Лучшая сотня аппаратов за последние 40 лет по мнению Stereophile

40 лет stereophile 1962-2002

 

[100]: Polk Cobra Cable loudspeaker cable

Stereophile review: 1978 (Vol.4 No.3). Highly capacitive, this distinctive-looking Japanese-sourced cable blew up many amplifiers that weren’t unconditionally stable. Nevertheless, it blazed a trail followed first by Bob Fulton, then by Monster, then by countless others.

[98] (tie): Advent 201 & Nakamichi Dragon cassette decks
Stereophile reviews: Advent, Spring 1973 (Vol.3 No.4); Nakamichi, November 1984 (Vol.7 No.6). Henry Kloss’s first attempt to wring high-fidelity performance from a format introduced (as a dictation medium!) a year after Stereophile’s debut was the Advent 200, which combined Dolby-B noise reduction with a Nakamichi transport. But it wasn’t until Kloss replaced the Nakamichi with an industrial mechanism from 3M’s Wollensak division, to make the Model 201, that he was satisfied. The rest is history, culminating in Nakamichi’s own Dragon. As so often is the case, this ultimate statement in the medium was introduced just a few years before the medium’s own death knell was sounded. In the case of the cassette, it was sounded by the digital DAT.
[97]: AR 3A loudspeaker
(No Stereophile review.) It may have been ugly, colored, and with rolled-off highs, but the sealed-box 3A defined the «Boston Sound» and helped establish the American speaker industry. I never liked it, but I can’t ignore it. Pretty much the same drive-units were used in AR’s multidirectional LST, which years later was to inspire Mark Levinson’s Cello speakers. I really didn’t like the LST.
[96]: Crown DC300A power amplifier
Stereophile review: Autumn 1968 (Vol.2 No.10). In hindsight, the Crown sounded like early solid-state. But it was powerful, bombproof, and drove the early days of the progressive rock revolution and what was to become high-end audio.
[95]: Magnum Dynalab FT-101A FM tunerFirst Stereophile review: August 1985 (Vol.8 No.4; also Vol.10 No.3, Vol.13 No.10, Vol.17 No.10). Magnum Dynalab’s more recent MD-108 was the best-sounding FM tuner to come from this Canadian company, but the FT-101A was the tuner that redefined the genre by sticking with analog tuning in a digital world.
[93] (tie): Nagra IV-S & ReVox A77 open-reel analog tape recorders
First Stereophile reviews: Nagra, December 1964 (Vol.1 No.9); ReVox, Autumn 1968 (Vol.2 No.10; also Vol.2 No.12, Vol.3 No.5). The superbly Swiss and superb-sounding Nagra IV-S is in some ways the ultimate analog recorder and is still in widespread use in Hollywood a half-century after Stefan Kudelski launched the first Nagra. The ReVox was made just over the Swiss-German border, in the Black Forest. While its solid-state electronics did not sound as good as the tubes of the preceding G-36, its tape-handling and control ergonomics were to die for, once the scrape flutter had been minimized. The phenolic-paper circuit boards of my Mk.IV are gradually crumbling into dust, but during its lifetime probably more music was recorded on the A-77 than on any other machine.
[92]: Dahlquist DQ-10 loudspeakerStereophile review: Winter 1973 (Vol.3 No.7). The Brits hated the DQ-10 for its superficial resemblance to their beloved Quad electrostatic. But with the first Magnepan and the Infinity Servo-Statik, Jon Dahlquist’s staggered-baffle speaker helped launch the High End in the early 1970s.
[91]: Yamaha NS1000 loudspeakerStereophile review: Winter 1975 (Vol.3 No.11). Back in the days when paper cones were de rigueur (though a handful of British engineers were playing with plastic cones) and designers were starting down the path to trade off reduced coloration against the need for more and more driving volts from the amp, Yamaha introduced the NS1000. It was sensitive, it used a high-tech midrange dome using vapor-deposited beryllium on an aluminum substrate, and it (ahem) kicked major booty! The Yamaha’s major use of technology made many contemporary European and American speaker-makers look more like box-stuffers. I haven’t heard an NS1000 in 20 years, and often wonder how it would measure up in today’s more refined market.
[90]: The Advent Loudspeaker Stereophile review: Spring 1971 (Vol.2 No.12). The late Henry Kloss had the Midas touch: whatever his fancy alighted on turned into sonic gold. In the case of the Advent Loudspeaker, he designed America’s first true high-end dynamic sealed-box loudspeaker. And given that everyone was convinced that good speakers needed to use three drive-units, Henry made do with two. He designed the Advent armed with microphone, voltmeter, oscilloscope, and signal generator, but without—the entire generation of speaker engineers who graduated since the early 1980s will be astonished to learn—a computer. Henry made do with talent and ingenuity.
[89]: Supex SD900 MC phono cartridge Stereophile review: Winter 1973 (Vol.3 No.7). Designed by Japan’s Yoshiaki Sugano, the Supex reintroduced the sonic benefits of the moving-coil cartridge to an audio world dominated by but dissatisfied with moving-magnet designs.

