Our Best of Show Awards are voted on by those on our staff who attended the show.
We did not always agree, which is a good reflection of how opinions, biases and tastes vary.
However, we do think that certain products stood out, even under very difficult and uneven room conditions, all of which were taken into account.
First we will award those which represent
Here the price was heavily emphasized with regard to performance.
Call it the "Stereomojo Bang-for-the Buck Award". It fits.
Then we will award those to which overall performance was more heavily considered than price,
though price for us is always a consideration.
Purity Audio Designs One
Craftsmanship, design and features all came together in this $3,999 hand made preamplifier. Purity only does preamps. Made in the USA as well.
The transformer coupled output yields a low output impedance allowing the Purity One to mate up with most any power amplifier. Both tube and solid state.
No printed circuit boards or transistors are used. The chassis is a matter of form follows function. The Purity linestages utilize a chassis comprised of a unique combination of 100% Acrylic. The top panel is removable for easy tube access. Transformer coupled balanced outputs are standard with the option of one set of transformer coupled balanced inputs. The balanced inputs option includes one set of balanced XLR inputs. When the balanced option is chosen, the single ended INPUT 1 is sacrificed. Single ended outputs are wired in conjunction with the balanced output providing all the benefits of the output transformer.
The back panel consist of 6 sets of single ended inputs and 4 set of outputs, two each single ended and balanced.
The remote circuit has been granted it's own dedicated power supply including a separate, standalone power transformer as not to interfere at all with the analog circuit resulting in a dead quite background and lowest possible noise floor.
The fact of so many inputs as well as a true balanced circuit with a remote put this one over the top. Congratulations
A full review has been scheduled.
SOLID STATE INTEGRATED
It's hard to beat an 87 wpc stereo integrated amp for $799.
We're talking real high end here with the Tripath chip driven amp. You can add better power supplies to improve the sound and even add a Gary Dodd tube buffer to really bump it up. Up to you. Combine that with the ability to customize the colors, style and the exotic wood top and you have a very personalized amp like no one else. It sounded almost as good at the show as it does here at Stereomojo.
Our full review is almost complete and will be published shortly.
BEST VALUE NEW SPEAKER
HOLOGRAPHIC AUDIO H1
Debuting at the show and starting at only $1,800/pr, it's not all the pretty, but it can be. The bottom section of the speaker is plain white for a reason; you can paint it, paper it, carpet it or anything else you wish to match your decor - or not. Make it contrast if you want. It's up to you - and your wife. Jack will apply anything you want for extra cost if you don't want to DIY. The sound was amazing; big, solid and omnidirectional.
In addition to amazing sound, this speaker has a high "wife acceptance factor". One of the true bargains in Denver.
A full review has been scheduled.
NEW SPEAKER UNDER $5,000
The new $4,500 Rethm Trishna by Jacob George accomplished something that few speakers equaled, and that is the ability to completely disappear - without any room acoustics enhancements - leaving a floor to ceiling, wall to wall soundstage that was equally detailed, airy, transparent and beautifully musical. The level of dynamics, especially from a 1.5 watt amp, was surprising. Even the low end, while not fully extended to the lowest reaches, was impressive.
COMPLETE SYSTEM PACKAGE
This was a rather easy selection. While there were many packaged systems with amp, speakers and sources bundled for one price, most were assembled from different brands and companies. Most didn't include cables. This display by Odyssey Audio was not only made by the same company, the whole shebang was hand-made by the same man and his family - in the USA.
Long time audio veteran and musical maverick Klaus Bunge put together two floorstanding speakers, TWO monoblock 160 watt amps, a tube preamp AND a complete set of high-quality cables for an amazing $5,500. That would be outstanding if the overall audio was merely very good, but what we heard was simply stunning, far surpassing many much more expensive systems we heard. Add to that the ability to order a system in matching or contrasting colors (order the speakers in wood if you like) and you have a truly customized, built just for you system. A system that is expertly matched and balanced with no fear of impedance mismatches or other anomalies that plague other systems that are just thrown together.
Perhaps even more amazing is that this Odyssey system is one of the MOST expensive systems Klaus makes. He can put others together for you starting around $1,500.
A full review of the complete system has been scheduled.
