Prices: $239 per 8’ pair (Black Oval 12), $315 per 1m pair (Micro Copper Oval-In)
Colin said: I like Analysis Plus for their strict adherence to a no-BS philosophy -- something exceedingly rare among makers of audio cables.
Read the GoodSound! review.
The gist: Real engineering leads to real-good sound with AP.
Vince said: When I first fired up the Anthem MRX 500, I thought it a good receiver with a great pedigree, from a company that has produced highly regarded surround-sound processors. After setting up and using its built-in Anthem Room Correction, I think the MRX 500 is a fantastic receiver worth every penny of its price. Even if Anthem charged twice as much for the MRX 500, I would still think the price fair -- because of ARC. The fact that the MRX 500 lists for only $1500 makes it a genuine bargain among home-theater receivers, and therefore the one to get.
Read the SoundStage! Accessreview.
The gist: The best room correction in a receiver for under two grand.
Price: $650 per pair
Ron said: The 4T asks little in terms of space, watts, or money, but play through them your favorite but imperfectly recorded LPs or CDs and they’ll make the most of the good that’s there while downplaying the bad. In a world of cynical hi-fi gear, the Aperion 4T is a true optimist.
The gist:Mini-floorstander with monster sound, direct to your door.
Price: $1090 per pair
Thom said: In prizefighting, there’s a phrase to describe a boxer who hits like a fighter in a heavier class: "He punches above his weight." That was the case with the Aperion Audio Verus Forte Tower. I found it to be a really fine speaker overall, and a pretty remarkable one for its size. No, it didn’t have the ultimate bass performance; that’s where a subwoofer would come in. But on their own they provided a wide-bandwidth sound with excellent detail and a fine soundstage, and their depth of soundstage was especially good. This is a speaker that can sound great in many environments, though it does need some space behind it to sound its best. Overall, it was attractive and capable -- I recommend it to anyone looking for a really high-value speaker that sounds good and looks just as good.
The gist: Aperion's smallest floorstander stands tall in performance.
Price: $1798 per pair
Jeff said: Aperion Audio has ticked off all the areas you’d want ticked off by a floorstanding loudspeaker: clean, textured, articulate, full-range sound; solid build quality and a beautiful finish; nice touches such as dual sets of binding posts and magnetically attached grilles; and a price well under $2000/pair.
Read the SoundStage! Access review.
The gist: The new speaker-to-get-under-$2000 class leader.
Vince said: Arcam’s Solo rDac has exceeded my expectations for an inexpensive DAC. With a sleek silver-aluminum chassis and a single button on top, it’s a good-looking, easy-to-use audio component. Although I didn’t find that it significantly improved the performance of my Oppo Blu-ray player, its forte was playing music through its USB connection.
The gist: Asynchronous USB DAC that's a solid deal.
Price: $2500 per pair
Ron said: The Atlantic Technology AT-1 is more costly than its closest competitor I’ve yet listened to, the $1995/pair Dynaudio DM 3/7, but the extra $505 buys a whole lot in terms of fit’n’finish and performance. The AT-1 just does more, both on paper and in the listening. Nothing about this speaker annoyed me in the least -- and usually I find something that does. To say that the AT-1 should worry other manufacturers is an understatement. Smart people will buy a pair for $2500; the same smart people would be justified in considering the AT-1 even if it cost two, three, or four times as much.
The gist: The standout budget floorstander of 2011.
Price: $399 per pair
Hans said: In juggling many considerations in its 5+, Audioengine has contrived to not drop one. As well executed as it is well designed, this attractive bookshelf speaker is a thoroughly practical product that worked, and worked well, practically right out of the box. You could spend the same amount of money on a pair of passive bookshelf speakers and perhaps get better sound. You could invest in an identically priced pair of active speakers and get similar sound. But the 5+ combines quality sound with an attractiveness and remote-controlled, multiple-input convenience that separates it from its competitors. Emphatically recommended.
The gist: The powered monitor to beat at its price.
Price: $249 per pair
Kevin said: . . . the P4 is a great speaker and an incredible value. You’re going to have to spend a lot more -- a whole lot more -- to achieve the measures of sound quality and packaging convenience afforded by the Audioengine P4.
