It’s awards season again, at least here at HomeTheaterReview.com. We have polled our editorial staff and picked the very best from an already elite list of 100-ish specially AV products we’ve reviewed this year. These awards are reserved for the tippy top of AV offerings in terms of overall performance and overall value, as well as other factors like unique design, cutting edge technology, and ergonomics.
With no further ado, here are our picks, starting with the most affordable and working up to the upper echelon.
• Schiit Jotunheim Multibit DAC ($549) (Read our review)
No audiophile company has a better sense of humor about the hobby than Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard’s Schiit Audio. You could also argue their really well thought-out two-channel products represent some of the best value in the entire industry today, none more so than their Schiit Audio Jotenheim Multibit DAC for $549. Resident HD streaming (and high end vintage guitar expert) Matthew Partrick took a close look at this physically diminutive DAC and said, “The Jotunheim is a fantastic option for those looking for high-quality desktop sound … In addition, its excellent linear power supply and support for balanced XLR output make for a special headphone experience.”
• Hisense 68H8F 65-inch Ultra HD Smart TV ($599) (Read our review)
Could you ever have imagined a day when a high-performance, 65-inch 4K Ultra HD television set would cost $599? That day is today, and no the TV isn’t from Vizio. Hisense is one of the newest players (along with companies like TCL) to come to market with feature-laden sets that can compete with the bigger brands for a sum of money that nearly anybody can afford.
Andrew Robinson, who has reviewed the best TVs in the market today, from Samsung’s QLEDs to Sony’s Master Series to LG’s top-of-the-line OLED sets, said, “given enough time it would appear that even those of us on a budget can and will be able to enjoy how the other half lives. The Hisense H8 Series is proof of this, and if nothing else, it proves that it’s a great time to be a 4K enthusiast on a budget” about the Hisense. Then he bought the review sample because it was too good to go back to the factory.
• Neeo Remote for Control4 ($500) (Read our review)
It’s true that you need a Control4 entertainment and automation system to make this new version of Neeo work, but if you’re already a Control4 homeowner or thinking about being one, and if AV control and smart home operation are equally important to you, this is the clicker you want, for sure.
Its combination of luxury materials (machined aluminum), design (a unique thin profile barely more than a third of an inch thick), and a super responsive touchscreen display (291 ppi backlit LED with Gorilla glass) contribute to a remote quite unlike anything you’ve ever held. In his review, Dennis calls Neeo “the sleekest, sexiest, most intuitive control solutions I’ve ever put my front paws around. And also one of the best-built, by a country mile.
• Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge + Bass ($899 each) (Reviewed here and here)
There are a lot of small wireless speakers on the market today, and most of them quite frankly suck. Bowers & Wilkins Formation products do not suck, and that’s true whether you’re talking about the Wedge speaker spotlit here, the Bar (soundbar), the Duo (audiophile wireless bookshelves), or whatever you chose to pair with the $899 Formation Bass subwoofer.
This insanely easy-to-install system has a modern industrial design (with some mid-century overtones) in a small form factor that doesn’t sound small at all. In fact, this pairing sounds like B&W speakers, complete with excellent imaging and controlled bass that any modern audiophile could love.
• SVS Prime Pinnacle Speakers ($799 to $899/pair) (Read our review)
We were in love with SVS’s $2,000-per-pair floorstanding speakers in past years, because of course we were, but these new SVS Prime Pinnacle speakers, starting at $799 per pair, have us even more jazzed for SVS on the loudspeaker front. Equally at ease with music as well as movie soundtracks, the SVS Prime Pinnacles are winning over fans and fast, and that includes Greg Handy, who said in this review: “If you are in the market for a new pair of speakers, and you simply do not have the placement flexibility required to get the most out of so many other speakers, I highly suggest taking SVS up on their 45-day, risk-free audition offer. Be warned, however, that I suspect 99 percent of you who do so won’t be sending them back.”
• SVS SB-3000 Subwoofer ($1,000) (Read our review)
For those looking for a right-priced yet highly powerful sealed box subwoofer, the SVS SB-3000 is a perfect choice for so many music and home theater enthusiasts. Yes, if you want that “britches leg flapping in the wind” effect, you might look for the SB-3000’s ported brother, but if you seek to strike a balance between the power of a meaningful SVS sub and the control of a sealed box, this might just be the sub for you. Greg Handy wrote: “If you’re looking for state-of-the-art, high performing subwoofer, with small proportions and the qualities of a sealed enclosure, the SVS SB-3000 is worth every penny and more in my opinion.”
