As 2017 comes to an end, it's time for us to look back at all the products we've reviewed this year and highlight the best of the best. Our goal is always to create a list that reflects a variety of system tastes and price points. Whether you're an audiophile looking for the pinnacle in high-end two-channel performance or a budding home theater enthusiast who wants to build a great multichannel AV system on a budget, this year's list has you covered. Our picks 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.
Polk MagniFi Mini 2.1-Channel Soundbar, $199.95
If you're looking for a soundbar that can deliver big sound in a truly petite package, check out Polk's MagniFi Mini 2.1-channel soundbar and wireless 6.5-inch down-firing subwoofer. The soundbar uses Polk's patented SDA technology to produce a much broader soundstage than you'd expect from such a small enclosure. Plus, the Mini includes some features you won't find in similarly priced soundbars, like an HDMI ARC port and Chromecast built-in streaming. Best of all, the price has dropped $100 since we reviewed it back in May.
Sony UBP-X800 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, $199.99
Of all the "entry-level" Ultra HD Blu-ray players we've tested thus far, Sony's UBP-X800 is our favorite. It offers the best combination of performance, build quality, and features at this price point--with perks like SACD/DVD-Audio playback and Bluetooth audio output. The one downside is its lack of Dolby Vision support; but, if your new UHD TV only supports HDR10 and you want a great player at an affordable price, this is our pick.
Periodic Be (Beryllium) In-ear Monitors, $299
Periodic Audio is a relative newcomer to the headphone market, with the stated mission of delivering audiophile-quality products at an affordable price. Scott Schumer enjoyed the performance of the $99 Mg and the $199 Ti, but he especially loved the top-of-the-line $299 Be, thanks to its Beryllium transducer. According to Scott, the Be's performance "knocks on the door of any audiophile IEM or headphone of any type at nearly any price."
Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones, $399.95
Scott Schumer compared the Sennheiser PXC 550 over-the-ear headphones directly with popular wireless, noise-canceling models from Beats, Bose, and Sony--and he felt that the PXC 550 was the clear victor in both performance and features. He liked the collapsible, comfortable design and the accompanying CapTune app, and he felt that Sennheiser's NoiseGuard adaptive noise-canceling technology was the most successful at blocking outside noise without hindering sound quality.
OPPO Digital UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, $549
Enthusiasts were anxiously awaiting OPPO's first Ultra HD Blu-ray player, and the UDP-203 didn't disappoint when it arrived at the beginning of the year. The OPPO boasts better build quality and more comprehensive connections and video-output options than the entry-level players; and, since our initial review, this true universal disc player has been updated to support Dolby Vision HDR. Hardcore audiophiles looking for even higher-quality audio performance--as well as a USB DAC, a headphone amp, and (recently added) MQA decoding--might want to step up to the also-excellent UDP-205 for $1,299.
TCL 55P607 Roku UHD LED/LCD TV, $649
Up to now, TCL TVs have been known more for their value than their performance, but the company aimed to change that with the 2017 P Series. The 55P607 is a Dolby Vision-capable UHD TV with a full-array LED backlight and 72 zones of dimming for just $649. It serves up a great black level and accurate color, plus all the perks of the Roku smart TV platform. Too bad it's only available at the 55-inch screen size, but you can expect to see larger P Series models in 2018.
Emotiva Airmotiv T1 Tower Speaker, $699/pair
Emotiva's Airmotiv T1 is a rear-ported, three-way tower speaker that combines a folded ribbon tweeter (rare at this price), a 5.25-inch woven fabric cone midrange driver, and two six-inch woven fiber cone bass drivers. The speaker may have a basic aesthetic, but there's nothing basic about its performance. Bob Barrett says that the T1s deliver "stellar performance for their price, making them not only a real value but also a real performance front-runner in affordable high-end audio."
