McGary Audio

Essential Sound

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 Awards!
EAN Announces
Products of The Year

Audiophile, Home Cinema, Recording, Personal Audio Gear Recognized For Outstanding Performance

by John Gatski
  For 2014, EAN has selected its Product of The Year Award winners. Most audio products reviewed on this site are top-notch audio components, but there is just a bit extra with the products that I chose this year, either in their performance, utility or value or a combination of these factors. Happy Holidays. You may end up buying one of these products — just like I did.

Audiophile Product Of the Year
Oppo HA-1 DAC/HP Amplifier,
Benchmark AHB2 Amplifier
DAC/Headphone Amp
Click Oppo HA-1

  There are two in this category: the Oppo HA-1 DAC/headphone amp and the Benchmark AHB2 amplifier. The Oppo HA-1 gets its award designation because it offers a state-of-the-art DAC that is virtually future proof — with its up to 32 bit/768 kHz PCM decode, as well as quad-speed DSD. The clincher is the way-above-its-price Class-A discrete headphone circuit that is so good I use it for line stage output. It also has plenty of connectivity, (analog I/O and all digital inputs), advanced features (such as digital word length indicator that only a few DACs are equipped with) and it only costs $1,299!
  An audiophile would have to spend four times as much to get significant improvements in audio and match the features set. In my opinion, If you re serious about hi-res via headphones, the Oppo HA-1 is a must buy.

Audiophile Amplifier
Click Benchmark AHB2
  The $2,995 Benchmark AHB2 gets the award because its design pushes the spec envelope of power amplifiers. It is no longer enough to have 100 dB S/N ratio (or worse) spec’d amplifiers when you have the Benchmark measuring in excess of 130 dB! That is better than the majority of DACs can perform. It is digital performance from an analog amp. And the amp sounds great as well — a very neutral analog sound with tight bass and gracious stereo image. Throw in the reasonable price tag, and its award status is a no-brainer.

Home Recording Product of The Year
TASCAM DA-3000 24-bit/DSD Recorder
  The DA-3000 is for those of those who like to record and listen to audio in a pro or an audiophile setting. This combo A/D-D/A recorder/player, priced at $1,299, is the successor to the best buy DVRA-1000HD. The DA-3000, however, adds double speed DSD record/playback, CF card storage, and is about $600 less than the old DVRA-1000-HD.
  The on-board A/D-D/As for PCM and DSD are way better than many separates. Even against high-end separates the audible difference is nearly nil, Plus, it can record and play using CF, SD card as well a USB thumb drive. It is the most-utilized tool in my recording arsenal. Audiophiles can use the DA-3000 just for download playback — up to 24/192 and DSD; it has the right connections (balanced and unbalanced analog, plus SPDIF, TOSlink and AES/EBU digital I/O), and a good headphone amp. Maybe you want to archive your vinyl collection in my guest.

Home Cinema Product of the Year
AudioControl AVR-6 7.1 Channel Receiver
Click AudioControl AVR-6

  We reviewed really nice receivers this year, and they all offered quality sound. I chose the $3,950 AudioControl AVR-6 because of its audiophile-caliber sound quality, The openness and spatial projection is definitely a cut above most receivers. The decoded sound from BDs is impressive. I even played hi-res from an Oppo BD-105, while connecting the AVR-6 with my MartinLogan Montis electrostatics, and came away quite impressed. It does not have many Internet apps, DSD decoding via HDMI, or other features that A/V receivers are equipped with, and it is a bit pricy, but what it does have is ‘the sound.” It is better than many separate pre/pro amps combos I have auditioned.

Personal Audio Product of the Year
USB Audio Player Pro Android Player
Hi-Resolution Player Software For Android
Click USB Audio Player Pro

  Okay, it has not officially been reviewed on EAN yet, but, boy, do I ever use USB Audio Player Pro. This $9.00 Android hi-res player features up to 32-bit/384 sample rate PCM and 2.8 MHz DSD playback when linked to a compatible a USB-input DAC. Plus, it decodes FLAC, WAV, AIFF, MP3, OGG, etc. It works with most noted Android tablets, and its transparent playback to your favorite DAC sounds aces. Rivals the computer player software. USB Audio Player Pro also contains playlist management features, EQ and several tweaks to assure smooth playback with different devices.
  What’s really handy is its portability. USB Audio Player Pro allows you to play super high res, such as 24/384 and DXD), without going through a computer. Thus, it is extremely portable. I have it installed on two Dell tablets and an Android Smartphone. I keep one in my main audiophile rig and one in my recording suite to monitor my home-brew 24/384 PCM guitar recordings. I also use an Android Smartphone and a Resonessence Concero HP for mobile hi-res listening.
  There are a few hi-res audio software players out there for smart devices to output hi-res audio via USB, but none that I have tried can touch USB Audio Player Pro.
"Luxury Audio" Products of the Year
Pass Labs XS-150, MartinLogan Neolith

Click Neolith or Xs-150

  Although they are well above $60,000, I have to acknowledge two ultra high-price products I got the chance to hear this year. The Pass Labs Xs-150 "super Class A" MOSFET monoblock amplifier, at $65,000 per pair, is an exquisite amp that exudes high class all the way. The Xs-150 has a luscious, musical character and the widest soundstage I have ever heard from an amplifier.
  The starts-at-$80,000 MartinLogan Neolith is the company's flagship, top-class electrostatic that I took a few hours to evaluate at an area dealer last November. The Neolith exhibits the same enveloping sonic character of the best ML speakers — only the much-larger transducer fills up big listening rooms with its open, detailed soundstage; its passive, dual-bass driver arrangement kicks out 25-Hz bass as loud and tight as any subwoofer. A more detailed review of my experience with the Neolith is coming shortly.

  John Gatski is publisher/owner of the Everything Audio NetworkArticles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio NetworkAny unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.

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