 

[88]: Acoustic Energy AE1 loudspeakerFirst Stereophile review: September 1988 (Vol.11 No.9; also Vol.15 No.7). Designer Phil Jones may have fed the LS3/5A concept steroids, but the AE1 makes the list because it spearheaded the resurgence of the metal-cone woofer, which acts as a pure piston in its passband. (But outside the passband…)
[87]: Acoustat 2+2 electrostatic loudspeaker Stereophile review: February 1984 (Vol.7 No.2). Between the demise of the KLH 9 and the introduction of the MartinLogan CLS, the Acoustats held high the flag of American electrostatics.

[86]: Jeff Rowland Design Group Concentra integrated amplifier (No Stereophile review.) Jeff Rowland’s products demonstrate that great-sounding audio can involve more than a utilitarian design ethic. I wanted to include one of the JRDG components; John Marks chose the Concentra.

[85]: Vendetta Research SCP-2 phono preamplifierFirst Stereophile review: June 1988 (Vol.11)
[84]: Audio Alchemy Digital Transmission InterfaceFirst Stereophile review: May 1993 (Vol.16 No.5; also Vol.16 No.11, Vol.17 No.7). Given that Barry Blesser’s encyclopedic primer on digital audio in the October 1978 issue of the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society had described the problems due to word-clock jitter, it was a puzzle that it took another 12 years for the audio establishment to acknowledge its existence and to start to address the problem. The DTI was one solution, and a pretty inexpensive one at that. But the one thing we reviewers were never quite sure we could say in public back then, given the record industry’s paranoia over digital taping, was that one reason the DTI lowered jitter, thus improving the sound, was that it stripped from the digital datastream the subcode—which included the SCMS copy-prevention flag.

[83]: Janis W-1 subwoofer(No Stereophile review.) For years the coffee-table-esque Janis had the tiny high-end subwoofer market to itself. Then along came Velodyne and all the other major low-bass players. But John Marovkis and Janis were there first.

[82]: MBL 101d omnidirectional loudspeaker(No Stereophile review.) Critics dubbed this innovative German design the «accordion from Mars,» but Jürgen Reiss’s bending-mode Radialstrahler drive-units were the first to successfully address the challenge of producing a laterally omnidirectional radiation pattern.

[81]: PSB Alpha loudspeakerFirst Stereophile review: July 1992 (Vol.15 No.7; also Vol.17 No.1, Vol.23 No.4, Vol.25 No.5). Canadian Paul Barton has designed bigger speakers and he has designed better speakers, but none of those has offered so much sound for so little money as the Alpha in all its guises—or, with more than 50,000 sold, has benefited so many people.

[80]: Digital Audio Labs CardDeluxe PC soundcardStereophile review: September 2000 (Vol.23 No.9). The first component to enable a computer to be used as a true high-end source component.

 

[79]: Thorens TD124 turntableStereophile review: January 1963 (Vol.1 No.3). The first European answer to the AR turntable, the TD124 spawned a dynasty of excellent ‘tables that, like the AR, were let down by their tonearms. The more basic TD150, mounted with an SME arm, was about as good as you could get for LP playback before Ivor Tiefenbrun reinvented the belt-drive/suspended-subchassis concept in the 1970s as the Linn Sondek LP12.

[78]: Quicksilver MX-190 monoblock power amplifierFirst Stereophile review: June 1984 (Vol.7 No.3; also Vol.8 Nos.2 & 4). «This amplifier, in an underground way, helped lead the resurgence of tube gear in the dark days of the early 1980s,» says Sam Tellig. Many, if not most, of the units sold are said to be still in use (although owners may have had to convert from the original 8417 output tube to the EL34).

[77]: Dynavector Karat DV-17D MC phono cartridgeFirst Stereophile review: October 1982 (Vol.5 No.8; also Vol.6 No.1, Vol.7 No.8, Vol.8 No.1, Vol.10 No.5). With its short, rigid diamond cantilever, the late Dr. Tominari’s masterpiece produced an astonishingly transparent view into the recorded soundstage while making almost impossible demands of the rest of the playback system. But when the planets aligned…[76]: Hafler DH-200 power amplifierStereophile review: November 1983 (Vol.6 No.5). With this high-powered kit, David Hafler attempted to do for solid-state amplifiers what he’d already done for tubed designs with the Dynaco Stereo 70. He almost succeeded—the DH-200 proved an excellent platform for almost unlimited tweaking (called «Poogeing» by cognoscenti). Still in production 20 years later from Smart Devices, who have added a small-signal tube!

[75]: Spica TC50 loudspeakerFirst Stereophile review: February 1984 (Vol.7 No.2; also Vol.9 No.5, Vol.11 No.1, Vol.12 No.10, Vol.14 No.10). John Bau’s ugly ducking of a time-aligned two-way miniature showed that great sound could be produced from a speaker without the designer having to throw unlimited sums of money at the problems.

