Stereophile's Products of 2020 Editors' Choice

Editors' Choice

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Holoaudio May (Level 3) D/A processor
Back in the digital Dark Ages of the 1980s, R-2R "ladder" DACs acquired a bad reputation due to their poor linearity at low recorded levels. The advent of sigma-delta DAC chips in the early 1990s, which didn't suffer from this problem, seemed a godsend, though ladder-DAC lovers continued their advocacy on sound-quality grounds. I was a sigma-delta guy until I heard the ladder-DAC HoloAudio May (Level 3), which, with its combination of superb measured performance and sound quality that, as Herb Reichert wrote, "makes every recording sound non-digital," made a believer out of me. —John Atkinson

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Magico M2 loudspeaker
In for a follow-up review, the M2s have been my regular listening companion for months. (I've been in no hurry to get rid of them.) I think they're the first pair of loudspeakers I've had here with no identifiable defect. They do that special trick of reproducing all the highs, fully, but never in a way that draws attention—all the air with none of the fatigue.—Jim Austin

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Wilson Audio Sasha DAW loudspeaker
I'll take the Sasha DAWs. Yes, they're expensive, and yes, they require careful setup to sound their best. But yes, they're worth it. Listening to music is a magical experience for me, and more so with the Sasha DAWs. Throw in a six-month-and-counting lockdown and, well, there you have it.—Brian Damkroger

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PS Audio Stellar Phono phono preamplifier
Put up against two "stellar," $50,000-plus phono preamps—the current-based CH Precision P1/X1 and the vacuum-tube LCR-based Ypsilon VPS100 with a step-up–transformer input—PS Audio's versatile $2495 Stellar remained in my system for months, well satisfying my phono-preamp needs. Best of all, readers who bought one because of the review emailed me to say they were thrilled.—Michael Fremer

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Bel Canto E1x stereo power amplifier
The Bel Canto e1X offers everything necessary to make your loudspeakers sing: power, authority, dynamics, and impressive midrange clarity. The NCore class-D design borrows heavily from the nearly-double-the-price Black Series. The near-Technicolor musicality of the e1X showed that the apple didn't fall very far from a very good tree.—Tom Gibbs

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Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 1 loudspeaker
The Olympica Nova 1 standmounts played cleanly down to just 40Hz, but their imaging, midrange richness, and lack of listening fatigue revealed new orchestral resonances and enhanced my recordings of music by Edward Elgar, Suzanne Vega, and Jeff Hetfield of Metallica.—Larry Greenhill

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NAD M33 integrated amplifier
NAD's extraordinary development effort has yielded an abundance of audiophile awesomeness: no-holds-barred performance, next-generation technology, smartly kitted for the modern streaming lifestyle at a real-world price. No wonder it's being touted in both the audiophile and popular press. Just add speakers. Big speakers. And maybe a subwoofer or two.—Jon Iverson

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Wilson Audio Sasha DAW loudspeaker
The Wilson Audio Sasha DAW loudspeaker, from the pioneers of no-compromise, cost-no-object speaker designs, falls squarely in the middle of Wilson's current product lineup. Designer Daryl Wilson and his team have nailed the magical-mystery sonic sweet spot, creating a fitting tribute to company founder David A. Wilson (DAW).—Sasha Matson

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ProAc D2R loudspeaker
As noted in my review, the "ProAc D2R demonstrated excellent transparency" and "delivered rich, characterful midrange sounds and deep, well-defined bass notes." The D2R energized my room no matter the musical style or playback format and produced a very large soundstage. The D2R "let me ... fall deeply into the music."—Ken Micallef

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Naim Mu-So 2nd Gen
This all-in-one network player might not be a strictly "audiophile" product, but it deserves recognition for both sonics and functionality within its category and price. It makes clearer, bigger sound (and bass) than it has any right to. Its streaming platform comes from Naim's flagship ND 555; it has hi-rez services built in and a well-designed app.—Julie Mullins

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NAD M33 integrated amplifier
In a world of ever-increasing audio prices, we need more integrated amps that the typical audiophile can seriously consider. The NAD M33's Eigentakt amplifier circuitry, Dirac Live 3 room compensation, and full audio streaming capability combine to create a state-of-the-art solution no audiophile can ignore.—Tom Norton

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Holoaudio May (Level) 3 D/A processor
In this, the year of the plague, the Denafrips Ares II DAC and the GoldenEar BRX loudspeaker are outstanding, super–high-value products that I spent time with and recommend without reservation. But neither changed the quality of my life or my reviewing practice. The HoloAudio May Level 3 DAC did. It disappears completely and makes digital seem not-digital.—Herb Reichert

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NAD M33 integrated amplifier
How do you assemble a superb system of audio electronics for $4999? It must support streaming, file playback, disc players, and turntables and include bass management and Dirac Live EQ. It must drive virtually any high-end loudspeaker system to satisfying SPLs. The easy answer comes in one integrated, classy enclosure: the NAD M33.—Kalman Rubinson

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Krell K-300i integrated amplifier
A standout at last year's Toronto Audiofest, Krell's K-300i solid-state integrated amplifier might as well have had tubes in it, such was its beguiling sense of flow, midband warmth, and captivating musicality. It comes with proprietary technology, is rated Class A in Stereophile's Recommended Components, looks built to last, and, for a grand more, you can get it with a highly capable DAC.—Rob Schryer

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Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems Momentum HD line preamplifier
This two-piece, 98lb, stacked preamplifier consistently delivers what I did not expect from a preamp. By transmitting bigger, weightier, and more naturally color-saturated images—it's fabulous on bass—it moves music reproduction closer to the actual live or engineer-intentioned experience. The D'Agostino Momentum HD line preamplifier is a transformative product that continually blows me away.—Jason Victor Serinus

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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