It's the most wonderful time of the year. Nope, not the holidays. It's time for Home Theater Review's annual best-of list, where we highlight the best products we've reviewed in the past 12 months. Whether you're looking for the pinnacle of high-end speaker design and construction or an entry-level speaker to begin your home theater journey, this year's list has you covered. We also highlight the best TVs, projectors, AV preamps/receivers, media players, headphones, audiophile hi-fi components, and more. Our goal is not to select a single winner in each product category, but rather to offer variety of picks at a variety of price points. Ultimately, we want to help you put together a great system, regardless of budget. Our picks below are organized by price, from lowest to highest, and we've provided links to the original reviews if you want to learn more about each product.
Dish Network Hopper 3 Whole-home UHD DVR
Dish Network's first 4K-friendly DVR is loaded with features that make it a great choice even for those who have yet to upgrade to a 4K display. It boasts 16 tuners, a 2TB hard drive, integrated apps like Netflix (the 4K version) and YouTube, a Sports Bar mode to view four HD channels at once, advanced search capabilities, and a faster and more intuitive interface than previous Hoppers. The Hopper 3 is available as a free upgrade for most Dish customers, but you will pay a monthly DVR fee of $15. All in all, Dish's latest Hopper remains the gold standard for set-top boxes.
Amazon Fire TV 2nd Generation 4K Streaming Media Player, $99.99
Early this year, Amazon introduced the second-generation Fire TV, which retains the great voice-search capabilities and $99.99 price tag of the original but adds support for Alexa and 4K playback. For 4K fans, it's not as thorough in its offerings or menu design as the Roku 4 that we put on last year's list. However, it's still a great player, and its Alexa support transforms it into a whole-house voice controller for all those control/automation platforms that have recently integrated Alexa support (like Control4, Sonos, and Crestron).
1MORE E1001 Headphones, $99.99
Steven Stone had a lot of positive things to say about 1MORE's E1001 earphones, which deliver far more than the $100 price tag would suggest in terms of performance, build quality, and features. Fellow headphone reviewer Brent Butterworth added that the E1001 sets a new standard in $100 headphones. What more can we say?
SVS Prime Elevation Satellite Speaker, $399.98/pair
As Adrienne Maxwell said in her review, the multi-purpose Prime Elevation speaker from SVS can "wear many hats...and wear them well." It's primarily designed for use as an on-wall, direct-firing height channel in an Atmos/DTS:X system (the wall mount and necessary hardware are included), but it's also a really good performer in the standard front, center, and surround roles. It's a great choice for anyone who wants to build a high-quality, value-oriented speaker system and needs some flexibility in where and how to position the speakers.
Oppo Digital Sonica Wi-Fi Tabletop Speaker, $299
Oppo Digital entered the crowded wireless-speaker category this year with its Sonica Wi-Fi tabletop speaker. All the major connection methods are covered--from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth to AirPlay to USB to the wired auxiliary input. The Sonica app helps you control it all and lets you connect multiple speakers to create a multi-room audio system. Most importantly, this small speaker offers excellent all-around performance.
Visual Apex Fixed Frame Pro Grey 5D Projection Screen, $499 and up
Ambient light rejecting (ALR) projection screens, which are designed for use in high-brightness viewing environments, often can be quite expensive. Visual Apex recently added the Fixed Frame Pro Grey 5D ALR screen to its lineup of value-oriented screen solutions. This 16:9, 1.5-gain screen is available in sizes from 92 to 135 inches, with prices starting at just $499. It offers solid build quality and performance, making it a good choice for the value-conscious shopper who's assembling a large-screen front projection system for a brighter viewing space.
Onkyo DP-X1 Portable Music Player, $899
Onkyo's DP-X1 is a full-featured hi-res portable music player that offers good performance, to boot. It supports a wide range of file formats (including DSD and MQA), has expandable memory up to 432 GB, allows for balanced output via a 2.5mm connector, and uses an Android OS--allowing it to function like an Android tablet with access to a ton of music streaming services. Steven Stone considers the DP-X1 to be "the best value in high-resolution portable players."
