Stereophile's Products of 2018

Since fake news is on everyone's minds these days—I would say it's been in the news a lot, but that kind of reasoning is too circular even for me—it's worth keeping in mind that there's also such a thing as fake praise. You see it every day, whether it's a fake Google review—an alarming number of businesses seem unaware that real people don't actually say things like "the team at New Hartford Chevrolet really listened to all of my needs"—or fake trophies handed out to all 20 co-captains of your child's soccer team.

Then there are fake awards.

Let's say you're a hi-fi enthusiast with strong opinions on what does and does not constitute goodness in an audio product, so you've started your own website on the subject. Good for you! Now let's say you have a friend who knows how to create really impressive diplomas and certificates, and your mom still has that red carpet you used to wipe your feet on when you came up from the basement. What's to stop you from handing out your very own awards?

Apparently, nothing: an Internet search for audio product awards turns up more pages than you can read in a day, most from web-based publications and trade organizations you've probably never heard of.

But here's the thing: For an award to mean anything, the person or people dispensing it must be well known and well regarded. It also helps if they've been around for a long time, and if they've created a significant body of work, preferably in print: No offense, but Google reviews pretty much came in with Google.

On the other hand, Stereophile's Product of the Year awards, now in their 27th year, matter because Stereophile matters: not only is it the highest-circulation domestic-audio magazine on the planet—our nearest competitor has only a third as many readers—but we've been around since 1962. That's as long as the Rolling Stones, for God's sake!

And considering that scores of whiners on the audio gab-sites go apoplectic whenever we write anything more controversial than "Christmas occurs in December," one could be forgiven for thinking that Stereophile is also the most talked-about magazine in audio.

It all boils down to one thing: In the world of perfectionist audio, ours is the publication of record, and our Product of the Year awards follow suit.

How we did it
This year's awards process began in mid-September, when editor John Atkinson asked my colleagues and me for nominations in seven categories: Loudspeaker of the Year, Amplification Product of the Year, Analog Component of the Year, Digital Component of the Year, Headphone Product of the Year, Accessory of the Year, and Budget Product of the Year. The candidates were limited to products evaluated in our November 2017 through October 2018 issues, whether in a full Equipment Report or Follow-Up, or a column by me or my colleagues Michael Fremer, Herb Reichert, and Kalman Rubinson. We did not consider products that took top honors in any previous year's PotY celebration.

The next step was when JA compiled and distributed a list of every component that had been nominated by at least three Stereophile contributors, the idea being to ensure that every one of those finalist products had been heard by as many of our reviewers as possible. Then each Stereophile contributor's job was to cast three votes in each of the categories: to give three points to his first choice, two points to his second choice, and one point to his third. In this way, the results reveal a certain density of information: Surely there are distinctions between a product that receives three first-place votes and the one that receives nine third-place votes.

After the votes were in, JA asked us to vote one more time—for the Overall Product of the Year.

The final step: John Atkinson asked me to compose this essay, and allowed me to tart it up with a few puerile jokes (though he asked me to change "obese, intellectually dishonest, chronic masturbators" to "whiners," which I willingly did). Indeed, it is JA who tallies the votes, so it is JA to whom noncomplacent firebrands should send notes of praise and blame. (See JA's comments on the voting process here.)

Final notes: The prices listed herein were current as of August 2018. To order back issues mentioned in this article, call (888) 237-0955 or visit shop.stereophile.com (MasterCard and Visa only).

And the winners are . . .

COMMENTS
Indydan's picture

"obese, intellectually dishonest, chronic masturbators" to "whiners,"

Hey Bogolu, make a song association with that! :-)

mmole's picture

There was a reviewer named Dudley
A bit slight but per his wife, “quite studly.”
Other minor audio sites’ many well known prevaricators,
He called “obese, intellectually dishonest, chronic masturbators”
Until JA said, “say whiners” instead, it’s less judgely.”

rschryer's picture

Audiophile poetry. Sweet!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If 'Studly's' erection lasts for more than 4 hours (side effect of some ED medications), he needs to see a doctor ASAP :-) .............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Ok, how about ......... "Hall of Fame (feat. will.i.am)" ................ The Script :-) ...........

"... you can be the greatest, you can be the best
you can be the King Kong banging on your chest" ............

Check out the entire lyrics of the song :-) ............

