Stereophile's Products of 2016 Amplification Component of the Year

Amplification Component of the Year

First Watt J2 power amplifier ($4000; reviewed by Herb Reichert, October 2016, Vol.39 No.10 Review) This is the first time in memory that a distinctly low-power (25Wpc) amplifier has taken top honors, or even placed, in our Product of the Year voting. That the amp in question is also solid-state makes the choice all the more remarkable; and that it sells for a reasonable price—relative, that is, to the prices of most similarly distinguished, perfectionist-quality power amplifiers—is cause for jubilation. Designed by Nelson Pass and produced by the side-project company he founded in 1999, the First Watt J2 is a single-ended (and thus class-A), two-stage, two-channel amplifier with both balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) inputs. The J2's performance was summed up by Herb Reichert with characteristic eloquence: "Every day, it made me and my favorite loudspeakers extremely happy."


Notes on the vote: Not much density in this competition: The First Watt J2 won more votes and more points than any other product in the Amplification category. Second place went to the excellent VTL TL6.5 Series II Signature preamplifier, while third place was a four-way (!) tie among Benchmark's AHB2 power amplifier, the distinctively engineered Vandersteen M7-HPA mono amp, PS Audio's BHK Signature 300 monoblock, and Pass Labs' HPA-1 headphone amp. Although also manufactured by a Nelson Pass–directed company, the HPA-1 was designed by Jam Somasundram; that said, it's still remarkable to see more than a single product from the same individual place in the same category.

Finalists (in alphabetical order)

Balanced Audio Technology Rex II preamplifier ($25,000; reviewed by Fred Kaplan, January 2016, Vol.39 No.1 Review)
Benchmark AHB2 power amplifier ($2995; reviewed by Kalman Rubinson, November 2015, Vol.38 No.11 Review)
Line Magnetic LM-518IA integrated amplifier ($4450; reviewed by Herb Reichert, October 2016, Vol.39 No.10 Review)
Parasound Halo Integrated integrated amplifier ($2495; reviewed by Herb Reichert, November 2015, Vol.38 No.11 Review)
Pass Labs HPA-1 headphone amplifier ($3500; reviewed by John Atkinson & Herb Reichert, July & September 2016, Vol.39 Nos. 7 & 9 Review)
PS Audio BHK Signature 300 monoblock power amplifier ($14,998/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer, February 2016, Vol.39 No.2 Review)
SAE 2HP-D power amplifier ($19,995; reviewed by Michael Fremer, October 2016, Vol.39 No.10 Review)
Theta Dreadnaught D multichannel power amplifier (from $6149.95, depending on number of channels; reviewed by Kalman Rubinson, March & May 2016, Vol.39 Nos. 3 & 5 Review)
Vandersteen M7-HPA monoblock power amplifier ($52,000/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, May 2016, Vol.39 No.5 Review)
VTL TL6.5 Series II Signature preamplifier ($15,000; reviewed by Fred Kaplan, August 2016, Vol.39 No.8 Review)

Staxguy's picture

While the Devialet Expert 1000 (1000 watts at 6 ohms) didn't hit my mind while thinking huh to ...

"The Mark Levinson No.585 integrated stereo amplifier's 200Wpc into 8 ohms—more powerful than any integrated amp other than the 300Wpc Bel Canto Black"

Jeff Rowlands Daemon (1500 watts at 8 ohms) Integrated Amplifier certainly did.

Looking, I see that indeed Stereophile has covered it (I seem to remember it)...

200 watts is certainly power-amp power-amp territory, and no slouch, but is not knocking on the Analogue Domain Apollo (4000 watt at 8 ohms) power amplifier territory, or the mind-numbing 160,000 watts of Pievetta Opera Only, which one could consider an integrated amplifier.

Or Music-in-The-Round (Kal) amplifier at least.

It's nice to see a number of excellent products this year.

Did you try driving loudspeakers (high efficiency) with the AudioQuest Dragonfly Red's headphone out?

Many headphone enthusiasts use the Devialet Expert 1000's speaker outputs to drive their headphones, as an aside. :)

Love to see coverage of the Daemon.

Lucidear's picture


A little shortsightedness, on the part of staff perhaps, in copying Larry Greenfield's actual comments from his review of the 585:

"...Mark Levinson's No.585 is the most expensive integrated amplifier I have reviewed. At 200Wpc, it's more powerful than all but one of the integrateds listed in our "Recommended Components"—the Bel Canto Black."

And I think as of his writting's date the Musical fidelity 800, with a tad more power, was not on the RC list yet...
***Now if someone could comment whether this (the 585 or even the MF800) has enough juice to drive a pair of larger Maggies ie 3.7i or 20.7, it'd be much appreciated...

tonykaz's picture

I have to hand it to you lads, well done!!!

Seems like $5,000 builds a pretty darn good system ( digital, of course ).

Back in 1985 it would've taken well over $10,000, if I remember correctly.

Conrad-Johnson MV-45a & Electrocompaniet Ampliwire ( 50 watts ) were my all time favorite Amps, I no longer own either. Maybe I should arrange for a First Watt. You lads are part of a large group that love these Amps.

It seems, after 30 years of digital we have a tiny little device ( $200 ) to replace our record players, hmm. ----- Of course, it's not as good as a $10,000 Phono cart., $10,000 VPI, $??,??? Arm plus cabling and a "proper Pre-amp with a nice RIAA"

Nice cheap speakers ( costing less than LS3/5a in 1980 dollars ), get-outa-here. more hmmmmmms. And Wilsons for less than the price of a KIA Soul? get-outa-here sum-more

I love your work, OK, I'll subscribe to the print version ( if you still have one ).

Tony in Michigan

John Atkinson's picture
tonykaz wrote:
I have to hand it to you lads, well done!!!

Thank you.

tonykaz wrote:
OK, I'll subscribe to the print version ( if you still have one).

Yes we do!

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

About $13, seems a bargain.

Tony in Michigan

AaronGarrett's picture

Just subscribed as well. Had lapsed for quite a few years. This has become a lot more than a hifi mag. It's clear that the love of music is what really drives Stereophile and its reviewers.

dalethorn's picture

I've found some interesting music through the reviews here - music I would have otherwise missed.

jporter's picture

Dale, I finally agree with you on something...Cheers!

dalethorn's picture

You may occasionally read where I say that I agree with what someone said, but you won't read where I say that "I agree with you."

Allen Fant's picture

The ML No. 585 integrated amp is on my short-list as well.

Atlet's picture

My impressions of the latest magazin review of the new PL300 II was Deutsch new reference. Shouldn't that make the PL300 II loudspeaker of the year and not the Wilson Sabrina?
Just confused..

rschryer's picture

Products for POTY consideration had to have been "covered in our November 2015 through October 2016 issues". The PL300 appeared in November's edition.

Atlet's picture

I guess the PL300 II would have become the winner if it had been reviewed before November if I have red and understood the review in the latest(Nov) issued Stereophile magazine..

rschryer's picture

Perhaps the more pertinent question is: How will the PL300 fare in 2017's POTY? *insert suspenseful music*

rschryer's picture

Keep in mind: The POTY system is consensus-based. RD's is but one opinion, as trustworthy as it may be.

mrvco's picture

Thank you for validating my recent J2 purchase. LOL. It's a great pairing w/ my single-driver Omegas. And yes, I'm a print subscriber. Can I get a badge?