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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: $1999.98 per pair

Website: www.elac.us

Gordon said: With the Navis series, Andrew Jones’s parade of hit products for Elac is clearly continuing. In my view, the ARB-51 rockets straight to the top of the charts.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: Is this the best buy in an active monitor?

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: AU$3500 per pair

Website: www.microphaseaudiodesign.com

Vedran said: I think the Microphase Audio Design SAT Mk.II Signatures are high-quality speakers well worthy of your attention, especially if you’re pressed for space, keeping in mind that your Hi-Fi chain has to be of equally high quality to give them justice, and your power amplifier in particular.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Little boutique speaker that might tickle your fancy.

Price: $698 per pair

Website: www.paradigm.com

Diego said: It’s a solid, dependable speaker that, set up correctly, can give its owner a glimpse of true high-end sound for a mass-market price.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Perfectly serviceable floorstander that won’t break the bank.

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: $299.99 per pair

Website: www.qacoustics.com

Roger said: I believe it will provide as much bang for your buck as any other minimonitor out there.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Legit contender for the best under 300 bucks.

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: $2400 per pair

Website: www.scansonichd.dk

Hans said: There was a magic about their ability to re-create a large soundscape, and their undeniable finesse with violins and violas, in particular, was something I couldn’t get enough of in my time with them.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: With the right music their strengths will shine through.

Price: $1199 each

Website: www.sonusfaber.com

Vince said: Sonus Faber’s Sonetto Wall has all kinds of potential for the discerning audiophile short on space.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Real high-end sound from a wall-mount speaker.

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: $5999 per pair

Website: www.focal.com

Doug said: If I were looking for a topflight two-way minimonitor, this is the one I’d go to first -- and maybe last.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Doug’s favorite minimonitor anywhere near the price.

Price: $5999.98 per pair

Website: www.goldenear.com

Doug said: The Triton One.R is a fabulous-sounding speaker for its price -- decidedly better than the Triton One, and pretty much on a par with the Triton Reference.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: The Triton Doug would buy.

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: AU$17,999 per pair including stands

Website: www.dynaudio.com

Edgar said: The Dynaudio engineers were able to balance high levels of transparency and detail while simultaneously providing one of the truest and sweetest presentations I’ve experienced for quite some time.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Super-refined standmount from the venerable Danish company.

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: $29,500 per pair

Website: www.gryphon-audio.dk

Jeff said: Ownership will begin with choosing the color of the speakers’ side panels, and when you’ve set them up, they’ll deliver to your room the classic Gryphon sound: warm, expansive, detailed but not bright.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Ever dream of owning a Gryphon?

Price: AU$16,995 per pair including stands

Website: www.sonusfaber.com

Edgar said: Given its most extraordinary handling of the mid-band, its more than capable low frequency performance vis-a-vis its stature and the superb tweeters’ delicate yet resolving high frequency performance, I’d wager that the Electa Amator III will reach the station of highly-prized classic in years to come.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: SF has always produced special minimonitors, and here’s another.

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: $549

Website: www.paradigm.com

Hans said: At $549 with its 10” woofer and decent overall power output, it can work in a wide variety of applications, and provide legitimate extension down to 30Hz -- which means you don’t give up much to bigger, pricier alternatives.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Better bass has never been so affordable.

Price: $1299

Website: www.paradigm.com

Roger said: It faces stiff competition from many manufacturers, including some that provide outstanding value through online sales, such as SVS and Hsu Research -- but few of those subs, if any, offer a room-correction system as advanced as ARC, which makes the X12 stand out in a crowded field.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: More Paradigm subwoofer for your money is always a good thing.

Price: $999.99

Website: www.svsound.com

Diego said: The bass I heard from this small box, unassuming yet nice to look at, bordered on the difficult to believe -- very fast, very tight, very deep, with more than enough output to fill my 15’L x 12’W x 8’H room with sound-pressure levels that would satisfy all but the most demanding bass heads.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Hard to believe you could do better in the sub department for the money.

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: $19,900

Website: www.constellationaudio.com

Jason said: In terms of sound quality, I can’t think of a single thing I’d change about how the Revelation Andromeda reproduces music.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Jason was smitten by this expensive phono stage.

Price: $169.95

Website: www.crosleyradio.com

Thom said: Is it truly high fidelity? Maybe not -- but it doesn’t miss that mark by much. It’s possibly the least expensive way to get into vinyl with a serious turntable.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Classic brand delivers a solid value in an entry-level ‘table.

Price: $6500

Website: www.mcintoshlabs.com

Gordon said: McIntosh Laboratory’s MTI100 is an audio component, but it’s also a piece of industrial art.

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: Unique -- in a good way -- in the world of audio.

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: $5999

Website: us.auralic.com

Jeff said: You can insert an Auralic Vega G2 in your audio system and be confident that you’re hearing everything on your recordings -- as long as the rest of your system is up to the task. It’s not this DAC that will be the limiting factor, I can assure you.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Amazingly transparent DAC at a great price.

