Stereophile's Products of 2022

What does it mean to be Stereophile's Product of the Year? It's an honor, certainly, and probably helps the winner sell more products, but is there anything more we can say about it?

The PotY competition is the culmination of a whole year of the magazine's work, starting with the choice of products to review. Only products we review or consider carefully in a column qualify for the competition, and every product we review is eligible for the competition: We only review products we think will have a decent shot at being among the best.

Every product is subjected by the reviewer to a thorough evaluation over a period of weeks or months—plus, for regular reviews (not columns), a session in John Atkinson's measurement laboratory. The resulting review documents what's almost certainly the most thorough evaluation that product will receive outside the manufacturer's development lab (and sometimes inside it; what the manufacturer does in its laboratory generally stays in its laboratory). That document, then—the review itself—is a product's best argument for winning an award—or against it if the review lacks enthusiasm.

Over the course of the reviewing year (which starts with the November issue and ends with the October issue), most reviewers will hear most of the products we review—at audio shows, dealerships, or the listening rooms of other reviewers. (This took a hit during the pandemic, but it's recovering now.) Such encounters can be very helpful, even essential, especially if the system the product is heard in is familiar (eg, the system of a good friend you frequently visit), but by itself it's not enough to form a reliable judgment.

That's a crucial point, often overlooked: If you think you can walk into a room at an audio show, listen for a few minutes, then render a verdict on the quality of the amplifier or player—or even the loudspeaker—think again. That's something that can only be determined with extended listening in an intimately familiar system.

Those two things together, though—an encounter with the product, however brief, plus a trusted reviewer's thorough report—is sufficient to allow a reviewer voting in this competition (or, for that matter, considering a purchase of said component) to make a sound decision (no pun intended). Plus, it's about the best anyone can do, since it's simply not possible to dive sufficiently deeply into every important product released during a year, or even just those reviewed in our pages.

So what does it mean to be Stereophile's Product of the Year? It's the outcome of likely the most rigorous process of recognizing quality in our industry. An honor indeed.

Tracking Prices
This year's competitors for Product of the Year range in price from $69.95 (for the AudioQuest JitterBug FMJ) to $163,000 (for a pair of Estelon Forza loudspeakers with an upgraded finish). That's a wide range, but it doesn't range as high as last year's most expensive PotY candidate, the $450,000 TechDas Air Force Zero turntable.

This year's list is, overall, less expensive than last year's, with the same number of candidate products under $100 (2) as over $100,000 and almost the same number of products under $2000 (38) as over $10,000 (37). In between those two prices—between $2000 and $10,000—are 57 competing products.

Some people, of course, will complain about the not-quite-$100,000 amplifiers and $150,000 speakers we reviewed this year, which is fine, but I think this analysis shows that we're doing a decent job of capturing the whole market, from bottom to top with a focus on the middle.

Above, I wrote that this year's list was less expensive than the previous year's. That's true, but the Finalists are a different story. Excluding the budget and overall categories (for obvious reasons), the average cost of finalists in this contest (using the average price when a range is provided) is $28,334. Hardly cheap.

And the winners? This year, the average price of a category winner—again excluding budget and overall—was an even higher $34,457. That's a good bit more expensive than the average in the PotY competition's inaugural year, 1992, when the average price of a category winner was $6259, or $12,200 in today's dollars. The difference between those two numbers tracks the increase in high-end prices reasonably well, in my subjective estimation.

And what about the overall winner? How does its price compare to those of previous winners? You'll have to read on to figure that out. You'll find no spoilers here.

How We Did It
In early September, I compiled and shared with Stereophile's audio-equipment reviewers a list of products reviewed in the magazine between the November 2021 and October 2022 issues. In this year's process, each reviewer was invited to nominate three products in each of seven categories: Amplification Component of the Year, Analog Source Component of the Year, Digital Source Component of the Year, Headphone Product of the Year, Accessory of the Year, Loudspeaker of the Year, and Budget Product of the Year. Reviewers were asked to award three points to their top choice, two points to their second choice, and one point to their third choice. The result of Round One was a list of Finalists comprised of top vote-getters in each category.

The Budget category is, of course, a bit different from the others. Last year, I decided not to put an absolute maximum price on products eligible for the budget category; after all, a $500 amplifier or pair of speakers is obviously budget, but a $1000 phono cartridge might not be. So I played it by ear, conservatively. I did the same thing this year. Prices in Budget ranged from $69.95 for the AudioQuest JitterBug to $2395 for a fully decked-out EAR Phono Classic phono preamp (although the EAR is more obviously "budget" at the low end of its price range, $1695 for the basic, MM-only model; indeed, because its MM stage is its best feature, the cheaper model is by far the better buy). A "budget" component, then, is one that in the judgment of Stereophile's editor—me—is considerably cheaper than most of the products we review in its category.