DH's picture

It's amazing how much you guys feel threatened by people at audio forums.
Most of them don't fit your description, and many are highly knowledgeable - some even moreso than some of the writers and editors at audio magazines.

Get used to it: there's a modern world out there: a small number of people at a few audio magazines can't dictate the ideas and agenda in the hobby anymore. Other opinion makers exist. Unlike some of the writers and editors, they aren't "captured" by the industry and have actual, honest, independent opinions.

JoeinNC's picture

Indeed.

Art takes himself so seriously, it's almost comical.

ken mac's picture

If readers of audio magazines, net and otherwise, knew who is truly "captured" by the "industry" in the shape of advertorial, pay to play, and other less then honest practices, your ignorant comment would be even more laughable...

invaderzim's picture

Isn't it pretty much everyone that wants their next big item to test sent to them for free?
I used to pour through reviews and videos and 'independent' tests until I got tired of reading about the 'most amazing speaker ever' in each progressive review. It became clear from my listening that some products had to sound bad or at least not perfect in some situations and yet few if any 'reviews' were mentioning that.
I nearly became one of the people chasing the more perfect system with the latest component that is receiving rave reviews. The amount of product that they must be moving by having people willing to sing their praises to be on the it list for product samples is likely staggering.

ken mac's picture

First, nothing is sent to a reviewer for "free." What, we're supposed to pay to review it? We don't keep the gear, we review, we sent it back. Reviewing is extremely hard work. Let's see you write a Stereophile worthy review. There is a small handful of writers who can do it, they work for Stereophile. We are the audio mag of record, game over.

Most reputable companies make very good gear. Take a look at the products in Recommended Components, for example, most of these companies have been in business for many many years. It may shock you or upset some idea that we're all "in on it," or some such BS, but most products backed up by extensive R&D, extensive listening tests and years of experience tend to sound pretty damn good. The stuff's not made in some guy's garage. I've reviewed gear for 30 years; that's a lot of gear stacked against my reference Shindo system, which I paid for.
So you can believe whatever you want and there's no denying a lot of gear is very expensive, some of it too expensive, and each reviewer has his own taste (I for one, can't stand giant robot speakers), but as in everything you get what you pay for.

invaderzim's picture

"First, nothing is sent to a reviewer for "free." What, we're supposed to pay to review it? We don't keep the gear, we review, we sent it back."

Well, obviously if the companies don't like a reviewer they won't send them the stuff on loan to review so one can't be much of a reviewer without product.

And, plenty of lower end (couple hundred dollars or so) products get sent to youtube 'reviewers' absolutely for free for them to plug. Some state it and others it is obvious because otherwise they wouldn't be able to give away or sell the items like many do. And I've seen at least one talk about being able to buy the items at a substantial discount after the review and even one quoted a friend who gave an amp a great spotless review after telling him it had some issues because he hoped they'd just let him keep it after... and they did. I'm not saying all reviewers just give good reviews to get access to products and gifts but some definitely do.

I just wish more reviewers would say negative things about products when there were negative things to say. I've seen several comment that if they don't like a product they won't review it. Imagine if movie reviewers only reviewed movies they liked. You would have to try to guess if they didn't like a movie or if they just hadn't had a chance to review it yet.

ok's picture

..any audio reviewer trading in some favorable presentation in exchange for hardware discount or permanent loan for one would have never accepted that kind of bribe in case of not actually liking the gear in question in the first place :-}

rt66indierock's picture

Stereophile isn't the audio publication of record, I don't write for it.

And Stereophile was swallowed up by a minnow. Hardly something that happens to a publication of record.

ok's picture

with fatty-styled, self-indulgent, grumbling-mumbling audio amateurs; “intellectually dishonest” is a little too much though :-)

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Get Over It" .............. Eagles :-) ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Why is everything's so ......... "Heavy (feat. Kiiara)"? .................. LINKIN PARK :-) ..............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

There are several budget components of the year mentioned ............ Almost all of them are under $1,000 :-) .............

RH's picture

"obese, intellectually dishonest, chronic masturbators"

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Fascinating to see the Devore 0/93s continue to make these lists, and the Joseph Audio Pulsar. Both of those speaker brands impressed me most after a long time auditioning many of the latest, greatest around and above their price range.