• Polk Legend Series L100 Bookshelf Speakers ($1,199/pair) (Read our review)
Another 2019 HomeTheaterReview.com award winner that gets retro-style points is the Polk Legend L-100. A lot of design went into these small bookshelf speakers, from the Polk Pinnacle Tweeter to the Turbine Cone mid/bass driver, but the thing that really makes them tick is their Enhanced Power Port, which gives you rear-ported performance without rear-ported placement issues. These little suckers kick some serious butt, yet are still very easy to set up.
Dennis Burger said in his review, “Whether you’re employing them alone as part of a stereo or 2.1 system, or perhaps as surrounds for a full Polk Legend Series surround sound setup, there’s just no denying that this is one incredibly detailed, textural, and holographic speaker.”
• Denon AVR-X4500H AV Receiver ($1,599) (Read our review)
Talk about the Goldilocks zone for AVRs! This Denon seems to have exactly the right amount of features and power for a very fair price. We know because, by a long margin, we see more and more HomeTheaterReview.com readers buying exactly this model via our Amazon.com affiliate links.
In fact, Dennis Burger made it the centerpiece of his AV Receiver Buyer’s Guide, as it just seems to hit all of the right buttons in terms of what our readers are looking for. In his detailed standalone review, Dennis said of the AVR-X4500H: “It features plenty of HDMI ins, plenty enough speaker outputs for a full-fledged Atmos/DTS:X system without dipping into channel-overload territory, its HEOS multiroom and streaming audio platform is rock solid in my experience, and its support for advanced control systems is pretty freaking fantastic.”
• Technics SU-G700 Stereo Integrated Amplifier ($2,499) (Read our review)
Perhaps no specialty audio/video endeavor in recent history has captured the retro-design feel of the past while so elegantly embracing technology from the future as has the recently relaunched Technics. This integrated amp, if paired with, say JBL’s re-engineered and retro-tastic L100 Classic speakers (with orange egg crate grill cloth, of course), would make for one hell of a visual statement. It doesn’t sound exactly like electronics from the 1970s – in fact, not at all. It simple evokes the look and feel, while taking advantage of decades of technological innovation since.
In his review, Andrew says, “it’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited by an amplifier. But the SU-G700 doesn’t excite me by what it brings to light in a large, bombastic fashion. No, the SU-G700 excites by how confidently it goes about doing its job without needing to shout about it. It’s beautifully Zen, and I love it.”
• Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar ($2,495) (Read our review)
We know what you are thinking and we were thinking it too: how can a company known for headphones be any good at making a soundbar? It turns out, if that company is Sennheiser, they can be very good at it. This pricey soundbar was the darling of a fast-fading CES Show in early 2019 (fading at least for specialty AV, not driverless cars and Internet-of-things hair brushes or ping pong playing robots), and when we got our hands on the Ambeo it very much lived up to its hype. Bob Barrett opined, “No other soundbar that I’ve auditioned can deliver even close to the same low bass extension of the Sennheiser without adding a separate sub. And no other current soundbar reproduces Dolby Atmos soundtracks with the natural immersive quality or the same level of accuracy.”
• Aperion Novus Speakers ($2,995 for a 5.0.2 system) (Read our review)
A good value always catches our attention, and Aperion Audio is a well-established leader in online speakers that don’t simply rock, but do so at a very, very fair price. Their new Novus 5.0.2 speaker system is designed for the performance enthusiast who wants a great object-based surround sound setup that is commensurate with what today’s mid-range and full-featured AV receivers cost.
Dylan Seeger concluded, “Every Novus speaker is well built, looks great, and offers excellent sound quality, all of which makes them easy to recommend before you even consider the value proposition the height speakers add.”
• Marantz SR8012 AV Receiver ($2,999) (Read our review)
Many around here, including the boss, think Marantz makes some of the best sounding, best designed, most feature-laden AV receivers on the market, and the Marantz SR 8012 is pretty much the best example of that concept. The question isn’t what this receiver has in terms of features, it’s what features doesn’t it have, which is impressive given that it’s pushing two years on the market at this point.
