It’s award season in the world of specialty audio/video and HomeTheaterReview.com has compiled our list of the best of the best. Our editorial staff selected the absolute best products of the year from our 28 total product categories and have given them a special place in AV history as Best of 2018 award winners. Here’s the list of winners from least expensive to most expensive.
Sennheiser HD1 Wireless Headphones ($399) (Read our review)
These wireless over-ear headphones ended up being the pick of the litter from publisher Jerry Del Colliano, who reviewed a whole slew of headphones in this category. They are not heavy on your head or hot over time and have the most even-tempered, non-boomy sound out there at the price point.
Bowers & Wilkins PX Wireless Headphones ($399) (Read our review)
These stylish over-ear wireless headphones are a close second to the Sennheiser HD1s. They have better industrial design and a really smooth sound for a wireless pair of cans. The bass performance is greatly improved over the company’s previous P7 wireless headphones. (Buy it now at Amazon)
MartinLogan Motion 4i Bookshelf Speakers ($499 per pair) (Read our review)
Your TV likely sounds like crap. MartinLogans don’t. And they have the solution to your speaker needs that match nicely with today’s slim OLED, QLED, and LED 4K HDTVs that provides audio to match the quality of the best the video world has to offer.
PS Audio Sprout 100 Integrated Amp ($599) (Read our review)
Who says really sexy audiophile gear needs to be expensive? This $599 integrated amp is the perfect gateway into our hobby, with modern connectivity and simply operation. You have to start somewhere. and $599 isn’t too bad for a component this nice and this well-connected.
Definitive Technology Demand D9 Bookshelf Speakers ($749 per pair) (Read our review)
These small, high-performance speakers were up to the test when playing in Scott Wasser’s relatively large room. Great fit and finish, easy to drive, and a dynamic sound just scratch the surface of why they’re one of our top picks.
Aperion Audio Verus II Grand Bookshelf Speakers ($799 per pair) (Read our review)
If you’re looking for something a little more stylish, Aperion’s Verus Grand II bookshelves pack a truly high end sound at a very, very affordable price, and that always goes over well with the HomeTheaterReview.com staff–not to mention our readers. It’s hard to find a better overall value from speakers. (Buy it now at Amazon)
ELAC Debut 2.0 F6.2 Floorstanding Speakers ($799 per pair) (Read our review)
Just when you thought Andrew Jones and ELAC couldn’t do better, they went like six levels better to take these flagship tower speakers to insane-land. This is a shark-infested part of the speaker market but ELAC is swimming inside of one of those steel cages with this design. Detail is through the roof and imaging is just sumptuous. Despite the tower design, you still need a sub to get truly impactful deep bass, but that’s the only thing less-than-stellar we can say about these amazing value-busters.
Paradigm Monitor SE 6000F Floorstanding Speakers ($899 per pair) (Read our review)
Finished in a glorious gloss white, Paradigm’s more entry-level floorstanding speakers just don’t feel (or sound) that entry-level. These speakers can hang with the big boys and have the looks to match really well-appointed rooms. Whether you’re rocking an AV receiver or are an audiophile with fancier electronics, these $899 speakers make a statement from north of boarder about who makes the best bang-for-the-buck speakers. (Buy it now at Amazon)
Monitor Audio Silver 100 Speakers ($1,049 per pair) (Read our review)
Sean Killebrew reviewed a number of speakers in the Monitor Audio Silver line, but the Silver 100 bookshelf speakers stand out as the best performer and still hold outright excellent value. Gold dome tweeters, C-CAM “rigid surface” woofers, and efficient crossovers make these speakers a top pick in the competitive world of value-based audiophile speakers.
Roon Nucleus Music Server ($1,398) (Read our review)
For those looking to leave the world of physical discs, this Linux-based server is a slick way to do so. With high-quality streaming and insanely good control of your ripped music, this $1,400 music server replaces an old Oppo, a Mac Mini, and more.
LG 55SK9000PUA Ultra HD LED Smart TV ($1,699) (Read our review)
Now hear this: the LG SK9000 is the first HDTV to ever spring from the box meeting SMPTE and ISF standards without a bit of fiddling. With its brightness and overall picture quality, it would have likely earned its way onto the list even if it didn’t come pre-calibrated, but set it to the Technicolor Expert picture profile and this UHD TV eliminates the need for an ISF guru to come to your house and tweak its settings. It’s perfect out of the box. Game changer.