 

[74]: Advent 300 receiverStereophile review: December 1977 (Vol.4 No.1). Designed by a team led by Tomlinson Holman, of subsequent THX fame, the Advent combined a superb phono stage with an excellent 15Wpc power amp. It was also a pretty good FM tuner. And, like all of Henry Kloss’s conceptions, it cost next to nothing.
[72] (tie): Sony CDP-101 & Philips CD-100 CD playersStereophile review: Sony, January 1983 (Vol.5 No.10); Philips, no review.) They may not have sounded that good by today’s standards, but they were the first, and you can’t take that away from them. With its non-oversampled DAC shared between the channels and its complex analog filters, the Sony was a technological cul-de-sac. The Philips, however, and its identical Marantz-badged clone, introduced noise-shaping and oversampling to consumer audio, a development whose significance was not widely recognized for almost a decade.

 

[71]: Shahinian Obelisk loudspeaker(No Stereophile review.) I first heard the quasi-omnidirectional Obelisk 25 years ago, and it sounded as different then from what else was around as it does now. Richard Shahinian has always gone his own way, guided by his overwhelming passion for classical orchestral music; his speakers fall into the category of «If you love their sound, they’re the best speakers in the world for you.» However, for Dick to survive and even to prosper through the years lends his efforts a credibility that cannot be acquired in any other way.

 

[70]: Sennheiser HD-414 headphones(No Stereophile review.) Sennheiser has made better-sounding headphones since the ‘414s were introduced in the 1960s—their electrostatic Orpheus from the early 1990s was to die for, and their HD-600, driven in balanced mode by a HeadRoom BlockHead amp, is my current reference for headphone performance. But with its open-air, on-the-ear loading and with every part replaceable, the ‘414 showed how to achieve genuine high-end headphone sound, not only to Sennheiser but to every other headphone manufacturer.

 

[69]: Shure V-15 series MM phono cartridgesFirst Stereophile review: December 1964 (Vol.1 No.9; also Vol.2 Nos.4 & 5, Vol.3 No.6, Vol.4 No.5, Vol.5 Nos.5 & 9, Vol.7 Nos.5 & 8, Vol.10 No.5, Vol.12 No.11, Vol.20 No.7). The idea of balancing an in-band, top-octave resonant peak against an electrical top-octave rolloff didn’t seem particularly intuitive compared with the elegant simplicity of the wide-bandwidth moving-coil cartridges pioneered by, among others, Denmark’s Ortofon (later to be owned by David Hafler). But given that the massive MCs of the time tended to plow rather than trace their way through the grooves, the excellent tracking offered by the Shures, even at low downforces, was a welcome development—»First, do no harm to the groove walls.»—and the fact that the styli were interchangeable was a bonus. The conceptually similar ADCs, Empires, Stantons, and Sonuses had their fans, but Chicago’s Shure Bros. owned the audiophile market for a long, long time. Except in Japan, where the MC flame was guarded for posterity.

 

[68]: Grado (original) «moving-iron» phono cartridgeStereophile review: Spring 1966 (Vol.1 No.12). There were moving-coils and there were moving-magnets, and then there were Joe Grado’s cartridges, which were neither and perhaps sounded superior because of that fact.

 

[66] (tie): McIntosh MR 78 & Sequerra Model 1 FM tunersStereophile reviews: McIntosh, December 1984 (Vol.7 No.7); Sequerra, Winter 1973 (Vol.3 No.7). «Some consider this FM tuner to be the finest tuner made,» writes Stereophile’s Larry Greenhill about the McIntosh, «equal to the Marantz 10B in sound quality but having sensitivity greater than any other.» A decade earlier, Richard Sequerra packed into his design the maximum amount of 1970s-vintage technology possible, including an oscilloscope-cum-RF spectrum analyzer for FM tuning, to transform radio into a true high-fidelity medium. Remanufactured by David Day for a while in the ’90s, the Sequerra was easily the finest tuner LG had ever used. A shame that, in the 21st century, the compression-obsessed FM broadcasting industry strives but fails to achieve the audio quality of MP3 files.

 

[64] (tie): Avantgarde Uno & Sonus Faber Guarneri Homage loudspeakersFirst Stereophile reviews: Avantgarde, September 2000 (Vol.23 No.9; also Vol.25 No.8); Sonus Faber, July 1994(Vol.17 No.7). With American and British loudspeaker design philosophy running along rigidly defined rails by the 1990s, the appearance of these musically communicative German and Italian speakers, which danced to very different design drummers, blew a welcome breath of fresh air into the High End.

 

[63]: Pass Labs Aleph power amplifiersFirst Stereophile review: March 1995 (Vol.18 No.3; also Vol.20 Nos.4 & 11). Some critics nominated Nelson Pass’s Threshold amplifier designs from the late 1970s, produced with the industrial design help of the talented René Besné, as being the most important. But I think Nelson’s Aleph designs, with their use of high-voltage FETs and uncompromised single-ended operation, represent the true flowering of one of America’s most distinguished electronics engineers.

