Stereophile's Products of 2016

Was there ever a more stressful election season?

I wished for more choices: choices with less money behind them, choices I wasn't merely expected to make, alternative choices that stood a chance of winning.

I wished for a better sense of the world around me: Why hadn't I strayed outside my comfort zone a little more often? Why hadn't I tried harder to listen as others do?

Most of all, and simplest of all, I wished for more time: Damn it all, I'm too busy! Why can't I have another month to make up my mind?

But no. John Atkinson was insistent: "Please don't abstain," he wrote in an e-mail under the subject heading "2016 Product of the Year Final Ballot." "The fairness of the . . . system depends on everyone voting." I rolled up my sleeves and got busy.

POTY training
The importance of voting wasn't lost on me: For the first time in my 13 years at Stereophile, I had had a hand in editing every one of the reviews we've published in the preceding 12 months. Owing to the powers of description of our team of contributing editors, I felt I knew each of those products as more than just a photo on a press release. And in mid-September, when JA compiled and distributed to all of us the list of over 130 individual products covered in our November 2015 through October 2016 issues, I was reminded all over again: Ortofon SPU #1S? TotalDAC d1-tube-mk2? Elac Debut B6? First Watt J2? Not a bad year at all! There were more, and more varied, choices than I, in my fearful crankiness, had remembered.

JA asked my colleagues and me to nominate up to six products in each of seven categories: Analog Source Component of the Year (turntables, cartridges, phono preamps, etc.), Digital Source Component of the Year (DACs, CD players, etc.), Amplification Component of the Year (amps, preamps, integrated amps), Loudspeaker of the Year (including subwoofers), Accessory of the Year (cables, equipment supports, passive vibrating thingamabobs, etc.), Budget Component of the Year, and Component of the Year. We chose these from among commercial goods that had been the subjects of full Equipment Reports or Follow-Ups in that year's worth of issues, or had been written about in columns by Michael Fremer, Michael Lavorgna, Herb Reichert, Kalman Rubinson, or me.

We did not consider products that had taken top honors in any previous year's Products of the Year (POTY) celebration, and, owing to revelations that have their origins in the scientific community—only recently have I learned that, in the four millennia since 2000 BCE, the Earth's axial tilt has shifted enough that the astrologers of today are not looking at quite the same celestial objects as did their ancient predecessors—we were ordered to disregard the sun signs of the products' designers and to base our votes exclusively on firsthand experience. In other words, as founder J. Gordon Holt had done beginning with the first issue of Stereophile, we listened, then chose the things we liked best.

After that first round of nominations, it was the job of each of us to cast three votes in each of the seven categories: to give three points to our first choice in that category, two points to our second choice, and one point to our third. Thus do we choose our winners. And thus do the results reveal a certain density of information: Surely there are distinctions between a product that receives three first-place votes and one that receives nine third-place votes.

Incidentally, two of my favorite products of 2016 didn't get votes from anyone who isn't me, and four of my favorite products of 2016 got no votes at all. See if you can guess which they are.

Since 2014, all Stereophile contributors have also selected a Personal Product of the Year. I have a special fondness for that category, if only because it provides an opportunity to honor those out-of-the-mainstream things that might otherwise fall through the cracks. Think of a Personal Product of the Year award as a cabinet appointment for the candidate who, in inspiring the very few, comes close to outshining the triumphant.

As always, because it is JA who tallies the votes, it is JA to whom The Anxious should send notes of praise and approbation (footnote 1).

The prices listed below were current as of August 2016. To order any of the back issues mentioned in this article, call (888) 237-0955, or visit (MasterCard and Visa only).

And the winners are . . .

Footnote 1: See John Atkinson's comments on the voting process here.—Art Dudley

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?