Writing this year's Hi-Fi World Awards 2010 feature [see p17] has caused me to reflect upon the various weird and wonderful designs that have come out in the past twelve months...
Whilst this past year hasn't seen any fancy new formats or technologies launched, the trickle-down of network music continues apace. Played off computer hard drives often via a home Wi-Fi network, it's really catching on now, as more and more audiophiles view it as a serious music source option. Hats off of course to Linn for starting the specialist hi-fi computer audio ball rolling three years ago with their DS products, but now we see Naim in on the act and a number of other big names poised to take the plunge...
As well as its convenience, computer-sourced audio offers easy access to hi-res music. This, plus the emergence of Blu-ray has caused a renewed interest in something that was, after all, first introduced a decade ago! Whilst no one's mourning the end of DVD-Audio with its clunky navigation, its 24/96 (or 24/192) format is now reappearing on high quality download sites, and taking on a new life. Meanwhile its old rival SACD is having something of an Indian summer; second-hand prices of early discs are rising, there are still many great titles available new and it's possible to buy excellent sounding modern players from Marantz.
Amidst all this, vinyl continues to thrive. I've seen more than a few excellent turntables come out, and there's no let up in the LP reissue market. It's easier now to be a vinyl junkie than it was in 2000, and whilst the availability of black plastic might be lower than 1990, there's certainly not the sense of impending obsolescence that the format had back then. Who'd have thought that in 2010, analogue would rule the (sound) waves?
Finally, after a flourish of Class D transistor amplifiers over the past few years, valve amplifiers are back with a vengeance. There's more choice than ever; from affordable Icon Audios to new Quads and more. The trend is for ever bigger tubes; I've seen more new 845-based amps this year than in the past ten!
Overall then, 2010 was a good year for hi-fi. Our Awards show that many strong, thoughtfully designed and engineered hi-fi separates continue to be made, and that there probably hasn't been a better time to buy! Enjoy.
David Price, editor
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