Recommended Components: 2019 Fall Edition

Products listed here have been formally reviewed in Stereophile, and we have determined them to be among the finest available in each of four or five quality classes. Whether a component is listed in Class A or Class D (or E), we consider it to be a genuinely recommendable product.

Each listing, in alphabetical order within classes, is 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 its Follow-Up reports, have appeared—ie, "Vol.41 No.6" indicates our June 2018 issue. And so forth.

A relatively small number of products listed here have not yet been reviewed but have been suggested by one or more of our writers as deserving of consideration. Those products are rated with the letter K, used to identify new products that we hope and intend to review as soon as possible. No one here remembers what the K stands for.

We recommend that you read any product's entire review before seriously contemplating a purchase (and so products without reviews should be treated with more caution): Many salient characteristics, peculiarities, and caveats appear in the reviews that cannot be included here. To obtain back issues of the magazine, visit our website: www.stereophile.com. We regret that we cannot supply copies of individual reviews. All full reviews are republished in our website Archives section: These are marked: WWW. More are added each week. Some products reviewed in columns may not appear online.

In general, products do not remain listed for more than three years, unless at least one of the magazine's writers or editors has had continuous experience with them. (As a consequence, even still-recommendable products may disappear from the list. The only justification for this policy is that otherwise the list would grow and become unwieldy.) Discontinuation of a model from the market, of course, also precludes its appearance. In addition, although pro-audio components (recorders, amplifiers, monitor loudspeakers) can be obtained secondhand and sometimes offer performance that would otherwise guarantee inclusion, we do not generally include them: Stereophile's Recommended Components listing is exclusively concerned with products currently available in the US through the usual hi-fi retail outlets.

How Recommendations Are Determined
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.

The listing is compiled after consultation with Stereophile's reviewing staff and editors and takes into account continued experience of the 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 ratings we give components are based entirely on performance—ie, faithfulness of reproduction to the original, in as many aspects as possible. As with any such endeavor, our reviews are not free from bias. Indeed, ratings are strongly dependent on reviewers' tastes and preoccupations. Products markedly deficient in one or more performance aspects are down-rated when the reviewer believes their deficiencies interfere with the full realization of the program material. Each of our reviewers has a distinct point of view (something in which we who publish them take pride), yet Recommended Components is a funnel into which all these opinions are poured: The letter grades assigned by the reviewer will likely survive this blending, but the nuances of their perspectives may not. And so you may see, on occasion, a very expensive and well-regarded product receive a B rating while a far less expensive competing product that has deeply impressed one or more writers gets an A.

We editors may intervene in the assignment of ratings, to smooth those steps into a more reasonable-looking wave, but we don't always. The best approach for the reader lies in reading the whole of a review (and, ideally, other pieces by the same reviewer) before making a purchase decision. Get to know our reviewers' tastes and points of view and you'll find their opinions far more useful.

The prices indicated are those current at the time the listing was compiled (July 2019). We cannot guarantee that any of these prices will be the same by the time this issue of Stereophile appears in print. Note also that, in products where multiple finish options exist, the price we list is for the base-level finish (or, sometimes, for the version we reviewed.)

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 exact price level at which that takes place. When we find that a product performs much better than might be expected from its price, we have drawn attention to it with three dollar signs ($$$) next to its listing. We also indicate, with a ★, products that have been on this list for longer than three years; as mentioned above, we do retain on the list products we view as especially deserving. 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.

Please also 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: It's probably just one of those things where the product was discontinued a while ago and all remaining stocks are gone (a perennially fine product such as the Naim Aro tonearm would be a good example of something like that), or one where a fast-moving technology has left a once-cutting-edge product high and dry. It's also common for us to cut products from the list only because their time is up and we need the space, and to very much regret doing so.

So, please don't be upset if a product you purchased on our say-so is dropped from Recommended Components. And if you are upset, please don't call or write to tell us about it. We probably feel badly about it already.

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, Thomas J. Norton, Wes Phillips, Herb Reichert, Bob Reina (BJR), Kalman Rubinson, Jonathan Scull, and Jason Victor Serinus.

