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The Absolute Sound

From The Editor...
February / March 2004
By Robert Harley

  Several times during the year, we honor select high-end audio products in our special awards features. Although we explain the different selection criteria for each award in the feature's introduction, it may be helpful to lay out in one place what the awards mean and how we go about the selection process.

Recommended Products is a listing of those products we believe offer good sound, high value, and would feel confident buying ourselves or recommending to a friend or relative. Starting with the next issue, we'll cut back on the annual number of Recommended Products features from five to two. We've previously dedicated a Recommended Products feature to each product category; now we'll confine these features to the category with the greatest reader interest (loudspeakers under $5000) and the category that is changing and evolving the fastest (high-resolution digital sources).

Editors' Choice will continue to be our large, but highly selective, listing of every product we recommend. Our Editors' Choice list is updated annually, and published in the October/November issue. As with Recommended Products, our Editors' Choice list now imposes a price cap limiting the products recommended to those that are "real-world." You'll find very expensive products in Editors' Choice (loudspeakers up to $25,000 for example), but not those components that are, as HP is wont to say, "hideously expensive." We save the most costly and esoteric products for special honors in our Golden Ear Awards.

Golden Ear Awards represent, in our editors' collective opinion, the best highend audio products available regardless of cost. Products are awarded a Golden Ear purely on sonic performance. This is where you'll find equipment like the $26,000 Walker Gold Proscenium turntable, the $56,990 Burmester 969 CD Turntable and 970 DAC, and the $91,500 Rockport Hyperion loudspeakers. We don't take into consideration value, practicality, or widespread availability. If you demand the state-of-the-art-and are a past president of the New York Stock Exchange-Golden Ear is the place to look. It's also a fun read for those of us who will never be able to afford such products but like to dream. Even if you're not in the market, Golden Ear keeps you up-to-speed on what's possible at the cutting edge of high-end audio. Golden Ear Awards are chosen by the consensus of a four-person panel composed of Harry Pearson, Wayne Garcia, Jonathan Valin, and yours truly.

Product of the Year is where we have the most fun. Components are bestowed with Product of the Year honors because they offer extremely high value, are technologically innovative, or both. Product of the Year winners are not necessarily the best-sounding components we've run across in the previous six issues. Rather, they offer the most value, introduce a breakthrough technology or a breakthrough in performance at the price, or just seem to be the perfect product at the perfect time. For example, we chose Rotel's $699 RCD-1072 CD player as overall Product of the Year for 2003 because it sounds terrific, is easily within the price range of many audiophiles, and fills a need in the market right now for a great-sounding and affordable digital source.

The selection process for each of these awards begins with asking our reviewers for their recommendations, from which we assemble the final lists. The discussions are often long, involved, and passionate; all have as their purpose the single-minded goal of best serving you, our readers.




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