I'm supposing the 0/93s keep getting the nod instead of the bigger 0/96 reviewed in Stereophile because more reviewers are intemitely familiar with the 0/93s. I can understand the appeal of the 93s given they seem to offer so much of the performance of the 96s at a more affordable price point.

JimAustin's picture

>>I'm supposing the 0/93s keep getting the nod instead of the bigger 0/96 reviewed in Stereophile because more reviewers are intemitely familiar with the 0/93s. I can understand the appeal of the 93s given they seem to offer so much of the performance of the 96s at a more affordable price point.<<

https://www.stereophile.com/content/stereophiles-products-2017-joint-lou...

RH's picture

Oh yeah, forgot about that. Thought it was the 0/93s last year. Thanks.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

How about a 'Manhattan' made with an aged bourbon? :-) ............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Some politicians fit that description ............ so, it can't be that bad :-) ...........

tonykaz's picture

Have Designs been improving?

Are transducers getting better ?

Are music creators presenting consistently better products ?

Are prices for quality gear dropping ( like Schiit ) or increasing ( like Wilson )?

I'd like to read the opinions of our experienced Panel on 2018's contribution to "Moving-the-Needle" of a typical Hobbyist's Audiophile music reproduction systems.

Is our Hobby and Love improving significantly or stagnant from stuck in 1980 syndrome ( or both ).

I remember how the little LS3/5a Monitor type speakers shook-up the Loudspeaker world in the late 1970s and how the Linn LP12 moved True NORTH on everyone's home stereo Compass.

Was 2018 a good year?, a dam good year?, one hell-of-a-year?

My take is that PS Audio & Schiit are the up&coming outfits and thank goodness that Magnapan still exists.

Tony in Michigan

ps. Feels like 5G will inspire an entirely new generation of Audiophiles ( or Stereophiles, as they say in Canada ). Stereophile will need another specialty writer to cover the Hand-Held devices as the Dominant Niche. Great Magazine Covers aplenty with pretty girls toting there audiophile phones in their cleavages. ( naughty covers sell Magazines on the Magazine Stands )

ps.2 We Stereophiles are in for an exciting 2019, even without our Tyll, I miss Tyll.

invaderzim's picture

"My take is that PS Audio & Schiit are the up&coming outfits"

I agree and my question is if that is more because of incredible quality or fabulous marketing.

tonykaz's picture

Marketing barely moves the purchasing needle for Audiophiles who can easily discover performance experienced by actual buyers and owners that can and do write things on Internet sites.

Besides, Good outfits have a Return Policy.

Some outfits make their stuff in China, which makes Service Doubtful when disaster strikes. ( like the unserviceable NAD 3020 or the Apple Loudspeaker thingy or even KEF which make some lovely loudspeakers ).

Outfits like Schiit & PS Audio provide Service for owners.

Schiit stuff sells used on Ebay for 80% of New Prices!!! Egads

There is barely any current PS Audio Stuff being sold USED, people tend to keep the PS Audio stuff they own.

Pass stuff is another Keeper Product, competitors think Pass is some sort of Audiophile god, for gods sake.

There is a Central Core Group of High Integrity Audiophile Manufacturers. All of them make gear priced for the Average Guy.

Used Krell is a darn good find but a person can own NEW PS Audio for less $$$$.

Some of the Chinese Stuff is remarkably good buuuuttttttt it only seems to have Salespeople here in the States. Send the Chinese stuff back to China for service ??? Which of the 5 Chinese languages do you need to use to talk to those people ( if you can find them ).

Conversely all the European outfits speak English ( even LINN in Scotland kinda speaks something like English ).

China has a language barrier that they use free labor to break thru.

Tony in Michigan

nomaslarge's picture

[personal insults deleted] keep trying to convince yourself that your venerable (aged-out) "magazine" (two full-time employees? three?) is that much more important than any other audio blog out there. [personal insults deleted]

nomaslarge's picture

The phenomenon of fake news is one characterized by people passing off blatantly untrue stories as fact on the internet. It is not at any point a question of opinion. The phenomenon of "fake awards" as I imagine it is being put forth by Mr. Dudley boils down to this - the opinions of others that he, from his Olympian mount, deems beneath his own opinions. It is actually a very Trumpian use of the notion - whatever I disagree with is fake. Throw in some schoolyard 'fat" insults for good measure and you are cribbing right from the President's playbook. To put it mildly, the mind that equates these two ideas - fake news and "fake awards" - is not a mind to be admired and in my opinion calls into question the soundness of any other ideas that mind would conjure, on matters of audio or anything else. (Is that gentle enough to be allowed to stand, or do I have to call someone an obese masturbator to have my words not deleted?)

tonykaz's picture

exciting read, Mr.nomas.