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: AU$13,995 as reviewed

Website: www.linn.co.uk

Barry said: For music lovers who are over (or never got into) constant tweaking it offers a level of performance that is frighteningly close to far more expensive (and space consuming) equipment, something I find very appealing.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Linn’s take on a great digital front end.

Price: $2795

Website: www.naimaudio.com

Gordon said: What you get is a superbly engineered product that will store your digital music files, let you organize them so they’re easy to find, and extract details from them that you may not have realized they contain.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: Naim knows streamers.

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: $2499

Website: www.nadelectronics.com

Gordon said: It looks gorgeous, sounds wonderful, and, with the BluOS app, works seamlessly. Add a good pair of speakers and you’ve got a killer system. Warmly recommended.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: Excellent connectivity options and power delivery in a beautiful package.

Price: $4999.99

Website: www.teac-usa.com

Hans said: If you’re a digital-heavy audiophile on the prowl for the ultimate one-box solution, TEAC’s NR-7CD could be just what you’re looking for.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Add a set of good, small speakers for a compact high-end digital system.

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: $499.95

Website: www.usa.yamaha.com

Gordon said: The Yamaha WXA-50 is an amplifier you can grow with, and grow into.

Read the SoundStage! Simplifi review.

The gist: Lots of capabilities and sound quality for just under $500.

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: AU$12,999 each

Website: www.yamaha.com

Edgar said: Make no mistake, the Yamaha C-5000 and M-5000 preamplifier and power amplifier duo, alongside its ‘perfect match’ GT-5000 turntable and NS-5000 loudspeakers, will provide the engineering excellence, the aesthetic splendour and the arresting communication of the musician’s intent, in its purest form, on a par with the best of the high-end.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Yamaha is real high end.

Price: $99.99

Website: www.usa.1more.com

Brent said: Like all the other true wireless earphones we’ve tried, the 1More E1026BT-Is don’t work sonic miracles, but their sound comes pretty close to the best of them at a fraction of the price.

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: A bargain in good wireless earphones.

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: $2500

Website: www.hifiman.com

Brent said: Simply put, the Jade IIs sound great.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: Stellar with audiophile music like jazz and classical.

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: $2999

Website: www.mezeaudio.com

Brent said: No matter what kind of music you love, you’ll love hearing it through the Empyreans.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: Competes for that coveted “state-of-the-art” designation.

Price: $769.99

Website: www.monoprice.com

Brent said: If you’re looking for a headphone amp under $1000 that can drive any headphones you might buy in the future, the Liquid Platinum is likely to please.

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: Should drive any headphones effortlessly.

Price: $479.99

Website: www.monoprice.com

Brent said: While the Monolith 24459 seems impeccably engineered, it’s so much more than that. It’s a tool of exploration for the devoted headphone enthusiast, one that will absolutely, positively make a difference in the sound you hear.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: The EQ on this product is really the high point.

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.

Price: $99

Website: www.schiit.com

Brent said: Unless you own one of the handful of headphones that truly demand an extraordinary, high-end amplifier, the Fulla 2 will get your headphones sounding great for what might be a fraction of the price you spent on the headphones.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: No-brainer upgrade if you’re using a smartphone to drive your headphones.

Price: $146

Website: www.simgot.com/en

Brent said: “. . . their sound is excellent for a modestly priced set of earphones, although the somewhat weird fit will likely shift the sound profile for some listeners.”

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: By-the-book design won’t disappoint.

Price: $120

Website: www.status.co

Brent said: To the best of my memory, the Status Audio BT Ones are the second-best on-ear Bluetooth headphones I’ve heard -- and the best, the Beyerdynamic Aventho Wirelesses, cost almost four times the BT Ones’ price.

Read the SoundStage! Solo review.

The gist: Better Bluetooth headphone sound for even less money.

Price: 1m Balanced/Unbalanced Interconnect Cable AU$12,500, 2m Speaker Cable AU$25,000

Website: www.crystalcable.com

Edgar said: To show, for the considerable investment, you are offered the very best construction, first-rate connector quality, expertise in metallurgy combined with advanced materials and, most importantly, superbly neutral, detailed and articulate sound.

Read the SoundStage! Australia review.

The gist: Top-shelf cables that compete with the best.

Price: $17,500/8’ pair for speaker cables; $7500/1m pair (RCA) for interconnects

Website: www.synergisticresearch.com

Howard said: I’m smitten with the sound of Synergistic Research’s Galileo SXes: breathtakingly lively, exciting, and dynamic, yet gorgeously rich, musical, and accurately full-bodied.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Howard says Synergistic has upped their game again.

Price: $249.99

Website: www.essentialsound.com

Tom said: Essential Sound Products’ MusicCord Pro might very well have become the most cost-effective part of my stereo.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: A sanely priced upgrade power cord.

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