Recommended Reference Component: Bryston 4B3 Stereo/Mono Amplifier

Recommended Reference ComponentIn Roger Kanno’s review of the Bryston 4B3 stereo/mono amplifier, published in June 2017 on SoundStage! Hi-Fi, he described its sound as “virtually faultless,” praised its “ability to drive just about any speaker with ease,” and declared that it “may well be the best value today in a high-end, high-powered, solid-state amplifier. . . . If I were in the market for a new amp, I’d buy the Bryston 4B3 without hesitation.”

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Recommended Reference Component: HiFiMan Susvara Headphones

Recommended Reference ComponentOutrageously expensive at $6000 USD, and so insensitive that you need a high-powered amplifier to drive them to appreciable volume levels, HiFiMan’s Susvara headphones were designed for -- well, who, precisely? In his July 2017 review of the Susvaras on SoundStage! Xperience, Brent Butterworth at first wondered if they were just another of the many audio products that are claimed to bring you “closer to the music,” a phrase he’d thought was “meaningless marketing” -- until the Susvaras came along.

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Recommended Reference Component: Devialet Expert 130 Pro DAC-Integrated Amplifier

Recommended Reference ComponentIn 2009, the French manufacturer Devialet set the audio world on its ear with the introduction of the D-Premier DAC-integrated amplifier. Priced at $15,999 USD, this unique component housed in its slim, shiny case many features, including: a digital preamplifier section that could accept digital as well as line- and phono-level analog signals via an onboard analog-to-digital converter (ADC); a high-powered digital signal processor (DSP) that could perform real-time processing of digital music signals, for things like equalization and room and speaker correction; the Magic Wire, a combined digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and gain stage; and an innovative amplifier topology named Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH).

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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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