2016 has been great! Through my blog and my work with the Fidelity magazine (www.audiofidelity.no) I’ve listened to lots of great equipment this year. The following is my highly subjective “best-of” list…:
Nominees are Hegel HD30 DAC, Mitchell & Johnson WLD+211T network player, and Heed Quasar RIAA. The network player and the RIAA are not by any means high end products, but both of them are seriously good value for money. The Heed RIAA is a bit fiddly to use, but the clean, lively sound weight that up big time. Of course, this is not the best RIAA available in any way, the reason for the nomination is just value for money. Same thing could be said about the Michell & Johnson streamer, not the best sound in any way, but it’s fuzz free, versatile operation makes it deserve the nomination. The Hegel, however, is a real bargain, pure high end as it is. The fantastic sound produced from any digital source, is up there with the very best at any price. When knowing that this full blood high end product is priced at around € 4300,-, there’s just no way I can avoid naming the Hegel HD30 “Source of the year 2016”!
Nominees: Audio Research SP20 pre amplifier, Spec RSA M3EX integrated amplifier, Doxa 61 Signature power amplifier. All of these being high end, and, as such rather expensive. That said, they’re not by far as expensive as the latest examples of hi-end extrema, still they all sound like they’re up there with the very best. The SP20 is a valve driven pre without output transformers, so be aware that it won’t necessarily drive all power amps with the same ease. When given a well suited power amp, it’s pure bliss, smooth, powerful, organic. Built in RIAA is also truly impressing. All in all probably even better than the Ref. 5, it is as close to a bargain you can get, at this rather hefty price tag. The Spec is integrated, but can also be used as pure power amp. Slightly darker voiced than the Spec top model, but also very close to the valvy sound from the best Spec. No real remote, and limited power (60 W), will probably scare some customers. The nearly unknown (outside Norway) Doxa factory, has fiddled with their amplifier concept for more than 40 years, and their Signature version of the 61 is this far the best they’ve ever made. So smooth, so lively, so elegant that you should pay awfully much more to beat it. The downside is power, though. 60 Watts limits the number of speakers it will drive. Among these strong contenders, I end up going for the Spec. Thoroughly impressive, strong and bold, delivering music with obvious valve like timbre, although being class D. At half the price of it’s big brother, and 90% of the sound, I name Spec RSA M3EX the “Best amplifier of 2016”!
Nominees: Roksan TR5 S2, Spendor A6R, Doxa 8.2. All of the three nominees are simple speakers, two way, simple crossover. All of them also represent an easy load on the amplifier, they can be driven by anything, valves included. Slowly it has dawned on me that this way of building loudspeakers works beautifully smooth and elegant, without destroying the family economy. To me, they also sound more natural than complex speakers, just for the record. The Roksan TR5 is a standmount, modern and elegant, I can’t think of any speaker in the price bracket or size that can match the balance and the versatility of the Roksan. The Spendor is a small floorstander, not impressive at first, but it grows on you, until you’re totally captivated. Again Doxa has fiddled on their speaker project for many years, bass working in quarter wave enclosure, with a separate tweeter on top. All of these speakers are incredible value for money, but due to the full frequency capacities of the Doxa 8.2, I choose them for “Speaker of the year 2016”!