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2018 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: $968-$1474 per pair, depending on finish

Website: www.axiomaudio.com

Philip said: A speaker like Axiom’s M5HP is proof that you can get incredible sound, superb engineering, and fantastic build quality at a reasonable price.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Re-evaluate what you think great speakers cost.

Price: $2500 per pair

Website: www.bowers-wilkins.com

Hans said: No, the smallest tower model in B&W’s new 700 Series is a beautiful, well-built loudspeaker that sounded sensational with the right material, and never failed to keep me engaged, whether as reviewer or as listener. It’s not for everyone, but I suspect that for certain listeners it will be enduringly satisfying.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Not flat, but good-sounding speaker if you like what it offers.

Price: AU$1795

Website: www.definitivetechnology.com

Edgar said: In fact, Definitive Technology’s engineering chops have produced somewhat of a rare freak: a truly affordable, high performing, beautifully finished, constructed and styled speaker that possesses the indisputable inherent cachet a sizable speaker-producing concern can provide.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Edgar was super impressed with the sound, especially for the price.

Price: $2999 per pair

Website: www.dynaudio.com

Doug said: I had a bit of a rough start with the Special Forty, but it wound up being one of the most transparent-sounding two-way speakers I’ve ever heard.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: If anyone can make a great stand-mounted two-way, it’s Dynaudio.

Price: $199.95

Website: www.harmankardon.com

Brent said: When and if Microsoft decides to get serious about making Cortana a digital assistant for the home, the Invoke could be a compelling product.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Sound was good, but needs better software to truly compete.

Price: $1499.98 per pair

Website: www.kef.com

Hans said: It’s one of the most neutral transducers I’ve ever heard, and for the money offers staggeringly transparent sound. I fed it a steady diet of male and female singer-songwriters, and was always satisfied with the authenticity of what I heard. It’s not exactly a looker, but it’s well engineered, and sounds far more expensive than its price suggests.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: What Hans would buy with 1500 bucks in his pocket for speakers.

Price: $2000 per pair

Website: www.monitoraudiousa.com

Hans said: It’s a loudspeaker for the listener who values dynamics more than sterling neutrality, and who wants to move rather than sit and listen with stern solemnity. While it may be impossible for any $2000/pair speaker to “do it all,” the Silver 300 comes admirably close, and looks damn good doing it.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Speaker for everyman.

Price: $9750 per pair

Website: www.rethm.com

Garrett said: Maarga is Sanskrit for path; the word is often used in the context of seeking the path to enlightenment. Is the Rethm Maarga your path to audio nirvana? I’ve found it to be mine. A must-listen for the music lover with worthy amplification.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: High efficiency and powered bass for sublime sound.

Price: AU$19,999 per pair

Website: www.yamaha.com

Josh said: The Yamaha NS-5000s are unusual yet beguiling speakers, clearly successful in their tribute to the original NS-1000s. Packed with modern technology and contrasted by the traditional yet exquisitely finished aesthetic, they are a definitive departure from the design brief of most mainstream high-end loudspeakers.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Yamaha is ready to rumble again.

Price: $499.98

Website: www.elac.com

Al said: With the arrival of the Discovery Z3, we have yet another reason to keep paying attention to Elac.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: Roon endpoint with good looks and above-average sound for an all-in-one.

Price: $199.99

Website: www.gracedigital.com

Rad said: Let’s praise the Mondo+ for what it is: a superb, fun-to-use Internet radio with enough options to last a lifetime, and new ones being added via Wi-Fi at a rapid pace. 

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Just another good Wi-Fi radio among many.

Price: $399.95

Website: www.jbl.com

Al said: If you’re looking for a compact speaker with room-filling sound, and the ability to answer your questions and do what you tell it to, the Link 500 could be an excellent fit.

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: Would you like good sound with your digital assistant?

