Here are the SoundStage! Network’s Products of the Year for 2018. The winning products are chosen based on the reviews of them published in the preceding 12 months on our websites: SoundStage! Access, SoundStage! Hi-Fi, SoundStage! Simplifi, SoundStage! Solo, and SoundStage Ultra.
The awards are divided into three main categories: Individual Awards, Outstanding Performance, and Exceptional Value. Individual Awards are subdivided into Hall of Fame, Innovation in Design, Aesthetics and Sound, and Pioneering Design Achievement. Typically, there’s only one winner in each subcategory, but 2018 is a bit different. The Hall of Fame recognizes a high-performing, current-generation product preceded by a rich history of earlier generations of that model -- it’s possible to have no Hall of Famer in a given year, but in 2018, two products fit the criteria perfectly.
Outstanding Performance and Exceptional Value comprise various types of components, but in neither category can a single component subcategory contain more than one winning product: there can only be one integrated amplifier, one floorstanding speaker, one stand-mounted speaker, one preamplifier, one digital-to-analog converter, etc. It’s also possible to have no winning products in a given category, meaning that in a given year, all component types might not be represented -- as in 2018. There are no preamplifiers under either Outstanding Performance or Exceptional Value, because we didn’t feel we’d published a review of a preamp that was positive enough for that product to win an award.
The Outstanding Performance category is for products that exhibit topflight sound quality, regardless of cost -- the best of the best. Exceptional Value is for components that offer great sound quality for the price. An Exceptional Value winner might not be the best, but it performs better than you might think for its price.
Before selecting the winners, our editorial team re-read all of the reviews. They then based their choices on what was written in the reviews themselves. This is important -- our team didn’t just select products on a whim, or by vote; statements made by the reviewer in a review must make clear that the product deserves an award.
All of that greatly eases my job of writing this annual article. This year, I’ve done what I’ve done in previous years: select from each review one sentence that I think best summarizes why that product is the winner in its category.
Here are the Products of the Year for 2018, with hyperlinks to the original reviews. To better assess if a winning product might be the best fit for you, I urge you to read its full review.
Hall of Fame -- Paradigm Monitor SE Atom loudspeakers, by Hans Wetzel (SoundStage! Access, October 2018): “Paradigm’s new Monitor SE Atom is all about maximizing sound quality and value -- a no-brainer that anyone can appreciate.”
Hall of Fame -- Totem Acoustic Signature One loudspeakers, by Jason Thorpe (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, April 2018): “I’m still mourning the demise of Totem’s Model 1, but their Signature One is a worthy successor.”
Innovation in Design -- Anthem STR integrated amplifier-DAC, by Roger Kanno (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, June 2018): “Anthem’s STR Integrated Amplifier provides sound of amazingly high quality from a single enclosure, with sophisticated microprocessor control of all functions, including room correction, bass management, and a user-configurable phono stage.”
Aesthetics and Sound -- Tidal Piano G2 loudspeakers, by Aron Garrecht (SoundStage! Ultra, July 2018): “You pay for a bespoke visual and aural experience by way of musical seduction, and Tidal’s Piano G2 has seduced me as has no other speaker.”
Pioneering Design Achievement -- Kii Audio Three loudspeakers, by Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage! Simplifi, December 2018): “This system is a tour de force -- a game-changer.”
McIntosh Laboratory MA9000 integrated amplifier-DAC, by Jeff Fritz (SoundStage! Ultra, January 2018): “McIntosh Laboratory’s MA9000 is one of the most complete audio products I’ve reviewed.”
Muraudio SP1 loudspeakers, by Doug Schneider (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, August 2018): “Muraudio’s latest isn’t just one of the best-sounding speakers at the price -- I’d wager it can knock the socks off many speakers costing considerably more.”
Simaudio Moon 888 mono amplifiers, by Aron Garrecht (SoundStage! Ultra, September 2018): “Their sound quality is beyond anything else I have heard.”
Audience Au24 SX powerChord power cord, by Garrett Hongo (SoundStage! Ultra, February 2018): “The Au24 SX powerChord is an absolute roarer -- it can feed your inner audiophile lion.”
Schiit Audio Yggdrasil digital-to-analog converter with Analog 2 Upgrade, by Erich Wetzel (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, March 2018): “Clear imaging, large and solid soundstaging, linear frequency response, and a particularly fabulous midrange all make the Schiit Yggdrasil an excellent DAC at any price.”
VPI Prime Signature turntable, by Jason Thorpe (SoundStage! Ultra, December 2018): “More than any other component, the Prime Signature has made me think, Is this it? Could this be the last turntable I’ll ever buy?”
Focal Clear headphones, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, February 2018): “I loved the Focal Clears for the same reason I loved the Acoustic Research AR-H1 headphones I recently reviewed: They sounded terrific, worked great with any kind of music, and exhibited no annoying flaws or colorations.”
Campfire Audio Solaris earphones, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, December 2018): “But I think that with the variety of tips provided, any listener should be able to get extraordinary sound from the Solarises -- provided they can muster the patience, and don’t mind readjusting them a bit during their listening sessions.”
Axiom Audio M5HP loudspeakers, Phillip Beaudette (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, January 2018): “After spending time with the Axiom M5HP, I think I need to take Hans Wetzel’s lead and get back to what got me interested in audio in the first place: high-quality speakers and components that normal folks can aspire to own.”
NAD D 3020 V2 Bluetooth integrated amplifier-DAC, by Sathyan Sundaram (SoundStage Simplifi, August 2018): “The D 3020 V2 is an excellent value, especially for rooms and performing ensembles of small to medium size, incorporating music from a wide range of sources, both old and new.”
Dynaudio Music 7 Wi-Fi speaker, by Al Griffin (SoundStage! Simplifi, June 2018): “This is among the best, if not the best, all-in-one Wi-Fi speakers I’ve tested, with a detailed, effortless, natural sound that goes far beyond the boundaries of its single cabinet to create a convincing stereo soundstage with music.”
Simaudio Moon 110LP v2 phono stage, by Thom Moon (SoundStage! Access, November 2018): “No other entry-level phono preamp I’ve heard betters its design, its construction, or, most important, its sound.”
Sumiko Oyster Rainier moving-magnet phono cartridge, by Thom Moon (SoundStage! Access, July 2018): “I think Sumiko might have a hit on its hands.”
Monoprice Monolith M650 headphones, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, September 2018): “For someone stepping up from mass-market closed-back headphones, the M650s are a great choice, and a window into a level of audio fidelity they may not have realized even exists.”
Massdrop x NuForce EDC3 earphones, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, April 2018): “The Massdrop x NuForce EDC3s delivered the best sound I’ve heard for under $100 -- not just from earphones, but from any audio product I can think of.”
This announcement of the Products of the Year officially closes off equipment reviews for 2018. But, as you can see from the updates on this and our other sites, our 2019 equipment reviews have already begun -- so the race for the 2019 Products of the Year awards has also already begun! This time next year, check this space for the SoundStage! Network Products of the Year for 2019.
. . . Doug Schneider