Stereophile's Recommended List for 2010.

venkatcr

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Every year, Stereophile, based on their reviews, release a list of recommended products. Many manufacturers consider it a privilege to have their products as part of this list. From this year's recommended list, I have extracted products that we have been discussing about in HFV, and am showing them below. In all groups excepting one, I have only shown products we have discussed, and in all cases, products that cost below US$1000. In headphones and amplifiers, I have included nearly all products as most of the products, excepting a few, are below US$1000.

At the end of every review, you will find a set of characters within brackets. This shows the volume number of the magazine where you can read the detailed review of the particular. 'WWW' represents the worldwide web, meaning the review MAY be available on line.

The listing are shown grouped as per category, followed by Class and the product.

Though many of us would be disappointed with the absence of Marantz in the players category, I was delighted with the presence of Pioneer, and to a certain degree with the presence of CA. :)

WARNING. This is a very long post. I suggest that, unless you have the time, just look for the grouping you are interested in and read the products there.

Stereophile said:
HOW TO USE THE LISTING
Each class covers a wide range of performance. Carefully read our descriptions here, the original reviews, and (heaven forbid) reviews in other magazines to put together a short list of components to choose from. Evaluate your room, your source material and front-end(s), your speakers, and your tastes. With luck, you may come up with a selection to audition at your favorite dealer(s). "Recommended Components" will not tell you what to buy any more than Consumer Reports would presume to tell you whom to marry!

CLASS A
Best attainable sound for a component of its kind, almost without practical considerations; "the least musical compromise." A Class A system is one for which you dont have to make a leap of faith to believe that youre hearing the real thing. With Super Audio CD, 24/96 DAD, and DVD-Audio now available, we have created a new Class, A+, for the best performance in those digital categories. Class A now represents the best that can be obtained from the conventional 16/44.1 CD medium. We also created Class A+ categories for turntables and phono preamps, to recognize the achievements of the Continuum Caliburn and Boulder 2008, respectively.

CLASS B
The next best thing to the very best sound reproduction; Class B components generally cost less than those in Class A, but most Class B components are still quite expensive.

CLASS C
Somewhat lower-fi sound, but far more musically natural than average home-component high fidelity; products in this class are of high quality but still affordable.

CLASS D
Satisfying musical sound, but these components are either of significantly lower fidelity than the best available, or exhibit major compromises in performance-limited dynamic range, for example. Bear in mind that appearance in Class D still means that we recommend this product-its possible to put together a musically satisfying system exclusively from Class D components.

CLASS K
"Keep your eye on this product." Class K is for components that we have not reviewed (or have not finished testing), but that we have reason to believe may be excellent performers. We are not actually recommending these components, only suggesting you give them a listen. Though the report has yet to be published in certain cases, the reviewer and editor sometimes feel confident enough that the reviewers opinion is sufficiently well formed to include what otherwise would be an entry in one of the other classes, marked (NR).

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TURNTABLES
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Class C
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Rega Planar 3-24: $895
The P3-24 superficially resembles the original P3, but now includes an AC synchronous motor for lower noise and improved speed stability. Its slimmed-down, lower-mass plinth is made of a wood composite, and adds a phenolic-resin laminate for increased rigidity. Regas RB301 tone arm uses the secure, three-point mount found in the RB700 and flagship RB1000 arms, as well as the improved vertical bearing housing and magnetic anti-skating mechanism used in the RB700. The TT PSU outboard power supply produces a stable voltage to drive the motor more precisely, and permits convenient push button selection of the P3-24s two speeds. With a rich, warm tonal balance, the P3-24 produced "big, solid images on a soundstage of exuberant size," said Mikey. "Regas new P3-24 represents an evolutionary step forward, physically, sonically, and ergonomically," he concluded. "The classic no-fuss, no-frills turntable," adds ST, "Three thumbs up!" Price includes RB301 tone arm. Optional TT PSU power supply costs $375. (Vol.31 No.7 WWW)

Class D
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Pro-Ject Debut III: $369-$399
Every aspect of earlier Debuts is taken a step up in the Debut III, which comes equipped with a Pro-Ject 8.6 tone arm and Ortofon OM-5E MM cartridge. It offered surprisingly quiet backgrounds, along with impressive image stability and dynamics. Its slightly loose bass was tightened considerably by the addition of the Speed Box Mk.II ($119), which allows for electronic switching between 331/3 and 45rpm. "The inexpensive Debut III suddenly had swagger," said MF. "The combo is laughably good." Version with USB data output costs $499 and adds a moving-magnet-only version of Pro-Jects Phono Box II USB phono preamp. For digitizing LPs, Sumiko recommends the Audacity recording software, which can be downloaded for free at Audacity: Free Audio Editor and Recorder. The Debut III USB "makes pleasing-sounding recordings and also serves as a fine entry-level audiophile turntable," said MF. "An easy recommendation." BJR agrees: Though it lacked ultimate dynamics and low-level resolution, the Debut III provided an open, natural sound across the audio band, with exceptional tonal balance and a forceful tunefulness, said BJR. "The Debut III would be an excellent first turntable to suck an incipient if not quite budding audiophile into the hobby." Custom colors add $30. (Vol.29 No.7, Vol.31 No.5, Vol.33 No.2 WWW)

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SACD, DVD-A, & CD PLAYERS, & TRANSPORTS & MUSIC SERVERS
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Class A
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Oppo BDP-83SE: $899
For this Special Edition version of their BDP-83 Blu-ray player, Oppo employs boutique capacitors, an upgraded power supply, gold-plated RCA jacks, a reworked analog output stage, and high-quality Sabre32 DACs from ESS Technology. With stereo recordings, the BDP-83SE combined greater presence, balance, and resolution for a more natural overall sound. Improvements through its multi-channel inputs were similar but less striking. "If youre already using a multi-channel analog preamp, the BDP-83SE is a remarkably effective and satisfying improvement over the BDP-83," said KR. (Vol.33 Nos.3 & 6 WWW)

