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2019 SoundStage! Network Equipment Buying Guide

The 2018 SoundStage! Network Buying Guide features summaries of all stereo and home-theater products reviewed in the calendar year across all of our publications. The Buying Guide is subdivided by product and price, with each article including pricing details, a review summary, a full-review link, and product-award indicators.

All prices are in US dollars unless indicated otherwise.

Price: $1800 USD per pair

Website: www.bowers-wilkins.com

Philip said: Yes, you do get a lot of speaker in the Bowers & Wilkins 603. This big speaker in a stout cabinet is built to produce high outputs in big rooms.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Lot of B&W speaker for the money.

Price: $2500 per pair; stands, $500/pair

Website: www.bowers-wilkins.com

Diego said: In my relatively small room, the 705 S2s provided very clean, tight, powerful bass for their size; an exceptionally detailed and extended top end; and a rich, textured midrange devoid of cabinet colorations.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Solid effort from B&W if you like the high-frequency voicing.

Price: $1099 per pair

Website: www.kef.com

Gordon said: Visually and sonically, KEF’s LSX active loudspeakers are very much part of the same family as the acclaimed LS50 and LS50 Wireless.

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: Kind of a little LS50.

Price: $499.90 USD per pair

Website: www.martinlogan.com

Vince said: If you’re looking for something different, and an involving listening experience, I highly recommend that you give the MartinLogan Motion 4i an audition.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: The magic of a large electrostat in a small package.

Price: $349 per pair

Website: www.psbspeakers.com

Hans said: It’s as complete a two-way design as you can hope to buy for anywhere near $349/pair.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Really does punch way above its weight.

Price: $799.99 per pair

Website: www.qacoustics.com

Hans said: The British company’s budget floorstander looks far more expensive than its price suggests, and offers a top-to-bottom coherence of sound that’s unusual at that price.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Q competes fully with the PSBs and Paradigms of the world.

Price: $599.99 per pair

Website: www.svsound.com

Gordon said: I was greatly impressed with the way SVS’s Prime Wireless speakers held their own against these higher-priced competitors. Sonically, these little speakers punched well above their weight and price.

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: The software is the weak link in an otherwise excellent product.

Price: $999 per pair

Website: www.totemacoustic.com

Gordon said: In short, the Kin Plays are a wonderful way for music-lovers to discover -- or rediscover -- the joys of high fidelity. Add a source component, and you’ve got a killer little stereo system.

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: Nice powered speaker with classic Totem build quality.

Price: AU$8995 per pair

Website: www.kef.com

Edgar said: So far as this reviewer is concerned, the value on offer here is undisputable. The KEF R11 is a genuine audio bargain. Period.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: As usual, KEF offers more speaker than you’d expect at the price.

Price: $15,500 per pair

Website: www.egglestonworks.com

Jeff said: I think that, for most audiophiles, buying a pair of Kivas can be a set-it-and-forget-it proposition -- and these days in high-end audio, that’s rare.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Excellent bargain in a high-end, full-range boutique speaker.

Price: $18,000 per pair

Website: www.vividaudio.com

Jason said: Their combination of solid, forward-thinking engineering, unique appearance, excellent finish, and stunning sound make them a standout product.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: If the Giyas look strange to you get these.

Price: AU$64,995 per pair

Website: www.wilsonaudio.com

Edgar said: The transformation of Sasha 2 to Sasha DAW reflects the steadfast desire of the Wilson Audio engineering team to produce a new speaker, a reinvention, worthy of a commemorative appellation.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: A fitting tribute to a legend in the industry.

 

Price: $799

Website: www.bluesound.com

Gordon said: The Bluesound Pulse 2i is an excellent-sounding, all-in-one stereo music system made more appealing by such features as AirPlay 2 support, upgraded Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and Alexa voice control.

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: The BluOS software sets this apart from most wireless speakers.

Price: $5000

Website: www.boulderamp.com

Oliver said: To those looking for a straightforward, fuss-free phono preamplifier that prioritizes sound quality, I say put the Boulder 508 at the very top of your audition list: It’s my top choice in a solid-state phono stage at or near $5000.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: New price point for this super-high-end company.

Price: $1349, bundled (turntable alone, $1199; cartridge alone, $199)

Website: www.mofielectronics.com

Thom said: While $1349 is not an inconsiderable amount of cash for many of us, I discovered that the StudioDeck+ package is a truly great value.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Step up from a starter ‘table.

Price: AU$18,800

Website: www.aquahifi.com

Peter said: For me, for the time being, and especially when you factor in the xHD’s value for often bleeding-edge performance, I’d call it a “bargain and the best I ever had.”

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Modularity adds value to this DAC.

Price: $1199

Website: www.bluesound.com

Gordon said: In short, while new features like support of AirPlay 2, Siri voice control, and two-way Bluetooth add to the Vault 2i’s appeal, what’s most impressive about the product is its unique functionality, and the overall excellence of the BluOS software platform.

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: The BluOS software is really the thing here.