 

[62]: DNM solid-core loudspeaker cableStereophile review: October 1985 (Vol.8 No.6). «Imagine a company that promotes hardwired electronics, nonmetallic enclosures, split-foil capacitors, low-power amplifiers, and, of course, simple, solid-core interconnects and speaker wires. No big deal in the SET-happy 21st century? True, I suppose—but I’m thinking back to the DNM company of 1985.» That’s how Art Dudley, Stereophile’s new editor-at-large, began his nomination of Denis N. Morecroft’s DNM cable. And it’s true that, while DNM-branded cables have almost zero market profile in the US, the idea of solid-core cable has become ubiquitous.[59] (tie): Musical Fidelity Digilog, Arcam Delta Black Box, PS Audio Link D/A processorsFirst Stereophile reviews: Musical Fidelity, October 1989 (Vol.12 No.10); Arcam, February 1989 (Vol.12 Nos.2 & 10); PS Audio, no review. The first of many. Did standalone digital processors introduce more problems than they solved? Possibly. At least some of the time. But what they also did was make use of the CD’s open-source data structure to trigger simultaneous explosions of design energy and hardware market expansion. Those intent on restricting outsiders’ access to raw SACD and DVD-Audio data take note.

 

[58]: Audio Alchemy Digital Decoding Engine v1.0 D/A processorFirst Stereophile review: August 1991 (Vol.14 No.8; also Vol.14 No.10, Vol.15 No.10). Audio Alchemy was a once-in-a-lifetime commingling of design talent with entrepreneurial flair. The DDE sounded good enough and cost little enough that, for a brief glorious period, it and its successors managed to inject gobs of energy and excitement into this all-too-often stuffy hobby—until AA discovered they were losing money on every sale and couldn’t make it up in volume, as the old saw has it. So long, Mark and Peter, and thanks for all the fun.

 

[54] (tie): Oracle Delphi, SOTA Star Sapphire, VPI HW-19, Well Tempered turntables First Stereophile reviews: Oracle, June 1986 (Vol.9 No.4; also Vol.14 No.8, Vol.20 No.12); SOTA, February 1984 (Vol.7 No.2; also Vol.9 No.4, Vol.10 No.5, Vol.11 No.1); VPI, February 1984 (Vol.7 No.2; also Vol.8 No.4, Vol.9 Nos.4 & 5, Vol.12 No.11, Vol.15 No.8); Well Tempered, March 1988 (Vol.11 No.3; also Vol.16 No.4, Vol.17 No.10, Vol.22 No.8). The Linn Sondek showed the way in the 1970s; the 1980s saw a flurry of US design activity intended to show that the Linn could be surpassed. The SOTA was the ‘table «Newton would have designed,» the Oracle was stunningly beautiful, the WTT was the result of inspired lateral thinking, and the VPI demonstrated what could be achieved by obsessive attention to detail. All four were «better than the Linn» in at least one area of performance, but it took a long while for any to reach the original goal.

 

[53]: Roksan Xerxes turntableFirst Stereophile review: April 1986 (Vol.9 No.3; also Vol.13 No.3). The English Xerxes was introduced more or less at the same time as CD and was almost profoundly influential, according to Art Dudley. The Roksan’s influence involved the way hi-fi was sold more than designed, in that it was the product that broke the Linn-Naim stranglehold in the UK (and the handful of like-minded stores in the US). «Before Roksan,» says AD, «people who valued a component’s rhythmic and melodic capabilities had only one real turntable choice, the (still splendid) Linn LP12. But the first Roksan Xerxes was so good, and so superior to the pre-Lingo LP12, that honest listeners among the so-called/self-called ‘Flat-Earthers’ had no choice but to say so.» The floodgates opened, and soon it was okay for all but the most brainwashed to acknowledge good performance from products by companies other than Linn, Naim, and Rega.

 

[51] (tie): Audio Power Industries Power Wedge 1 & PS Audio P300 Power PlantStereophile reviews: API, November 1991 (Vol.14 No.11); PS Audio, December 1999 (Vol.22 No.12, Vol.23 Nos.5 & 12). There had been other components intended to clean up the AC supply, most notably the Tice, but the improvement in system sound quality wrought by the cost-effective Power Wedge, with its high-quality isolating transformers, was the first to convince me that I indeed had a problem that needed fixing. Paul McGowan’s PS Audio piece takes the philosophy to the limit by synthesizing a whole new AC signal. Skeptical? Just give a listen to your preamp plugged into the wall, then plugged into the Power Plant. Who’d a-thunk it?

 

[50]: KEF Reference 107 loudspeakerFirst Stereophile review: June 1986 (Vol.9 No.4; Also Vol.9 No.7, Vol.10 No.2, Vol.14 Nos.5 & 10, Vol.18 No.10). Yes, the elegant R107 was the first high-end speaker to successfully implement a «bandpass» or «coupled-cavity» woofer, but its real importance lay in the fact that it finally rammed home the lesson that speaker design primarily involved engineering rather than art. Yes, art is still an essential part of designing a musically satisfying speaker, but only when that art rides on a platform of solid engineering.

 

[49]: Apogee Scintilla loudspeakerStereophile review: July 1985 (Vol.8 No.3). It wasn’t the first all-ribbon loudspeaker from Apogee, it wasn’t the biggest, and it probably wasn’t even the best-sounding (that was probably the Duetta). It was also a pig to drive, with perhaps just the big Krells up to the task of sinking power into what was, at some frequencies, little more than a short circuit. But the Scintilla was the Apogee speaker that convinced me that the magnetically driven ribbon, with its effortless coupling to the room and its lack of sonic character or coloration, was more than just a historic backwater of speaker design.

