Recommended Reference Component: Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty Digital-to-Analog Converter

Recommended Reference ComponentIn his review of the Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty digital-to-analog converter (DAC), published on May 1, 2017, Philip Beaudette acknowledged that its price of $8950 USD “isn’t exactly affordable.” However, he also stated that that price “isn’t unreasonable” -- partly because it includes a headphone amplifier as well as a volume control, the latter allowing it to also function as a preamplifier, but mostly because it sounded better than any other DAC he’s had in his system.

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Recommended Reference Component: KEF Reference 3 Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentIncluding its outrigger base, conical feet, and protruding binding posts, KEF’s Reference 3 measures 47.3”H x 13.7”W x 18.5”D and weighs 113.1 pounds. At $13,999.99 USD per pair, it’s the smaller and cheaper of the two floorstanders in the Reference series -- above it is the Reference 5 ($18,999.99/pair). And yet, as Doug Schneider found while listening to it for his April 2017 review on SoundStage! Hi-Fi, the Reference 3 can be compared to some of the best speakers he’s heard, even at twice the price.

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Recommended Reference Component: Audeze iSine10 Earphones

Recommended Reference ComponentWe’d never seen Brent Butterworth so enthusiastic about a set of earphones as he was about the Audeze iSine10s in his March 2017 review for SoundStage! Xperience. He felt that this idiosyncratic design offers such high performance and value that, as he declared in his review’s final sentence, “This is $4000 worth of sound for $400.”

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Recommended Reference Component: PS Audio PerfectWave DirectStream Junior Digital-to-Analog Converter

Recommended Reference ComponentPS Audio’s PerfectWave DirectStream Junior digital-to-analog converter sells for $3999 USD and can be thought of as a scaled-down version of the company’s flagship DAC, the PerfectWave DirectStream ($5999). But such a description doesn’t do full justice to the Junior’s sound quality.

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Recommended Reference Component: HiFiMan HE1000 V2 Headphones

Recommended Reference ComponentYou’d be forgiven for mistaking the HiFiMan HE1000 V2 headphones, which Brent Butterworth reviewed for SoundStage! Xperience in December 2016, for the original HE1000s, which Brent reviewed in October 2015 and which, the following month, we added to our list of Recommended Reference Components. They’re priced the same, at $2999 USD, and look almost identical -- but there are differences not only in the two models’ appearances, but in their sounds.

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Recommended Reference Component: Sennheiser HD 800 S Headphones

Recommended Reference ComponentWhen we were determining our Products of the Year for 2016, we asked Brent Butterworth, our main reviewer of headphones, which headphones were the best he’d reviewed all year. Although he’d reviewed many pairs of ’phones in 2016, he didn’t hesitate to name his choice: Sennheiser’s HD 800 S headphones, which he’d reviewed for SoundStage! Xperience last April, and which then had received a Reviewers’ Choice award. They retail for $1699 USD.

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Recommended Reference Component: Devialet Expert 1000 Pro Mono DAC-Integrated Amplifiers

Recommended Reference ComponentWhen Devialet’s first product, the D-Premier integrated amplifier-DAC, debuted in 2009, it received wide-ranging critical praise, including from SoundStage! -- when Doug Schneider’s review was published, in May 2011, we gave it a Reviewers’ Choice award; the following month, we added it our list of Recommended Reference Components; and it was one of our Products of the Year for 2011. The unique technologies used in the D-Premier made it a groundbreaking design, and it was also rare in combining beautiful styling and small size with state-of-the-art sound quality. At the time, it was the best-sounding amplification component that Doug Schneider had ever heard.

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Recommended Reference Component: Gryphon Audio Designs Diablo 300 Integrated Amplifier-DAC

Recommended Reference ComponentIn a SoundStage! Shorts video filmed in August 2016 and released last month, Gryphon Audio Designs’ founder, Flemming E. Rasmussen, says: “The Diablo integrated amplifier has been a huge success for us, more than we would ever anticipated and hoped for.”

The original Diablo was released in November 2005; its replacement, the Diablo 300, reviewed by Hans Wetzel for SoundStage! Ultra in September 2016, was launched in May 2015 in Munich, Germany, at High End 2015. (Our video focused on the new Diablo, the 120, which debuted last month.) That the original Diablo lasted on the market for nearly ten years without change is a testament to great product design. Still, Gryphon found so many ways to improve it that, as Hans wrote in his review, the Diablo 300 “shouldn’t be thought of as a step in a journey, but as the final destination.” In Europe, the Diablo 300’s base price is €12,800. The unit Hans reviewed included the optional DAC module, which adds €4800 to that price; an optional moving-magnet/moving-coil phono stage adds another €1800. (Currently, Gryphon Audio Designs has no US distributor, hence the lack of equivalent prices in USD.)

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Recommended Reference Component: PSB SubSeries 450 Subwoofer

Recommended Reference ComponentWhen its output is poorly integrated with the outputs of the left and right main speakers, even the best subwoofer can screw up the sound of music and movies. But when the blend is right, there’s a seamless transition from where the main speakers cut off and the sub picks up. A well-designed subwoofer can tremendously benefit a system by producing deeper, more powerful bass than even very large, expensive floorstanding speakers can provide.

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Recommended Reference Component: Mola Mola Kaluga Mono Amplifiers

Recommended Reference ComponentBruno Putzeys is one of the brightest, most inventive designers in high-end audio. He’s also one of the most prolific and influential, having left his mark on many companies, whether by helping to found them and design their products, or indirectly through the technologies he’s created.

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