StereoNET Product of the Year Awards 2022
It's time to put on your tuxedo and raise your champagne glass as we cordially invite you to StereoNET's 2022 Awards! Here, we list all the hi-fi, AV and portable designs that really impressed us over the past twelve months – products that didn't just win our coveted Applause Award, but beat all the others in their category which did. Every single one we list is an outstanding design that excels in its field and is worthy of very serious consideration if you're looking to buy. Enjoy!
Compact Disc isn't dead, it is just resting! After years of plummeting numbers, CD sales are finally levelling off – suggesting there's still a demand for the little silver frisbee. Beautiful mid-price players like this are keeping the market alive, offering a lovely user experience thanks to its super-slick disc tray loader and swish 'Japanese battleship' build and finish. The sound isn't too shabby either – with oodles of detail, air and space from standard, old-school 16-bit, 44.1kHz digital audio. A worthy winner, if physical media is still your thing.
Launched in 2019, the original Bartok was a game-changer in the world of 'affordable high end' DACs. It was basically a flagship dCS Vivaldi – affordable only to megastars and lottery winners – that had shrunk in the wash. It offered much of its performance and features for far less money – and went on to be the company's best-selling product. This latest version sports updated software that delivers a major hike in sound quality – making it a stellar performer and a worthy winner of this category.
STREAMER (UNDER £5,500)
There's nothing outstanding about this tidy-looking little box – apart from its superb sound quality and cracking value for money. In terms of functionality, the Cambridge Audio covers all the bases and is nicely built and finished – but the CXN-V2's beauty is more than skin-deep. A really clean, detailed, smooth and musical performer, it's a great way to stream your favourite tunes, and outperforms some of our favourite network music players at three times its price. Now even better value, it's an essential audition.
STREAMER (OVER £5,500)
Looking for a beautifully styled, solidly built high-end network player that pretty much does everything except drive you home from the pub? Well, consider this, a design that works with everything from your UPnP media server, NAS and USB hard drive, to an Apple TV box – and supports myriad streaming services. It's not just 'all show and no go' though, as the audio engineering is top tier. The result is a clean, detailed and intricate sound that makes the most of every piece of music you play.
Could this be the world's best starter turntable package? Roksan has designed it from the ground up to be as easy to set up and use as possible, yet performance isn't compromised. There are better serious vinyl spinners, but we can't think of any as user-friendly. The Attessa delivers a highly musical sound thanks to its high-quality unipivot tonearm, stable belt-drive system and decent bundled, pre-installed cartridge. The end result is that you relax and get into the groove, without the fuss that often comes with vinyl addiction.
Vinyl junkies are always on the lookout for the best value moving coil cartridge, and this is a serious candidate for such an accolade. It's not cheap, nor is it anywhere near as pricey as truly exotic designs – yet it delivers much of their performance. The flagship of Ortofon's mid-price range, it sports a boron cantilever which gives far better tracking ability, and sound quality, than lesser aluminium types. The result is a super smooth and sophisticated sound that gets deep into the groove.
Despite its futuristic looks, this 'old school' integrated employs time-honoured design practice to deliver the best possible sonic performance at the price. With no fancy OLED displays, network streaming functionality or DAC onboard, gadget freaks won't like the Moon – but music lovers will. The first 5 watts of its claimed 50W RMS per channel are delivered in Class A to eliminate switching distortion, making for a butter-smooth sound. A fabulous performer given its modest price, the 250i's lovely build quality is another bonus.
This USA-based amplifier specialist has been making ultra high-end, cost-no-object products for over five decades, with its tube-powered preamps being a particular sweet spot. This vast line-stage behemoth is totally old school – no DACs or streaming functionality here – with the focus being on out-and-out performance. A full Class A, dual-triode based design with a tube regulated power supply, it delivers superlative sound, as well as being a dramatic visual statement. Hard not to love, especially for those fortunate enough to afford it.
This innocuous-looking mid-price power amplifier far exceeded our expectations in terms of performance and value for money. It produces prodigious amounts of power – 400W into 8 ohms with nearly 1kW into 2 ohms and is bridgeable if that's not enough. Thanks to its Class D operation, it is more compact, lighter and less expensive than is normal for a muscle amp – and uses Elipson's own circuit design, which sounds way better than most price rivals. Powerful, clean and musical, there's much to like here.