The Marantz SR8012 even does a few things that its AV preamp brother, the Marantz AV8805, can’t do, and that is pretty impressive for an AV receiver – even a relatively expensive one like this. Resident AV receiver guru Dennis Burger had this to say about the Marantz SR 8012: “the SR8012 is a step up from what most of you are buying these days, and its price reflects that. But we don’t live in a one-size-fits-all world, and some of you simply need more in terms of power or channels. What’s reassuring is that Marantz is able to deliver that without compromising in terms of fidelity, especially for those of you who do a lot of two-channel listening via your surround sound rigs.”
Click over to Page Two to see the rest of this year’s top picks…
• Focal Stellia Headphones ($2,995) (Read our review)
You would be hard pressed to find better-sounding, more comfortable headphones than the wired Focal Stellias. These French cans are about as close as you can come to true studio-grade headphones, with all of the bells and whistles that come with super-premium, audiophile-grade models.
Greg Handy said, “For those audiophiles with both the means and an unwillingness to settle for less than the absolute best in a circum-aural closed-back headphone, you need look no further than the Focal Stellia.”
• Focal Aria 926 Speakers ($3,299/pair) (Read our review)
Focal makes some of the finest speakers in the world. Wilson Audio used their tweeters for years for the high end of their critically acclaimed speakers. Now, Focal is starting to offer speakers that more and more mainstream AV enthusiasts can afford. The Focal Aria 926 floorstandders are an excellent example of a speaker with gorgeous looks and performance that won’t quit at a price that’s just a little bit above average for a speaker in its class. Bob Barrett said, “If you are a fan of the Focal sound and your musical tastes run the likes of genres such as pop/rock, alternative, jazz, instrumental, or small ensemble classical, the Focal Aria 926 would be a great choice among speakers in their price range and even a bit higher”.
• JBL L100 Classic Loudspeakers ($4,300 with stands) (Read our review)
You know the classic Maxell cassette tape ad from the 1980s with the dude being literally blown away by sound while sitting in that iconic Le Corbusier chair? The speakers causing all of that ruckus in that ad are the classic JBL L100s from the early 1970s. And now they’re back. Well, kinda. These new speakers look just like those old JBLs, but have been fully redesigned for a new, much more demanding era of high performance AV. Andrew Robinson opines in his 5-star review: “A truly high-end loudspeaker with superb style and heritage; one that possesses no real esoteric or buzz-worthy features that yet manages to outright embarrass the competition.”
• Tekton Designs Moab Loudspeakers ($4,500/pair) (Full review pending)
Shocking! The latest design from Eric Alexander’s Tekton Design earns yet another HomeTheaterReview.com Best of Award. Why you ask? At $4,500, these speakers deliver the power, impact, presence and output of speakers costing as much as 10 times the price, and that is truly extreme value. The Moabs are for people with bigger rooms and the need to rock hard in a funky place, and if that’s you, they might be your perfect speaker. Made and designed in America. Custom paint finishes. These speakers are simply world beaters. It used to cost you a lot more money to get world class speakers in custom colors from Provo, Utah. Things have changed.
• GoldenEar Triton One.R Speakers ($5,998/pair) (Read our review)
While not the absolute top of the line for GoldenEar, the Triton One.R replicates in many ways the performance and aesthetics of their Triton Reference speakers in a significantly more affordable and significantly more manageable form factor.
Ask those who really know about good speakers and they will tell you that you can tangle with speakers costing double or even triple and still end up picking the GoldenEars. Dennis Burger concluded, “True, the One.R isn’t quite the revolution that the original One was. It’s more like evolution–small, incremental improvements that, on their own, might not seem that huge, but that when combined result in an entirely new animal.”
• JVC DLA-RS2000/DLA-NX7 Projector ($7,999) (Read our review)
D-ILA projectors make us feel all warm and tingly about video. The deep blacks remind us of the glory days plasma TVs, but with an image that can be easily double the width and honestly just better than anything any plasma could ever produce (people who own 15-year-old Pioneer KUROs can leave us hateful comments below). JVC’s latest D-ILA video projectors now come with 4K resolution, which has been a needed feature slow to migrate to the realm of video projectors in this price range. After measuring, testingm and ultimately buying a DLA-RS2000 (also sold as the DLA-NX7 for the consumer market), Dylan said, “For those looking for one of the best performing projectors in the under-$10,000 market, you owe it to yourself to check out the RS2000.”
