Our 2014 Awards Issue brings together an intriguing collection of products. Nothing is quite what it seems; all of them have an unusual or distinctive feature that, set in a background of good engineering, lifts them out of the ordinary.
Take the almost-bizarre McIntosh MA8000. At first sight it looks like a standard pattern U.S. super-amp. You know the idiom: large, heavy
– and with more of everything, especially weight and power. Well, the McIntosh does have all these things, but not for the usual reasons. It's a transistor amplifier that uses output transformers
– truly unusual. A great perceived benefit of transistors was always that they don't need heavy, cumbersome and expensive output transformers, unlike valve amplifiers. Yet McIntosh turn this design logic on its head and come up with a great amplifier that, for technically sound if obscure reasons, works wonderfully well. We were all mightily impressed by this beast.
Icon Audio's Stereo 845PP may appear to be world's apart from the McIntosh, but it too uses forceful engineering to overcome problems most designers shy away from, in this case to run no fewer than four transmitter valves in one chassis. It's big and it's very heavy, just like the McIntosh, and it is a transformer feast, again like the McIntosh - but what a sound!
Audeze headphones have achieved a great reputation in their short time in the marketplace. They too are innovative, using planar magnetic drive units rather than the usual mini-cone drivers, to give a gorgeously smooth sound, a step up on everything else around. The LCD-3s were a fine example of what headphones can do when engineered well.
You can see the same thread of ingenuity and innovation in Martin Logan's amazing Summit X hybrid electrostatic loudspeakers and Usher's Dancer Mini-Xs, with diamond coated tweeter. These aren't run-of-the-mill products, short on innovation and long on hyperbole; they are genuinely advanced loudspeakers
– and they sounded it. It's always great to be able to review products like this.
So whilst so many hi-fi products seem stuck in rut, this is not universally true. It's still possible to sit in front of many new products, or clamp them over your head, and be wowed. This issue collects together the products that wowed us in 2014.
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