Our 2009 Product of the Year Awards are based on reviews that were published in calendar year 2009
or products whose evaluation was completed in that year and the review is in the process of being written, edited
and prepared for publication.
ACCESSORY OF THE YEAR
Bybee Magic Bullet II Mini
Said our Mike Peshkin of the $395/pair Bybee's that attach to the end of your interconnects, "I don't remember getting quite as turned on by anything I've ever reviewed...it has to be the size! Big and it should do big things, small and it's nice if it makes improvements, but I expect just that, small improvements. These tiny things are a BIG BOX improvement". He bought them.
HEADPHONES OF THE YEAR
"At $4,200, these are certainly not for everyone, but neither is a Lexus or Mercedes, and that is the class of quality about which we are talking with the Stax. These are recommended for those that listen to their music almost if not completely exclusively through headphones; or as Stax calls them, earspeakers. Of course, they cost more than many pairs of conventional speaker, which for many people is just fine since they believe that listening via 'phones eliminates the major impediment to truly accurate home listening - the room. For apartment dwellers, phones allow you to crank them without worries about cranky neighbors. Of course,this is really a headphone system since it includes a very fine headphone amp. There are several dedicated headamps that sell for $4,000 by themselves. So, investing in a state-of-the-art system such as this makes sense for a whole lot of people" - Sunil Prem Lehki
"Big things really do come in small packages", said our Dr. John Richardson of this $299 wonder - another Stereomojo World's First Review. "The Virtue Audio One is a great little integrated amp that would more than do justice to a high quality stereo system. While the One is certainly small in size, it would work in any sized systemAs long as you can live with a single pair of inputs and no remote, just be sure to match it up with reasonably efficient speakers and keep the volume at a humane level. Keep in mind, however, that you can tailor the amp to some degree to a particular speaker or application by choosing the most appropriate power supply - there are three of them. No matter which way you choose to go, be prepared to be drawn in to the music and have some fun… An amazing audio bargain!"
We also conducted a shootout with two other competing budget amps. Who won? "So, was there a clear winner in my mind? Obviously, my first choice was the Virtue One. It’s a really well built and good-looking product that has the power to drive real speakers in real rooms. It could easily serve as the centerpiece in a really good budget stereo system (as it presently does in my home)".
BEST NEW SPEAKER COMPANY
Said Clark Hertz is this World's First Review from this Canadian speaker company, "Liberty Acoustics is a new company founded by Carl and Kelly James of USA HIFI. They have been in the audio business for many years and have moved from being a local dealer to an international retailer to a North American importer/distributor of many high quality brands. Carl now adds to his list of responsibilities being President of his own audio manufacturing company. He is working on a full line of speakers for stereo and home theater usage and electronics to match. This model is the first product to be released and we are very honored to be the very first publication in the world to hear and review them for you. I could easily live with these speakers and call it a day. In fact I purchased them as a new mid-priced reference. Liberty is manufacturing a matching sub to compliment the roll off of the speaker with a matching finish. I think that my two Nola Thunderbolt III subs would also be a perfect match in control and speed. They would complete the bottom end. These speakers to my ears set a new benchmark for what can be achieved under $5,000. They look amazing, are not huge and sound wonderful. Even when I compare them to my $26,000 Proclaim speakers they are not embarrassed. That in itself is reason to say, why spend more money?"
TURNTABLE OF THE YEAR
In yet another World's First Review of this new table that features not only an air bearing platter but a linear tracking air suspended arm as well, Publisher James Darby said, "One of the biggest drawbacks of linear tracking arms and airbearing technology in general is its fussiness and high maintenance, often requiring frequent tweaks and adjustments. During my time with the Sindre, it performed flawlessly with no further adjustments necessary, a tribute to Bergmann’s “keep it simple” philosophy.
The Bergmann Sindre is a work of art not only in appearance but in its engineering as well. The “less is more” design seems to have paid off in terms of performance, setup and reliability. The goal was to overcome many of the flaws and inherent geometry problems found in all past and most current designs air driven tables. The Sindre may not be for absolute beginners, but not too many people first venturing into vinyl will look to spend $20,000. We wish the price were lower of course, but the current plight of the dollar is no help when purchasing European gear and the years it took Bergmann to design such a groundbreaking product has to be factored into the price.
There are other airbearing arms available from Kuzma and Clearaudio to name just two, but you still have to find and pick out a viable turntable. Neither company makes a table with matching airbearing platter. The Walker Procenium Black Diamond table has an airbearing arm and platter - at $57,000 - and it is much more complex. Finding a turntable with an airbearing platter, the VPI HRX for example at $12,000 which does not include a linear tracking airbearing arm, would be pretty daunting. We think that the airbearing arm matched to the airbearing table by the same engineer is a terrific advantage."
