If 2019 were like previous years, you wouldn’t see this list of SoundStage! Network Products of the Year until January 1, 2020. In the past, we waited till the first of the year, so that the announcement of our awards would more or less coincide with our presentation of trophies at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held each year in Las Vegas the second week of January. Times have changed.
Beginning this year, we are announcing our Products of the Year on December 15 because, as far as high-end audio is concerned, CES is now irrelevant. As our writers have often stated, CES may still be strong in other sectors of consumer electronics, but in terms of hi-fi it’s been dying for years. This is why our sole representative at CES 2019 was Brent Butterworth, who scrounged up a few products he could report on -- and for CES 2020, you won’t see any reporting at all from us.
This is why it now makes more sense to publish the awards at the end of the year in which our reviews of those products appeared, and in the month that we publish the last of those reviews. We’ve already begun presenting the trophies themselves, and will continue to do so until every one has been awarded in person -- we may not be going to Las Vegas this year, but clearly we’ll be doing some traveling.
Product of the Year awards fall into three main categories: Individual Awards, Outstanding Performance, and Exceptional Value. Under Individual Awards are four subcategories: Hall of Fame, Innovation in Design, Aesthetics and Sound, and Pioneering Design Achievement. Most years see only one winner per subcategory, but we’re happy to name two or more winners if the products are deserving. This year, for the first time, there are two awards for Pioneering Design Achievement awards: one each for a loudspeaker and an electronics component.
Outstanding Performance and Exceptional Value are subdivided by product type, but there’s only ever one award per type: one floorstanding speaker, one bookshelf speaker, one preamp, etc. And if we feel that no product of a particular type reviewed in that year deserved being named a Product of the Year for Outstanding Performance or Exceptional Value, then there is no winner in that category. This year, for example, no turntable or standalone DAC wins an Outstanding Performance or Exceptional Value award, and no power amplifier wins for Exceptional Value.
Products that win awards for Outstanding Performance are those that exhibit the very best sound quality, regardless of price. Though these are often the most expensive, they aren’t always. Exceptional Value components punch way above their weight, offering great sound quality at an affordable price.
Here’s how we chose the Products of the Year for 2019: We first compiled a list of products that received Reviewers’ Choice awards. From those products, based on the strength of their reviews, our team of editors chose the overall winner(s) for each product type. In each case, the review had to reflect why the product deserves to be included in Products of the Year. For this article, I’ve excerpted from each review the sentence that best relays that message.
Here are our 2019 SoundStage! Network Products of the Year. Our congratulations to all the winners.
Hall of Fame -- Focal Spectral 40th loudspeakers, by Diego Estan (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, September 2019): “In their beautiful, superbly finished cabinets, the Spectral 40ths provided me with stunning sound that always left me grinning from ear to ear.”
Innovation in Design -- NAD Masters M10 BluOS streaming integrated amplifier, by Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage! Simplifi, May 2019): “If you want high-performance hi-fi in a stylish living space with a minimum of clutter, NAD’s Masters M10 BluOS streaming integrated amplifier is a great choice.”
Aesthetics and Sound -- Sonus Faber Heritage Collection Electa Amator III loudspeakers, by Hans Wetzel (SoundStage! Ultra, December 2019): “It might not be as faithful a transducer as some of its direct competitors, but its beguiling combination of visual style and sonic substance make it one of my favorite products of the last few years.”
Pioneering Design Achievement -- Dutch & Dutch 8c active loudspeakers, by Diego Estan (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, April 2019): “Overall, the Dutch & Dutch 8c’s not only exceeded my expectations for how a pair of stand-mounted speakers could perform, in many ways they bettered the performance of my current setup of satellites and subwoofer room-corrected with Dirac Live.”
Pioneering Design Achievement -- Theoretica Applied Physics BACCH-SP adio 3D sound processor, by Howard Kneller (SoundStage! Ultra, November 2019): “The adio didn’t bring only the performers into my listening room -- it brought their recording venues as well.”
Luxman L-509X integrated amplifier, by Jeff Fritz (SoundStage! Ultra, March 2019): “If I bought a L-509X, I can easily imagine glancing at it five or ten years later and finding that it still brought a smile to my face -- very rare in high-end audio circa 2019.”