PRE/POWER AMPLIFIER COMBINATION
This 'entry-level' pre/power combo from Gryphon Audio Systems still costs more than a decent new executive-class car. This tour de force product looks exotic enough to grace any high-end audiophile's listening room. The engineering of both components is top notch, but the Stereo Power is particularly interesting for its switchable output biasing – which lets users decide when it moves from full Class A to Class AB operation. The breathtaking sonics somehow make its high-end price tag seem a bit more bearable!
STANDMOUNT SPEAKER (ACTIVE)
Although traditionally a manufacturer of high-quality passive hi-fi speakers, KEF has carved out a strong niche for itself in the past few years with its wireless active designs. It's easy to see why, as they tick so many boxes – offering easily accessible, fine-sounding performance in a neat yet versatile package. The LSX II epitomises this – with excellent wireless connectivity, a versatile range of functions, crisp and modern styling, plus class-leading sound. As with its predecessor, it's the one that its rivals want to beat.
FLOORSTANDING SPEAKER (ACTIVE)
The delights of active operation for hi-fi loudspeakers have long been known, but few manufacturers venture from passives. All the more surprising, when you consider the sonic fireworks that have resulted from ATC turning its already excellent SCM40 floorstander, and adding internal Class AB power amplification and active crossovers. Put simply, the SCM40A punches way above its weight – turning it into a giant killer at a still reasonable and accessible price. Great clarity, power, dynamics and punch make for a highly expressive listen – one that makes music move you.
STANDMOUNT SPEAKERS (PASSIVE) UNDER £1,300
The Silver series is Monitor Audio's 'budget plus' range, offering considerably better sound than its entry-level Bronze line, for not much more money. We've always felt it's a sweet spot for the company, and the Silver 100 stand mounter shows why. Now in its seventh generation, it's a more sophisticated product than previous designs and offers cracking value for money. Superb build, attractive styling and a really grown-up sound with detail and depth make it hard to beat at – or anywhere near – its price point.
STANDMOUNT SPEAKERS (PASSIVE) OVER £1,300
It's easy to misunderstand the new Linton, thinking it a nostalgic throwback to a bygone age. But while it borrows styling cues from Wharfedale's nineteen seventies classics, there's nothing old hat about its engineering and performance. Its old-school wide front baffle gives enough real estate for three high-quality drive units, plus lots of cabinet volume behind it. The result is a seriously muscular sound, with great confidence and power. This is allied to impressive detail and grip, making for a speaker that's far more grown up than its price suggests.
FLOORSTANDING SPEAKER (PASSIVE) UNDER £10,000
DALI is on a roll right now, offering highly accomplished loudspeakers across its entire model range – but we think the Opticon 8 Mk2 is particularly special. Offering sound that shames many high-end designs, this mid-price model embodies the company's design philosophy of engineering excellence at a sensible price. Its combination of classy drive units, a super-solid cabinet and careful tuning, gives very impressive results. Detail and delicacy, sweet highs and lows, allied to a vast soundstage and muscular dynamics, make this a brilliant performer at the price.
FLOORSTANDING SPEAKER (PASSIVE) OVER £10,000
Bowers & Wilkins' high-end dominance continues with this superlative large floorstander, which packs a huge punch at a not-inconsiderable price. As you'd expect, the company has pulled out all the stops for the 802 D4, the penultimate model in the latest 800 Series Diamond range. It offers almost all of 801 D4's stellar performance in a package that's easier to fit into conventional listening rooms. Its incredible resolution gives amazing insight into any recording, but make sure you match it to suitably serious ancillaries!
This compact, mains-powered headphone amplifier doubles as a line-level preamp that can be driven directly from sources as diverse as CD players, streamers and phono stages. The USB II variant adds a quality DAC and USB connectivity to make it even more versatile. It's designed to partner all types of dynamic and isodynamic headphones, regardless of impedance or sensitivity. However you hear it, it delivers an unexpectedly natural and detailed sound that really connects the listener to the music. Big fun in a small package.
PORTABLE DAC/HEADPHONE AMP
How to improve on the already excellent original Mojo portable DAC/headphone? In 2022, Chord decided to give it more features and additional functionality, plus a performance bump courtesy of upgraded digital filtering. The result is a small, battery-powered DAC that sounds better than many full-size ones, including far more expensive models. This is a highly engaging performer, one that gets to the heart of the music better than its rivals, and sounds more natural too – and is thus a worthy StereoNET Award winner.
Most phono stages built into integrated amplifiers are only there to make up the numbers – which is where products like Discovery 1 come in. It boasts MM and MC connectivity, smart design and high-quality components in a neat little box. The result is a sound that's way bigger than it looks – it's hard not to love the Origin Live's clean, smooth and musical character, or its fine detail retrieval. Good enough to make the most of all but the finest cartridges, this represents superb value for money.