Stereophile allows commentary. ( might I suggest tolerates? )

You're definitely Click-bait for me, we need your Opinionating POV to colorize the empty spaces about things left un-said.

I hope you don't turn ugly with angry mud slinging.

Tony in Michigan

ps. am I encouraging you ?

ps. why aim at Mr.Dudley? he's one of the nicer & milder Vinyl people and he seems rather genuine. Can you widen out to include some of the $30,000+ Vinyl support staff and their "jiggle-cam" workings? jus ask'n

rschryer's picture

...until you appended that 2nd postscript to obliquely attack MF. Why, Tony? Why??

tonykaz's picture

Of course I admire your workings and your points of view.

Thanks for writing.

Plugging in a specific set of initials to my description is a result the reader creates from his own vivid/accurate imagination.

The initials you quote has sent me an insulting email that I can show to anyone. ( and have to my peerage )

Our 21st. Century Audio has progressed to the point where 3.2 Billion People now have nearly unlimited access to wonderful Music, we can ( and should ) easily build a Gigantic Audiophile ( Stereophile ) Group of enthusiasts. We Manufacturers and Publications should be presenting access for all, not favoring a tiny elite minority living in the 1970s, semi-actively engaged in collecting Antique Music Formats. All GM Cars now have wonderful Stereo multi speaker Systems.

Are we Stereophile readership relegating ourselves to be the water carrying support for $30,000 VPI record players ?, while the entire World is comparing Audiophile SmartPhones from LG, Samsung, Apple and all the rest.

Should we be embracing 5G ( 5th Generation Mobile connectivity ) or VPI rim drives for gods sake?

I'm look'n to Stereophile for well written Opinions like the explanation that Kal Robinson presented at RMAF. Phew.

Tony in Michigan

ps. Image stabilization in affordable Vlog Cameras have been around for a decade. Geez, blurry image jiggle cameras are quaint as 33.3 itself. ( why not use analog film ? )

ps. I once was a stocking VPI Dealer/Retailer. VPI made my all time favorite Turntable. I miss Sheila

rschryer's picture

...set of initials to my description is a result the reader creates from his own vivid/accurate imagination." I had to re-read this one. It's funny.

"The initials you quote has sent me an insulting email that I can show to anyone. ( and have to my peerage )" I'm sorry to hear this, but I'm sure my "outing" of the initials had nothing to do with it.

As for the rest of your comment, Tony, I don't disagree, but I think Stereophile does a good job of reviewing products, regardless of the technology they're built on, that interest audiophiles.

If Stereophile ventures too far into "smart devices" territory, I would expect a high-pitched backlash from its readership along with a call for JA's head.

À la prochaine, mon ami.

tonykaz's picture

Stereophile does a better job of servicing the USA based Audiophile than any group of Poets has ever done. We can ( I do ) thank Mr.JA for that. I've admired JA since his HFNRR days when I was Importing that Mag. and selling USA Subscriptions ( to it ) because of it's valuable Editorial Content. I'm a long standing JA fan!

I do not approve of Stereophile needing to join an Obese Planet to shore up it's Analog Contents. There are only a few Joe Bussard type Record collectors with entire basements devoted to Archival purposes. Endorsing that sort of hobby in a Tidal Roon World sends an entirely Wrong message to our next Generation of Music Lovers : Audiophiles are fat old geezers that collect musty jacketed memories of their glory days of smoking Wacky-Tobacy at Grateful Dead Concerts while their Mother chides them for buying another record with their father's hard earned money! It's an insulting embarrassment.

Conversely, Chad Kassem is Brilliant and delightfully honest. I've felt inspired by him every time he speaks. A no nonsense, no bullshit guy. Annnnnnnddddd he has the largest Record Collection in the USA. Even I have a Record Colleciton with Wilson Vinyls.

High pitched backlash might be drowned out by LG V30 Quad Dac Full Page Adverts and pictures of pretty gals wearing designer ear transducers by Shure.