Class B
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Cambridge Audio Azur 650C: $779
Beautifully built, with styling to match the identically priced Azur 650A integrated amplifier, the Azur 650C has two Wolfson WM8740 DACs per channel with 128x over -sampling, and uses Cambridges proprietary transport-and-servo system. Compared to Cambridges own DacMagic, the 650C lacked some resolution, definition, transient speed, and harmonic richness. The duo of 650C and 650A created a sound that was "open, airy, sweet, and civilized," said ST. "Whats not to like except the very last ounce of detail?" he concludes. (Vol.33 No.1)

Cambridge Audio Azur 650BD: $699
The compact and attractive 650BD universal player has outputs for 7.1-channel analog audio, coaxial and optical digital audio, component/composite/S-video, and HDMI, as well as USB and Ethernet ports. Though it couldnt match the Sony XA-5000ES or Oppo BDP-83SE in terms of detail or smoothness, the 650BD sounded superb via its HDMI output, providing full-bandwidth high-definition audio, either bit streamed or PCM-converted, and SACD signals as either DSD or PCM. "The Azur 650BD is a very competent universal player that would not be embarrassed in almost any audio system," concluded KR. (Vol.33 No.7 WWW)

Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player: $499
The BDP-83 universal Blu-ray player is housed in a larger, sturdier, more attractive case than Oppos earlier players, and its user interfaces, both onscreen and on the new remote control, are more elegant. While the BDP-83 couldnt match the dynamic subtlety and range of the Sony SCD-XA5400ES SACD player, it nonetheless had a full, balanced sound, with excellent clarity in the high frequencies. Via its analog outputs, the Oppo approached the performance of the more expensive Denon DVD-3800BDCI Blu-ray player. KR: "That I can alternate this new player with dedicated players costing three to seven times as much makes the Oppo almost self-recommending." He adds that "used through the HDMI output, as a transport, it pops up to A+ and is the most complete and truly 'universal player [handling] Blu-ray, DVD, CD, DVD-A and SACD." (Vol.32 No.7, Vol.33 No.3 WWW)

Pioneer BDP-51FD Blu-ray player: $599
Like the Denon DVD-3800BDCi, this Pioneer Bluray player offers bit-stream and PCM-converted audio output via HDMI and plays DVD-V and CD, but not SACD or DVD-A. It has an HDMI 1.3a output for video and audio, and includes both dedicated stereo RCA connectors and a full 7.1-channel set of RCA outputs. The Pioneers "delightfully detailed, balanced, dynamic" sound was comparable to that of the much more expensive Denon, said Kal. Class C for CD playback; Class B for hi-rez media. (Vol.32 No.3 WWW)

Pioneer DV-58AV: $499
The sleek, sturdy DV-58AV universal player will output any audio format in stereo or multi-channel via HDMI v1.2a. The Pioneers HDMI performance pulled only slightly ahead of that of the Oppo DV-983H in terms of bass definition and high-frequency sweetness. Through its multi-channel analog outputs, however, the Pioneer provided outstanding clarity, detail, and bass slam. "With its more substantial construction, superior analog outputs, and reasonable price, the Pioneer DV-58AV is an outstanding candidate for a keeper legacy universal player," applauded KR. (Vol.31 No.7 WWW)

Class C
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Wadia Digital 170iTransport: $379
This compact (8" W by 2.7" H by 8" D) dock accesses the iPods digital information before it passes through the iPods own D/A converter. Its iPod slot can be fitted with Apple adapters for all compatible late-model iPods, and its rear panel offers outputs for S/PDIF coaxial digital, analog, S-video, and component video. (The analog and video outputs are pass-throughs for the iPods own outputs.) "If there was a difference between the original CD and the digital output of the 170iTransport, I never heard it," marveled WP. JA noted that the Wadias digital output is bit-transparent, but warns that it needs to be used with a D/A processor offering good jitter rejection for best sound. While all compatible iPods will output digital audio, some have the players click wheel disabled and can only be operated with the Wadias remote control. See the FAQ on the Wadia website for details. (Vol.31 No.10, Vol.32 No.6 WWW)

NAD C 565BEE: $799
The C 565BEE uses a Texas Instruments sample rate converter for up-sampling to 96 or 192kHz; Wolfson DACs in a dual-differential configuration for improved 192kHz performance; and top-of-the line Burr-Brown output-stage op-amps. It offers an optical digital input, a front-panel USB input, and four analog filter settings. "For an $800 CD player, the NAD C 565BEE sounded just fine," but lacked the air and resolution of more expensive players, said ST. (Vol.32 No.10)

Class D
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Apple iPod classic, 160GB: $249 (as reviewed)
This sleek and sassy data-storage unit is capable of playing lossy compressed (MP3, AAC), lossless compressed (ALC), and uncompressed (AIFF, WAV) digital audio files delighted JA and WP. WP was surprised to find the iPod worthy of serious audiophile consideration: "The open nature of the iPods playback format-or, more properly speaking, its lack of a single playback standard-means that the player can offer the sound quality its owner demands of it. Files ripped in AIFF were "indistinguishable from the original CD," with impressive dynamics, detailed imaging, and extended frequency extremes. JA: "Excellent, cost-effective audio engineering from an unexpected source." Stereophiles "Editors Choice and "Budget Product of the Year" for 2003. Current version significantly revised and offers 160GB hard drive capacity as standard. JA is an enthusiastic owner. (Vol.26 No.10 WWW)

