Stereophile's Products of 2005

What're they all about, these so-called Products of the Year? Why do we put so much time and energy into the voting? Why compile a list of all the products we've reported on in Stereophile over the last 12 months, putting little checkmarks and stars and numbers and other irreverent doodles and dashes beside their already silly names? Certainly all this hullabaloo isn't for our health. It's not even fun. It doesn't promote that strange, weird, and wonderful tingling feeling way down in the toes. It doesn't taste good. And chicks don't really dig it. So: Why?

I was mulling all this over a few days back when, without warning, and just as I was about to begin the process of sifting through the votes in preparation for writing the actual text that follows [cue thunderclaps followed by the whir of absolute silence or whatever other apocalyptic entrance you can muster]—our network server went down. Funny thing about a network server going down in these days of shared drives, websites, forums, and blogs: it handcuffs you, paralyzes you, ties you to the whipping post. Great Gatsby, what's a guy to do? Well, this guy—surrounded as he is by old issues of Stereophile, and without having to click Send or close a bunch of annoying pop-up ads—went way back in time, to the very first edition of our "Products of the Year," in 1992. I was 15 years old. And John Atkinson was sassy. He wrote:

"No matter how much hard work went into an equipment review, a couple of months down the line, that review will be as fresh as yesterday's undunked donut. And no matter how good-sounding the product, or how much it excited the writer, it will always tend to be overshadowed by the latest and greatest products written about in the new issue. . . . Needless to say, this is a drag. [Today, JA, we might say that this is totally lame.—SM] I want to remind readers of the good products we've listened to in the past. So without shame, I organized the first of what is intended to be an annual ritual: Stereophile's 'Products of the Year.' "

And here we are today, 13 years later, still rockin' as strong as vinyl. These winners, then—these "Products of the Year" for 2005—are the components that we think will have a lasting influence on the world of high-end hi-fi, not simply because each has set a new standard of performance within its category, but because they remind us of the basis of our enthusiasm. That is, they give us beautiful music.

Those categories are: "Loudspeakers" (including subwoofers), "Amplification Components" (preamplifiers, power amplifiers, etc.), "Digital Sources" (CD players, transports, processors), "Analog Sources" (phono cartridges, turntables, tonearms, FM tuners, etc.), "Multichannel Music Components," and "Accessories" (all that woo-woo stuff in between). And let's not forget the two most important categories: Our overall "Product of the Year" is the cream of the crop, and our "Budget Component of the Year" gives the most bang for the buck. To top it all off, for "Editor's Choice," JA gets to pick his own favorite product of all—which gives him the opportunity to get sassy all over again.

Here's how it works: Each of Stereophile's hardware reviewers is asked to nominate up to six components in each of the eight categories. To be a contender, a product had to have been reviewed in Stereophile between the November 2004 and October 2005 issues, in a full Equipment Report, a Follow-Up review, or in one of the regular columns by Art Dudley, Michael Fremer, John Marks, Kalman Rubinson, and Sam Tellig. That way, only those components could be nominated for which a writer had put his opinion in print for public scrutiny. We then put together a ballot form listing all components nominated by three or more writers and/or editors. This process ensures that most of the nominees in most of the categories will have been auditioned by most of the reviewers. Each of the magazine's editors and reviewers gave three votes for his first choice in each category, two votes for his second choice, and one vote for his third choice (if any). JA tallied the votes; address complaints and compliments to him.

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And the winners are . . .