Stereophile's Products of 2014 Joint Digital Components of the Year

Joint Digital Components of the Year

MSB Technology Analog DAC D/A processor ($6995; reviewed by Jon Iverson, April 2014, Vol.37 No.4 Review)

PS Audio PerfectWave DirectStream D/A processor ($5995; reviewed by Art Dudley, September 2014, Vol.37 No.9 Review)

Sony HAP-Z1ES media player ($1999.99; reviewed by Kalman Rubinson, May 2014, Vol.37 No.5 Review)

No hanging chads for us: The voting for this year's Digital Component of the Year was sufficiently close that we declared a three-way tie. Our winners are two D/A processors and a media player. In what may or may not be a sign of things to come, all three winners are DSD-friendly.

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The most recently reviewed of the three is PS Audio's PerfectWave DirectStream DAC, which is notable not only for depleting our supply of uppercase letters but for converting any and all incoming datastreams to DSD. Apart from its asynchronous USB receiver chip, all of the DirectStream DAC's code is proprietary and resides in hand-selected FPGAs (footnote 1). Apart from an at times "mildly distant sound," the PS Audio processor impressed me as a "superbly musical source component with excellent pacing, flow, [and] correctness of pitch relationships." The DirectStream, I concluded, "may be in a class by itself."

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MSB Technology's Analog DAC is built into a low-slung case and chassis machined from a single billet of aluminum, just like your grandfather's favorite fly reel. It uses MSB's proprietary Femto Clock technology, supports PCM and DSD up to 384kHz, and can be upgraded with a choice of power-supply options, a WiFi module, and other interesting bits. The only difficulty we had with the Analog DAC was that which Jon Iverson experienced at shipping time: "I was sad to have to send another MSB DAC to JA's Brooklyn lab for testing."

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The Sony HAP-Z1ES may appear as little more than an unusually large, heavy, four-footed iPod—this file player lacks digital inputs and outputs, as well as the ability to download files directly from the Internet—but it makes up for those limitations with its ability to "remaster" any digital file to DSD 128. The Sony can also play literally any file type, and has an onboard 1TB drive for storage: no need to send in the clouds. The HAP-Z1ES is, in the words of Kal Rubinson, "a single-box player of the highest quality," and a potential "gateway product" to ease iPod users into perfectionist audio.

Notes on the vote: Last year's list of finalists contained no fewer than five disc players, one of which, the Audio Research CD9, was named Digital Source Component of the Year. By contrast, the 2014 list contains only one single-box player, the Parasound Halo CD 1, and two products in which disc playback is possible but of less than primary importance: the dCS Vivaldi digital playback system and the NAD Masters Series M50/M52 Digital Music Player.



Footnote 1: PS Audio issued a major user-installable firmware upgrade at the end of September. We will be publishing a "Follow-Up review on the effect of this upgrade in the February 2015 issue.—Ed.

Finalists: (in alphabetical order)

Antelope Audio Zodiac Platinum D/A processor ($5500; reviewed by Jon Iverson, September 2014, Vol.37 No.9 Review)
Astell&Kern AK100 portable media player ($699; reviewed by John Atkinson, March 2014, Vol.37 No.3 Review)
Auralic Vega D/A processor ($3499; reviewed by John Atkinson, February 2014, Vol.37 No.2 Review)
Benchmark DAC2 HGC D/A processor ($1995; reviewed by Erick Lichte, February 2014, Vol.37 No.2 Review)
dCS Vivaldi digital playback system ($108,496; reviewed by Michael Fremer, January 2014, Vol.37 No.1 Review)
Grace Design m905 Reference Monitor Controller DAC ($3495; reviewed by John Marks, April 2014, Vol.37 No.4 Review)
Luxman D-06 D/A processor ($4990; reviewed by Art Dudley, July 2014, Vol.37 No.7 Review)
NAD Masters Series M50/M52 Digital Music Player ($2499, M50; $1999, M52; reviewed by John Atkinson, May 2014, Vol.37 No.5 Review)
Parasound Halo CD 1 CD player ($4500; reviewed by John Marks, January 2014, Vol.37 No.1 Review)

COMMENTS
AllanMarcus's picture

What's a Yearp?

John Atkinson's picture
AllanMarcus wrote:
What's a Yearp?

A typo, now fixed. :-)

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

corrective_unconscious's picture

It was one of Oxford's new words for 2012, if you recall.

tvandewalle's picture

And what about The Brinkmann Bardo that you also reviewed?
Maybe you should do a follow up with the 12" tonearm and the EMT Ti element?

lo fi's picture

What about the 2014 Editor's Choice? Has John Atkinson actually heard this speaker? I know that he hasn't measured it. I understand that the editor's choice category has been expanded to give every Stereophile contributor the opportunity to nominate an audio component that particularly impressed, but that seems to defeat the purpose of having an editor's choice. I hasten to add that I have heard the SCM19 and regard it highly. However, it is not an efficient stand-mounted speaker and requires a powerful amplifier for optimum performance - a drawback of the sealed enclosure design presumably (Ben Lilly of ATC recommended an amplifier rated at 150W plus). That notable caveat is missing from the "Editors' Choice" blurb.

John Atkinson's picture
lo fi wrote:
What about the 2014 Editor's Choice? Has John Atkinson actually heard this speaker? I know that he hasn't measured it.

No, I haven't heard this ATC.

lo fi wrote:
I understand that the editor's choice category has been expanded to give every Stereophile contributor the opportunity to nominate an audio component that particularly impressed, but that seems to defeat the purpose of having an editor's choice.

I thought it appropriate to expand the category, to give each the reviewer the opportunity to nominate their personal favorite of the past year. I don't think that was unclear.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

lo fi's picture

I find it odd how a component that has not been auditioned by the editor of Stereophile can qualify as an editor's (or editors') choice.

I didn't find the explanation for expanding the category unclear, but I think that the title has become misleading as a consequence. Changing the title to reviewers or contributors favourites would more accurately reflect just who is making the choices don't you think?

John Atkinson's picture
lo fi wrote:
I find it odd how a component that has not been auditioned by the editor of Stereophile can qualify as an editor's (or editors') choice.

It is usual in publishing in the US to refer to regular contributors to a magazine as "editors," with the person who edits the magazine (me in the case of Stereophile) called the "editor-in-chief." Hence each product listed in this year's "Editor's Choice" is indeed the choice of an editor.

If you wish, you can think of this feature as being called "Editors' Choices." But I am okay with the existing title.

John Atkinson
Editor (In Chief), Stereophile

lo fi's picture

That's interesting. An editor and a contributor are distinctly different roles in publishing - hence the titles. I'm familiar with the structure of an editor-in-chief, editorial staff and writing staff.

So you are saying that at Stereophile there is effectively no practical distinction between an editor and a contributor and this is common practice in US publishing. Then why make the distinction at all and why formalise it by naming a category after it?

Given that Stereophile's Editors' Choices of 2014 are actually those of the contributors, I think a change of title to reflect this actuality would be appropriate and more meaningful.

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