It’s that time of year again. We are pleased to announce our annual SoundStage! Network Products of the Year, which have been selected from the Reviewers’ Choice products reviewed in 2020 on one of our sites: SoundStage! Access, SoundStage! Hi-Fi, SoundStage! Simplifi, SoundStage! Solo, SoundStage! Ultra, or SoundStage! Xperience.
As usual, our awards fall into three main categories: Individual Awards, Outstanding Performance, and Exceptional Value. For 2020, the Individual Awards have three subcategories: Hall of Fame, Aesthetics and Sound, and Innovation in Design.
The Hall of Fame award is presented to a recently reviewed product that is a sterling performer and has either been on the market for a long time as-is or is a new incarnation of an older version. As you’ll see, the one we chose for 2020 is brand new, but its lineage extends back to 2012. The Aesthetics and Sound award recognizes a product that combines exceptional styling with sound quality that is just as compelling. The Innovation in Design award is intended to recognize a product that pushes the envelope in term of performance and/or features. This year we felt that an electronic component and a loudspeaker system each deserved this award, so there are two Innovation in Design awards for 2020.
Outstanding Performance products are those that put forth the very best sound quality, without concern for price. Not surprisingly, these products are often quite expensive. Exceptional Value components are those that offer excellent sound quality for their price. Typically, these are less-expensive products.
The Outstanding Performance and Exceptional Value categories are subdivided by product type, with only one award per type per category. For example, there’s only one floorstanding passive speaker, one stand-mounted passive speaker, and one integrated amplifier-DAC in each category, and so on. However, not every product type is awarded in both categories, and some product types aren’t awarded in either category. For instance, one turntable won an Exceptional Value award, but we didn’t select a turntable for the Outstanding Performance category, simply because we didn’t review one in 2020 that we felt was worthy of that award. Likewise, in the Outstanding Performance category you’ll find a power conditioner, but we didn’t choose one for Exceptional Value, because, again, we didn’t have one to recommend. We do it this way because we don’t just want to fill categories for the sake of it—we want our winners to represent the best of the best.
Without further ado, here are our 2020 SoundStage! Network Products of the Year, by category. For each award winner, you’ll find a hyperlink to its review, who wrote the review and where and when it ran, one or two sentences culled from the review that we think best illustrates why that product was chosen, and its price in USD. Our reviewers wish to extend their congratulations to this tremendous group of 2020 winners. And for consumers: you’d be wise to seek out any of these products if, like us, you want to build the perfect system.
Hall of Fame
KEF LS50 Meta loudspeakers, by Doug Schneider (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, November 2020): “You won’t get the deep, detailed bass or high-output effortlessness of much bigger speakers, but for most other aspects of sound, the LS50 Meta can hold its own against stand-mounted speakers of any price. That’s what made the original model such a hit from the moment of its release, and it will probably guarantee this latest version similar success.”
Price: $1499.99 per pair
Aesthetics and Sound
Sonus Faber Olympica Nova III loudspeakers, by Jeff Fritz (SoundStage! Ultra, February 2020): “But high-end looks and build wouldn’t mean much if the Olympica Nova III didn’t also sound the part. It does.”
Price: $13,500 per pair
Innovation in Design
Buchardt Audio A500 active loudspeakers and Stereo Hub WiSA transmitter, by Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage! Simplifi, October 2020): “They’re proof positive that you don’t need a big stack of components to get exciting and dynamic sound, high-impact bass, commendably accurate vocal and instrumental timbres, and precise aural images on big soundstages.”
Price: $4450–$4550, depending on finish
NAD Masters M33 integrated amplifier-DAC, by Roger Kanno (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, September 2020): “The Masters M33’s combination of sound quality and features makes it the current front-runner in the extremely competitive market of $5000 integrated amplifiers.”
Beyerdynamic T5 (3rd generation) headphones, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, October 2020): “Unfortunately, while I didn’t have the chance to compare the Beyerdynamic T5 headphones with any high-end closed-back models, they sounded so great and so flawless that I have to think they rank up there with the best.”
dCS Bartók digital-to-analog converter, by Hans Wetzel (SoundStage! Ultra, August 2020): “It ushered in the highest-fidelity, most musical sound I’ve heard in my listening room in the last five years. The dCS Bartók DAC earns my highest recommendation.”
Magico A1 bookshelf loudspeakers, by Doug Schneider (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, May 2020): “The all-black A1 isn’t beautiful to look at, but it’s extremely well built and very accomplished in how it sounds when given enough power—its full, rich, superbly voiced sound belies the speaker’s size, and has a purity through the midrange and highs that made it intoxicating to listen to.”
Price: $7400 per pair
Luxman LX-380 integrated amplifier, by Oliver Amnuayphol (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, May 2020): “If your criteria for hi-fi bliss overlap with mine, it’s a safe bet that you, too, will find the Luxman LX-380 to be one of the best-sounding—and thus one of the most musically satisfying—integrated amplifiers on the market today.”