COMMENTS
Charles E Flynn's picture

From https://cdn.stereophile.com/content/recommended-components-2018-edition-how-use-listings :

Class K

"Keep your eye on this product." Class K is for components that we have not reviewed (or have not finished testing), but that we have reason to believe may be excellent performers. We are not actually recommending these components, only suggesting you give them a listen. Though the report has yet to be published in certain cases, the reviewer and editor sometimes feel confident enough that the reviewer's opinion is sufficiently well formed to include what otherwise would be an entry in one of the other classes, marked (NR).

Enrique Marlborough's picture

Could you add the year of entry to these lists.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

It's there.

prerich45's picture

When did the Pulsars go up from $7k/7.7k to $9k?!!!!!!!!! That's a huge increase!!!!!!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The new Pulsar2 Graphene are $9k :-) ..........

brians's picture

I always found it really odd that Stereophile never links the recommended component to its referenced review(s). Really odd, and kind of charming.

AaronGarrett's picture

Are the headphones pictured Sennheiser 800s? Is this a secret recommendation since they aren't on the list?

stereoGoodness's picture

How in the world can the TotalDac still be listed as a Class A+ digital processor? The device's proponent on the Stereophile staff was Michael Lavorgna, who has since been let go by the magazine.

The TotalDac was never properly reviewed by Stereophile, likely because the device's creator knew that it would measure horrendously. Audio Science Review confirmed its terrible engineering, and TotalDac is now closely associated with how audiophilia can go badly wrong.

https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/review-and-measurements-of-totaldac-d1-six-dac.8192/

John Atkinson's picture
stereoGoodness wrote:
The TotalDac was never properly reviewed by Stereophile, likely because the device's creator knew that it would measure horrendously.

I don't routinely measure the products reviewed in the magazine's columns, but in hindsight I wish I had have done so with the Total DAC. Even so, back in the day I spent a very pleasant afternoon listening to Michael Lavorgna's system with this DAC.

stereoGoodness wrote:
Audio Science Review confirmed its terrible engineering, and TotalDac is now closely associated with how audiophilia can go badly wrong. https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/review-and-measurements-of-totaldac-d1-six-dac.8192/

Oh my!

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Ne casse pas le verre :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'We (at, Stereophile) choose truth over facts' :-) .........

JRT's picture

"TotalDAC" was a wrong-headed approach in engineering, is grossly overpriced for its performance, is grossly over-hyped in its niche market, and it objectively measures very much worse than lower priced DACs. It is a poor solution, and represents poor value.

However, I also think that there is another larger consideration in this that was missed.
No small of number of people like the sound, people who critically listen to their system and to changes in their system.

So a key take-away is that "TotalDAC" provides a good example of the importance of better perceptual weighting in objective measurements. The simple fact that so many seem to like the sound of this "TotalDAC" regardless that it measures so poorly shows that a large body of critical listeners are highly tolerant of its imperfections that show up clearly in objective measurements.

Note that Amir Majidimehr gave it a bad review because of poor objective measurements resulting from poor choices in engineering, but he did not find the resulting sound highly objectionable in his listening tests. Similarly, John Atkinson and Michael Lavorgna were not displeased with the sound in Lavorgna's system. And there seems to be many others.

Since so many critical listeners are highly tolerant of the imperfections of "TotalDAC", and since there are many inexpensive DACs that outperform it, I would suggest that the DACs should receive a rather low weighting in budget allocation. The opportunity cost on this expensive DAC is far too high, could be better spent in something that matters very much more in perceptual weighting such as loudspeakers, a bespoke low frequency (sub-Schroeder) subsystem, improvements in room acoustics, etc.

JRT's picture

Wasting budget resources on expensive esoteric cable assemblies brings little if any performance improvement, and in comparison to moderate cost well engineered solutions the esoteric cable assembles can sometimes degrade system performance.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/adcom-gfa-7805-five-channel-power-amplifier-cable-issues

https://sound-au.com/cable-z.htm

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Regarding sound quality ........ See Stereophile review and measurements of BorderPatrol DAC SE $995 to $1,850 ........ Somewhat similar suboptimal measurements as the TotalDAC ....... Costs lot less ....... Several reviewers liked that BorderPatrol DAC's sound :-) ........

