Recommended Reference Component: HiFiMan Susvara Headphones

Recommended Reference ComponentOutrageously expensive at $6000 USD, and so insensitive that you need a high-powered amplifier to drive them to appreciable volume levels, HiFiMan’s Susvara headphones were designed for -- well, who, precisely? In his July 2017 review of the Susvaras on SoundStage! Xperience, Brent Butterworth at first wondered if they were just another of the many audio products that are claimed to bring you “closer to the music,” a phrase he’d thought was “meaningless marketing” -- until the Susvaras came along.

Read more: Recommended Reference Component: HiFiMan Susvara Headphones

Recommended Reference Component: Devialet Expert 130 Pro DAC-Integrated Amplifier

Recommended Reference ComponentIn 2009, the French manufacturer Devialet set the audio world on its ear with the introduction of the D-Premier DAC-integrated amplifier. Priced at $15,999 USD, this unique component housed in its slim, shiny case many features, including: a digital preamplifier section that could accept digital as well as line- and phono-level analog signals via an onboard analog-to-digital converter (ADC); a high-powered digital signal processor (DSP) that could perform real-time processing of digital music signals, for things like equalization and room and speaker correction; the Magic Wire, a combined digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and gain stage; and an innovative amplifier topology named Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH).

Read more: Recommended Reference Component: Devialet Expert 130 Pro DAC-Integrated Amplifier

Recommended Reference Component: KEF Reference 3 Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentIncluding its outrigger base, conical feet, and protruding binding posts, KEF’s Reference 3 measures 47.3”H x 13.7”W x 18.5”D and weighs 113.1 pounds. At $13,999.99 USD per pair, it’s the smaller and cheaper of the two floorstanders in the Reference series -- above it is the Reference 5 ($18,999.99/pair). And yet, as Doug Schneider found while listening to it for his April 2017 review on SoundStage! Hi-Fi, the Reference 3 can be compared to some of the best speakers he’s heard, even at twice the price.

Read more: Recommended Reference Component: KEF Reference 3 Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference Component: Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty Digital-to-Analog Converter

Recommended Reference ComponentIn his review of the Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty digital-to-analog converter (DAC), published on May 1, 2017, Philip Beaudette acknowledged that its price of $8950 USD “isn’t exactly affordable.” However, he also stated that that price “isn’t unreasonable” -- partly because it includes a headphone amplifier as well as a volume control, the latter allowing it to also function as a preamplifier, but mostly because it sounded better than any other DAC he’s had in his system.

Read more: Recommended Reference Component: Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty Digital-to-Analog Converter

Recommended Reference Component: Audeze iSine10 Earphones

Recommended Reference ComponentWe’d never seen Brent Butterworth so enthusiastic about a set of earphones as he was about the Audeze iSine10s in his March 2017 review for SoundStage! Xperience. He felt that this idiosyncratic design offers such high performance and value that, as he declared in his review’s final sentence, “This is $4000 worth of sound for $400.”

Read more: Recommended Reference Component: Audeze iSine10 Earphones