Enjoy the Music.com's Best Of 2018 Blue Note Awards celebrates the many great achievements by audiophile manufacturers within the high-end audio and Hi-Res Audio industry. Our 2018 Blue Note Awards is a culmination of eighteen years of reviewing and carefully choosing what products have earned special recognition for our annual awards. Our Best Of 2018 Blue Note Award celebrates the finest products we have reviewed during the previous 12 months. Recipients have been carefully chosen after much debate and consideration by our staff of reviewers. With each passing year our industry has experienced great advancements in technology including analog circuitry, vinyl LP and analog tape playback, digital-to-analog converters (DACs), headphones, loudspeaker design, plus of course portable media players, computer software and streaming media. While there are many great pieces of high fidelity audio equipment now available within the marketplace, Enjoy the Music.com's Best Of 2018 Blue Note Awards is compiled from products we have reviewed within the past 12 months that have earned extra special attention.
From September 2017 through September 2018 our staff chose only 18 products that have earned this award. This is quite generous, actually, as in 2017 our staff chose 17 extraordinary products to receive our special Best Of 2017 Blue Note Award. For those curious, in 2016 we bestowed 15 high-end audio components to receive an Enjoy the Music.com Blue Note Award (11 in 2015 and 13 in 2014 if you must know). So choosing 18 during 2018 is in fact the highest number of products we have ever chosen!
Let it be said here and now we make no apologies that during 2018 our staff chose only 18 products to receive our special Best Of 2018 Blue Note Award. With so many products spanning an array of categories reviewed from late 2017 through September 2018, this does not mean that everyone gets an award. This is not to say that other products do not merit your attention, it is simply that only the very best of the bunch should stand out and be recognized clearly and concisely. If you want to see a list of our 'Top 500 Products', then look no further than our high-end audio equipment review archives page.
Take note that we do not carry over products from our Best Of 2017 Blue Note Awards or from our Blue Note Awards 2016 (or any other awards for that matter). We do realize that giving away so very few awards each year appears to be the anti-norm for a magazine.
And with all that said....
Our longstanding staff here at Enjoy the Music.com, with hundreds of years in combined expertise, now presents to you our choices for Best Of 2018 Blue Note Equipment Award. And the winners are:
Nagra Classic Preamp
Nagra is a Swiss company that has a well-established reputation as a leading manufacturer of professional recording equipment. They were founded about 60 years ago, but it wasn't until 1997 that they also started making high-end audio equipment for home use. Enjoy the Music.com's Editor Tom Lyle says: I was already afflicted with the audiophile bug back when Nagra introduced their first components for the high-end market, and it was then that I knew that I wanted to own one, or, at the very least hear one. I finally have a Nagra component in my system, their very attractive looking Class A vacuum-tube powered Classic Preamp.
Of course, the first-rate sound quality of the Nagra Classic Preamp is due many factors. On the Nagra website is an explanation of the Classic Preamp's technical features, some of which may be more understand than others. But one of the Classic Preamp's key internal features includes custom-made polypropylene capacitors used for decoupling and are separated from the other internal components to aid in delivering its improved performance, which Nagra characterizes as having a wider frequency response and a more linear phase response. They also use in-house, hand-wound transformers, and "ultra"-low noise right and left channel power supplies, which they claim result in a larger and more realistic soundstage.
Some may think that because the Classic Preamp is a tube unit that one could assume that its midrange would be the star of the show. Of course yes, this linestage has "a great midrange", but it does this without anything that would resemble what one might consider a typical "tube sound", at least not in the negative sense of the term. In fact, of the best things about this midrange was how much I did not notice it. What I mean by that is that in my listening notes there weren't any comments directed towards any of the frequencies in particular, but rather how this linestage reproduced music, in particular how well it aided in making my system reproduce musical instruments on the records that sounded not like the musical instruments, but like the musical instruments being reproduced. This also might have more to do with the Classic Preamp's transparency, and how it allowed the source components to do what they do best.
Within Editor Tom Lyle's review of the vacuum tube powered Nagra Classic Preamp, he searched for something negative to say about the its sound quality. According to Tom, "...but couldn't come up with anything. Non-audiophiles might say that for $20,000, Nagra's Classic Preamp should be the best money could buy. Audiophiles know better, and understand one could spend much, much more than the what Nagra is asking for this component. Perhaps if this preamp wasn't designed and built in Switzerland, it then might not cost as much. But there's also a good chance that if it wasn't designed and built in Switzerland it wouldn't perform nearly as well as it does, look as good as it does, and it wouldn't be receiving Enjoy the Music.com's Blue Note Award 2018. Since system matching is especially important when it comes to linestages, this preamp has four RCA unbalanced plus one XLR balanced input. It has two outputs, both unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR, but only one works at a time. It also has no mono switch if you happen to be a mono'phile. Otherwise, this preamplifier is made for all audiophiles who want the very best in preamplifier design, and especially to those who have a system that can appreciate its ultra-luculent and musical sound. I'm sure that if they audition this preamp they are going to purchase it. Yes, most should consider it expensive, but it is worth every penny."
Click here to read the complete review.
Previous Annual Blue Note Awards