 

[48]: KLH 9 electrostatic loudspeakerFirst Stereophile review: Spring 1966 (Vol.1 No.12; also Vol.2 No.10). An American classic at least two decades ahead of its time. I heard the 9 only once, but I still shiver at the memory.

 

[47]: Convergent Audio Technology SL-1 preamplifierFirst Stereophile review: November 1986 (Vol.9 No.7; also Vol.15 No.12, Vol.17 Nos.1, 9 & 11, Vol.18 No.12, Vol.19 No.12, Vol.21 No.3, Vol.22 No.8). The ultimate tube preamplifier for more than a decade, until the Conrad-Johnson ART appeared. But CAT lovers are a loyal bunch.

 

[46]: Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 3D CD playerStereophile review: October 2001 (Vol.24 No.10). In an era when consumer digital media are available that inherently exceed what is possible from the antique CD format, Musical Fidelity introduced what is possibly the finest-sounding CD player that was ever made. As only 500 were made and all 500 were sold, that point will be academic for almost all audiophiles.

 

[45]: Nagra-D open-reel digital recorderStereophile review: January 1996 (Vol.19 No.1). Using a VHS scanner to record four channels of 24-bit data (two channels at 88.2kHz or 96kHz), this Swiss jewel of a recorder showed what could be achieved from high-resolution digital audio.[44]: The Graham tonearmFirst Stereophile review: March 1991 (Vol.14 No.3; also Vol.14 No.8, Vol.18 No.6, Vol.21 No.2, Vol.24 Nos.1 & 10, Vol.25 No.7). «Simply the most practical, easy-to-use, and superb-sounding arm to be had today,» enthuses Paul Bolin, adding that Bob Graham’s masterpiece, now in its 2.2 incarnation, is «maybe the best all-’round tonearm ever.» All I can add is to point out the Graham arm’s impossibly elegant engineering and idiot-proof installation procedure.

 

[43]: SME 3009 tonearm (original)First Stereophile review: September 1965 (Vol.1 No.11; also Vol.2 Nos.10 & 12). «Scale Model Engineering» was the original name of Alastair Robertson-Aikman’s machine shop, and when ARA turned his attention to audio components, the result was a fastidious work of engineering art to turn the heads of even the Swiss. The version listed is the one with the nondetachable headshell, which worked superbly in its day with feather-light trackers like the Shure V15 Mk.III. The current SME IV and V are much better overall and much better suited to medium-high-mass MCs. But you never forget your first SME.

 

[42]: Meridian D600 digital active loudspeakerFirst Stereophile review: November 1989 (Vol.12 No.11; also Vol.14 No.10). More recent Meridian loudspeakers exceed the D600’s performance in every way, but this modest floorstander was the first to show what could be achieved by integrating power amplification and digital technology in a speaker design.

 

[41]: Celestion SL-600 loudspeakerFirst Stereophile review: May 1989 (Vol.12 No.5; also Vol.15 No.8). The first popular compact supermonitor, introduced in 1983. The English company’s Graham Bank and Gordon Hadaway decided that, as the main source of coloration in a box speaker is the box, they would effectively do away with it by making it from the Aerolam material used in airplane construction. The copper-dome tweeter used in the SL-600 and its wooden-box SL-6 sibling also pioneered the resurgence of interest in moving-coil drivers with pistonic metal diaphragms. «Had anyone even 1) tried to make a compact monitor sound this uncolored, or 2) charge as much?» asks Wes Phillips. Nope. But what a sound!

 

[39] (tie): Cello Palette analog & TacT R2.0 digital equalizer-preamplifiersFirst Stereophile reviews: Cello, June 1992 (Vol.15 No.6; also Vol.18 No.7); TacT, September 2001 (Vol.24 No.9). The Palette, designed by Richard Burwen and Tom Colangelo and the first product to come from Mark Levinson’s Cello after he’d been forced out of his eponymous company, broke the primary rule for analog equalizers by featuring enormous overlaps between the operating bands. But because of this, it was perhaps the finest-ever equalizer for dealing with music program’s tonal problems, as opposed to room and acoustic problems. The latter are far more effectively dealt with by TacT’s DSP (digital signal processing) engine, a revolutionary device that implements in a simple consumer product the technology pioneered by the professional Sigtech device, which in turn evolved from work done by Bob Berkowitz and Ron Genereux at Acoustic Research in the early 1980s, when «research» was still actually part of that company’s mission.

 

[37] (tie): Cary Audio Design CAD805 & Halcro dm58 monoblock power amplifiersFirst Stereophile reviews: Cary, January 1994 (Vol.17 No.1; also Vol.17 Nos.2 & 5, Vol.21 No.3); Halcro, October 2002 (Vol.25 No.10). While not the first modern tube amplifier with a single-ended output stage, Dennis Had’s gorgeous-looking and -sounding ‘805 is the culmination of all that this retro technology has to offer. By contrast, the Australian Halcro might well be the finest solid-state amplifier made. «An engineering tour de force and quite possibly the planet’s best component,» writes Paul Bolin. «Not bad,» I’m forced to agree with my usual English understatement.