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DIGITAL PROCESSORS
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Class A
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Benchmark Media Systems DAC1: $995
Benchmark Media Systems DAC1 USB: $1295
Benchmark DAC1 PRE USB: $1595
Benchmark DAC1 HDR: $1895

Features two front-panel headphone jacks, RCA single ended and XLR balanced analog line outputs that are switchable between line level, trim-pot set, calibrated level, and variable level. Compared to the three-times-more expensive Marantz SA-14, JM found the DAC1 to be "slightly more articulate in the musical line, and slightly more detailed in spatial nuances, particularly the localization of individual images in space, and in soundstage depth." A terrific value, feels JA, thinking the DAC1 is a great way of getting modern sound from a DVD player or an older CD player. JA discovered superb measured performance in both the DAC1s digital and analog domains, and decided, "Whether considered as a standalone D/A converter or a versatile headphone amp, Benchmarks DAC1 is an audiophile bargain." The USB version adds a USB 1.1 port to take audio data directly from a computer at sample rates up to 96kHz and bit depths up to 24. Additional improvements over the standard DAC1 include: two gain settings for the headphone amp, a defeatable muting of the line outputs, and high-current output drivers for the XLR and RCA outputs. Used as the primary digital source in JAs system, the DAC1 USB offered a "very appealing" sound, with smoother highs and less grain than the original DAC1. Problems arose with the original sample, however, when using the Benchmark to play back 16-bit files from either a PC or a Mac via the USB connection. Subsequent modification of the DAC1 USBs firmware has eliminated dropouts of 16-bit audio data below "70dBFS while preserving the Benchmarks "superbly transparent sound staging, clean high frequencies, and powerful lows," said JA. Compared to the YBA WD202, the Benchmark via USB had a slightly more forward, natural, precise sound, said JI. DAC1 PRE adds a pair of unbalanced analog RCA inputs. It offered a sound that was "slightly toward the lean side of neutral," said ST. In terms of dynamic shadings, tonal color, and control flexibility, the Benchmarks performance was "remarkably close to that of the best dedicated line-stage preamps." JA agreed: "As an analog preamplifier, the DAC1 PRE is about as good as it gets, measurement-wise. The DAC1 HDR offers slightly better build quality than earlier models and adds a motorized Alps volume potentiometer. National Semiconductor LM4562 op-amps are used throughout its analog stage, as well as Teflon RCA connectors. Though it maintained the tonal balance of earlier DAC1s, the HDR proved more musical and engaging, with a bigger soundstage, better solidity and separation of instruments in the stereo image, and better treble resolution, said EL. (DAC1, Vol.26 No.7, Vol.27 No.5, Vol.29 No.4 WWW; DAC1 USB, Vol.31 Nos.1, 7, & 10, Vol.32 No.3, Vol.33 Nos.6 & 9 WWW)

Class B
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Cambridge Audio DacMagic: $479
Ergonomically brilliant, the DacMagic weighs just 2.65 lbs and measures 8.6" high by 2" wide by 7.6" deep when placed on end in its rubbery base. Its wall-wart power supply is "humongous," however. It uses the same Wolfson WMB8740 24-bit DACs found in Cambridges Azur 740C CD player, and offers three different analog filter modes. The sound was "glorious," said ST: "I heard well-defined bass, exquisitely extended highs, and a natural midrange." Although its USB input is of utility quality and shouldnt be used for serious listening, the DacMagic otherwise offered "astonishing" measured performance, said JA. Compared to the Music Hall dac25.2, the DacMagic produced more openness, more air, and faster transients, said ST. At Sams place, the Cambridge has "killed" DACs selling for two and three times the money, he notes, though he feels it is less stellar on USB. Compared to the YBA WD202 and Benchmark DAC1 USB, the DacMagic had a looser, slightly messier overall sound, found JI, but makes a strong case for not paying more for a DAC, sums up ST. (Vol.32 Nos.3, 6, & 8, Vol.33 No.6 WWW)

Class C
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Digital Audio Labs CardDeluxe: $399
PCI-interface computer soundcard that JA described as "smashing the boundaries between component categories." Handles two channels of balanced I/O on TRS 1/4" phone jacks and two channels of S/PDI digital on RCAs. Offers up to 24-bit word lengths and sample rates of up to 96kHz, and has extension port to sync with other CardDeluxe cards to assemble a hi-rez, inexpensive multi-track digital recorder. Saves music data as two-channel PCM WAV files, so use fast, big-gig hard drives. JA thought it sounded full-bodied, with good low-frequency extension and definition. Astonishing performance for the money (especially at the new lower price): "the most cost-effective way of making a PC an integral part of a high-end system." Ultimate sound quality will very much depend on the host PC. Optional AES/EBU adapter costs $50, but lowest jitter and noise floor with external DACs will be achieved with a TosLink connection. (Vol.23 Nos.9 & 11 WWW)

Musical Fidelity V-DAC: $299

Each Musical Fidelity V-series component measures 6.7" long by 3.75" wide by 1.7" high and is powered by a DC wall wart. (The rating with the wall wart is Class D; it moves into Class C with Musical Fidelitys auxiliary power supply. The V-DAC uses a single Burr-Brown DSD1792 chip and an SRC4392 upsampler, and offers coaxial, optical, and USB inputs. It sounded "extraordinarily quiet," with a silky-smooth midrange and sweetly extended treble, said ST. However, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic provided more low level detail and had a fuller, richer bottom end, albeit at a higher price. The V-DAC was outclassed by the more expensive YBA WD202, lacking resolution and dynamic expression, decided JI. "The sound was a little messy and rough around the edges," he said, "but lovable." Despite its bare-bones construction, the V-DAC exhibited "generally superb measured performance," said JA. One of STs reference DACs. (Vol.32 Nos.5 & 12, Vol.33 No.6 WWW)