OPPO Digital Sonica DAC/Music Player, $799
OPPO Digital's Sonica DAC boasts a whole lot of functionality for just $799. You can use it as a standalone DAC that's capable of decoding high-resolution sources up to PCM 32/768 and DSD512 and as a high-resolution network music player, with Bluetooth and AirPlay thrown in for good measure. It has optical, coaxial, and asynchronous USB inputs, as well as XLR and RCA outputs. Ben Shyman was impressed with the Sonica DAC's overall performance, but he especially loved its sweet-sounding midrange and midbass.
ELAC DS-S101-G Discovery Music Server, $1,099
ELAC's DS-S101-G is a fully featured digital music streamer that supports playback of files stored on both NAS and USB drives; has integrated AirPlay, TIDAL, and Internet radio; and supports multi-zone streaming. Rather than try to develop its own user interface, ELAC wisely embraced the fantastic ROON Essentials Control app. In the performance department, Steven Stone wrote that the ELAC "delivers a level of sonic sophistication that should keep any music lover enthralled with the amount of resolution and detail delivered to their ears."
MartinLogan Cadence Three-Channel Soundbar, $1,299.95
Part of MartinLogan's Wireless Ensemble line, the fully featured Cadence is a three-channel active soundbar with a total of nine drivers. It features HDMI switching (with a generous three HDMI inputs), and it supports both Bluetooth and network audio streaming via AirPlay and DTS Play-Fi. Anthem Room Correction is also onboard. Sean Killebrew calls it a "no-brainer for someone who wants to take their home theater to the next level without adding the hassle of a dedicated surround sound system."
Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Speaker System, $1,299.99
If you're looking for a sleek, unobtrusive, affordable way to get a taste of object-based surround sound, you must check out Focal's $1,299 Sib Evo 5.1.2 speaker system. The new Sib Evo Dolby Atmos speaker, used for the front left and right channels, adds an up-firing driver to reflect the height effects off the ceiling. No, it won't create the same sense of immersion as a 7.1.4 system, but Dennis Burger was blown away by how remarkably dynamic, powerful, neutral, and detailed this sub/sat system proved to be.
RSL CG3 5.2 Home Theater Speaker System, $1,478
This 5.2-channel system includes four of RSL's CG3 bookshelf speakers, the dedicated CG23 center channel, and a pair of Speedwoofer 10S subwoofers, which we reviewed in a separate article. Regarding the speakers, Dennis Burger says it's "hard not to be blown away by these amazing little overachievers." And those 10-inch subs deliver "the sort of clean depth and nimble upper low-bass performance that I never would have dreamt possible from subs of this size (much less this price!)."
Marantz AV7703 11.2-Channel AV Processor, $1,499.99
The AV7703 costs far less than Marantz's flagship AV8802A yet packs even more features. This 11.2-channel processor has all the goodies you could want: 3D audio decoding, UHD/HDR pass-through, Audyssey MultEQ32, Bluetooth and network audio streaming, and plenty of built-in music services. According to Brian Kahn. "The AV7703 provides a high level of audio performance and the utmost in flexibility, making it a worthy candidate for just about any AV system." It's worth mentioning that, since this review published in August, Marantz has introduced the newer AV7704 with a similar features list for $2,199--which is why the AV7703's street price has dropped to $1,499.99.
VIZIO P65-E1 UHD LED/LCD Monitor, $1,549
Our full review of VIZIO's 65-inch P65-E1 will post next week, but we're going to tip our hand and tell you that VIZIO has a definite winner on its hands with this one. The P65-E1 is a Dolby Vision-capable LED/LCD monitor that boasts excellent black levels and image contrast to rival or best some much pricier competitors. VIZIO has also tweaked its SmartCast smart TV platform this year to create a more user-friendly experience.
SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer, $1,999.99
The SB16-Ultra subwoofer is a sealed-box design with a 16-inch woofer driven by a 1,500-watt Class D amplifier, and the SVS control app allows you to create custom presets for different source types and tailor this sub's performance to suit your room. Our measurements showed that the output of this sealed sub is comparable to that of many larger ported subs. Brent Butterworth called it "a truly impressive creation that delivers bass reproduction unlike anything else out there," adding that those who love sealed-box designs might consider it "the greatest subwoofer ever made."
Click over to Page Two to see the rest of this year's Best-of picks...