PMC Fact Fenestria floorstanding loudspeakers, by Aron Garrecht (SoundStage! Ultra, November 2019): “PMC’s Fact Fenestria is one of the most gratifying and sonically involving speakers I have reviewed.”
Revel PerformaBe M126Be bookshelf loudspeakers, by Philip Beaudette (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, August 2019): “The Revel PerformaBe M126Be is the finest speaker I’ve heard in my listening room.”
Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo active loudspeakers, by Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage! Simplifi, July 2019): “You just plug them into the wall, run an easy-to-use app to connect them to your home network, and immediately start streaming music with sound quality that any audiophile couldn’t help but admire.”
SVS SB-3000 subwoofer, by Diego Estan (SoundStage! Access, June 2019): “The bass I heard from this small box, unassuming yet nice to look at, bordered on the difficult to believe -- very fast, very tight, very deep, with more than enough output to fill my 15’L x 12’W x 8’H room with sound-pressure levels that would satisfy all but the most demanding bass heads.”
EMM Labs MTRX2 mono amplifiers, by Doug Schneider (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, January 2019): “The EMM Labs MTRX2 monos are the best-sounding amplifiers I’ve ever heard.”
Audio Research Reference 6 preamplifier, by Aron Garrecht (SoundStage! Ultra, June 2019): “In my time with it, I quickly learned that Audio Research’s Reference 6 preamplifier is one of those rare products capable of producing a quality of sound greater than might be suggested by the sum of its parts.”
Naim Audio Mu-so 2nd Generation wireless music system, by Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage! Simplifi, July 2019): “It’s hard to imagine any other all-in-one music system that could outclass this gorgeous product.”
Constellation Audio Revelation Andromeda phono stage, by Jason Thorpe (SoundStage! Ultra, June 2019): “Constellation Audio’s Revelation Andromeda is worth every penny of $19,900.”
Meze Audio Empyrean headphones, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, April 2019): “The Empyreans clearly rank among the very best headphones you can buy.”
Monoprice Monolith THX 24459 headphone amplifier, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, June 2019): “It’s a tool of exploration for the devoted headphone enthusiast, one that will absolutely, positively make a difference in the sound you hear.”
KEF R11 floorstanding loudspeakers, by Diego Estan (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, August 2019): “The $4999.98 KEF asks for a pair of R11s makes them a steal -- you’d be hard-pressed to find a better speaker at the price.”
PSB Alpha P5 bookshelf loudspeakers, by Hans Wetzel (SoundStage! Access, March 2019): “It’s as complete a two-way design as you can hope to buy for anywhere near $349/pair.”
Elac Navis ARB-51 active loudspeakers, by Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage! Simplifi, April 2019): “There’s so much to admire about Elac’s Navis ARB-51 -- their neutrality, their warmth, their expressiveness, and, of course, their incredible value for money.”
Paradigm Defiance V12 subwoofer, by Diego Estan (SoundStage! Access, September 2019): “All told, the Defiance V12 is a great value that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone -- even those willing to spend much more.”
NAD D 3045 integrated amplifier-DAC, by Hans Wetzel (SoundStage! Access, October 2019): “The D 3045 is the cream of the crop of integrated amp-DACs for $1000 and under.”
SensaSound TPO-7300 multichannel amplifier, by Roger Kanno (SoundStage! Access, September 2019): “Just as important, the TPO-7300’s exceptional sound quality is better than anything else I’ve heard in its price range, and makes it suitable for use in top-flight home theater and music systems without your having to break the bank.”
EarFun Free true wireless earphones, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, November 2019): “I think they’re a great buy for anyone, even hardcore headphone enthusiasts -- after all, even the most dedicated audiophiles need something to wear while walking the dog.”
Schiit Audio Fulla 2 headphone amplifier-DAC, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, April 2019): “Unless you own one of the handful of headphones that truly demand an extraordinary, high-end amplifier, the Fulla 2 will get your headphones sounding great for what might be a fraction of the price you spent on the headphones.”
Next year . . .
Now, with all of 2019’s reviews online and the Products of the Year announced, we look to 2020. Our first reviews for the new year will appear across all our sites on January 1, and will continue with semimonthly updates through December 2020, when the last of the year’s reviews are published and the Products of the Year for 2020 are announced.
. . . Doug Schneider