We’ve presented our awards for Products of the Year annually for more than 20 years. But new for 2022 is our Outstanding Achievement award, which we created to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the hi-fi industry. From now on, at least one Outstanding Achievement award will be presented every year, to coincide with the announcement of the Products of the Year.
We’re kicking off the award for Outstanding Achievement by recognizing three people who have been making invaluable contributions to hi-fi for decades.
Dr. Floyd Toole
Dr. Floyd Toole’s history in the hi-fi industry dates from his time as a physics researcher at Canada’s National Research Council (NRC), in Ottawa, Canada, where he worked from 1965 to 1991. In 1991, he was recruited by Harman International to oversee loudspeaker product development for the company’s existing products, and for new brands like Revel, which debuted in 1996. When he took the Harman job, Toole moved from Canada to California and stayed with the company until he retired in 2007. He has since been retained by Harman as a consultant.
Dr. Floyd Toole (left) with Harman coworker Kevin Voecks at CEDIA Expo 2010
Although Toole’s work at the NRC and Harman was wide-ranging and varied, he’s best known for his groundbreaking NRC research in the 1970s and 1980s that correlated objective loudspeaker measurements with subjective listening impressions. It was and still is thought to be the largest body of research ever conducted on the subject. The results were first published in the mid-1980s and gave the Canadian loudspeaker industry a tremendous boost; it provided manufacturers with credible, reliable data for their loudspeaker designs that enabled them to compete, not just regionally, but internationally.
Dr. Floyd Toole continued his research at Harman International, where it still influences the designs of loudspeakers that emerge from the various brands the company owns today. Furthermore, Toole’s research at the NRC and Harman has influenced the speaker designs of many other brands around the world. Suffice it to say that Toole’s contributions to the development of high-quality loudspeakers have been nothing short of immense—and he’s well deserving of recognition for what he’s accomplished.
There’s probably no Canadian company that has benefited more from Dr. Toole’s NRC research, at least initially, than PSB, which was founded in 1972 and has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. That’s because PSB’s founder, Paul Barton, has collaborated with Toole since 1973, when the two were introduced to each other by Canadian hi-fi journalist Ian G. Masters. Soon, Barton began making regular trips to the NRC to work with Toole and use the NRC facilities. As a result, he was the first to implement design ideas stemming from Toole’s research. The work paid off—by the late 1970s, PSB had become one of Canada’s top speaker brands, and the company had become known for building speakers based on scientific research involving relevant objective measurements and properly conducted listening tests.
Paul Barton (left) with Doug Schneider at the PSB 50th-anniversary celebration in June 2022
But Barton is not just being recognized for PSB’s success. By working with Toole since the early 1970s, Barton has become one of the world’s foremost authorities on the way that loudspeaker measurements correlate with listening preferences. He’s also gained an enviable reputation for producing speakers that perform far beyond what one expects at their price points, most likely because of that knowledge he’s acquired. He’s educated consumers as well as industry professionals about methods for conducting proper loudspeaker measurements, and how to marry the results with listening impressions. In fact, in 1999, he introduced me to the people who ran the NRC’s measurements lab, and the SoundStage! Network has been measuring loudspeakers there for more than 20 years as a result. By building a great company that’s made consistently good products, and by helping others with the knowledge he’s attained, the hi-fi world owes Paul Barton a debt of gratitude for what he’s contributed over the last half-century.
In Germany in 1978, another physicist began making a name for himself when he started creating loudspeakers under the brand name Theorie und Anwendung, which translates to English as theory and application. Today the brand is known as T+A Elektroakustik, or simply T+A—pronounced T plus A. That person is Siegfried Amft, who, like Toole and Barton, became an unstoppable force when it came to raising the profile of his country’s hi-fi scene.
Siegfried Amft showing a new magnetostatic tweeter at his factory in Herford, Germany, in November 2022
In a video we made about T+A earlier this year, Amft said that he was “a young man who didn’t have money, and who had the idea of making very good audio products” when he founded his company. Money isn’t a concern for Amft or T+A anymore. By the early 1980s, T+A was already one of the largest loudspeaker manufacturers in Germany. By the late 1980s, his company started making electronics, which met with similar success. Today, the company runs a top-shelf factory in Herford, Germany, where over 80 people are employed and almost 100 different products are made—including high-end headphones, which the company got into just a few years ago. And while T+A has been a major hi-fi player in its home country for decades, it now has a strong international presence that is growing quickly. But most impressive for me is that unlike so many hi-fi companies of a similar size, its products aren’t corporately generic. They’re of exceedingly high quality, well styled, unique in their features and performance, and almost always technically advanced.