Chord Company was one of the first manufacturers to recognise the influence of cables on the system. It has been selling audiophile interconnects, speaker cables, and power leads for nearly forty years – centred around smart design, high-quality materials and plain, no-nonsense packaging. The Signature RCA is a sweet spot in its range; it's a mid-price design that uses expensive silver-plated copper conductors and PTFE insulation. The result is a clean, open and musical sound that snaps at the heals of far more expensive products.
This trick tonearm cable delivers excellent performance in the all-important part of a vinyl system between the tonearm and phono stage. Heimdall 2 sports top-quality silver-plated copper conductors together with Nordost's special insulation package, to create a seriously open and detailed sounding cable that's far superior to those fitted to most tonearms, even quite high-end ones. A great value for money upgrade to a mid-price or even high-end vinyl front end, it's a worthy winner of a StereoNET 2022 Award.
The influence of mains power on hi-fi systems is widely misunderstood or ignored. Audio electronics can only sound as good as the AC mains supply that goes into them, which can pick up large amounts of radio-frequency interference (RFI) on its way to them. Tellurium Q never discloses its design details, but suffice to say with the Black II it really did its homework. The result is a great-sounding, premium-priced mains cable that's a meaningful upgrade to high-end systems.
Eighteen years after Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel issued the first patent for his Class ADH amplifier, Devialet is now an established manufacturer of desirable high-end audio products, showing no small degree of French design flair. The company's latest soundbar epitomises this, with a claimed 950W RMS of power via no less than 17 drive units. Yet it's as pretty as it is petite, with room-friendly styling and superb construction quality. Packed with trick technology, it sounds as good as it looks – making it a truly stellar design.
PORTABLE BLUETOOTH SPEAKER
The original 2016 Katch was so good that it took DALI five years to figure out how to improve it. The form factor, sound and styling were already top-tier. Indeed it's only recent advances in battery technology that give the new G2 a reason for being. That and the True Wireless Stereo mode, which pairs two speakers for a more immersive listen. Competition is tough, but given its reputation for hi-fi speakers, it's no surprise that DALI's baby wireless portable is the one to beat.
IN EAR MONITORS
The unusual, speckled texture of this new in-ear monitor is down to its body being made from the same metal as the Mars Rover (yes, really!) – and its sound quality is equally stellar. Sennheiser's design brief was to deliver much of the performance of its flagship IE900 model, but at a more affordable price. At this, the company has undoubtedly succeeded. The result is a surprisingly open and detailed sounding IEM, with a natural tonality and a big, robust bass. Cosmic value for money, you might say!
OVER EAR (WIRED) HEADPHONES
Given how saturated this market has become, a product must be seriously special to win StereoNET's coveted wired headphone gong. Dan Clarke Audio's Aeon 2 Noire is precisely this, a triumph of design that meets every criterion for a top-tier product. This closed-back design uses superlative materials to deliver a sound that's ultra fast and super revealing, one that takes you right to the heart of the music like few others can. A 'black celebration' of the high-end hi-fi headphone art.
OVER EAR (WIRELESS) HEADPHONES UNDER £750
B&W has been making great high-end speakers for over fifty years. No surprise, then, that when it tried its hand at headphones, the company really hit the spot. The Px8 is an expensive, high-end wireless over-ear design built to exceptionally high standards. Relatively light and very comfortable, it has excellent battery life and great functionality, but the real treat is the carbon fibre drivers, which give super sound. Clean, neutral, open and musical, it makes any type of music magic.
OVER EAR (WIRELESS) HEADPHONES OVER £750
This product epitomises the new breed of super deluxe Bluetooth headphones, being exquisitely built, having fantastic performance and – most importantly of all, perhaps – coming with an esoteric high-end hi-fi brand name. So classy is it that every rival premium hi-fi manufacturer will be looking at trying to do their own statement offering. Yet the №5909 isn't just about what it stands for; it's really about how it sounds – and that is excellent. Smooth and sophisticated yet vibrant and engaging, it's an absolutely first-class listen.
Snobs might think this the poor relation of separates hi-fi, but Lithe Audio's 6.5 ceiling-installed bathroom speaker is built to give musical satisfaction to many people – because it's so affordable and accessible. This waterproof (IP44-rated) design is absolutely perfect for its job of soundtracking your daily ablutions. Its coaxial polypropylene mid/bass driver and titanium cone tweeter work with a Class D amplifier to give a surprisingly enjoyable sound. And everything is effortlessly run via Bluetooth, giving easy access for all of your family.