PHONO PREAMPLIFIER OF THE YEAR
"While there are certainly other phono stages that give you a degree of increased refinement, we think you would have to pay considerably more to improve on what Whest has presented here ($1,900) which makes it a good value. Would I recommend the whestTWO to a friend? If his turntable, arm and cartridge added up to, say, $3,000 to $10,000 give or take, absolutely. Would I buy the WhestTWO myself? I would and I did".
TUBE INTEGRATED AMPFIER OF THE YEAR
"If you want a tube amp (10 wpc via 300B SET tubes at $1,700), tired of all the fuss of separates, something that can reveal all the pluses of your system, and sadly all the negatives (shows you that your existing CD player isn’t so bad after all), then consider this amp. Capable of driving unusual loads (the Infininity and Jatons speakers couldn’t be more different), then you might consider this amp worthy of a long listening session. I was never ear-tired with this amp in my system. It’s yet another piece of equipment I’d buy in a flash if I was looking for an integrated. Matched with some reasonably efficient speakers, this amp will thrill you for years". Mike Peshkin
SOLID STATE INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER OF THE YEAR
"Certainly if you like or need its many features, this is a very strong offering - especially the phono section. If you do a lot of quiet or background listening, don't pooh-pooh the loudness contour . Luxman has refined it to the point that it really does enhance low level listening without degrading the sonics. If you prefer really sizzling, bombastic, attention grabbing sound, this is not for you. Like a Bentley automobile, this is about quiet, quality, relaxed refinement - something you can slip into and enjoy right away and live with for a long, long time. But unlike a Bentley, it does not come with a exorbitant price ($3,500). Considering its feature set, fastidious build quality, cache, elegant sound presentation and the fact that for many companies, this would be their top model- not their entry level - this is really kind of a bargain".
PREAMPLIFIER OF THE YEAR
"The Coincident Statement Linestage at $4,995, given its ultra-high level of performance, is a true bargain for those looking for the ultimate in amplifier preamplification. Its transparency and the vitality of its sound ranks it among the very best at any price. Its quality and classy good looks belies its price and could certainly be the last preamp you would ever buy. If you have a high quality system but feel an upgraded preamp is what your system lacks and are looking for something around this price range or even considerably more, you should definitely give this a listen". - James L. Darby
POWER AMPLIFER OF THE YEAR
States our Bill Schuchard, "The Hephaestus Audio HMA-1000 is a great monoblock amplifier. It sounds fast, clean, transparent, open, and airy with powerful but neutral bass and massive headroom. It worked well with a variety of speakers and sources, takes up very little shelf space, and produces quite a bit amount of power efficiently (1,000 watts per side). Those looking for a big shiny bauble with a fancy name to show off may be perturbed by the utilitarian look and understated size and miss out on some amazing sound. The $4900 list price per pair is a tough pill to swallow from a relatively unknown company; especially for those who are frugal like myself. The spoonful of sugar that makes the pill slip down is the sound. I am very pleased to announce my new reference amplifier; the Hephaestus Audio HMA-1000 monoblocks."
BARGAIN CD PLAYER OF THE YEAR
"Compared to my reference source combo (Vanguard + Ack! costing around $1,500 new today) the sound stage is not as deep and three dimensional, yet still the M1 is not a stiff in this area (for less than $600). The bass of my source is nowhere near as deep, detailed, and solid as the M1. The M1's midrange is so sweet and big and, well here's that word again, TUBES. I had a local get together coming up and I wanted to take the M1 with me to get other opinions. After everyone had listened to the M1, I asked if they thought it was tube or solid state. Everyone said tubes, and to their surprise, solid state it was. There also was a fellow there who is a vinyl person looking to buy a CD player. After hearing the M1 said he was going to start saving his pennies and order one. Enough said. I even said hell, what's another $600 bucks? This thing is not leaving my house!" - Marvin Bolden
CD PLAYER OF THE YEAR
in still another first in the world review, our Publisher James L. Darby opined, "It has taken over two decades, but CD audio has come a long, long way. Faster processors and the development of better filters and knowledge of how to eliminate jitter and other digital artifacts has exploded.