Sonos ZP90: $349 Sonos ZP120: $499
"More sophisticated than the Squeezebox," said JA. The user-friendly Sonos system sets up its own proprietary, encrypted audio network and can even dispense with the partnering computer if necessary, working with a network-attached storage hard drive that can operate as a standalone source of media files. In addition, Sonos original CR100 controller ($399) has a full-color 3.5" LCD screen, allows quick and simple navigation of music fi les on up to 16 network devices, and provides all the metadata associated with each track. Installation "couldnt have been easier," said JA. While he found the ZP80s analog outputs to be adequate for use in non critical applications, JA felt the Sonos performed best with its digital output feeding an external DAC. Rating refers to the performance of the ZP80s analog outputs. Review was of the very similar ZP80 and ZP100, respectively. Testing of the new versions continues the recommendation. While the ZP120 resembles Sonoss original ZP100 in using a class-D output stage, it offers slightly more power (55 vs 50Wpc), replaces the linear power supply with a switching supply, and provides more robust wireless networking capabilities. Though limited to sample rates of 44.1 and 48kHz, the ZP120 exhibited a well-managed gain architecture and performed admirably on the demanding high-frequency modulation test, found JA. Remote control app for the iPhone and iPod Touch dramatically improves user interface. (Vol.29 No.10, Vol.33 No.4 WWW)

Class D
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ASUS Xonar Essence ST & STX: $199.95
Soundcards compatible with PCI (ST) and PCI Express (STX) personal computers running the Windows XP, Vista, and 7 operating systems (Macs not supported). The Xonar Essence boasts a specified signal/noise ratio of 124dB, and its analog output circuitry is shielded by a grounded metal cover, preventing RF interference from contaminating the audio signal. In addition, the Essence draws its power from a 4-pin socket separately connected to the PCs power supply, thus isolating the analog circuitry from the PCs motherboard. The soundcard offers a headphone output, a line/microphone input, and standard and optical S/PDIF digital outputs, but there is no digital input. D/A conversion is handled by a high-quality 24-bit Burr-Brown PCM 1792. Though the Essence could not support 88.2 or 176.4kHz files thorugh its analog inputs, JA was impressed by the cards weighty lows, clear midrange, and airy highs: "I can unreservedly recommend the Xonar Essence as the least expensive means of extracting true high-end sound from a PC." A driver update guarantees bit perfect playback from the digital output at all sample rates up to 192kHz, and, unlike with the earlier driver, ASIO-compatible applications take exclusive control of the audio device. (Vol.33 Nos.1 & 9 WWW)

Logitech Squeezebox Touch: $299.99
(No details available. Detailed review in October 2010, Vol.33 No.10)

Music Hall dac25.2: $599
"Designed and developed in the USA," the dac25.2 is a combination digital-to-analog processor and head phone amp with volume control. It uses a single 6922 output tube and offers S/PDIF coaxial, XLR, TosLink optical, and USB inputs. A 24-bit/192kHz D/A chip provides the dac25.2s 8x-oversampling digital filter. Though it couldnt match the open, airy top end and transient speed of Cambridge Audios DacMagic, the Music Hall dac25.2 offered "sweet, full-bodied, non fatiguing Internet-radio sound," said ST. Though the dac25.2 offered "generally excellent measured performance," JA was slightly disappointed by the high output impedance from its headphone jack. (Vol.32 No.8, Vol.33 No.2 WWW)

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INTEGRATED AMPLIFIERS & RECEIVERS
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Class C
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Arcam Solo Mini: $999
The half-width Solo Mini CD receiver offers 25Wpc and on its front panel has 1/8" jacks for headphones and portable music players, as well as a USB input. The rear panel is crowded, however, with inexpensive speaker terminals that accept only the smallest spade lugs. Compared to the Integra DSR-4.8, the Mini sounded "immediately warmer, rounder, and fuller, with stronger bass"; in comparison to Arcams larger Solo Music, the Mini had a more stable soundstage with better-defined images. "Within its power limitations, I found it more tactile and overall easier to listen to than its more expensive stable mate," he writes, concluding that "the Solo Mini sounds pretty darn good, is a tremendous job of packaging, and works pretty much intuitively." (Vol.32 No.10 WWW)

Cambridge Audio Azur 650A: $779
The robustly built and elegantly styled Azur 650A uses one pair of Sanken bipolar transistors per channel to deliver 75Wpc into 8 ohms, and uses Cambridge Audios CAP5 protection circuitry, said to monitor clipping, heat, output-stage voltage, and shorts. The amp provides six inputs, two speaker outputs, a preamp output, front-panel iPod input and headphone output, and defeatable tone controls. Though it lacked bass extension and harmonic richness, the Azur 650A offered "a sweetness, a silkiness, a delicacy" throughout the audio band, said ST. For its modest price, "Ive heard nothing better than the Azur 650A," he concluded. (Vol.33 No.1)