JRT's picture

You get a good DAC and also a good headphone amplifier, plus can be utilized for making objective measurements.

https://www.rme-audio.de/en/products/adi_2-pro.php

Maybe add an inexpensive 2x2 AES/EBU Dante bridge such as the one at the following link.

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1417856-REG/audinate_adp_aes3_au_2x2_2x2_dante_avio_aes3.html

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The Chord Mojo ($570, reviewed by Stereophile) and the Chord Hugo2 ($2,695, reviewed by Hi-Fi News), also are, good quality DACs and headphone amplifiers :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Benchmark DAC3 HGC ($2,199, reviewed by Stereophile, Class-A+) is a DAC, pre-amp and headphone amp :-) ...........

JRT's picture

Those lack AD converters.

Seems like a lot of money to spend for simple DA conversion and an output buffer to drive headphones.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

How many Stereophile readers use/want a AD converter? :-) .........

Benchmark also sells a headphone amp/ pre-amp HPA-4 ($3,000, reviewed by Hi-Fi News) :-) ..........

JRT's picture

For one example group, I suspect some need AD converters to capture the output of their phono preamp to FLAC files.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

How many Stereophile readers want/use AD converters? ......... may be 5% to 10% .......... Which means 90% to 95% Stereophile readers don't want/use and are not interested in AD converters :-) ..........

Stereophile reviewed Ayre Acoustics QA-9 AD converter ....... I think JA1 and MF still sometimes use that Ayre AD converter :-) ........

Stereophile has also reviewed USB output turntables from Sony and Music Hall, which obviously have built-in AD converters :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW ....... Don't post any comments about AD converters on AnalogPlanet ....... Stereophile readers are more tolerant people :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Seems like MF is currently using one of the Lynx Hilo AD/DA converters ......... Some of these Lynx products are available at Sweetwater ........ May be JA1 could review one of these AD/DA converters currently available :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Benchmark also sells just a DAC ..... DAC3-B for $1,699 :-) ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

There are other less expensive DA converters/headphone amps ........ Pro-Ject Pre-Box S2 ($399, reviewed by Stereophile), AudioQuest DragonFly Black and Red ($99 and $199, reviewed by Stereophile) and DragonFly Cobalt ($299, Stereophile review may be forthcoming) :-) ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Schiit Audio makes several headphone-amps/DACs, from $99 to $499 :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The new iBasso DC01 and DC02, DAC/headphone-amps $75 to $79 :-) ..........

Charles E Flynn's picture

You are now officially on your own when it comes to the purchase of a table radio.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Get a Naim Mu-so2 or Qb2 ....... EISA award winner .......Kinda table radio ....... See, S&V review on their website :-) .........

listentomusic's picture

does someone know why is simaudio 340i is gone from the list.it was there is last 2-3 lists

Jim Austin's picture

By long tradition and with some exceptions, components are removed from the list when they have not been auditioned for more than 3 years. The tradition arose from print, and the limited space it allows; this practice could be relaxed online, but then we would have two different lists. (The exceptions, usually, are cases in which a Stereophile reviewer has continuing experience with the product, as when it is part of a reviewing system, and so can continue to vouch for it.)

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Jim Austin is the perfect reviewer for the new Revel Performa top-model, F328BE ($15,000/pair), and compare them to the Revel Ultima Salon2 :-) ............

dial's picture

There's a lack of cheap tonearms with detachable headshell like the ones on dj turntables, some are really excellent.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Guitar Center sells some of those DJ turntables ........ They also sell some Technics TTs, which come with tonearms with detachable head-shells, including some used ones ......... You could check with them :-) ..........

dial's picture

Thanks a lot for your advice, I sold my Stanton DD, the tonearm wasn't removable (I speak about the straight model, a little short, can only use an Ortofon Arkiv on it).
I still miss someone here who wants to review a ZYX cartridge, even a "budget" model. I think it's imported here.

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