Read the following carefully so it’s not misinterpreted: I think the Ayon CD-2 can be as musically satisfying and rewarding as an equivalently priced analog front end. Shocking? Well, consider that one would have to buy a turntable, arm, cartridge and a good phono preamp – four pieces – for that amount. We're not talking about used stuff here since we are not talking about a used CD player. (I hear you thinking out there) My analog front end would cost over $12,000 to replace, not including all the requisite accessories like alignment tools, brushes, scales, demagnetizers and a record cleaning machine. And I enjoy the CD-2 as much as listening to my analog. I have never been one that is in love with the ritual ceremony of playing an LP (many admit that they are) or one that easily ignores pops, skips and surface noise. I don’t own any scratched or excessively noisy records in my 3,000 plus collection. I am not in love with LP’s. But I am in love with music – I have been since I started playing piano at age 2. I have always preferred how music sounds when played on a good analog system, so I do not make these kinds of statements lightly".
DIGITAL SYSTEM OF THE YEAR
We did not have normal timeframes in which to work with these products ($3,000 each) and many changes took place during that time that often changed the features and sometimes the sound itself. In short, CD playback is simply stellar. Clean, clear, richly detailed with no sense of digital grunge or haze. I am referring to playback with the “native” setting. It is not overly bright and does a fine job with all the audiophile buzzwords like soundstage, dynamics and transparency. I think McGowan and team has probably reached very close to the zenith of standard Redbook playback". James L. Darby in another Stereomojo World's First Review.
MUSIC FORMAT OF THE YEAR
"How much would you pay for a virtual copy of master tapes of some of the world's great recordings? How about $45? As marvelous as CD playback is these days, it pales in comparison when you insert a DVD with high-res data files. The best I heard is easily the HRX discs from Reference Recordings played back in their native 24/176.4 vai the Perfect Wave Transport/DAC system. These disks prove once and for all that CD’s are not “perfect sound”. I have always been a big fan of Professor Johnson’s recordings both on LP and CD and now I like them even more. Simply everything is significantly better at the higher native bitrates. More detail, more air, more soundstage, more everything. But the real quality is the improved naturalness and musicality. It sounds as if the music has at last been unleashed and unbridled and I could not be happier about it. It almost lives and breathes like there’s another entity in the room. There is an essence that is indescribable that reaches you on an emotional level rather than an analytical one. You just don’t want to sit there and evaluate and critique. You just want to listen. To me, going through individual tracks of reference material and pointing out how a banjo sounded more banjoey is pointless in this context. You just want to listen and let the music take you away". James L. Darby
SPEAKER OF THE YEAR
Our Publisher rarely waxes this enthusiastically; "If you like large, airy soundstages, you can’t do much better than these at any price ($8, 495). If you like big dynamics, your search can end here. There are few speakers this size and price than will give you full–range bottom end. If they are out there, I haven’t heard them – and that’s saying a lot. They will work well in large (maybe not cavernous, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do) rooms as well as small. They exhibit no obvious weaknesses. If cleanliness is next to Godliness, the sound of these is Divine. If you’re hearing grain, it’s your amp, source or cables, not the Vaughn’s.
These are a reference quality speaker and I’m putting my money where my mouth is with that one. These speakers are staying here. Even though there’s no typical big discount since these are sold with low margin direct to you with no middleman markups, these babies are going to be mine. I’ve been looking for a speaker that will work in both rooms (large and small), friendly to both low and high power amps since I review a lot and have no glaring weaknesses but high strength in all areas. A speaker whose attributes will hold up well in comparison to other speakers at significantly higher prices. A speaker that is as musical as it is “audiophile”. One that appeals to my analytical side as well as my emotional. Oh yes, and doesn’t cost a fortune, too. The fact that Linda likes them goes a long way as well. In other words, a true reference speaker. I have found it".
I have never been as excited about a new product as I am this. Yes, it is by far the most simple music storage and playback system in a sea of contenders. It makes Itunes seem like a physics exam. My wife learned to use it in less than 5 minutes, about the same amount of time it took to unbox it and get it connected to our wireless network. The first thing she does now when she gets home is cue up some music. It sounds like a $5,000 standalone DAC all by itself. All of that is great in and of itself, but the real bottom line it this: The Qsonix Music Managment System has fundamentally changed the way I listen to music. It has deeply enriched my appreciation of recorded music because I'm now playing recordings I haven't listened to for years, simply because every cut is there at our fingertips - instantly! And listen up Sony and all the other music labels, I'm BUYING more music now than I have since my college days. I can sit in my chair and cue up tons of tracks from my Iphone while other tracks are playing. Talk about musical empowerment! The Qsonix does for music what the Tivo has done for TV. It may not only be the Product of Year, it could well be the Product of the Decade. - James L. Darby
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