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LOUDSPEAKERS
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Class D
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Audioengine 2: $199/pair (stands optional)
The powered, reflex-loaded Audioengine 2, designed for use on desktops and in offices and bedrooms, can fit in the palm of one hand. It uses a 20mm silk-dome tweeter and a 2.75" Kevlar-cone woofer in a black or white gloss cabinet measuring just 6" H by 4" W by 5.25" D. Its small size made it extremely versatile, portable, and fun. At reasonable volume levels, both indoors and out, the Audioengines provided a wide, deep soundstage with impressive image specificity and drama. BJR raved: "The level of sound quality produced by this uncolored, detailed, articulate, and dynamic speaker, in all situations, was beyond reproach." Though JA noted some distortion on high-level tones at low frequencies, due to the built-in equalization causing the woofer to work hard, he was impressed by the Audioengines level of engineering and the quality of its fitnfinish. (Vol.30 No.12 WWW)

Mordaunt-Short Carnival 2: $300/pair (stands necessary)
The small, double-ported Carnival 2 is available in black or calvados cabinets, and has a 5.5" woven composite woofer and a 1" soft fabric dome tweeter. Rated sensitivity is 90dB. Though it lacked deep bass and had "a certain roughness in the upper midrange, "the Carnival had a "surprisingly sweet" treble and "imaged like crazy," said ST. "Buy a pair just for fun," he recommended, adding that he "Love(s) that soft dome tweeter!" (Vol.32 No.8)

Paradigm Atom v.5: $358/pair (stands necessary)
The Atom v.5 is the latest version of Paradigms bargain-basement, two-way, bass-reflex bookshelf design. It uses a 1" high-purity titanium-dome tweeter and a 5.5" copolymer-cone bass/midrange driver with a die cast chassis. WP was most impressed by the Atoms "glorious midrange" and ability to sort out instrumental dynamics and acoustic interactions. The speakers full-bodied overall balance compensated for its lack of bass slam, Wes felt. According to JAs measurements, however, the Atom will require care in system matching to offset its slightly excessive treble and slightly loose upper bass. The v.5 outclassed the v.3 in every sonic parameter, promoting the Atom into competition with designs in the $300-$500/pair range, said BJR. (Vol.30 No.9, Vol.31 No.2 WWW)

Polk RTiA1: $350/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
The two-way, front-ported RTiA1 is bi-wirable and magnetically shielded. Its 1" silk/polymer-composite dome tweeter and 5.25" polymer/mineral-composite woofer were both designed using Polks proprietary Dynamic Balance technology. The elegant cabinet comes in Natural Cherry or Black Oak real-wood veneers and is curved and tapered to minimize panel resonances. With a subtle highlighting of the high frequencies and a slight bump in the mid-to upper bass, the RTiA1 exhibited an "extraordinary sense of balance," marveled BJR. While not as detailed as the Epos ELS 3, the Polk offered greater high-level slam. JA didnt like its very lively cabinet, but concluded, "The Polk RTiA1 offers a lot of speaker engineering at a very affordable price." (Vol.31 No.9 WWW)

PSB Alpha B1: $279/pair (stands necessary)
The unassuming B1, the latest version of PSBs best-selling Alpha speaker, has molded plastic front and rear baffles connected by an MDF sleeve, and combines a 51/4" injection-molded, polypropylene cone woofer with a 3/4" ferrofluid-cooled, aluminum dome tweeter, both sourced from India. Low-bass extension was limited, and the speakers otherwise clean, clear bass tone became muddied at very high volumes. Though high frequencies were slightly veiled, the B1s midrange was superb. JA was most impressed by the Alphas talent for orchestral music: "If you are a classical-music lover with a small room and an equally small budget, a pair of PSBs Alpha B1s is just what you need . . . Extraordinary value." Though the B1s lent more drama to bass and drums, they couldnt quite match the Paradigm Atom v.5s treble performance, felt WP. JA feels the PSBs treble to be more naturally balanced, however. One of SMs long-term references. (Vol.30 Nos.5 & 9 WWW)

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HEADPHONES & HEADPHONE ACCESSORIES
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Class A
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AKG K 701: $539
The K 701 is a large, open-back, circumaural, dynamic design with a neodymium magnet system. It features wire frames, a leather headband, white porcelain-like rims and motor housing, and extremely comfortable, velvety ear pads that make "a dashing retro-futuristic fashion statement." While the K 701s were not exceedingly difficult to drive, a headphone amp is recommended. The K 701s coupled an unmatched sparkle and life in the high frequencies with a full bottom end for a truthful, involving sound that defied simple background listening. WP: "The AKG 701s have raised the bar for natural-sounding headphones." Sams reference phones: "Why mess around with speakers costing tens of thousands of dollars when you can have this?" he asks, summing up "Beautiful to look at, comfortable to wear. Worth every Pfenig!" JM agreed: "The 701s exhibited clarity and detail in abundance, as well as bass that was powerful and well defined." "A bit forward-sounding," warns MF, however. While the AKG matched the Sennheiser HD800 in terms of rhythm and pace, it could not re-create the Sennheisers spatial sound staging or nuanced dynamics. ST loves them however. The K 701s require several hundred hours of break-in time before sounding their best, cautioned ST. Driven by the Musical Fidelity X-CANV8, the AKGs exhibited extraordinary resolution, exquisite high frequencies, and authoritative bass, he concluded. Stereophiles 2006 "Joint Accessory." (Vol.29 No.8, Vol.30 No.12, Vol.31 Nos.6 & 9, Vol.32 No.7 WWW)

Audio-Technica ATH-AD700: $249.95
The ATH-AD700s have a honeycomb aluminum casing, a magnesium frame, and 53mm neodymium drivers. Two wing-flaps self-adjust to the listeners head to sit there "firmly, but ever so lightly," making them "among the most comfortable headphones" in STs experience. While they couldnt match the bass authority or detail retrieval of the more expensive AKG K 701s, the Audio-Technicas had impressive openness, air, and ambience, and a "silky smooth" midrange. "Simply amazing headphones," concluded Sam. The ATH-AD700s were too large for travel, and could benefit from a dedicated headphone amp, he felt. (Vol.31 No.6)

