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
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
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
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
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.
TCL 55P607 Roku UHD LED/LCD TV
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
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
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
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
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
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
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…
Revel Concerta2 F36 Tower Speaker, $2,000/pair
A part of Revel’s Concerta2 line, the F36 is a 2.5-way tower speaker with a one-inch aluminum dome tweeter and three 6.5-inch aluminum cone woofers. It delivers a very detailed and open sound that Brent Butterworth thinks will appeal to a whole lot of people, and it also serves up a nice amount of bass for a speaker in this size and price class. He summed up his review by calling the F36 the best value he’s heard in a midpriced tower speaker.
Optoma UHD65 DLP Projector, $2,499
Optoma introduced a trio of 4K-friendly single-chip DLP projectors this year, all at very aggressive price points. The mid-level UHD65 is targeted at the home theater market, and it can serve up a rich, nicely detailed, accurate image with a good black level and image contrast in its price class. The fact that it supports 4K input and HDR10 playback for just $2,499 is icing on the cake. For those who have no interest in 4K compatibility, we also reviewed Optoma’s $649 HD27 1080p DLP projector, and it proved to be quite a good little performer in the sub-$1,000 space.
MarkAudio-SOTA Viotti One Bookshelf Speaker, $2,995/pair
The Viotti One from MarkAudio-SOTA is not your average two-way bookshelf speaker. Its unusual driver array consists of a five-centimeter tweeter/midrange driver and an 11cm woofer. The cabinet is taller than average (stands are included) and very nicely constructed, with a choice of four hand-lacquered finishes. For Brent Butterworth, the Viotti Ones were just a lot of fun to listen to, no matter the type of music being played. They are a “subtly different and delightful twist on the conventional two-way speaker.”
Benchmark AHB2 Stereo Amplifier, $2,995
With the AHB2 stereo amplifier, Benchmark incorporates a lot of cutting-edge technology into a package that measures eight by 11 inches and weighs just 12.5 pounds.
The AHB2, which is rated at 100 watts per channel into eight ohms, uses THX’s patented AAA feed-forward error correction technology designed to virtually eliminate the distortion that’s normally produced by the output stage.
Ben Shyman describes this amp as masterfully detailed and transparent, with spot-on tonality and some serious punch.
Naim Uniti Atom All-in-One Wireless Music Player
Naim calls the Uniti Atom an “all-in-one wireless music player.” Dennis Burger calls it “everything you need to set up a fully featured audiophile music system for small to mid-sized rooms.”
The Atom is a Class AB integrated amplifier, a DAC, a headphone amp, and a high-resolution, multiroom-capable streaming audio player, with support for Bluetooth aptX, AirPlay, Chromecast, and UPnP.
The only thing Dennis loved more than the effortless setup, elegant user interface, and gorgeous chassis was the system’s unimpeachable performance.
Tekton Double Impact Tower Speaker, $3,000/pair
The inclusion of Tekton’s Double Impact tower speaker on this year’s best-of list should come as no surprise to anyone who read Terry London’s rave review, which included this summary: “The Double Impact is not just a great speaker at its very reasonable price. Rather, it is a reference-level speaker that will compete and actually out-class the performance of some other speakers costing thousands of dollars more.” For the audiophile who wants to take their system to an even higher level, Terry also reviewed and raved about Tekton’s $12,000/pair Ulfberht tower speaker, which builds on the Double Impact’s breakthrough patented design in a cost-no-object package.
Sony XBR-65Z9D UHD LED/LCD TV
Quite simply, Sony’s XBR-65Z9D is the best performing LED/LCD TV that Adrienne Maxwell has ever reviewed, combining superb black-level performance with amazing brightness capabilities to exploit HDR’s full potential.
The Sony Android TV interface isn’t as intuitive as some smart TV platforms, but all the desired bells and whistles are accounted for.
Since we reviewed this TV back in March, Sony has added support for Dolby Vision and dropped the price $2,000, making the XBR-65Z9D an even more enticing option for the videophile who wants a truly supreme TV.