In addition to qualifying for the second round of voting in their category, every Finalist from every category—not including Budget—remained in the running for Overall Product of the Year.

In the second round of voting, reviewers were again asked to award three points, two points, or a single point to their favorites in each category—but this time, the lists were shorter. The highest vote-getter would became the category winner.

The Overall category, though, was a special case: 32 candidates were still in the running for the Overall prize after the first round of voting. I'd thought that a third round of voting would be needed to obtain a clear winner; I had planned to send out a third ballot. That proved unnecessary, though, because the second-round Overall votes concentrated on a small subset of candidate products. Even with so many choices, an obvious winner emerged, along with a shortlist of products that received significant numbers of votes; those "shortlist" products were named Finalists in the Overall category.

Some final notes: The prices listed herein were current at the end of August 2022; some may have changed by the time you read this. Finalists in each category are listed in alphabetical order.

To order back issues mentioned in this article, call (888) 237-0955 or visit shop.stereophile.com. All the reviews are available online, free.

And the winners are ...

COMMENTS
Jack L's picture

......seven categories: Amplification Component of the Year,.."qtd Jim Austin

My question is: did "each reviewer" already auditioned "EACH of the 3 items in the seven categories" in order to give valid & impartial nominations ????

Otherwise, how could it be a valid nomination in case the reviewer(s) concerned never auditioned those particular candidate components out of the seven categories he/she nominated ????

IMO, actual personal in-depth audition of a candidate components is crucial of valid & fair nomination given by the reviewers concerned.

Listening with own ears is believing

Jack L

ChrisS's picture

Jack L, do some reading.

Did you even read this article?

A priori?

Jack L's picture

Hi

I have read it. That's why I asked.

YOU think you read it but you don't seem to know what you are talking about !

Jack L

ChrisS's picture

A priori!

Jack L's picture

Hi

If I were a priori, you are a big mouthing posteriori !

Hahahahahaaha....

Jack L

ChrisS's picture

...everything in your head?

Jack L's picture

Hi

Sure, better than a huge posteriori like you "listen to your great stereo with your head so far up your ASS all the time" as per your pal: johnnythunder!

Johnnythunder1: get your kissing cousin johnnythunder2 talk to me as yr mouth stinks like your ASS !

Hehehehehe

Jack L

johnnythunder1's picture

with your head so far up your own ass all the time.

David Harper's picture

ignore this guy. everything he thinks is wrong.

ChrisS's picture

...between Jack L and David Harper.

Hehe...!

Anton's picture

I don’t think it would be a conversation so much as simultaneous monologues.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Since when Stereophile Components of the Years becomes a stage for you bunch of polylogue-jokers ???

Jack L

ChrisS's picture

...believing, Jack L!

Jack L's picture

Hi

If here were a library, reading books there is believing.

Here is Audiophile, so LISTENING is believing, right?

Besides, who wants to read any nonsense from "you bunch of polylogue-jokers" here ?

Hahahaha..

Listening to music is believing

Jack L

ChrisS's picture

...Stereophile.

I can also read Herman Melville's Moby Dick on my computer.

Are we believing yet?

Jack L's picture

Hi

First off, what's Stereophile magazine in your "libray" to do with "Mody Dick" read from yr computer ??

Stereophile is about audio/music - we listen with our ears.
"Mody Dick" = The Whale, is an 1851 novel read by the eyes.

Apple to orange comparison ! Former is for real vs latter is a fiction. So you believe in fiction, be my guest ! I don't.

This is an audio/music venue, not for novels reading. Thanks but no thanks.

Listening to music is believing

Jack L

PS: I am never a novels reader since day one. Too busy with my music listening already ! What dragged me in to start my first novel reading was the billion-dollar top seller: "Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown in 2003. The thriller was sooo popular I got to wait a while for it from my neighbourhood public library !

ChrisS's picture

...go round and round.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Come on. You should be "WATCHING yr eyeballs go round & round in your mirror to look for yr ears - gone with the wind !

For no-ear YOU, reading is believing, pal. HEhehehe...

Jack L

Indydan's picture

Hey Jack L, why does everyone pick on you? Maybe it's because the L in Jack L is for LOSER.

For Jack L, SUCKING is believing.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Who cares, SOURgrapes !

What "everyone"?? The editor here is not a "LOSER" like YOU here as he does not "pick on" me.

YOU "sucking" "loser" is my believing !

Jack L

Indydan's picture

Hey JackOFF the Loser, keep sucking!

Jack L's picture

.

Indydan's picture

Hey Jack L, I am hearing from reliable sources that you pick your nose and eat it...

rschryer's picture

Btw, I'm eating dude. Gross.

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