 

[36]: Meridian MCD Pro CD playerFirst Stereophile review: October 1985 (Vol.8 Nos.6 & 7). It’s hard for audiophiles younger than 40 to comprehend how truly unmusical most early CD players were. This was compounded by the resolution of the data on the discs themselves, which was limited by the professional converters and the fact that some of the early digital editors lacked dither and thus reintroduced quantizing artifacts. But Bob Stuart’s radical reworking of a first-generation Philips chassis revealed that the discs weren’t as bad as we thought, and that the medium did have true audiophile potential—just as he’s now doing for DVD-Audio almost two decades later.

 

[35]: Sony SCD-1 SACD playerStereophile review: November 1999 (Vol.22 No.11). The DSD encoding used by Super Audio CD may be technically controversial, but sonically there’s no doubt that it’s a significant step up from CD. The SCD-1 makes the list because it was the first commercially available SACD player, but let it not be forgotten that it was also a damn fine-sounding CD player.

 

[34]: Mark Levinson No.30 Reference D/A processorFirst Stereophile review: February 1992 (Vol.15 No.2; also Vol.15 No.7, Vol.16 Nos.6, 11 & 12, Vol.17 Nos.1 & 10, Vol.18 Nos.3 & 4, Vol.22 Nos.10 & 11). With digital audio technology now fully mature, it’s hard to remember how difficult it was to get true high resolution from CD playback, even 10 years after the medium’s launch. Madrigal’s first digital product used heroic engineering to achieve that end and was rewarded by becoming Stereophile’s first-ever «Product of the Year.» Eleven years later, with most of its innards replaced by up-to-date and even better-performing modern circuitry, the No.30 is still a top-ranking performer, underscoring its «Reference» appellation.

 

[32] (tie): Great American Sound (GAS) Ampzilla & Naim NAP250 power amplifiers(Neither reviewed in Stereophile.) Ampzilla, from James Bongiorno, was a beefy 200Wpc design that was one of the first silicon-deviced audio amplifiers to use a complementary output stage, where the speaker feed was taken from the joined common emitters of NPN and PNP power transistors. The first, if I remember correctly, was the South Western Technical Products Tiger (footnote 1). By contrast, Julian Vereker’s NAP250 stuck with the quasi-complementary topology, in which the output stage comprised an NPN silicon device with an active NPN load. But both were seminal 1970s solid-state amps—Ampzilla in the US, the Naim in the UK—and showed that solid-state designs could produce musical results to rival the best that tube designs had to offer. Ampzilla had a short life, but the NAP250 has only recently been replaced in Naim’s line.

 

[31]: Audible Illusions Modulus preamplifierFirst Stereophile review: November 1984 (Vol.7 No.6; also Vol.19 Nos.2 & 9). Even when they went solid-state to drive the speakers, many audiophiles stuck with tubed preamps because of their inherent musicality. Some writers lobbied for the Conrad-Johnson PV1 to be included in this listing, but I finally decided to go for the Audible Illusions because of the sheer length of time it has remained in continuous, if limited, production. In all that time I’ve never met an unhappy Modulus owner—quite a tribute, given the fickle audiophile nature.

 

Footnote 1: I did not remember correctly. The first amplifier to use a complementary output stage, I was informed by reader Kevin Gray, was the JBL «T circuit,» designed by Bart Locanthi back in 1966. Bongiorno’s Ampzilla was the first to feature complementary circuitry from input to output.—John Atkinson[30]: Rega Planar 3 turntable with RB300 tonearmFirst Stereophile review: January 1984 (Vol.7 No.1; also Vol.7 No.7, Vol.8 No.6, Vol.10 No.1, Vol.19 No.12). The Planar 3 was perhaps the plainest plain-Jane high-end turntable ever to sell in large numbers, though its glass platter was simple and ingeniously effective. But it was the RB300 tonearm that lifted the Planar 3 into the ranks of the great when it was added to the ‘table in the early Reagan era. «The greatest bargain in the history of audio, and one of the 10 best tonearms you’ve ever been able to buy at any price,» says erstwhile Listener editor Art Dudley, who adds, «If this level of design and manufacturing ingenuity were ever applied to the rest of a system, it would be dangerous.» «Was ever so much produced for so little?» concludes Sam Tellig.

 

[29]: Adcom GFA-555 power amplifierFirst Stereophile review: August 1985 (Vol.8 No.4; also Vol.8 No.7, Vol.12 No.12, Vol.13 No.10). The best-selling Adcom defined what an inexpensive solid-state amplifier was all about—power, power, and more power—without losing sight of the refinement essential to musical satisfaction. Some feel the less powerful, even cheaper GFA-535 was the better-sounding amp, but the ‘555 defined the genre.

 

[28]: The Mod Squad TiptoesStereophile review: January 1986 (Vol.9 No.1). If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Steve McCormack must be the most flattered man in high-end audio. Like all great ideas, the Tiptoe was superbly simple—which was probably why, before Steve, no one had thought of it. I believe he still has the patent hanging on his office wall—not much of a testimonial to the efficacy of patents!

 

[27]: Spendor BC1 loudspeakerStereophile review: March 1978 (Vol.4 No.3). Designed by the late Spencer Hughes after he left the BBC, the BC1 was perhaps the finest all-’round loudspeaker to come out of the UK until the B&W 801 Series 2. Too bad its somewhat loose low frequencies were not the optimal match for typical mid-1970s LP playback, and that the CD came too late to save it from relative obscurity.