Shunyata Research Hydra Alpha A12 power conditioner, by Jeff Fritz (SoundStage! Ultra, April 2020): “It lowered the noise floor of my audio system, letting me experience cleaner sound with music that demands the absolute quietest background for proper reproduction (in my experience, mostly strings).”
Technics EAH-TZ700 earphones, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, October 2020): “I’m surprised to say I think these tiny, inauspicious-looking earphones are as good as any I’ve heard.”
Vivid Audio Giya G2 Series 2 floorstanding loudspeakers, by Doug Schneider (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, July 2020): “I concluded my review of the original version with this: ‘The Giya G2 is not only the best loudspeaker I’ve ever reviewed, it’s the best loudspeaker I’ve ever heard.’ Today, I still say the same thing—this time, about the Giya G2 Series 2.”
Price: $50,000 per pair
Anthem STR preamplifier-DAC, by Diego Estan (SoundStage! Access, April 2020): “What Anthem has created is extraordinary for the price—a full-featured, transparent-sounding preamplifier-DAC with all the analog and digital inputs and outputs most users could ever need (save for HDMI and a headphone jack), and exceptional input-assignment flexibility.”
Focal Shape 65 active loudspeakers, by Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage! Simplifi, June 2020): “I’ve commented on the Shape 65’s ability to generate excitement and draw me into the music. As I experienced with many recordings, it was also capable of beauty and refinement.”
Price: $1999 per pair
HiFiMan Deva Bluetooth headphones, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, May 2020): “This is a terrific product I think any audio enthusiast would enjoy—and that all of them can probably afford.”
MartinLogan Motion 60XTi floorstanding loudspeakers, by Diego Estan (SoundStage! Access, January 2020): “This conventional tower speaker might lack the large, thin electrostatic panels that MartinLogan is famous for, but my review pair of Motion 60XTi’s looked and sounded nothing short of fabulous in my room.”
Price: $3499.98 per pair
Pro-Ject Audio Systems Debut Carbon Evo turntable and Sumiko Oyster Rainier cartridge, by Thom Moon (SoundStage! Access, December 2020): “Its combination of absolute ease of setup, rock-steady platter speeds, amazing tonearm, and its overall look comprise a package that’s an incredible bargain, and a fine addition to an Access-approved system.”
Pro-Ject Audio Systems MaiA S2 Bluetooth integrated amplifier-DAC, by Vince Hanada (SoundStage! Access, July 2020): “The MaiA S2 sounded way better than I thought it could—it punched way above its class.”
PSB Alpha AM5 powered loudspeakers, by Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage! Simplifi, December 2020): “In my view, PSB’s Alpha AM5 is a poster child for the value proposition of powered speakers.”
Price: $599 per pair
PSB Alpha T20 / C10 / P3 / S10 home-theater speaker system, by Vince Hanada (SoundStage! Access, April 2020): “The system’s dynamics and imaging were standouts, and it easily filled my midsize room with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling sound.”
Rogue Audio Atlas Magnum II stereo amplifier, by Andrea Sundaram (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, April 2020): “Rogue Audio’s Atlas Magnum II is everything a modern vacuum-tube amplifier should be: solidly built, easy to set up and maintain, reasonably powerful with very little self-noise, and having a sound that shows a bit of tube warmth without smearing over the details in good recordings.”
Schiit Audio Magnius headphone amplifier, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, September 2020): “The Magnius is easily the best inexpensive headphone amp I’ve tested.”
SVS SB-2000 Pro subwoofer, Diego Estan (SoundStage! Access, February 2020): “For $799.99, the SVS SB-2000 Pro is a helluva deal. In my relatively small room, its sound came very close to that of my reference SB-4000 at nearly twice the price, giving up only a few dB to the much larger sub in the lowest synth-bass notes.”
Price: $799.99–$899.99, depending on finish
Triangle Borea BR03 bookshelf loudspeakers, by Diego Estan (SoundStage! Access, May 2020): “To say that Triangle’s Borea BR03 is a steal is an understatement. At $549/pair, it punches far above its weight in most categories of sound quality.”
Price: $549 per pair
Here’s to 2021!
You probably don’t need me to remind you that 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone. However, I’m proud to say that even with the difficulties that arose out of the COVID-19 global pandemic, we were able to review more products than ever in 2020 and weren’t at all hampered when it came to selecting this stellar group of Products of the Year. We’re exceedingly proud of this year’s list. But we’re also looking forward to 2021, which should mark an end to the COVID-19 pandemic and see a year full of great product reviews that will culminate with the SoundStage! Network 2021 Products of the Year—to be announced one year from now.
. . . Doug Schneider