SVS PB-4000 Subwoofer ($1,899) (Read our review)
Dennis Burger says that this is a “go big or go home” subwoofer that builds on SVS’ strong legacy of high-performance subs. Yes, it’ll peel the skin right off your skull, but perhaps more surprising is its capacity for subtlety. If you have a mid- to large-sized room, this is the sub to beat this year. (Buy it now at Amazon)
Sony X900F Ultra HD LED Smart TV ($1,995) (Read our review)
We spent a lot of time in late 2018 reviewing all of the reference 65-inch sets from all of the major display manufacturers, but this LED offering from Sony is so close in performance to the reference level sets that we couldn’t believe it. Big, bright, smart, and sexy–you get nearly all the performance of a reference UHD display for less than half the price.
Tekton Design Impact Monitors ($2,000 per pair) (Read our review)
Tekton Design makes some of the most dynamic, easiest-to-drive speakers with a patented midrange driver system that is possibly the most open sounding money can buy. Coming in $1,000 below the insanely low-priced, floorstanding Double Impact speakers, the Impact Monitors give much of the DI’s performance at a much lower price. Custom colors only help make these Utah-made speakers even cooler.
VIZIO PQ65-F1 P-Series Quantum 4K HDR Smart TV ($2,099) (Read our review)
Relying on quantum dot technology the likes of which you’ll also find in Samsung’s flagship displays this year, Vizio’s 65-inch P Series Quantum offers absurd light output, perfect for HDR and so much more, at a Costco-tastic price. Never before could you put a TV of this quality in your cart next to a 32 pack of Quilted Northern and a 10-pound box of Cheerios. Seriously, this is an incredible display for the money even, if Samsung’s smart TV interface is fancier and their form factors are much better. (Buy it now at Best Buy)
RBH SV-661R Bookshelf Loudspeakers ($2,700 per pair) (Read our review)
These beefy high-end bookshelf speakers are yet another success for RBH. In his review, Terry London raves about its proprietary AMT driver, wonderful tonality, delightful transparency, and precise soundstage.
Click over to Page Two to see the rest of this year’s top picks…
LG OLED65C8PUA OLED UHD TV ($2,995) (Read our review)
One nice thing about having the market cornered on OLED manufacturing is that even when Sony puts a better processor and a cool tactile transducers behind the screen, you can still offer an even better, thinner TV for less money. And that’s what we have in LG’s flagship OLED. Perhaps the best UHD TV ever made. There, we said it.
Nakymatone Echt Invisible In-wall Speakers ($3,000 per pair) (Read our review)
Invisible speakers are one of the hottest categories in specialty AV and are turning the custom installation world upside down. Literally, these in-wall or in-ceiling speakers can disappear behind drywall skim coat or any number of other surfaces and set a new high bar for spousal acceptace factor. Sonically, Nakymatone takes the cake in this exciting new space.
Samsung Q9FN 65-Inch QLED 4K TV ($3,495) (Read our review)
Samsung’s QLED technology is fighting it out with LG’s OLED designs for dibs on who makes the highest-performance TV in the world right now. OLED’s strengths are in better-than-plasma blacks, where QLED offers light output that was simply unthinkable a few years ago, making it arguably better for HDR (high dynamic range) content, which is the driving force of many high-end video buffs when making an investment in top-level TVs today.
Denon AVR-X8500H 13.2 AV Receiver ($3,999) (Read our review)
Receivers didn’t used to be able to do all of this. Literally, this one-box AV powerhouse can do it all, from managing oodles of state-of-the-art HDMI inputs to driving 13.2 channels of object-based surround sound. If you want it all and in one chassis, Denon has the answer right here. (Buy it now at Amazon)
Sonus faber Sonetto III Floorstanding Speakers ($3,999 per pair) (Read our review)
Italy’s best speakers just got a little better and a little more affordable. With tweeter technology borrowed from much higher-end speakers and a sleek form factor enhanced by a killer matte white finish, these speakers are wooing AV enthusiasts all over the world.
Anthem STR Stereo Preamplifier ($3,999) (Read our review)
This preamp has it all. Delicious audiophile performance. The coolest on-screen control ever. Anthem’s inimitable room correction. You can certainly spend more money on a stereo preamp, but why? This one aims to win on all fronts.
Kaleidescape Strato 4K Movie Server ($4,495) (Read our review)
Kaleidescape’s movie servers are legendary in the world of home theater, but now they come packing 4K downloads, full studio support, and a $4,500 price tag–a good $15,000 to $20,000 less than you’d pay for an old Kaleidescape system without 4K. The system’s user interface remains the absolute best in the business. Hands down.