Few people understand the challenges that home cinema installations pose better than Elementi designer David Moseley. The sheer diversity of people's acoustic environments makes great results hard to get, yet his vast knowledge base and huge range of superb quality loudspeakers, deliver an extremely impressive end result. His revolutionary approach to dealing with the interaction between speakers and listening rooms speaks for itself. The result is effortless dynamics, endless power, amazing detail and visceral bass – for movies like you've never heard them before.
MULTICHANNEL PREAMP/POWER AMPLIFIER
Less is more, with this high-end AV pre/power amplifier pairing. Whilst packing a huge range of features and an 8x 200W RMS of raw power, the Muse 16 and M8 combination does so in two boxes that are smaller than most rivals' single-box products. Careful attention to detail makes such clever packaging possible, with specially selected components – and modular design makes for easy upgradeability. With great dynamics, vast scale and superb detail retrieval, this is the finest AV amp combo we've heard all year.
Where the best home theatre is concerned, there's no skimping on the sound. That's why a top-tier preamplifier/processor has to be on your shopping list. This superb high-end design fits the bill better than anything else we've tried this year. Able to work with speaker configurations of up to 11.1.4 or 9.1.6, its huge processing power and painstaking audiophile design results in superlative sound. Its clarity, depth and dimensionality must be heard to be believed – particularly when partnered to a high-grade multichannel power amplifier.
Designed to sit between a projector or television and source devices, this seriously powerful box of tricks has caused a major stir amongst the large community of home theatre enthusiasts. It provides a huge suite of tools to get the very finest picture quality possible out of your favourite video content, including algorithms for scaling, sharpening, and dynamic tone mapping – amongst a great many other things. This flagship gold standard video processor isn't anyone's definition of cheap, but then again, the best never is.
In high-end televisual technology, Samsung goes from strength to strength. This high-end 8K Smart TV uses a welter of clever video processing tricks to deliver pictures that are both striking to see, and easily watchable. The company's Quantum Dot technology produces both purer whites and a wider colour spectrum than ever before, and the result is a picture that's razor-sharp and eerily natural. Combining state-of-the-art performance in a highly attractive and slim package, this is a particularly worthy Award winner.
Sony's new video star shines the way forward in affordable 4K laser projectors, with its new entry-level model. It delivers a step-change upwards in picture quality, user-friendliness and value – thanks to Sony's recent decision to completely re-engineer its 4K range. A cluster of blue laser diodes, directed through a yellow phosphor wheel, gives ultra-bright white light, letting it run cooler and quieter than lamp-based designs. Clever video processing from the company's X1 Ultimate for Projector Picture Processor further contributes to its spectacular HDR images.
STREAMING MEDIA PLAYER
Streaming is great, but many folks prefer Blu-ray and want their movies all easily available in one place. That's where Zidoo's UHD3000 comes in, a 4K media player that's loaded with features and supports up to 16TB of storage. Despite its modest price, it's very well-built and offers high-quality video and audio handling, including a top-notch audiophile DAC. Although not quite as good as direct Blu-ray playback, it is light years ahead for convenience. Quirky but cool, this is a most worthy award winner.
2022 StereoNET Product of the Year
Bowers & Wilkins 802 D4
Given the stellar quality of every Award winner here, StereoNET's Product of the Year had to be true genre-defining stuff. Well, that's the B&W 802 D4 in a nutshell, as it's our favourite reference high-end speaker of 2022 – and for a good few years after, most likely! Think of it as 'accessible high end'. Where many of its esoteric rivals are too fussy about the recording, the room or the system – or have personalities that are an acquired taste – this self-effacing floorstander asks only for you to enjoy the music.
StereoNET is a global network delivering the very latest news, reviews and information related to Hi-Fi, Home Cinema, Headphones and consumer audio-video technology.
Posted in:Hi-Fi Headphones Home Theatre Visual Lifestyle Integration StereoNET
Tags: yamaha dcs cambridge audio lumin roksan ortofon moon audio research elipson gryphon kef atc monitor audio wharfedale dali bowers wilkins lehmannaudio chord electronics the chord company origin live nordost tellurium q devialet sennheiser dan clark audio mark levinson lithe audio elementi acurus stormaudio
JOIN IN THE DISCUSSION
Want to share your opinion or get advice from other enthusiasts? Then head into the Message Forums where thousands of other enthusiasts are communicating on a daily basis.
CLICK HERE FOR FREE MEMBERSHIP