Price: $499

Website: www.klipsch.com

Al said: If you want a Wi-Fi speaker that can also play LPs and has a cool, vintage look, look no further than the Three.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: Maybe not a mini Klipschorn, but a real Klipsch nonetheless.

Price: $1299.99

Website: www.monoprice.com

Brent said: If you value precise pitch and definition over toe-tapping groove, this is your sub. If you value awesome punch over couch shake, this is your sub.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Sub that puts bass quality before quantity.

Price: $149.99

Website: www.nagaoka.eu

Thom said: It’s a solid performer with many pluses, only a few minuses, and it’s compatible with many current and vintage turntables. If you want a cartridge with extended but not overblown bass, a midrange that favors the higher side, and mostly silky highs, the MP-110H might just be the ticket.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Low-cost but high-performing cartridge.

Price: $26,000

Website: www.esoteric-usa.com

Howard said: Spend some time with the Esoteric Grandioso G1 master clock generator and you’ll likely never go back. It not only uncovers in recordings of music levels of detail, precision, and tonal richness previously unsuspected, it also reveals aspects of performances, including those of the recording venue itself, that are missed by less accurate digital pendulums.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: If you’ve got the money to spend . . .

Price: AU$5990

Website: www.luminmusic.com

Barry said: Investing $6000 in a source component is a substantial commitment, however considering the simplicity and the level of performance the T1 delivers, in my opinion it’s one that is easily justified.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Network playing made easy.

Price: $2399; Analog 2 upgrade for original Yggdrasil, $550

Website: www.schiit.com

Erich said: The Yggdrasil provided beautiful, musical sound even when fed challenging recordings from digital’s early days. 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.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Uncommon DAC architecture produces sound that belies the low price.

Price: $2399; Analog 2 upgrade for original Yggdrasil, $550

Website: www.schiit.com

Erich said: In its Analog 2 version, the Yggdrasil DAC marries affordability to exceptional sound quality courtesy a bespoke DAC architecture from one of hi-fi’s most pioneering digital designers.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Uncommon DAC architecture produces sound that belies the low price.

Price: $8000 (Ethernet module, $600; other modules, $400 each)

Website: www.waversa.com

Vade said: The Waversa Systems WDAC3 Mk.II is beautifully designed and built, and as jewel-like as any hi-fi component I’ve seen. It has many advanced operating features, and a front-panel display that can be read from the other side of a large room. I’d heard that using an Ethernet input for your DAC could sound much better than the ubiquitous USB input, and the WDAC3 proved that to be true. Through its Ethernet input in particular, the WDAC3 Mk.II sounded as good as it looks: spectacular. Its glitches were minor and easily fixed. Easily and strongly recommended.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Competitive with any under-$10k DAC today.

Price: $700

Website: www.control4.com

Al said: The Triad One is an affordable way to enter the world of Control4, a leading platform for home automation and A/V system control.

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: Enter the world of the Smart-home hi-fi amplifier.

Price: $2000

Website: www.hegel.com

Sathyan said: Including the SoundEngine technology of upmarket Hegel models, the H90 punches well above the level you might expect from a DAC-integrated at its price -- Hegel’s attention to dynamics, detail, and transparency shone through. The Hegel H90 is well worth hearing.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Solid way to spend two grand on your hi-fi.

Price: $10,000

Website: www.mcintoshlabs.com

Jeff said: When the fit’n’finish that McIntosh has lavished on the MA9000 is factored in, the result is the most easily recommendable product I’ve reviewed in years -- a Reviewers’ Choice with a bullet, and an early leader in our 2018 race for Product of the Year.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Retro looks, super sound, and impressive functionality . . . and it has blue meters.

Price: Base unit AU$4495, as tested AU$16,355 

Website: www.vinnierossi.com

Edgar said: LIO is an exceptional performer through all the configurations tested. It’s natural, smooth yet resolving, capable of great transient attack, pleasingly – and only marginally – mellow-sounding through the midrange and highs while being a strong walloper with its tight and fast bass. Its tonal accuracy and harmonic decay is exemplary too.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Literally make it exactly what you want it to be.

