Welcome to the last issue of 2016, and our now annual Awards. We've taken the best products we've seen in this 'interesting' year, and the chance to look at these products in overview shows just how important a year it's been for audio. OK, in fairness, there were some other events that also took place in the wider world that might just overshadow what's happened in hi-fi in 2016!
Nevertheless, I suspect 2016 will go down as one of the most important and innovative years for the modern audiophile, and the changes that have begun to permeate through the audio industry will have ramifications for years to come. It might not be quite the Golden Age of Audio, but it's a fascinating time to be involved in the business of good sound, in all its guises.
People are collecting music on all formats today, in more or less equal measure, while others are abandoning the concept of a collection altogether to follow a path of online streaming. Interestingly, this sheer range of potential listener buying and subscribing habits makes it almost impossible to for an audio company to try and second guess the market, because what holds today may not apply tomorrow. For example, who would have thought in 1997 that by 2007 most people would be buying their music as downloads from a store set up by a computer company? And who, out of those iTunes buyers in 2007, would have guessed that 2017 would see people mostly streaming their music from online servers without ever even thinking about downloading or owning a particular track or album?
I'd love to be able to accurately predict what comes next, but it's simply not possible. Yes, we can predict certain trends – the high-end of 2017 will very probably feature the word 'Roon' a lot – but even these crystal ball sessions are subject to a lot of wishful thinking. I don't think anyone would bet against vinyl remaining a significant player in the audiophile world, for example, or would be insane enough to call personal audio a bubble about to burst! But, even over the course of a year, we've seen significant changes in the course of the audio market, in DACs, headphones, integrated amplifiers, all-in-one digital speakers, and more... and we'll be tracking those changes in next year's awards!
Our congratulations go out to Brendan Smith, from New Zealand, who wins a fantastic Chord Electronics Hugo portable DAC/Headphone Amp! Well done!
Issue 143 (personal audio) goes on sale within the UK on Jan 5, 2017, USA on Feb 7, 2017