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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: KEF Q150 Loudspeakers ($550 per pair); KEF Kube12b Subwoofer ($700 each)

Website: www.kef.com

Kevin said: Music is meant for stereo, and the Q150s and Kube12b delivered music in heaping bucketsful of stereo sound.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Affordable-yet-refined sub/sat system for the music lover.

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: $1599 per pair

Website: www.martinlogan.com

Al said: It conveys music in a detailed manner, with pinpoint imaging and surprisingly powerful bass for its size.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Great sub-$2k speaker choice for rock music.

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: $1598 per pair

Website: www.paradigm.com

Jeff said: In the Prestige 15B, Paradigm has built a speaker that looks fantastic. But in hi-fi, looks are secondary to sound, and the sound of the 15B is second to no other bookshelf speaker I’ve heard near its price point.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Sophisticated sonically and aesthetically.

Price: $2650 per pair

Website: www.totemacoustic.com

Jason said: The Totem is a winner in large part due to its extremely refined treble, which strokes the ear rather than poking at it in the name of detail. Add in the million-mile depth of the Signature Ones’ soundstages, their tight and authoritative bass, and their disappearing-act imaging, and your $2650 buys you a lot of speaker in two little boxes.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Worthy successor to the venerable Totem Acoustic Model 1.

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: $41,600 per pair

Website: www.raidho.dk

Jeff said: I think that, in the XT-5, Raidho Acoustics has produced a loudspeaker that will appeal to many listeners, and that seems to have fewer limitations than their past speakers -- for instance, it will play plenty loud.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: An evolutionary improvement to the Raidho design brief.

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: $2619.90

Website: www.svsound.com

Vince said: The SVS Prime home-theater surround-sound array gets my highest recommendation.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Go Atmos with the SVS Primes!

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: $49.99

Website: www.benjie-tx.com

Rad said: It’s a perfect entry-level music player, and its small size, solid construction, and ease of operation are big pluses that make it a perfect gym buddy -- you can toss it in your bag without fear of injuring it. All of that, and it plays hi-rez files! What’s not to like?

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Cheapest decent portable Rad has experienced.

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: AU$46,650

Website: www.absolare.com

Josh said: While it may be considered for some to be expensive, its performance capabilities in so many areas frankly exceed what could be achieved in preamplifier-amplifier separate combinations at far loftier price points, therefore making it an attractive proposition as a statement amplifier for those slightly short of space or for those demanding electronics capable of the very highest standards.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Sound that is said to strike a near perfect balance between tube and solid state.

Price: $1995

Website: www.cocktailaudio.com

Al said: Cocktail Audio’s Swiss-Army-knife approach to designing the X35 music system has resulted in a winning proposition for those looking to reduce their systems’ footprints without compromising their performance.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: A list of features a mile long.

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: $5999

Website: www.musicalfidelity.com

Al said: The main attraction of Musical Fidelity’s M6 Encore 225 is its outstanding sound quality -- in this case, performance lives up to price. And with built-in CD ripping, Tidal and Spotify streaming, and a pledge from Musical Fidelity to introduce future software updates and enhancements, the M6 Encore 225 is a solid bet for an all-in-one music system.

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: Audiophile-oriented all-in-one-type product.

Price: $549

Website: www.nadelectronics.com

Thom said: If you’re not someone who fiddles with tone controls, if your listening room is of reasonable size and your speakers are of at least moderate sensitivity, I recommend the NAD C 328. It’s a superb integrated amplifier-DAC.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Unbelievable amount of quality for the money.

Price: $1199

Website: www.peachtreeaudio.com

Al said: Peachtree Audio’s decco125 Sky is packed with useful features, including a built-in phono stage and Wi-Fi streaming. It also offers impressive sound quality for an $1199 integrated amplifier-DAC, sounding great with everything I played, from LPs and streamed playlists to “sad church music” on CD.

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: A few operational quirks keep it from being a knockout product.

Price: $2100

Website: www.simaudio.com

Philip said: Simaudio’s Moon 240i is set apart by the high level of quality you get for its low price of $2100.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Add to good sound lots of features and a ten-year warranty and you have a winner.

Price: $23,500

Website: www.ta-hifi.de

Jeff said: Not only did I really enjoy my time with the PA 3100 HV -- I could easily envision my no-compromise self living with one long term. I bet you’d feel the same way.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Big, expensive, great integrated amplifier.

Price: $999

Website: www.technics.com

Al said: With the Ottava f SC-C70, Technics has created a sleek-looking all-in-one system that combines wired and wireless streaming with CD playback.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: Technics is something cool again!

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.

Price: AU$22,000

Website: www.vitusaudio.com

Edgar said: Along with a handful of ultimate integrated amplifiers, the Vitus Audio RI-101 commands a recalibration of what an integrated amplifier is capable of achieving in terms of performance. Consequently, it would make for a thoroughly satisfying entry into the ranks of the very best amplification available.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Competes with some of the best amplification regardless of cost.

Price: AU$22,000

Website: www.vitusaudio.com

Edgar said: the Vitus Audio RI-101 is a stupendous sonic performer, excelling at the vividness and life of music while sustaining its tonal beauty, midrange purity and exerting tight-fisted control over its prodigious output in terms of dynamics and its low frequencies output

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Monster integrated that hangs with big separates.

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: $8995

Website: www.balanced.com

Aron said: The sound of BAT’s VK-255SE is therefore not quite my cup of tea -- but if tube-like warmth, buttery textures, and arresting dynamics are what you find most inviting, then this amplifier deserves to be on your audition list.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Will fit some listeners better than others.

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: $299.95

Website: www.akg.com

Rad said: The more I listened, the less I liked AKG’s N60 NC Wireless noise-canceling headphones.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: These pretty much sucked.

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: $99

Website: www.massdrop.com

Brent said: 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.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Best way to spend 100 bucks on audio.

Price: $79

Website: www.sonarworks.com

Brent said: In most cases, Sonarworks’ True-Fi substantially improved the sound of the headphones I used it with.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Make your headphones sound better with this software.

Price: Interconnect AU$22,000, Digital AU$18,000, USB AU$19,000, Power AU$25,000, Speaker AU$52,000

Website: www.zensati.com

Edgar said: So, while other cable designs I’ve carefully auditioned, or had in-house, have come very close to equalling it, the sILENzIO loom achieves the very highest status within my cable universe experience.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: In Edgar’s opinion, these are the top dogs.

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: $4000

Website: www.shunyata.com

Doug said: If you’ve already done all you can to improve the delivery of power to your audio system -- e.g., by installing dedicated lines -- the Denali D6000/S is one of a very small number of power products I strongly recommend that you try.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Made a small but important improvement to the sound of Doug’s system.

Price: $350

Website: www.furutech.com

Brent said: Kudos to Furutech for inventing the NCF Booster, a new and very effective type of tweak and a solution to the long-neglected problem of heavy audiophile power cords becoming misaligned with, or even straining or breaking, IEC outlets.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Solution to a problem you may not have realized your system had.

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.”

Price: $1200

Website: www.vpiindustries.com

Jason said: While $1200 might seem a bit stiff, once you consider the fact that the Cyclone will likely last a literal lifetime, it begins to feel like a bargain. I can’t recommend this thing highly enough.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Gotta take care of that precious vinyl, and this will do it.

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