It's time to look once again at the best products we've encountered over the last year. Our bumper Awards issue highlights the products we loved listening to during 2019 and also loved using, sometimes for almost-peculiar reasons.
These days there are lots of good products around, as there should be since at heart hi-fi equipment falls into electrical and acoustical engineering – subjects fairly well worked out nowadays. But of course hi-fi invokes other less deterministic issues, like what does a piece of wire sound like? Yes, there are dark arts locked up in the subject. Icon Audio's Stereo 40 MkIV has so much going on, with switchable feedback and ultralinear/triode mode, it borders on mysterious, but underneath lies some quite serious high voltage engineering – and the sound was superb. A lot of art here.
Quadral's Orkan 9 gave us the purity of thoroughly good German engineering, directed toward achieving absolute accuracy. Quadral keep away from the obsession with raised treble that is a current fashion with rivals, bringing a lovely smooth sound with pure ribbon tweeter treble to the Orkan 9.
At the other end of the scale comes Devialet's amazing Phantom Reactor 900 that contains a complete hi-fi system, all within a small elegant cabinet. This has to be heard to be believed.
But there's much to be said for Quad's determinedly British approach in their Vena II amplifier where traditional engineering is pursued with belief and dedication, without ignoring digital in the form of a great ESS DAC and Bluetooth connectivity. What a lovely sound it had and what a great price. I've owned 22/II, 33/303, ESL-57 and ESL-63 – and Vena II is right up there.
But I've never owned a million tap digital filter – and this was an experience. It is called M Scaler, comes from Chord Electronics and is a filter dedicated to CD replay. It is a reflection of its designer's belief system – Rob Watts – that Chord Electronics decided to build and market. Almost frightening. I don't think there's much like it anywhere else in the world. And other wordily it was in transforming CD sound. It's a radical product and an honorary award winner this year.
I hope you enjoy our 2019 Awards Issue, as much as we enjoyed listening to the awarded products. Have a great Christmas!