Stereophile's Products of 2020 Digital Component of the Year

Digital Component of the Year

HoloAudio May (Level 3) D/A processor ($4998; reviewed by Herb Reichert & John Atkinson, August & September 2020, Vol.43 Nos.8 & 9 Review)

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Finalists (in alphabetical order)
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt D/A processor/headphone amplifier ($299.95; reviewed by John Atkinson, December 2019, Vol.42 No.12 Review)
Chord Hugo M Scaler Signal Processor ($4795; reviewed by John Atkinson, March 2020, Vol.43 No.3 Review)
T+A MP 3100 HD SACD player–D/A processor ($21,000; reviewed by Jim Austin, June 2020, Vol.43 No.6 Review)
Weiss DAC502 D/A processor ($9850; reviewed by John Atkinson & Jason Victor Serinus, August & October 2020, Vol.43 Nos.8 & 10 Review)
Wolf Audio Systems Alpha 3 SX server ($9250; reviewed by Jason Victor Serinus, May 2020, Vol.43 No.5 Review)

I'll admit that I had no idea that an R-2R DAC was capable of measurements like this. I'd come to think of R-2R as a technology some people liked the sound of but that was inherently compromised in a technical sense. Not so, apparently.

"In almost every way, the HoloAudio May (Level 3) is the best-measuring D/A processor I have encountered," John Atkinson wrote, after hosting the HoloAudio at his test bench, "rivaled only by the Weiss DAC502 and MBL N31." The Weiss costs twice as much. The MBL, three times.

Not that measuring well is why the May was chosen. At Stereophile, it's all about the sound. The May, Herb wrote, exhibited "force and gravity," "natural quietness," and "a unique type of understated liveliness.""The May's true-to-life demeanor made recorded music seem infinite and beautiful."

Referring to another HoloAudio DAC, which he'd used for years, Herb said, "the May DAC takes the Spring DAC's invisibility and Mohs-scale neutrality and adds push to it. Better than any DAC I know, the May recovers the natural pressure behind musical flow."

About the Vote
Yet another lopsided win. The HoloAudio DAC scored even higher than the NAD M33 in amplification and the PS Audio Stellar in Analog Source. All but two reviewers voted for it, and almost half of those put it in first place. The AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt DAC/ headphone amp came in a solid (but not close) second.

COMMENTS
mtrot's picture

No doubt an exceptional product but lacks both a USB-B port and a true home theater bypass, which makes it a no-go for me.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Update for USB in the pipeline. It will be in the form of an MDC module.

mtrot's picture
BlackH20's picture

A whole article on cost, you have already lost generations by arguing over the wire and can't let a young working man get into the basic hobby or even understand the value in it.

tonykaz's picture

If you were young again, which of today's gear choices would you invest in?

I'm thinking Schiit & PS Audio probably.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tony in Venice

PeterG's picture

Yes on Schiit and PS. Let's add in NAD, Bluesound, and lower priced B&W

tonykaz's picture

like a ultra-niche watering hole for eclectics ( something like me ) featuring artistic writing on rather intellectual subjects like 'transparency'. This might be an out-of-the-way Bar where the Audiophile Junta meet in semi-secret. hmm.

and yet,

The group's nominated Product of the Year is a Chinesium , of all things.

Why wasn't it Chad Kassem's Company and thier work in accessible High Quality Music ? It could've be a No.1 choice.

or

the Schiit Company for making Audiophile gear available to anyone that can afford cigarettes.

Stereophile has a higher calling than a normal glossy Mag.

Stereophile is the Carrier/Keeper/Curator & Documentor of a beautiful Music Culture where, I'm hoping, rising prices won't be the measure of raising the Bar.

The Audiophiliac remains my nomination for Audiophile of the Year.

Tony in Venice

Glotz's picture

Goes to YOU, Tony!

Kudos.

monetschemist's picture

This comment:

"Best of all, readers who bought one because of the review emailed me to say they were thrilled.—Michael Fremer

Here we have a reviewer, who has been "doing this" for a long time, who is at the top of his game, who impresses both manufacturers and readers for his efforts, who has the reputation and technical chops to review 6 figure audio equipment.

And here, where we might therefore expect to see swagger and an "I told you so" attitude, we see instead his delight in readers who are pleased by his recommendations.

Thank you, Mr. Fremer, for sharing your wisdom and experience and for maintaining your humanity.

Glotz's picture

For giving me incredible, accurate recommendations every year!
I put my money where their mouths are!

Despite Corona virus whupping the world economy's ass, I bought in 2020:

PS Audio Stellar phono preamp (Stereophile- MF)
Benchmark HPA4 line/headphone amp (KR)
Hana ML cartridge (HR)
NAD C427 tuner
Schiit Modius DAC (Analog Planet- ML)
Magneplanar 1.7i speakers
REL T5i subwoofers -2
HiFi Man He-400i headphones
AudioQuest Colorado XLR & RCA interconnects
AudioQuest Carbon Coax and USB interconnects
Shunyata Defender
Audio Reference LP Carbonmat record mat
Aesthetics ABCD-1 Demagnetizer
Belles 150a Hot Rod amp re-chip (ST)
Soundsmith Carmen 1 cartridge re-tip (HR).

All of the parenthesis show which reviewer recommended it, and I feel their perceptions on every product were spot-on accurate. The rest of the equipment were also well reviewed and recommended by other magazines.

I truly thank them for reporting on their observations, insights, and thoroughness when reviewing. My trust is shown by purchasing this gear!

I also thank them all for fun and truly superlative writing! And to JA for his measurements and insights...

The take-away is great sound isn't by accident. We need great writers who adhere to truth and art, and understand the fine line between both and make salient recommendations for the audience they believe it fits.

And thank you to Stereophile and its web presence (and the AP), where real audio debate and discovery are available to everyone.

davemill's picture

I'll second Sterophile's gear advice with one notable exception. Gear that is manufactured and designed in China is a definite no go for me. This includes such companies as Holoaudio and Denafrips. I will not support communists. My wife grew up under communism in Romania. I also avoid gear that is manufactured in China although if I wasn't fortunate to have funds for a higher budget I might be tempted to buy the lower end B&W and NAD equipment. That being said I am very happy with the following purchases I made over the past 12 months.

Revel PerformaBe F228 (KR)
Parasound Halo A21+ (KR)
Shunyata Research Denali 6000/S v2 power distributor
Shunyata Research Sigma XC and 2 Alpha NR v2 power cords
Shunyata Research CopperConn duplex outlet

The impact of the Shunyata products was mind-blowing to me. I will likely replace my Synergistic Research interconnects and speaker cables with Shunyata's new v2 products in 2021.

YRMV

Glotz's picture

Killer speakers and amp!

I do love Shunyata's approach to their entire line. While I don't like the Venom interconnects, I do love and use the speaker cables. But I will be looking to the V2 line next year, probably the Deltas.

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