It's that wonderful time of the year when we reveal the products that were a cut above the average – and memorable because of it – in our World Awards issue. These days few products are poor, most work well. But that doesn't mean they are brilliant in the sense that they bring a tingle to your spine, changing the way you view audio quality. Our top products for the year this year were those that moved us, where everyone in our London offices (who like to listen in!) murmured "ooh-aah" in unison.
Sometimes style and finish played an important part: I mean, how many manufacturers in this world re-create the wonder of 1970s build quality (well, the good bits, that is), complete with big, yellow illuminated analogue power meters – you know, the ones with real needles! Lux of Japan are one of very few and their prize winner this year was a delight to see and use – not a software menu anywhere!
Then my eyes wander to the Quadral Chromium Style 8 loudspeakers we keep recommending. Their sound was just superbly accurate and colour free, yet also dynamically exciting. The ribbon tweeter has been balanced perfectly so as to add a slight sheen but not to sound bright. Everyone loved these speakers for their sheer sophistication, and yet they are eminently affordable. A wonderful modern product then, one within the reach of most of us.
Almost in total contrast is the traditional Icon Audio Stereo 30 SE valve amplifier. It might look old fashioned, pre-dating even the faux-seventies Luxman, but in fact under the surface lies an amplifier based upon a recently designed valve, the KT-150. Unlike earlier attempts to produce a contemporary power valve (KT-90 and KT-120) the new KT-150 sounds unquestionably superb, so much so that the world's manufacturers are voting with their soldering irons to use it. Here it delivers a solid 30 Watts from a Single Ended amplifier – and that's a lot, enough to drive modern floorstanders like the Quadral Chromium Style 8s.
It's lovely to think that old and new can be combined so successfully today to produce results that are truly an advance on the past. I'm so pleased our Award Winners highlight how high fidelity is moving ahead, even if at first glance you might think it is moving backwards!