The gist: Get your motor running with the tiny Audioengine P4.
Kevin said: The Epic 60•500 isn’t something you’ll like for a while, then start finding nits to pick about. It’s a keeper. If you audition this system, I don’t think you’ll even dream of taking advantage of Axiom’s 30-day return offer -- and I suggest you audition the Epic 60•500 system as soon as possible, if not sooner.
The gist: All about all-around HT performance.
Roger said: I can think of several very good DACs for about $1000 that have recently been recommended by SoundStage! Network reviewers. At twice that price, the Bel Canto e.One DAC2.5 might seem expensive in comparison. But when you consider that it includes a high-resolution digital volume control, analog input, and a Home Theater Bypass mode, its value becomes apparent. It can be used as the control center of a high-performance two-channel rig and still be easily integrated into a multichannel system. The e.One DAC2.5 offers a lot of performance and flexibility for $1995.
The gist: Digital control center for a high-quality, high-value system.
Aron said: The Bel Canto e.One REF150S is the most musical amplifier I have heard south of $5000, with the exceptions of its bigger brothers, the REF500S and REF500M. If you’re in the market for a wonderfully musical two-channel amplifier that offers tremendous value and performance, rock-solid build quality, and uses a minimal amount of power, you owe it to yourself to audition Bel Canto’s e.One REF150S.
The gist: Clean, small, efficient -- should be a good fit for a compact system.
Doug said: I know of no other component that offers these three functions and such a high level of sound quality across the board. The DAC1 HDR can be compared with components costing much, much more -- which is exactly what I did in my listening.
The gist: Three-in-one component with separates sound quality.
Hans said: The DAC2 HGC uses one of the best digital chipsets on the market today to produce a quality of sound that, until a few years ago, wasn’t available for less than $10,000. It sounds far more refined than its $1995 price would suggest, and when you consider that it can serve as the keystone of a digital and analog system, on a desktop or in a listening room, it becomes all the more remarkable.
The gist: Follow-up to the highly successful DAC1.
Philip said: But those willing to get past the Fon Lo Thingee’s no-frills looks to just hear how good it sounds might be rewarded: the performance of their systems might be taken to the next level for very little money.
The gist: Not a pipe bomb, but a good phono stage.
Thom said: If you’re into the game of ‘my amp is bigger than your amp,’ the GDC will come up a bit short -- put it in an equipment rack and you probably won’t even notice it. But if your priority is fine, solid, realistic sound, the Blue Circle GDC is just the ticket.
Read the GoodSound!review.
The gist: Plain-Jane looks, real-looker sound.
Price: $229, six-outlet version; $199, four-outlet version
Roger said: It significantly improved the performance of both my reference and inexpensive audio systems -- so much that it has found a permanent home in my reference system.
The gist: Can’t pronounce it, don’t want to look at it, but it sounds great.
Roger said: Though most high-end audio manufacturers may have abandoned the budget market, Cambridge Audio continues to produce many products in this category, and have imbued their entry-level Azur 350A integrated amplifier with levels of performance and quality that belie its $499 price. If you're looking for an integrated amplifier for a modest yet still audiophile-approved system, the Azur 350A is an excellent choice.
The gist: Cambridge: Still catering to audiophiles with a solid integrated under five bills.
Vince said: For only $650 you get a digital preamp, a headphone amp, and a truly excellent DAC -- and being able to listen to 24-bit/192kHz tracks through the DacMagic Plus was a mesmerizing experience. If you’re looking for a DAC, even if only to add a USB connection to your system, it would be worth your while to check out the Swiss Army Knife of DACs: the Azur DacMagic Plus. It may get you thinking up new ways to configure your audio system and listen to music -- always a good thing.
The gist: Heck-of-a-value DAC with tons of flexibility.
Price: $1198 per pair
Hans said: At $1198/pair, the Definitive Technology BP-8020ST SuperTower is a near-full-range speaker that sounds far larger than its tiny footprint would suggest. Its active bass section and high efficiency should make it an easy load for any amplifier, and it offers shocking clarity for the price.
The gist: How can they pack in so much for so little?
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