Benchmark Media Systems DAC1: $995 $$$
DAC1 USB: $1295
DAC1 PRE: $1595
DAC1 HDR: $1895

Two headphone jacks but only digital inputs rather than analog. See "Digital Processors." (Vol.26 No.7, Vol.27 No.5, Vol.31 Nos.1, 7, & 10, Vol.32 No.3, Vol.33 No.6 WWW)

Etymotic Research ER-4S: $299
Compared to Etymotics newer hf2/hf5, the ER-4S sounded "a tad less bright, while also extracting the slightest bit more micro dynamic detail," said WP. His long-term reference in-ear monitors. (Vol.18 No.7, Vol.33 No.8 WWW)

Sennheiser HD 650: $650
The HD 650s are an evolution of Sennheisers very successful HD 600 open-back dynamic headphones, claimed to provide superior results due to hand selected parts with closer tolerances and the use of a specially developed acoustic silk for the driver diaphragms. Compared to the Grado SR325i, the Sennheisers sounded richer but slightly darker. JM found that their very effective seal created a resonant cavity that produced "bass that is both quite deep and a trifle indistinct." JAs new reference cans. (Vol.28 No.6, Vol.31 No.9 WWW)

Sennheiser HD 600: $520
WP, KR, and ST were unanimous in calling these the best dynamic headphones theyve ever heard. "The only ones with which I have ever been physically or sonically comfortable," says KR. "Sennheiser has kept all of the qualities that made the HD 580 among the best of its breed, and in several areas has even managed to better it impressively," according to WP. Says ST, "The magic of the HD 600s is their midrange, a purity of tone, especially when driven by tubes, that is quite special." Astonishingly transparent when driven in balanced mode by a HeadRoom BlockHead, found J-10 in July 2002. (Vol.21 No.2 WWW)

Ultimate Ears 10 Pro: $900
These discrete in-ear monitors, designed especially for use in professional applications, are custom-molded to your ear by an audiologist and provide superlative sound isolation. They have three balanced armature drivers, a passive crossover, and a 1/8" stereo minijack. The 10s excelled at providing accurate sound across the sonic spectrum, and most impressed WP with their "natural, ungimmicky" presentation of voices. The 10 had deeper bass than the much less expensive Etymotic hf2, but was similar to the Etymotic in top-end extension, said WP Their high sensitivity makes them compatible with typical portable players, but their low impedance at low frequencies may produce lean-sounding bass with earlier iPods, warned JA. Price does not include custom ear-mold fee. Stereophiles 2006 "Joint Accessory of the Year." (Vol.29 No.10, Vol.33 No.8 WWW)

Class B
=====

Cayin HA-1A: $875
While first and foremost a headphone amplifier, the HA-1A can also serve as a line-stage preamp with a single pair of inputs, or as a fl ea-watt integrated tube amp offering 1.2Wpc in single-ended triode mode or 2.2W in ultralinear operation. The Cayin provided the SET experience, sounding immediate, intimate, and alive while expanding the soundstage to float beyond the listeners headspace. "The HA-1A may be the best thing that ever happened to headphones," raved ST, though he finally decides that high Class B is a where the Cayin rightfully belongs. WP compared the HA-1A to HeadRooms Desktop/Home. While the Cayin provided a tube three-dimensionality that the HeadRoom lacked, it couldnt match the Homes bottom-end definition. Compared with the Vincent KHV-1pre, the Cayin offered greater warmth and three-dimensionality, said WP. (Vol.29 Nos.6 & 11, Vol.31 No.11 WWW)

CEntrance DACport: $399.95
Built in the US, the bus-powered DACport is a small, well-finished, tubular device 4.5" long, with a 1/4" stereo headphone jack and a USB port. Although the USB interface operates in adaptive isochronous mode, CEntrance employs their proprietary, two stage JitterGuard clock-management system. The DACports D/A section will decode 24-bit data at sample rates up to 96kHz, and its direct-coupled output stage is claimed to run in class-A. Setup was simple; no driver is required, and the DACport is compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux operating systems. Though it lacked the bass extension and control of the Benchmark DAC1, the DACport offered a clean, grain-free sound, with airy highs and natural transients. "A great-sounding product at a great price," exclaimed JA. (Vol.33 Nos.6 & 9 WWW)

Little Dot Mk.III: $199 $$$
Made in China, this little headphone amp measures 6.9" W by 4.8" H by 10.6" D and weighs just 6.6 lbs. The casework is beautifully finished, and high-quality parts, including an ALPS-16 volume pot and WIMA capacitors, are used throughout. Two GE5654 driver tubes and two 6N6PI tubes come as standard, but tube rolling is encouraged. The amp has a single headphone jack on its front panel and two high-quality RCA jacks at the rear. Used with headphones or as a line stage, the Little Dot Mk.III provided a rich, warm, spacious sound with ripe bass, a glorious midrange, and non aggressive treble, said ST. Needed about 100 hours of break-in to sound its best. (Vol.33 No.5)

Music Hall ph25.2: $399
Made by Shanling in China, the Music Hall ph25.2 measures 8.5" W by 3.75" H by 13.5" D and weighs about 7 lbs. It provides two headphone outputs, a pair of analog outs, and two sets of analog inputs, selectable by a front-panel switch. Miniature 6N1B tubes, that look like Christmas tree lights, are partnered with a pair of Texas Instruments TPA6120 op-amps; build quality is high throughout. Compared to the Little Dot Mk.III, the Music Hall had an open, airy sound with tighter, more authoritative bass, a less prominent midrange, and sweetly extended treble, said ST. (Vol.33 No.5)