Prices: Pictor, $18,000; DC filter, $5000

Website: www.constellationaudio.com

Doug said: The sound of the Pictor-Taurus-DC filter combination wasn’t just special -- to my ears, its spaciousness, resolution, and smoothness were spectacular enough to be considered the state of the art.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Pair it with a Constellation power amp for SOTA sound.

Price: $10,000

Website: www.trinnov.com

Al said: If you have a troublesome room, or just want to hear how good your system can sound when problematic room/speaker interactions are removed from the equation, Trinnov’s Amethyst is well worth a listen.

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: Clean up your room, clean up your sound.

Price: $1499 each

Website: www.psaudio.com

Roger said: PS Audio says that the Stellar M700 is one of the most extraordinary monoblocks ever sold for less than $5000/pair. I have to agree. The Stellar M700 is my new favorite entry-level high-end power amplifier.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Lots of power and goo sound quality in a compact, affordable package.

Price: $599.99

Website: www.acousticresearch-hifi.com

Brent said: What I love about them is that there’s nothing spectacular or exaggerated about their sound -- just as there’s nothing spectacular or exaggerated about the sound of a great violin, tenor saxophone, or singer. If you want something spectacular, that’s fine -- but if you want headphones you can enjoy day after day with all kinds of music, I strongly recommend the AR-H1s.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: One of an elite group according to Brent.

Price: $399

Website: www.bowers-wilkins.com

S. Andrea said: The Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones are a bit of a mixed bag. Whether or not you’ll be satisfied with them will likely come down to how much you value a neutral frequency response. With their noise canceling turned off, the PXes were at or near the top of their class for producing an enveloping soundscape with vivid images, but the midrange was just too recessed to sound natural with acoustic instruments.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Not quite neutral, but meets many other expectations.

Price: $1500

Website: www.focal.com

Brent said: They sounded terrific, worked great with any kind of music, and exhibited no annoying flaws or colorations.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: No beryllium, but Focal sound quality nonetheless.

Price: $1199

Website: www.klipsch.com

Brent said: If you want a great set of audiophile headphones you can easily carry with you and use with any source device you happen to have in your bag, the HP-3s, in my opinion, have no serious competition.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: The HP-3s are Klipsch’s best headphones ever.

Price: AU$9990 for 1m RCA & XLR, AU$17,150 for 2.4m speaker cables

Website: www.taralabs.com

Edgar said: This cable loom is neutral and allows for stunning dynamic expression while communicating the music in a pacey, enjoyably rhythmic way. Low-level detail is easily discerned but without introducing artificiality, in other words, the excellent standard of resolution maintains the integrity of the musical message. 

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Elevated Edgar's system to a higher level.

Price: $4600 per 6’ cord

Website: www.audience-av.com

Garrett said: If you’re looking for peak performance in a power cable, I strongly urge you to audition the Au24 SX powerChord.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Garrett’s new go-to reference power cord.

Prices: La Potenza Six USA Version AU$4000, La Potenza AC Cable AU$5500, Grounding Box AU$7000

Website: www.faberpower.com

Josh said: The Faber’s Power equipment brought a very appreciated increase in refinement and musicality to my reviewing and reference systems, without (in most cases) leading to any detrimental effects. 

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Luxurious power conditioning.

Price: AU$210 each

Website: www.nordost.com

Edgar said: Ranging from the subtle in some areas to the easily distinguishable in others, the Sort Kone BCs nevertheless made an overall undeniable improvement to my system’s levels of transparency, harmonic decay, detail retrieval and soundstage presentation.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: This tweak was a positive change for Edgar’s system’s sound.

Price: AU$1190

Website: www.redgumaudio.com

Edgar said: This baby stays solidly embedded within the context of my reference system. Bonza!

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Edgar says this phono stage is a “screaming bargain.”

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