Recommended Reference Component: Ayre Acoustics AX-5 Twenty Integrated Amplifier

Recommended Reference ComponentWhen, in January 2014, Uday Reddy reviewed Ayre Acoustics’ original AX-5 integrated amplifier for SoundStage! Hi-Fi, he was so taken with it that he said: “as of today, the AX-5 is not only, overall, the finest-sounding amp I’ve ever heard, it ranks as one of the finest components I’ve heard of any type.” Of all the AX-5’s strengths, he most admired how it got out of the way, imposing on the music no colorations of its own -- or, as he said in his review, “This is the best damn integrated I’ve never heard.” This is very high praise, particularly as the AX-5 retailed for just $9950 USD.

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Recommended Reference Component: KEF Blade Two Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentKEF’s Blade Two has earned the nickname “Baby Blade.” Although it has the same shape as the original Blade, the Two is smaller (57.5”H x 13.3”W x 18.7”D vs. the original’s 62.5”H x 14.3”W x 21.2”D, including plinths), as are its woofers (6.5” vs. 9”), and its price is considerably lower ($24,999.99 vs. $31,999.99 USD per pair). However, none of that should be taken to mean that the Blade Two is too small to be taken seriously. When Doug Schneider reviewed the Blade Two for this site in April 2016, he found it to be “a top-drawer transducer as exciting to listen to as it is to look at.”

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Recommended Reference Component: NAD Viso HP50 Headphones

Recommended Reference ComponentNAD’s Viso HP50 headphones ($299 USD) are unique in being the first product to be added to our list of Recommended Reference Components that, when reviewed, did not receive a Reviewers’ Choice award. The HP50s were reviewed on SoundStage! Xperience in August 2014 by S. Andrea Sundaram, who had also reviewed PSB Speakers’ M4U 2 headphones. PSB’s and NAD’s headphones are both designed by Paul Barton, founder of PSB, which, like NAD, is owned by Lenbrook Industries, of Pickering, Ontario. But the fact that the HP50s didn’t receive a Reviewers’ Choice award didn’t mean that Andrea didn’t think highly of their sound:

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Recommended Reference Component: Vivid Audio Oval B1 Decade Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentIn April 2014, we released a SoundStage! InSight video featuring Laurence Dickie, Vivid Audio’s chief designer and one of the company’s two founders. At the beginning of the video, Dickie said that “Vivid Audio is primarily an engineering-led company. We don’t make statements in industrial design, but they are statements in acoustic design.”

That engineering-led approach might surprise those who believe that the oddly shaped cabinets of Vivid loudspeakers look as they do for aesthetic reasons -- Dickie says that those shapes are determined by acoustical considerations. For example, the abundance of curves and the absence of hard exterior edges make possible the smoothest launch of soundwaves from the drivers -- Vivid claims no diffraction problems -- and the nonparallel surfaces of the speakers’ interiors discourage the buildup of standing waves.

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Recommended Reference Component: RBH Sound HP-2 Headphones

Recommended Reference ComponentFounded in 2008, Beats by Dr. Dre struck gold by emphasizing the styling of their headphones at least as much as their sound quality. They also promoted their products with a creative marketing strategy that involved using sports stars and celebrities. Their approach made headphones into trendy fashion items, and helped create a frenzied craze for headphones that has proved profitable for Beats and for many other headphone manufacturers. There are far more headphone buyers today than there were when Beats entered the scene. As a result, most of today’s makers of headphones, including those that long predated Beats, are paying more attention to their headphones’ appearance.

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