Sonus Faber Chameleon B Bookshelf Speaker, $899/pair
Sonus Faber is known for crafting gorgeous speakers that often come with a premium price tag. That's why Myron Ho was excited to get his hands on the entry-level Chameleon B bookshelf speakers, which cost just $899/pair. This two-way speaker is crafted in Italy and comes with interchangeable, colored side panels. Myron describes the Chameleon B speakers as "superb value-oriented performers--truly musical speakers that have a very rich, sweet sound profile...one that I absolutely loved."
Questyle QP1R Portable Music Player, $899
Questyle's QP1R hi-res portable music player isn't as fully featured as the similarly priced Onkyo player above, but Brian Kahn absolutely loved its performance and build quality, with a machined-aluminum body and Gorilla glass panels. It, too, supports a variety of file formats (including DSD), has expandable memory up to 432 GB, and features a line-level output that can be configured as analog or digital.
ELAC Uni-Fi UF5 Floorstanding Speaker, $998/pair
ELAC's Uni-Fi line, designed by Andrew Jones, is a step up in price from the company's Debut Series, but it still represents an excellent value. The floorstanding UF5, priced at $998/pair, is a true three-way speaker using a concentric tweeter/midrange array and dual woofers. Brent Butterworth says, "I've heard a huge number of $1,000-per-pair tower speakers ... and the UF5 is the best I've heard to date. It's a great value, it's impeccably engineered, and it simply sounds great."
Monoprice Monolith 7 Multichannel Amplifier, $1,499
This may raise some audiophile eyebrows, but how could we not include Monoprice's Monolith 7 amplifier on our Best of 2016 list? This seven-channel Class AB amplifier, which is rated at 200 watts per channel into eight ohms, earned five stars across the board. Dennis Burger said, "It has outright wowed me with its transparency, its neutrality, its transient response, and its HULK SMASH capacity for incredible dynamics"--for the highly reasonable price of $1,499.
Onkyo TX-RZ900 7.2-Channel AV Receiver, $1,599
According to Dennis Burger, this year's RZ Series represents "a significant step up in terms of performance and quality" compared with past models, and the 7.2-channel TX-RZ900 is also fully loaded in the features department--with support for Atmos/DTS:X, 4K/HDR pass-through, AccuEQ room correction, IP control, AirPlay, Bluetooth, a variety of music streaming services, and more. Dennis calls it "an exceptionally high-performance offering that proves just how much Onkyo has been listening to its fans and critics alike over the past few years."
Power Sound Audio S3600i Subwoofer, $1,749.99
One of "most muscular subs available today," the 137-pound S3600i boasts dual 18-inch woofers in a sealed cabinet, driven by a 1,700-watt ICEpower Class D amp. Brent Butterworth describes the S3600i as a "special-purpose product, suitable only for large listening rooms and home theaters where performance is a priority and there's enough room for a colossal sub." Oh, and he also ranks it among the best two or three subwoofers he has ever tested.
Red Dragon S500 Stereo Amplifier, $1,999
Red Dragon's S500 stereo amplifier is proof that good things can come in small packages, says Bob Barrett. The S500 uses a Pascal S-Pro2 Class D amplifier module and is rated at 250 watts per channel into eight ohms in single-ended mode. You can also run it in bridged mode to get 1,000 watts mono. All that power comes in a petite 12-pound box. Bob concludes, "The S500 amp might just rock your world when it comes to the way you think about amplifier design versus performance."
Control4 EA-5 System Controller, $2,000
Ken Taraszka recently installed a complete whole-house automation and control system built around Control4's EA-5 system controller. The EA-5 sits atop Control4's newest line of system controllers, yet it still carries a very reasonable price tag of $2,000. It can serve as the brain of a very complex home automation system, and it also features a built-in music server with hi-res audio support and streaming options like Pandora, TIDAL, TuneIn, and more. Check out Ken's review to see how the EA-5 and other Control4 products transformed his new home.
Click over to Page Two to see the rest of the our 2016 picks...