Musical Fidelity V-CAN: $199
Each Musical Fidelity V-series component measures 6.7" long by 3.75" wide by 1.7" high and is powered by a DC wall wart. The V-CAN headphone amplifier provides a standard 1/4" headphone jack along with a 1/8" mini jack, and has a rated output impedance of 5 ohms. Its "silken midrange and soft treble" proved the perfect complements to the analytical sound of STs AKG 701 headphones. Though it was "a little lightweight" in comparison to Musical Fidelitys X-CAN, the V-CAN was nonetheless clean, clear, and fast. "This may be all the headphone amp you need," says ST, adding that he likes it with the Audio-Technica ATH-AD700. (Vol.32 No.5)

Phiaton Moderna MS 400: $249
The beautiful Moderna MS 400s are crafted from black carbon fi ber and clad in Ferrari Rosso Corso crimson leather. Their circumaural, closed-back design, adjustable headband, folding earcups, and carrying case make them attractive for travel use. Though the Phiatons lacked "a touch of sparkle," they offered "a superbly tight low end" and had an "extremely musical" overall sound, said WP. Their high sensitivity should make them compatible with iPods, determined JA. (Vol.32 No.1 WWW)

Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline The Predator:$475
Measuring just 2" W by 0.8" H by 2.9" D, the handbuilt Predator headphone amplifier is available in six bold colors, and has a mil-spec printed circuit board and Vishay resistors. A front-panel switch toggles between the line and USB inputs, and theres a three position gain switch on the rear panel. The Predators tiny lithium-ion battery can be charged more than 500 times, a single charge lasting for about seven days of playing eight hours a day. Though it lacked the dynamics, bass authority, and low-level detail of the Musical Fidelity X-CANV8, the Predators size, versatility, and convenience made it "amazing," said Sam. (Vol.31 No.9)

Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline The Hornet: $370
"A marvel of a miniature," the portable Hornet (3" L by 2" W by 1" H) comes in six colors, runs on one rechargeable 9V battery, uses high-quality capacitors and resistors, and offers a mini-plug line-level input and mini-plug headphone out. The Hornet was "a joy to use," and proved superior to the headphone output of the Atoll PR300 preamp. ST: "Im in headphone heaven". How does Ray do it-big headphone sound from a portable amp about the size of a matchbox? Sam takes his to the library to block out the noise of chirping children and nattering librarians. "To get the maximum performance," JA advised, "Hornet owners should use the lowest Gain setting that gives acceptable levels with their preferred headphones." (Vol.29 Nos.9. & 12, see also June 2006 eNewsletter WWW)

Ultimate Ears 5 Pro: $600
These lightweight, sound-isolating, in-ear headphones feature dual balanced armatures, a passive crossover, and 1/8" stereo mini-jack. Their use of custom-fitted earpieces make it important to have a mold correctly crafted for each of your ears. Insertion and removal of the earpieces was initially problematic, but soon became second nature. They offered excellent isolation from external sounds, were easily comfortable for long listening sessions, and combined a smooth midrange and mellow highs with addictive, larger-than-life bass. "Highly recommended," concluded JA: "borderline Class A." Soft material option adds $50; metal carrying case adds $20. (Vol.27 No.12 WWW)

Ultrasone PRO 2500: $429
The open-backed 2500s offered a "spacious and airy sound with a slight prominence in the articulation or detail-frequency ranges," said JM. (Vol.30 No.6 WWW)

Vincent Audio KHV-1: $1000
The KHV-1pre is a vertically configured hybrid headphone amplifier with a 1/4" headphone output, one pair of RCA preamp outs, and two line-level inputs. A front-panel porthole reveals one of the amps two 12AX7B tubes and has three levels of illumination. Though it couldnt match the three dimensionality of the Cayin HA-1A, the Vincent proved adept at conveying power and heft as well as nuance and grace. Wes was most impressed by the Vincents "testicular fortitude," noting that the amp drove both his sets of reference headphones with plenty of headroom. The added flexibility of the KHV-1pres line-level inputs "makes it a keeper," said WP. JA noted "excellent measured performance." (Vol.31 No.11 WWW)

Class C
======

Audio-Technica ATH-M50s: $199
The ATH-M50s is a rugged, closed-back headphone design with articulated earcup yokes that allow the earcups to be levered up into the nicely padded headband. Though not in the same class as the much more expensive Sennheiser HD-800 or Denon 7000, the ATH-M50s was "very listenable." JM bought a pair. "These phones are basically accurate enough, non fatiguing, and with a tilt toward warmth, a very solid if somewhat emphasized bass, and a midrange neutrality not always found in the lower links of the headphone food chain." (Vol.33 No.2 WWW)

Etymotic Research hf2: $179
Etymotic Research hf5: $149

Dynamic, diffuse-field response, in-ear headphones with integral microphone for use with Apples iPhone (hf2) or without (hf5). Each model has a single balanced-armature driver, a nominal impedance of 16 ohms, and uses user-replaceable filters to achieve its final response curve. A carrying case, two replacement filters, a filter-replacement tool, and an assortment of ear tips are included. The hf2/hf5 provided fine ambience retrieval and reproduced voices and instruments with impressive weight and impact. "I have heard no other in-ear headphones that remotely approach the cost of the hf2 or hf5 while offering better performance," said WP. (Vol.33 No.8 WWW)