Pass Labs HPA-1 Stereo Preamplifier/Headphone Amplifier, $3,500
The HPA-1 is the first stereo preamp/headphone amp combination that Pass Labs has ever built, and it’s an auspicious debut. The HPA-1 is a solid-state analog preamp with a Class A MOSFET output stage, and it has the build quality we’ve come to expect from Pass Labs. Ben Shyman auditioned it as a headphone amp and said it was “unquestionably a five-star performer. It is hard to imagine a far better performer at any price.” As for its performance as a preamp, Terry London said, “It kills in its performance and can compete with any line-stage on the market today, offering a bit of tube magic without the hassle and expense of buying and replacing tubes in the future.”
PS Audio DirectStream Junior DAC, $3,999
The DirectStream Junior wears several hats: It’s a high-quality DAC, preamplifier, and music streamer/Roon endpoint in one.
As a DAC, it supports PCM bit rates up to 24-bit/352.8-kHz and DSD 128; and, like its more expensive DirectStream sibling, the Junior uses PS Audio’s FPGA (field programmable gate array) technology to upsample both DSD and PCM files.
Steven Stone praised the DirectStream Junior for delivering “a refined, musical, yet detailed sound that was never aggressive but always involving.”
RBH Signature Reference SV-6500R Tower Speaker, $4,395/pair
Bob Barrett absolutely loved both the look and the performance of RBH Sound’s Signature Reference SV-6500R tower speaker, with the recently upgraded Air Motion Transformer tweeter. Says Bob, “The RBH Sound SV-6500R loudspeakers are THE value reference speaker in my book. They deliver on many fronts–quality components, impeccable finish, lots of bass energy for the footprint, and a highly resolving tweeter that is seamlessly integrated with the mid-bass and bass drivers.”
Audio Research LS28 Stereo Preamplifier, $7,500
Part of Audio Research’s Foundation Series, the LS28 is the company’s lowest priced stereo preamp; but, at $7,500, this tube-based preamp still falls squarely in the high-end electronics category. The LS28 boasts exceptional build quality, an elegant design, and (of course) fantastic performance. Ben Shyman calls it a “highly musical preamplifier that could breathe life and air into a recording and which had me feeling closer to the intention of the artist.” He found himself wondering, “Where does a hobbyist go when spending $7,500 gets you a component as luxurious and high quality as the LS28?”
GoldenEar Triton Reference Tower Speaker, $8,500/pair
GoldenEar has a well-earned reputation for delivering high performance at a high value. With the Triton Reference, the company has set it sights on the higher-end speaker market. Dennis Burger called this powered tower “a bigger, better, badder flagship speaker that ups the ante on size, design, and performance” compared with the Triton One. The Triton Reference is pretty much an entirely new creation that delivers more power, more dynamics, deeper bass, and superior imaging–in a towering yet elegantly sculpted cabinet with a beautiful gloss black finish. According to Dennis, “What makes GoldenEar speakers so beloved is that they combine stunning detail with staggering dynamics. That folded motion tweeter, combined with the powered bass section, results in equal authority across the entire audible frequency range.”
Paradigm Persona 3F Tower Speaker, $10,000/pair
This year, Paradigm’s Concept 4F flagship prototype became a real-world product, in the form of the Persona Series. Dennis Burger auditioned the lowest priced tower in the line, the Persona 3F, which uses Beryllium in both its one-inch tweeter and its seven-inch midrange driver and features dual seven-inch X-PAL bass drivers. Aesthetically, these speakers have an undeniable high-end elegance, with flawless build quality and a choice of four luxurious finishes. As for their performance, Dennis says, “From their exceptional dispersion characteristics to their wonderful tonal balance, exceptional clarity, and stunning detail, Paradigm’s Persona Series speakers leave one wanting for nothing.”
MartinLogan Expression ESL 13A Tower Speaker, $15,000/pair
MartinLogan’s electrostatic speakers have a cult-like following, and the Expression ESL 13A hybrid tower speaker is sure to please the most ardent fan. The ESL 13A combines a 13-inch-wide by 44-inch-high electrostatic panel with a pair of powered 10-inch aluminum cone woofers, each driven by its own 300-watt amp. Oh, and the system features built-in Anthem Room Correction, to boot. According to Brian Kahn, “This speaker improves upon the traditional MartinLogan strong points of transparency and detail and adds a much improved bass section to create a well-rounded, great-sounding speaker.”