 

[26]: Thiel CS3.6 loudspeakerFirst Stereophile review: May 1993 (Vol.16 No.5; also Vol.17 Nos.3 & 5). While almost every Stereophile writer nominated one of Jim Thiel’s designs, it was the CS3.6, from the early ’90s, that was mentioned most often, rather than one of the Kentucky company’s flagships. This is because the ‘3.6 was the finest all-’round package in terms of time alignment, neutral balance, power handling, bass extension, and industrial design—all for about $3000/pair, which, in hindsight, looks like an unbelievable bargain. While Jim Thiel has since designed speakers that exceed the CS3.6 in one, two, or more areas of performance, the ‘3.6 represented the first full flowering of his talent.

 

[24] (tie): BBC LS3/5A & Wilson Audio WATT loudspeakersFirst Stereophile reviews: BBC, Spring 1977 (Vol.3 No.12; also Vol.4 No.1, Vol.7 No.2, Vol.12 Nos.2 & 3, Vol.16 No.12); Wilson, February 1988 (Vol.11 No.2; also Vol.14 Nos.6 & 10, Vol.18 No.11, Vol.19 No.10). These two tiny speakers—which, apart from being intended to serve as location recording monitors, are as far apart in their design starting points as is possible to imagine—redefined the art of the miniature loudspeaker: the LS3/5A in the mid-1970s, the WATT a decade later. The LS3/5A perhaps represented the finest flowering of a team of audio engineers assembled by the state-run broadcasting company, and which included Dudley Harwood and the late Spencer Hughes.

 

[23]: MartinLogan CLS electrostatic loudspeakerFirst Stereophile review: September 1986 (Vol.9 No.6; also Vol.9 No.7, Vol.10 No.1, Vol.14 No.12, Vol.15 Nos.2 & 3, Vol.17 No.6). The elegant and transparent (both visually and sonically) CLS brought electrostats into the mainstream consciousness—you can find MartinLogans on both the small and silver screens.

 

[22]: Audio Research D-150 power amplifierStereophile review: Winter 1975 (Vol.3 No.11). This massive Minnesotan amplifier used modern circuit design to set a new direction for high-end tube components and to highlight contemporary solid-state gear as sounding edgy and unmusical in comparison.

 

[21]: Mark Levinson LNP-2 preamplifier(No Stereophile review.) This no-frills preamp gave birth to the High End, in terms of both sound quality and its being synonymous with expensive audio jewelry. It also created the Levinson livery of heavy anodized faceplate with contrasting machined knobs, a look that other companies emulated lest they be thought not high-end.

 

[20]: Monster Cable (original) loudspeaker cable(No Stereophile review.) Yes, it was not too different from heavy-gauge zipcord, and yes, its copper conductors showed a premature propensity to turn green. And Monster didn’t create the high-performance cable category. But it was Monster that established the importance of using good cables, Monster that established cables as a separate component category, and Monster that made cables mainstream. (Monster Cable has also trained more audio industry professionals than any other organization except, perhaps, Harman.) More controversially and in my personal opinion, it was Monster, that opened wide the «anything goes» floodgates, and it was Monster that taught dealers to rely on the profit margin offered by cables. This was to high-end audio’s benefit, in that margins on electronics and speakers were lower than they might otherwise have been; and to its detriment, in that high margins discourage sales initiative and marketing expertise.

 

[19]: NAD 3020 integrated amplifier(No Stereophile review.) Designed by Bjorn-Erik Edvardsen, who had worked with Tom Holman on the Advent receiver, the ridiculously inexpensive 3020 showed that an amplifier didn’t need machined faceplates, intimidating heatsinks, or technically glamorous components—its output stage was based on cheap and slow 3055/2955 complementary transistors—to be able to drive real-world speakers. It put NAD on the map, but they never matched the 3020’s overall achievement, in my opinion.

 

[18]: Audio Research SP10 preamplifierFirst Stereophile review: June 1984 (Vol.7 No.3; also Vol.7 No.7, Vol.9 No.7). Throughout the 1970s and early ’80s, many «SP»-series all-tube preamps emerged from William Zane Johnson’s drawing board, and all have their advocates as being the most important Audio Research component. But the two-chassis SP10 was the finest of them all.

 

[16] (tie): Krell KSA-100 (original) & Mark Levinson ML-2 power amplifiers(Neither reviewed in Stereophile.) Two Connecticut amplifiers with class-A output stages that defined the high-end solid-state amplifier as being a true voltage source—it will swing the same volts into a load no matter how many amps are being sucked from it—but also as being massive, expensive, and Bauhaus brutal in its looks. Yes, Krell’s Dan D’Agostino and the Madrigal design team have produced successively better-sounding amplifiers in the more than 20 years since the ML-2 and KSA-100 hit the scene, but these plowed that first furrow.