Marantz AV8805 AV Preamp ($4,499) (Read our review)
If you have big-time money, you buy the Trinnov Altitude 16. If you can’t play ball with the one-tenth-of-one-percenters, though, look to the Marantz 8805. This beast of an AV preamp provides every feature known to man, tons of inputs, rock-solid stability, and more. While it’s not cheap, per se, it’s got everything one needs for the heart of an amazing object-based home theater system.
Pass Labs XA-25 Class A Power Amp ($4,900) (Read our review)
Nelson Pass is one of the world’s most famous amplifier designers, known for his high current, Class A designs, and this somewhat stripped down (no big meter on the front) offering brings a level of insane audiophile performance to a more attainable level. This is a power amp worthy of lusting after.
Bowers & Wilkins 702 S2 Floorstanding Speakers ($4,500 per pair) (Read our review)
Bowers & Wilkins comes strong to the party with much more affordable speakers that have many design elements derived from the highly lauded 800 Diamond V3 speakers. Close your eyes and take an auditory trip to Abbey Road Studios with these sex-tastic overachievers from the U.K.
Anthem STR Power Amp ($5,995) (Review coming soon)
Sleek industrial design. Power and current to spare. And a pairing with one of the coolest stereo preamps to hit the market in a long, long time. The Anthem STR is a 400 Watt/channel, dual-mono sex machine that can drive virtually any speaker on the market regardless of price or impedance.
Parasound JC 5 Stereo Power Amplifier ($6,000) (Read our review)
If you can name any amp designer other than Nelson Pass, chances are good that John Curl’s name is the one rolling off your lips. His new JC 5 brings all of the performance of his legendary JC 1 monoblock into the stereo world at a price of just $6,000. You can spend a lot more and not get as much as this Parasound amp has to offer.
Micromega M-150 Integrated Amplifier ($7,499) (Read our review)
Raw performance, a sleek design, and nearly infinite custom finish options set this French integrated amp apart from the pack. It’s got it all: a high-end internal DAC, a phono input, current to spare, and the ability to drive nearly every high-end speaker on the market today with ease.
Krell Theater 7 Multi Channel Power Amplifier ($7,500) (Read our review)
Krell is back as an AV industry player after a few tough years, and this amp is a brilliant return to form. Designed to be the heart and soul of any audiophile-grade home theater surround sound system, the Theater 7 features Krell’s innovative iBias topology, which delivers pure Class A power up to unbelievable levels, giving you purity of tone you have to hear to believe.
Focal Kanta No. 2 Floorstanding Speakers ($9,999 per pair) (Read our review)
We’ve been raving about Focal speakers in the Sopra line for a few years now, but the company’s Kanta line brings much of the Sopra performance and equally good looks to a lower price point. Killer finishes and the best drivers money can buy only open the conversation.
Bricasti Design M1SE Dual Mono DAC ($10,000) (Read our review)
To give a $10,000 DAC a best-of-the-year award may seem a bit in that the fast-moving world of high-end digital audio can leave you, the audiophile, holding the bag with yesterday’s technology in short order. This one deserves it, though. Designed by ex-Harman/Lexicon engineers, the MS1E competes favorably with DACs costing double and close to triple the money today.
Mark Levinson N° 585 Integrated Amplifier ($12,000) (Read our review)
This beefy integrated amp has all of the Mark Levinson power that we have come to love, mated with a high performance DAC, making it an all-in-one high end audio solution that can drive damn-near any speakers known to man with ease and precision.
Trinnov Altitude 16 AV Preamp ($16,000) (Read our review)
If you’re obsessed with chasing down the last nth degree of audio performance, price be damned, this is the object-based surround sound solution you’ve been looking for. With the best room correction known to man or Wookiee, nearly infinite customization tools, and pure sound quality that would curl your eyelashes even without all of the other goodies tacked on, this beast absolutely broke Dennis Burger’s heart when he had to box it up and ship it back.
Mark Levinson N° 526 Preamp-DAC ($20,000) (Read our review)
$20,000 is getting into end-game audiophile territory these days, but this DAC-PRE earns its price tag with best in class performance, incredible build quality, and ergonomics that elevate it above the pack.
Focal Sopra N°3 Loudspeakers ($20,000 per pair) (Read our review)
HomeTheaterReview.com readers have taken notice that publisher Jerry Del Colliano, Ben Shyman, and now Dr. Taraszka have made the change to Focal’s sexy, easy-to-drive flagships as their reference speakers. Yes, they are expensive, but compared to the likes of Wilson Audio, Magico, YG, and others in the very high end, these Focals are world beaters. Their performance, aesthetics, and construction simply blow their similarly priced competition out of the water.