INTEGRATED TUBE AMPLIFIER
Like the system above, this amp from Grant Audio exhibited outstanding synergy - the company (Schuguang) that makes the tubes also makes the tube amps. Those black bottle Treasure tubes you see
are some of the best around. I've compared them to things like Western Electrics and found them better.
This amp is 50 wpc of KT88's and goes for a piffling $1,600.
The following products are our "Best of Show" or the overall best of the best.
Price is still a factor and so is newer products versus older, but price to a much less consideration.
BEST NEW TECHNOLOGY
We saw and heard some very impressive systems with huge speakers and racks full of components with miles of various cables. We saw all kinds of new technology to enhance them. But what if you want or need to get rid of all those big expensive speakers and amps (and the racks, too) and just have have two bookshelf sized speakers with NO wires at all? What this system by Blackfire Research and Ravi Rajapakse does is build monoblock class AB amps (not Class D), ultra hi-res DACs and wireless receivers into one small pair of speakers.
The 24bit all digital signal paths and ultra precision DACs will play everything from MP3's and streaming audio from places like Rhapsody and Pandora to the highest resolution 24/192 audio files, directly to the speakers. Since it's all streaming (no storage devices) you can play your music from your computer or even your cell phone. Furthermore, by building the DAC into the speaker, signal degradations that otherwise occur while passing through centralized components are eliminated. Minimalist heaven.
If you already have speakers and like them, for $6,800 a pair, you can buy the Smart Amps that do everything described above with your existing speakers. Cool-o-rama.
A full review has been scheduled.
BEST TUBE INTEGRATED
KR Kronzilla SXI version 2
We were all impressed with the sound of this new (upgraded) Kronzilla tube integrated amp from KR Audio.
Incredible dynamics and transparency from top to bottom and power that belies its 50 wpc. The word that kept getting repeated by our staff was "musical". It had the great propensity to convey the musical emotions and sensations upon which music is built. While there were several amps that sounded at least as good, what put us over the top is the Kronzilla's hybrid architecture that allows the owner to turn off those massive tubes and just use the solid state section when critical listening such as background music is being played. That's an innovation. At $20,000, it doesn't fit into our bargain bin selections, but it's performance and innovation is over the top.
We have received this product and a full review is upcoming
BEST SOUND AT SHOW
This was easily the biggest (pleasant) surprise at the show. This Serbian company has created one of the most exciting systems we've ever heard. We don't know if it was the Beyond Frontiers Audio (BFA) speakers or the integrated amp/DAC that most contributed, but the musicality we've noted throughout these awards was here in spades, hearts, diamonds AND clubs. The music just permeated our hearts, souls, brains and bodies. Big grins were plastered on everyone's faces. With each cut of the Stereomojo Ultimate Stereo Evaluation Disc, we found ourselves saying, "Now THAT'S the way this is SUPPOSED to sound!" Highs, mids and deep bass inspired us to not only do a little bootie shaking, but we even ended up breaking into a sing-a-long session. Classical music burst forth in such a way that we wanted to do some air conducting. Talk about immersive. We stayed way too long in this room and hated to leave.
Notice also there is no sound enhancement materials in the room. In fact, they didn't even remove the large mirror on the right side that would normally play havoc with side reflections. This system overcame the severe room limitations that presented huge challenges for many demos. In perusing other show reports, we see that practically no one even mentioned this room. Their loss.
At $7,200 for the amp with internal DAC and $11,200 for the tall, two-chambered speakers, we thought this was a bargain considering all the uber-priced systems we saw.
We are thrilled to be able to bring you the world's first review of the amp and speakers. This paring is being sent to us from Serbia right now.
Other systems we thought stood out were those from Coincident Audio, Holographic Audio Speakers with Virtue Sensation amps, the new Von Schweikert VR-33 for $3,995, the perennially excellent Nola room with the Metro Grands, and the $45,000 Vandersteen 7's powered by mega-dollar ARC electronics. The outstanding Legacy Whisper XD's driven by Ayon tubes and CD players were certainly among the best of all, but since I use them as my reference speakers at home, we thought that might be a little unfair. The new up-against-the-wall "The Clue" speakers from Sjofn HiFi for a thousand bucks were jammin' with Hegel front ends - soon to appear as a review here.
Next stop for our intrepid staff is in January at CES 2011 in Vegas. See you there.