 

[15]: Dynaco Stereo 70 power amplifierFirst Stereophile review: January 1963 (Vol.1 No.3; also Vol.11 No.5, Vol.15 No.9). It was cheap and cheaply made, but David Hafler’s simple little two-channel tube amp introduced the importance of good-sounding electronics to more audiophiles than any other product. It also spun off a pro-audio dynasty when the founders of Sunn used first the kit version, then OEM chassis supplied by Dynaco, for musical-instrument amplification. And it triggered an explosion in tube-amp design in the 1980s as a new generation of designers realized, «Hey, I can do better than that.» A few were even right.

 

[11] (tie): Boulder 2008 phono preamplifier, Conrad-Johnson ART line preamplifier, Mark Levinson No.33 Reference monoblock power amplifier, Rockport Technology System III Sirius turntableFirst Stereophile reviews: Boulder, July 2002 (Vol.25 No.7); Conrad-Johnson, May 1998 (Vol.21 No.5; also Vol.25 No.6); Mark Levinson, no review; Rockport, August 2000 (Vol.23 No.8). When a product is the «best-sounding,» as each of these four undoubtedly is in its category, there is not a lot more that needs to be said.

 

[8] (tie): B&W Nautilus, Infinity IRS, Wilson Audio WAMM loudspeakersStereophile reviews: B&W, no review; Infinity, March 1986 (Vol.9 No.2); Wilson, August 1983 (Vol.6 No.3). One uses cone/dome drivers in a conventional cabinet (if something resembling a snail could be called «conventional»), the other two use dynamic, planar-magnetic, or electrostatic upper-range drivers in a panel array and conventional woofers in a separate tower. All three were made in minuscule numbers, and all three are the finest-sounding true full-range loudspeakers I have heard.

 

[7]: B&W 801 Matrix Series 2 loudspeakerStereophile review: December 1987 (Vol.10 No.9). Widely used in classical recording studios and high-end systems alike, the revised version of the big B&W took the concept of a high-quality minimonitor integrated with a bass bin to a far wider audience than its $5000/pair price would suggest was possible. «Possibly the best-selling high-end loudspeaker ever sold in the US,» notes Wes Phillips, and «certainly the most influential dynamic loudspeaker design of its generation.» The current Nautilus incarnation of the 801 builds on a solid base of quality.
[6]: Magnepan Magneplanar Timpani loudspeakerFirst Stereophile review: Spring 1973 (Vol.3 No.4; also Vol.8 No.6). Back in the late 1980s, more Stereophile readers owned Magneplanar panels than any other loudspeaker. Jim Winey’s twin ideas of using an array of ceramic refrigerator magnets and bonding a flat wire coil to a Mylar diaphragm allowed him to create a magnetic equivalent to an electrostatic speaker but without some of the latter’s problems, and with additional benefits such as ease of drive and much higher power handling. The current Magnepan designs may use a ribbon tweeter and be refined in all areas of performance, but are no different in concept from what Paul Bolin calls «a landmark in the dictionary sense of the word.»

 

[5]: AR XA turntableStereophile review: Summer 1967 (Vol.2 No.5). While it was let down by a poor tonearm and cheap construction, Edgar Villchur’s deceptively simple-looking turntable created the formula for almost every high-end turntable introduced in the past 40 years: belt drive and a suspended subchassis both provided high-pass filter action to isolate the stylus/groove interface from, respectively, motor- and loudspeaker-generated vibration.

 

[4]: Koetsu Rosewood MC phono cartridgeStereophile review: December 1985 (Vol.8 No.7). The ultimate design to come from the late Sugano-sama, the Koetsu set new standards for sound quality and price. Outclassing the turntables and tonearms in which it was mounted, it triggered an end-of-era flowering of analog design and engineering.

 

[3]: Vandersteen 2 loudspeakerFirst Stereophile review: August 1986 (Vol.9 No.6; also Vol.12 No.5, Vol.13 Nos.1 & 5, Vol.16 Nos.4 & 9, Vol.23 No.10). In production for a quarter century and incrementally improved throughout that period, the modest-looking 2 offers astonishingly clean, extended, and detailed sound without ever losing sight of the music. That it does all this for just $1500/pair is a tribute to Richard Vandersteen’s talent but also foresight.

 

[2]: Quad ESL-63 loudspeakerFirst Stereophile review: September 1983 (Vol.6 No.4; also Vol.6 No.5, Vol.7 No.7, Vol.8 No.3, Vol.10 No.1, Vol.12 Nos.2 & 6). An inspired planar design from a true audio genius, England’s Peter Walker, and still in production (as the ESL-988) more than two decades after its introduction, the Quad has survived when bigger, more complex full-range electrostatics have long since disappeared. «A no-brainer classic,» writes Paul Bolin. «People will be listening to the ESL-63 40 years from now and loving every minute.» Amen.

 

[1]: Linn Sondek LP12 turntableFirst Stereophile review: February 1984 (Vol.7 No.2; also Vol.13 No.3, Vol.14 No.1, Vol.16 Nos.11 & 12, Vol.17 No.5, Vol.19 No.2). Still in production after nearly 30 years, this Scottish turntable was featured on almost every Stereophile writer’s list. The LP12 demonstrated the importance of the turntable to system performance. As a result, it has brought the sonic benefits of belt drive and a suspended subchassis to more audiophiles than all other high-end ‘tables combined.

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