Future Sonics Atrio Professional Earphones: $199
These full-range, in-ear headphones "use a single proprietary driver to deliver exceptionally smooth performance from top to bottom of the audio band: powerfully fast, tight bass; clean, extended, transparent highs; low distortion; and lots of detail", said MF. Accessory package includes several sizes of ear inserts. (Vol.31 No.3)

Goldring NS-1000: $300
The Goldring NS-1000 Active Noise Reduction headphones are packaged with a hard protective carrying case and a two-prong adapter for airline headphone jacks, making them perfect for travel, said ST. Power comes from a single AAA battery said to last about 40 hours. (Vol.31 No.6)

Goldring DR150: $149.95
Goldring DR100: $99.95

Designed and engineered in the UK but made in China, these circumaural, open-back phones have well-cushioned cups and headband and a 3m detachable cable. The DR150s provided a rich, full sound with a smooth midrange, silky treble, and warm bass. "These cans appear to have a little boost in the upper bass," adds ST, "I welcomed this, even with classical-those cellos and double basses sounded swell." The less refined DR100s maintained most of the 150s bass performance but lacked detail in the midrange and treble. An outboard headphone amp should be used to achieve best sound, suggested ST. (Vol.29 No.12)

Grado SR60i: $79
The original SR60 offered a rather dark-toned balance, with a full bass and excellent resolution of detail, a more forward midrange, however, uncomfortable. Upgrades from the original SR60 include a new driver and improved cables. While maintaining the originals freedom from obvious colorations and resonances, the SR60i went a bit deeper in the bass and had a slightly more vivid midrange for a more involving overall sound. "The SR60i is modestly better than the original, and remains one of audios great bargains," said Jim Austin. (Vol.17 Nos.6 & 10 WWW, original, Vol.33 No.4 WWW)

Westone 3: $399
The Westone 3 is a three-driver in-ear monitor with a rated sensitivity of 107dB and a specified impedance of 30 ohms. The package includes a removable inline volume control, a leather pouch, an earwax lasso, and 10 different pairs of ear tips. The sound was "pristine and spacious, with very good separation between instruments, plenty of air, well-placed in-head images, and an in-head soundstage that was bigger than my head," said Jim Austin. Though the 3 had "the kind of weight you might expect from a top-end circumaural," Jim noted "a substantial midbass hump" that obscured the sound of some music. (Vol.32 No.9 WWW)

Class D
=====

Phiaton PS 200: $249
The PS 200 in-ear headphone uses two balanced armature drive-units with a passive crossover network. Rated sensitivity is 95dB, specified impedance is 39 ohms. It comes with a padded travel case, an adapter for airplane-seat outlets, and three pairs of silicone ear tips in three different sizes. "The sound was clear, clean, and open, but with a lot of treble energy-a lot," said JA. While the elevated treble enhanced the sound of some recordings, it made others sound "unbearably bright"; and while the PS 200s bass was well defined, it lacked the weight of the Ultimate Ears UE-5c and Shure SE310. (Vol.32 No.9 WWW)

No Class Distinction
==============
HeadRoom/Cardas headphone cable modifications for Sennheiser HD 600, and HD 650: starting at $222, cable modifications for AKG-701: starting at $400

Four-conductor Cardas cable replaces the stock cable and is terminated with a hefty Cardas plug designed to reduce crosstalk. The AKG cable is hardwired directly to the drivers, eliminating at least two solder joints; the Sennheiser cables are hardwired to custom-built, tight-grip Sennheiser connectors. While the HeadRoom-modified AKGs "sounded warmer and punchier, with extra detail throughout," the Sennheisers benefited from increased clarity and top-end sparkle, moaned WP. (Vol.31 No.11, Vol.32 No.7 WWW)

Westone UM56 custom earmolds: $120/pair
Westones earmolds are made from silicone material impressions taken by an audiologist. When Jim Austin used the UM56s with his Shure E4s, he noted strong bass response and excellent sound isolation. A positive, secure fit requires an open-jaw ear impression. Initial moldings, formed from a relaxed jaw impression, resulted in poor isolation and a loose fit. "Highly recommended - but open wide," said Jim. (Vol.30 No.5 WWW)

Class K
=====
Sony MDR-7506, and Denon AH-D7000 headphones.
(No details)

Cheers
 
A mixture of good and mediocre gear I would say.

I would not go with most of the gear on this list if I were to assemble a system. It consists of gear which has been reviewed by Stereophile or makes great business sense for them to include them in the list.

There are ways to get far superior sound by going with gear which has not made it to this list. If people look around with an open ear and open mind, some of the recommendations on this list are ludicrous.
 
The products seem very dated, some of them even 5 years old (Senn HD650 as an example). I think these are based on when Stereophile must have reviewed them and not when they were released.
 
Stereophile's list used to considered an authoritative one many years ago, but over the years has lost a lot of its value. Many subscribers did not renew subscriptions and it has been referred to as Stereophool by some.
 
Sterophile, does remove a lot of products from it's list when it finds a better product in the same class and/price. If it includes a dated product, it may mean that particular product is yet good.

Spiro, the Asus card is certainly not the very best. But for us, given it's availability and price, and the fact that is has an 124dB SNR, it will have a great VFM when used with an external DAC. If you read the detailed article, Stereophile does whole heartedly recommend the product. The Class distinction has many factors.

If you have money to blow, there are certainly better products available. But I believe that for a product to be listed in the list, it must meet certain criteria, which I am sure the Asus does.

Cheers
 
Venkat: If you have copied the text from Stereophile print issue, there may be copyright violations. I have heard the Stereophile complains about reproduction of their text on the web. Hope HFV does not run into these issues.
 
A beautiful, well-constructed speaker with class-leading soundstage, imaging and bass that is fast, deep, and precise.
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