Millennials are doing YouTube Videos about Collecting Mid-Century Household items ( none of which are Vinyl 33.3 based ).

Post-Millennials are walking around staring at their Mobile device, watching YouTube Videos, gaming and panicking when they run out of Battery or signal strength.

China is coming up behind us, we need to extrapolate ourselves into the Future ( if we want a future ).

Tony in Michigan

tonykaz's picture

You're man is toothless.

I'm part of a Organization able to do Full Page Adverts, egads, my CEO is an Audiophile.

Acid spitting is.....

Tony in Michigan

Anton's picture

I had a long day at work. Came home tired and feeling hang dog.

It’s nice to sit down, have a sip of wine, and read some “real” awards for a change.

None of those bullshit “fake” awards, but the real stuff, with bonafide real world definitive legitimacy, like Billboard Awards, or ESPY awards. Maybe even People’s Choice Awards or Dancing With the Stars Awards!

You know, “objective stuff,” like Recommended Components, or Records To Die For.

I love Stereophile, Art, Onanism, all of it. But when a periodical has to stake its own claim to “award legitimacy,” I picture Arthur Fonzarelli jumping a tank of sharks on his motorbike.

I would vote to end the madness.

rschryer's picture

...but onanism? Not sure that one is going to come in handy. Well, you know what I mean.

Onanism also sounds too close to "onerous" and "aneurysm" to sound like any fun.

But, wait, your word did just come in handy, didn't it?

Thanks, Anton. Have a great weekend.

ok's picture

that Onan himself was not even an onanist.

Anton's picture

If he had only gone with "Falstaffian, unabatingly onanistic, mendacious bluestockings" in lieu of "obese, intellectually dishonest, chronic masturbators," he may have 'pulled it off,' so to speak.

;-D

I do admit to having an anti-establishment bias when it comes to self proclaimed legitimacy. Remember when 'Kramer vs. Kramer' beat out 'Breaking Away,' 'All That Jazz', and 'Apocalypse, Now!' for best film in 1980?

That's the place where someone taking his/her own 'legitimacy' seriously will take you!

Cheers, and all in good spirit!

rschryer's picture

...JA is intimately familiar with onanism.

After all, as both an excellent writer and editor, he is very literate.

(hehe — your word is turning out to be a lot more handy than I expected, Anton)

tonykaz's picture

Tony in Michigan

rschryer's picture

...but the word wanker is not allowed on this site.

The acceptable term for someone playing with oneself is Audiophile. :-)

(And the onanism thread has gone on long enough. Sorry, John. It's Anton's fault.)

tonykaz's picture

I would never use that word in a sentence or try to suggest it's meaning could be part of some sort of discussion.

I acknowledge & embrace the notion of keeping Stereophile at the very highest Standards for Prose.

I'd love to See writers like Michael Connelly contributing 5,000 words, from time to time.

Stereophile already has the foundation for a Remarkable Publication. Imagine a P.J. O'Rourke story about Wire

All Writers have some sort of feeling or love of music, let em write something.

Tony in Michigan

ps. Stereophile could make writing for them a Status Symbol type achievement. I certainly would

ps.2 annndddd, Stereophile could begin by presenting HR with their "Writer of the Year" Award! ( it would turn Steve G's hair green with envy, who wouldn't love to see that? )

tonykaz's picture

One more thing:

Steve G, just today, proclaimed our time ( 2018 ) to be a Great Time for Audio but not quite having that Golden Glow around it that it had from 1977-1987 ( the years I was in the High End of the Audio Business ) .

I present that we are NOW in the greatest of all times for personal High quality audio annnnnndddd it's getting better and better.

Outfits like Schiit and PS Audio are the Engine powering all. ( along with the digital people )

Tony in Michigan

ps. I recognize that Schiit & PS Audio were the very first outfits to make Digital Audio Converters! i.e. Paul McGowan, Mike Moffat -- way back in the day!

rschryer's picture

...if we take into consideration a) the improvements made in audio parts and measuring instruments, b) the advancements made in digital and solid state sound, c) the sheer quantity of audio products on the market at all price points, and, d) the extent to which better sound reproduction can now be had in more mainstream products, especially in the portable audio arena, I'd say there's never been a better time than now to be an audiophile, or become one.

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