implicitly factor in to a reviewer's opinion of the product.

Please bear in mind that deletion of a product from this list does not mean we woke up one morning, decided the thing was terrible, and banished it from our pages. In general, products remain listed for just three years, for two very good reasons: There's not enough space in the magazine for several years' worth of products of merit, and it's impossible to compare a component to others when your memory of it is dim. We indicate with a star ★ products we have chosen to keep on this list for longer than three years, which may happen because they are part of a reviewer's "kit" (so the reviewer has ongoing experience) or because one of us has judged them to have achieved sufficient stature to remain on the list beyond the sell-by date. Stars, though, are not permanent: A product with a star may still be deleted in a future issue. In fact it probably will be, someday.

Discontinuation of a model by its manufacturer also, of course, precludes its continued appearance on the list. Significant design changes that could affect performance do the same, even when there's every reason to expect the changes to make it sound better.

The presence of a product on this list should provide reassurance to potential buyers, but removal of a product from the list does not make it sound worse than it sounded before. So please don't be upset if a product you purchased on our say-so has fallen, leaflike, from the Recommended Components tree. And if you are upset, please don't call to tell us about it.

Individual reviewers identified by their initials are John Atkinson, Jim Austin (JCA), Brian Damkroger, Robert Deutsch, Art Dudley, Michael Fremer, Larry Greenhill, Jon Iverson, Fred Kaplan, Michael Lavorgna, Eric Lichte, Sasha Matson, Ken Micallef, Julie Mullins (JMu), Thomas J. Norton, Wes Phillips, Herb Reichert, Bob Reina (BJR), Kalman Rubinson, Jonathan Scull, Rob Schryer, and Jason Victor Serinus.

partain's picture

I can't stand it !
Please review the new & improved KEF LS50s.
The things I've read are titillating , to say the least.

John Atkinson's picture
partain wrote:
Please review the new & improved KEF LS50s.

There is a pair of the new KEF LS50 Meta on its way to me.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Link's picture

Awesome, looking forward to the review. Wireless or passive? Just curious what to expect. Thanks.

John Atkinson's picture
Link wrote:
Awesome, looking forward to the review. Wireless or passive?


John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

rk11's picture

Auditioned the KEF R3s, Polk Legend L200s and the KEF LS 50 Metas a few days ago with 5 tracks of my choosing and thus far my rank ordering of these speakers is as noted. Personally, I found the Metas a bit bright and their bass response was the most lacking - not surprising given the size of the speaker cabinet. Never been a fan of the Polk speakers till the Legend series. The 200s were every bit as good as the R3s EXCEPT in the vocals. I am sure that JA's review will be under a much better controlled environment.

marlie's picture

I feel the same when went to the auditing room of a store to audit, that the bass response of LS 50 Meta is lacking compare to R3, feels more tin-ish to me.

Shangri-La's picture

In the written review, the Ares II was preferred over the Chord Qutest. Yet the Qutest is rated Class A and Ares II is Class B. Interesting...

LinearTracker's picture

BD gave the Duo an “A” rating and deservedly so, but I am listening to the new Duo with the linear power supply and believe it to be a game changer.
I hope to see an update soon.

Link's picture

I have been able to compare the BRXs to a true class A speaker in my system, and I do now agree with the class B rating. Thanks again for the great reviews.

Glotz's picture

with explanation...

Link's picture

Comparisons having been done, the BRXs are nothing to shake a 1M interconnect at. Although they are not quite up there in terms of transparency, detail, and air - they sure do get the timbre, neutrality, and imaging right.

thyname's picture

You butchered the name of T+A MP 3100 HV. Please fix it. There is no such thing as “ T+A MD 3001 HD SACD/CD player: $21,000”

Robin Landseadel's picture

The "A" rated Sennheiser HD 650 headphones have been reissued at a lower price [with a couple of changes that don't affect the sound] as the Drop HD 6XX. Drop is an online only operation, sells for $220 + shipping & tax. It's one of the cheapskate audio high points of the season along with Topping Headphone amps and DACS.

Ali's picture

Thanks but for whatever reason, I cant find AR new REF 6SE preamp here.

John Atkinson's picture
Ali wrote:
Thanks but for whatever reason, I cant find AR new REF 6SE preamp here.

The Audio Research Ref6 SE was reviewed in the November issue, after this edition of Recommended Components was published. It is eligible for inclusion in the April 2021 edition.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

ygbae's picture

I don't know whether anyone has noticed or not, but the header of PS Audio DirectStream Power Plant is hiding next to "See Interconnects." of Nordost Valhalla 2 AC power cord.

Jim Austin's picture

Jim Austin, Editor

Link's picture

I know that there have already been several follow-ups on this DAC, but am wondering if you have any plans to review the latest firmware, Windom. Thanks!

Kunst des Fugue's picture

(No idea why I'm shouting into the void.) Stereophile discusses equipment without accurately describing the context. Most vexing is the cavalier references to devices that can be connected by balanced or unbalanced lines. Stereophile might mention that devices are connected by a balanced line, but they never mention whether the balanced line is at "consumer" level (~2V) or standard professional level (+10dBu). The subsequent SNR are never addressed. Furthermore, incompatibility between devices is never addressed. For example, the Benchmark LA4 has pro-level outputs and their AHB2 accepts pro-level input. Does Stereophile bother to mention which other devices are compatible with these? I find no evidence of that.