These days, one of the most interesting things about Amft is that he has shown no signs of slowing down, even though he’s 72 years old and his son, Conradin, is now the company’s chief operating officer. When I talked to Amft at the T+A factory last month while we were filming more videos, he said that with Conradin taking on that role, he has been able to spend more time in product development, which is what he enjoys most. There’s no doubt that Siegfried Amft’s success with T+A and his dedication to making high-quality hi-fi products deserve the highest praise.
Products of the Year
As always, the award-winning products listed here have been selected from products that received our Reviewers’ Choice award when they were reviewed in this calendar year on one or more of our sites: SoundStage! Access, SoundStage! Hi-Fi, SoundStage! Simplifi, SoundStage! Solo, SoundStage! Ultra, and SoundStage! Xperience. There are three award categories: Individual Awards, Outstanding Performance, and Exceptional Value. For the Individual Awards category, there are three subcategories for 2022: Hall of Fame, Innovation in Design, and Aesthetics and Sound.
The Hall of Fame award is awarded to a recently reviewed product that offers outstanding performance, and has either been on the market for a long time or is the latest version of a product series that has a long history of success. The Innovation in Design award recognizes a product that pushes the envelope in terms of performance and/or features. Aesthetics and Sound recognizes a product that combines exceptional styling with excellent sound quality.
As in 2021, the Innovation in Design category has two winners this year—one is a loudspeaker, the other a cartridge and phono preamplifier combination. The Hall of Fame and Aesthetics and Sound subcategories each have one winner for 2022.
The Outstanding Performance and Exceptional Value categories are divided by product type, such as power amplifiers, digital-to-analog converters, and headphones. This year, like in most years, you’ll find only one product type within each category—so these are the best of the best of what we’ve reviewed. The only thing you might wonder about is that we recognize both the ATC SCM50 and Dynaudio Focus 30 floorstanding loudspeakers under Outstanding Performance. We did that because we don’t see them as quite the same in terms of product type because of their design configurations. While they are both floorstanding speakers, the Focus 30 is a DSP-based active loudspeaker system with support for Dirac Live room correction, while the SCM50 is a more traditional loudspeaker design available in both passive and active/analog configurations.
But you will also see that some product types have no winners. Why is that? Because we don’t just give out awards to fill categories—we only award products that deserve the accolade. So, for example, there are no cabling, power supply, or music server Products of the Year for 2022, simply because we didn’t review any products in these categories worthy of the name.
So without further ado, here are the 2022 SoundStage! Network Products of the Year—with a sentence or two plucked from each review to illustrate why the award was received. All prices are in US dollars—except for the SME Model 60 turntable with Series VA tonearm, which is priced in British pounds because the reviewer, Jonathan Gorse, lives in the UK and got the review sample directly from SME.
Hall of Fame
Klipsch La Scala AL5 loudspeaker, by Jason Thorpe (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, February 2022): “I think you owe it to yourself to give these big, impressive, historically significant speakers a good, long listen.”
Price: $13,198 per pair.
Innovation in Design
KEF LS60 Wireless loudspeaker system, by Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage! Simplifi, August 2022): “But the LS60 system is a landmark product, just as the LS50 and its progeny were.”
Price: $6999.99 per system.
DS Audio DS 003 cartridge and phono preamplifier system, by Jason Thorpe (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, July 2022): “I understand that I’ve talked up the DS Audio setup to what may appear to be an unreasonable degree, and that, given reviewers’ propensity toward hyperbole, you the reader might feel that it could never be that good. Well, it is, and at $6000, including phono stage and cartridge, it’s an absolute steal.”
Price: $6000 per system.
Aesthetics and Sound
Bang & Olufsen Beolab 28 loudspeaker system, by Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage! Simplifi, January 2022): “Even after a decade of listening, I expect owners of a pair of Beolab 28s will get a thrill of delight every time they see the speakers’ curtains parting, as if by magic, after they cue up some music on a smart device.”
Price: $14,750 to $16,500 per system, depending on finish.
ATC SCM50 passive/active loudspeaker, by Jonathan Gorse (SoundStage! Ultra, October 2022): “This is a loudspeaker for music lovers who want to hear their music sounding as close to the master tape as possible.”