• Revel PerformaBe Series F228Be Loudspeakers ($10,000/pair) (Read our review)
With a parent company like Harman behind them, Revel benefits in so many ways in terms of advanced speaker designs in the audiophile world. The Revel Performa series has been incredible value options for those that can’t pop for their higher-end Ultima Studio2 ($16,000 per pair) or Ultima Salon2 ($24,000 per pair).
The latest top performer in the line comes in at a slightly more affordable $10,000 price tag, but unlike some earlier designs now rocks a Beryllium tweeter that appeals to many a discerning audiophile. Brian Kahn has reviewed a number of top contenders in this price range from the likes of Bowers & Wilkins, MartinLogan, and many others. He said about the F228Be: “The balance of coherent integration of the drivers, dynamic power delivery, and wide dispersion window work together to make for a performance that does a very good job at reproducing a wide variety of music.”
• Bricasti M15 power amp ($12,000) (Read our review)
For those looking for an ultimate-performance power amp without quite spending ultimate-level money, we introduce to you the Bricasti M15. While $12,000 isn’t chicken feed, this amp delivers on much of what the Bricasti $30,000 monoblocks do for a fraction of the price, with a a design team of all-stars, build quality that is second to none, and so much more. Terry London said in his review: “If you want a solid-state design that offers tube-like timbres, image density, and the effortless overall liquidity of tubes, with deep bass extension, transparency that lets the smallest details be heard, and sufficient power to drive any speaker with ease and control, the M15 Pro Series might be the amplifier you want for your system.”
• Magico A3 Speakers ($12,300/pair) (Full review pending)
In the audiophile world, one could safely argue that there are no speakers built with more inert and uber-sexy cabinets than Magicos. These Northern California built and designed speakers have wooed audiophiles for years, but things are a little different now as the A3, in fact the A Series as a whole, represents the company’s renewed dedication to surround sound, at prices far below the highly lauded (and commensurately expensive) S Series. The A2 is designed to deliver the absolute best in terms of resolution, dynamics, and imaging from the audiophile world, in a form factor that’s perhaps a little more appropriate for your 4K streaming, Ultra HD Blu-ray movies, and video games. Game on.
• Paradigm Persona 5F Floorstanding Loudspeakers ($17,000/pair) (Read our review)
Paradigm speakers are the darlings of the AV enthusiast world. They rock hard for home theater and have equally well-rated performance for music. But the Persona line of speakers ventures into the lofty world of ultra-high-performance audiophile speakers where esoterica is the name of the game. And you know what? Paradigm is capable of producing fantastically finished, uber-high-end speaker as well as the more established players in the market and in many ways for less money (although quite a pretty penny at $17k per pair).
Myron Ho reviews and owns a number of speakers in this price category, and regarding the Paradigm Persona 5F’s he said, “In the case of the Paradigm Persona 5F speakers, you are getting some of the best engineering the loudspeaker world knows with a fit and finish that you might expect from speakers costing twice the price.” Kind praise, indeed.
• Vivid Audio Kaya 90 Speakers ($26,000/pair) (Read our review)
From the legendary designer of the Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus comes a whole new line of ultra-modern-looking uber-performance speakers designed to both visually and sonically impress. Completely bespoke driver and crossover designs are just a couple of the things that make this radical looking speaker such a sonic overachiever, with imaging and dynamics that can take on the best of the best. Brian Kahn said, “I’ve been doing high-end audio reviews for the last 20 years, and the Vivid Audio Kaya 90 is one of the most impressive products I have had the pleasure of reviewing. I will be very sad to see this pair go.”
• D’agostino Progression Preamplifier ($22,000; $26,500 with the optional internal DAC) (Read our review)
From audiophile designer extraordinaire Dan D’agostino (founder of Krell), the Progression Preamp is a product designed for the highest-of-high-end consumers who seek no-holds-barred performance and are willing to pay for it. The good news is, the Progression Preamp delivers in spades, making its expense well worth it. It is almost cliché to comment on the steampunk industrial design of D’agostino products, but it’s such a distinctive look that it draws in everyone who comes near. Brian Kahn said “It is going to be hard to find a stereo preamp that outperforms this one.”