Price: AU$7500

Website: www.chordelectronics.co.uk

Edgar said: While it may require a minor readjustment to accept yet another device into the signal chain, there’s no denying the performance payoff more than justifies it.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Add this to your Chord stack for even more performance.

Price: $5999

Website: www.cocktailaudio.com

Aron said: If you’re in the market for an all-in-one music player with exemplary build quality and an industry-leading résumé of features, Cocktail Audio’s X45Pro deserves to be on your shortlist.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: A little cool sounding but hard to fault otherwise.

Price: $849

Website: www.project-audio.com

Gordon said: Pro-Ject’s Stream Box S2 Ultra is a nifty little product with lots of applications. Pair it with a compact USB DAC like Pro-Ject’s Pre Box S2 and you have a very nice, small-footprint digital source for streamed and locally stored music.

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: A few software issues hamper an otherwise excellent product.

Price: $4750

Website: www.ta-hifi.de

Erich said: T+A’s technical prowess has made interfacing with today’s digital music-playback options a uniquely coherent experience.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Along with their DAC 8 DSD, this makes a top-shelf digital source.

Price: $8400

Website: www.weiss.ch

Uday said: The great thing about the DAC501 is that, while it sounded warmer than my current system, and warmer than I’d typically seek out, not only did I quickly acclimate to its sound, I found that I enjoyed it beyond my expectations.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Successful update of the popular DAC202.

Price: $9450

Website: www.luxman.com

Jeff said: The Luxman L-509X is a beautiful component that produces beautiful sound.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Styling and sound this good will never get old.

Price: $2500

Website: www.technics.com

Hans said: As long as you don’t need a ton of power, the SU-G700 should be at the top of your list for an integrated amp at the $2500 price point.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Tremendous sound quality with looks to match.

Price: $5300

Website: www.simaudio.com

Diego said: All of this functionality comes in a package that delivers on Moon’s promise of superlative sound and build quality, and is warranted for ten years -- exceptionally long in high-end audio. Printed on the 390’s carton is a promise of “The Performance of a Lifetime,” and I can’t disagree.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: This thing does way more than a traditional preamp and sounds good while doing it.

Price: $30,000 per pair

Website: www.audioresearch.com

Aron said: I found the Reference 160M captivatingly enjoyable to listen to, despite a slight roundness and lack of texture in the bass.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: The new ARC look is a big improvement.

Price: $85,000 per pair

Website: www.emmlabs.com

Doug said: The EMM Labs MTRX2 monos are the best-sounding amplifiers I’ve ever heard.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Meitner magic applied to amps.

Price: AU$15,269

Website: www.meridian-audio.com

Tom said: The Meridian 857’s purity, accuracy, life, presence and transparency were extremely satisfying.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Solid in every aspect is just what you would expect from this reputable company.

Price: $5995

Website: www.parasound.com

Roger said: Often, in the Conclusion of a review, I offer a few qualifying thoughts or caveats. This time I have none. I can’t recommend Parasound’s Halo JC 5 highly enough.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Probably better than many “super amps” but at a much lower price.

Price: $699.99

Website: www.cleer.us

Brent said: We love the way these headphones are designed, and we wish more companies would put this kind of effort and expense into the creation of their high-end headphones.

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: Works better for jazz than other genres of music.

Price: $999

Website: www.usa.denon.com

Brent said: The AH-D7200s are gorgeous, well-made headphones, with high-quality drivers and a detailed sound.

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: Denon is still making solid headphones after all these years.

Price: $3000

Website: www.focal.com

Brent said: With every review of headphones or earphones I write, I always find somethingto complain about. Sometimes it’s minor, sometimes it’s major, but there’s always something. Not this time.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: The “10” rating on sound says it all.

Price: $299.99

Website: www.fostexinternational.com

Brent said: The T60RPs strike one of the most natural and versatile tonal balances of the models we’ve tried in this price range, with none of the ergonomic downsides that some competitors suffer.

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: Brent still likes Fostex ‘phones.

Price: $1800

Website: www.hifiman.com

Brent said: . . . if you really want that humongous sense of space and treble detail that audiophile headphones promise, and you’re willing to put some thought and money into finding an amp, you should hear these.

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: Get the right amp and you’re in business.

Price: $299

Website: www.ifi-audio.com

Diego said: If you’re mating your smartphone to a pair of high-end, inefficient, and/or high-impedance headphones that are difficult to drive, iFi’s compact, intuitive, elegant xCAN is a must-have.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: The perfect companion to those new ‘phones you just brought home.

Price: $299.99

Website: www.klhaudio.com

Brent said: For more mainstream listeners looking to step up from mass-market headphones, or audiophiles who don’t like a treble-heavy sound, the Ultimate Ones will probably sound just right.

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: KLH voiced these just right for most listeners.

Price: $799

Website: www.quad-hifi.co.uk

S. Andrea said: Most listeners will probably be pretty happy with one of the two available sound signatures, and with your purchase you get both: just swap earpads. Either way, the ERA-1s’ levels of clarity and openness are above those of many of their competitors.

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: Like getting two headphone models in one.

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