Price: $15,999 per pair (passive), $21,999 per pair (active) ($25,999 and $33,999, respectively, when reviewed).
Dynaudio Focus 30 active loudspeaker system, by Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage! Simplifi, December 2022): “Throughout my listening, I was won over by the Focus 30’s transparent presentation, effortless dynamics, pinpoint imaging, and bass extension. And I loved the look of the speakers in my living room.”
Price: $8250 per system.
EMM Labs DS-EQ1 optical phono preamplifier, by Jason Thorpe (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, October 2022): “If you really, truly want to find out where a vinyl rig can take your system, man, oh man, do you ever need to check out the DS-EQ1 combined with one of DS Audio’s cartridges.”
SME Model 60 turntable and Series VA tonearm, by Jonathan Gorse (SoundStage! Ultra, December 2022): “Few things are built to last forever, but the SME Model 60 feels like it’s one of them.”
Price: £49,950 to £59,950, depending on finish.
Gryphon Audio Designs Apex stereo amplifier, by Jeff Fritz (SoundStage! Ultra, May 2022): “Simply put, the Gryphon Audio Designs Apex Stereo is the most impressive electronic component I’ve yet reviewed. I’ve never heard its equal in the realm of power amplifiers, ever.”
Marantz Model 40n integrated amplifier-DAC, by Dennis Burger (SoundStage! Access, August 2022): “Its performance is uncompromised, its connected streaming and multiroom music platform (HEOS) is solid as heck, and it’s incredibly competitively priced for what it offers in terms of specs and design.”
Meze Audio 109 Pro headphones, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, October 2022): “Definitely on the shortlist if you’re looking for high-end headphones that sound great overall no matter the musical genre, but won’t cost you a fortune and won’t annoy you with a lack of creature comforts.”
Beyerdynamic Xelento Remote 2nd-Generation earphones, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, October 2022): “The Xelentos are clearly among the best earphones I’ve heard.”
Monitor Audio Silver 500 7G loudspeaker, by Philip Beaudette (SoundStage! Hi-Fi, February 2022): “Of course, not everyone is willing to spend $3K on speakers—most people I know are not. My next words will be incomprehensible for those folks, but at $3200 per pair, Monitor Audio’s Silver 500 7G is a bargain.”
Price: $3200 per pair.
NAD C 399 integrated amplifier-DAC, by Dennis Burger (SoundStage! Access, April 2022): “I think NAD could have easily squeezed another 500 bucks out of customers, and it still would have represented a hell of a value.”
Price: $2549 with preinstalled MDC2 BluOS-D module.
iFi Audio Zen One Signature digital-to-analog converter, by Dennis Burger (SoundStage! Access, June 2022): “It pains me to type this as much as it likely pains you to read it, but all I can say is that I think I’m going to buy my review sample.”
Sumiko Oyster Wellfleet phono cartridge, by Thom Moon (SoundStage! Access, July 2022): “It is by all measures, the best-sounding cartridge I’ve ever had in my system.”
Music Hall Stealth turntable with Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge, by Thom Moon (SoundStage! Access, February 2022): “Simply stated, the Music Hall Stealth succeeds in all areas. You can buy it now with the assurance that you’ll probably never outgrow it.”
Price: $1675 ($1495 when reviewed).
JBL L75ms integrated music system, by Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage! Simplifi, September 2022): “This is a great-sounding music player.”
SVS Prime Wireless Pro active loudspeaker system, by Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage! Simplifi, November 2022): “On its own, the Prime Wireless Pro is a dynamite little two-channel system. Add SVS’s 3000 Micro subwoofer, and you’ve got a killer compact 2.1-channel setup.”
Price: $899.99 per system.
Sivga SV023 headphones, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, September 2022): “There are a lot of other great headphones in this price category, but to my ears, these are, by a small margin, the best. I really can’t find a flaw in them—sonically or ergonomically—and they’re affordably priced.”
Periodic Audio Mgv3 earphones, by Brent Butterworth (SoundStage! Solo, July 2022): “The Mgv3s are very well-made, very good-sounding earphones.”
That wraps up the awards for 2022, but rest assured that we’ve already got products lined up for review for 2023 that could be next year’s winners. So make a note in your diary to see us here, same time, next year, for the 2023 awards for Products of the Year and Outstanding Achievement.
. . . Doug Schneider