Best Of 2020 Blue Note Equipment Awards
Enjoy the Music.com celebrates the best high
fidelity audio gear of 2020!
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Enjoy the Music.com's
Best Of 2020 Blue Note Awards celebrates the many great achievements
by audiophile manufacturers within the high-end audio and Hi-Res Audio industry. Our
Blue Note Awards is a culmination of 20 years of reviewing and carefully
choosing what products have earned special recognition for our annual awards. Our Best Of
2020 Blue Note Award celebrates the finest products we have reviewed during the
previous 12 months.
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 2020 Blue Note Awards is compiled
from products we have reviewed within the past 12 months that have earned extra special attention.
Many of our loyal readers have noticed we've been
hiring more writers, which in turn has produced more great high-end audio gear
reviews. From September 2019 through September 2020 our staff
chose 27 products that have earned our prestigious Blue Note Award. This is quite
generous as in 2019 we chose 21 products, and in 2018 our staff chose 18 high-end
audio components to
receive an Enjoy the Music.com Blue Note Award. Thus, choosing 27 products during
2020 is in fact the highest number of
audiophile products we have ever awarded!
it be said here and now we
make no apologies that during 2020 our staff chose
only 27 products to receive
our special Best Of 2020 Blue Note Award.
With so many products spanning an array of categories reviewed from late 2019 through September
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.
Enjoy the Music.com does not carry over products from our
Best Of 2019
Blue Note Awards, Best Of 2018
Blue Note Awards, or from our Blue Note Awards
2017 (or any other awards for that matter). This year we've made it
easier for you to see all the products that have earned our special Blue Note
Award too! Instead of having to click various pages, all winning products are on
Enjoy the Music.com's September 2020 Review
Magazine home page.
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
2020 Blue Note Equipment Awards as seen below.
& Vivace Monoblocks
AGD's Andante and Vivace will transport you to the musical venue.
is always an honor when a manufacturer asks me to review their product. It is,
after all, their 'baby'. They have poured their heart and soul into it. And
often times, the smaller the company, the more heart and soul is to be found
within. Such was the case with the AGD The Audion monoblocks to which I not only
gave a very positive review, but also bought as my new reference. The Gallium
Nitride Power MOSFETS in this Class D power amp were not only acoustically
outstanding, but the visual design of these diminutive monoblocks also spoke to
the tube-lover within me.
Read our AGD Andante Preamplifier and Vivace monoblock review.
AGD "The Audion" GaNTube Monoblocks
Class D reaches the upper echelon of high-end audio.
Review By Rick Becker
at the turn of the millennium you could put together a pretty good audio system
for $10,000, and you could listen to many of those components in a local brick
& mortar store if you lived in a decent size city. Sure there was some
stratospherically priced gear in the $10,000 to $20,000 range you might
be able to see if you went to one of the audio shows on the left or right
coasts. Then along came "quantitative easing" and the internet. Gear got more
expensive, the brick & mortar landscape eroded and major as well as regional
audio shows proliferated.
Read our AGD "The Audion" GaNTube monoblock amplifier review.
Allnic H-7000 Vacuum Tube Phono
Bringing you closer to the musical performance.
Review By Tom Lyle
I've been lucky enough to be able to
review a variety of excellent preamplifiers during the last few years,
from the more affordable to the quite extravagant. As with the Allnic
H-7000 vacuum tube phono preamplifier, as reviewed here, I'm hoping that
these different types of phono preamplifiers that I've reviewed might
help some audiophiles make a decision as to which phono preamp might be
best for their system's analog set-up.
Read our Allnic H-7000 phono preamplifier review.
Audio Analogue aaDAC Hi-Res Audio
The converter to beat within this price range.
Review By Tom Lyle
Analogue's aaDAC digital-to-analog converter is the latest high-end audio
component from their PureAA line, which also includes their AAcento integrated
amplifier and AAphono phono preamplifier. Audio Analogue says on their website "the aaDAC is a product that perfectly fits in the Audio Analogue philosophy:
its simple design, its remarkable sound performances and its great care for the
finish and the materials and parts selection, make it a perfect partner for your
---> Read our Audio Analogue aaDAC Hi-Res
Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary
A sonic wolf in sheep's clothing.
Review By Tom Lyle
When I was
asked if I would like to review Audio Analogue's newest integrated amplifier, I
exclaimed "Yes!". Why? Because even on paper it seemed as if it was an
extremely well-designed integrated amplifier, and also could easily power my
reference speakers with a healthy 150 Watts per channel into 8 Ohms, its power
doubling each time its impedance load is halved – and besides all this, I love
equipment that's made in Italy. Even if some of this gear isn't a perfect match
for the system in which it would be auditioned, I never have been disappointed
in the sound quality of any of those components.
Read our Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary int. amp. review.
Audio Research DAC9 Digital-To-Analog Converter
An organic sound that draws you into the music.
Review By Tom Lyle
past summer I was in a showroom auditioning a new line of speakers that included
a system that was made up of mostly Audio Research components. Even though I
heard four other products from that same line of speakers that day, it was their
smallest model that impressed me the most. As it just so happens, this system
included the Audio Research DAC9 digital-to-analog converter that is the focus
of this review.
Read our Audio Research DAC9 review.
Audio Research Reference 160M
Another home run from Minnesota!
reintroduced to Audio Research around two years ago when I had the opportunity
to review the outstanding LS28 / VT80 combination for Enjoy the Music.com. In
the past, I have found Audio Research's amplifiers to be very analytical but
somewhat sterile sounding. The ARC LS28 / VT80 still had all of the traditional ARC
sounds, but they now had developed some of the classic euphonic conrad-johnson
sounds. For me, this combination was heaven on earth. It was the best of both
worlds. I ended up buying the combination and have used it as part of my
reference system for the last three years.
Read our review of the Audio Research Reference 160M amplifier.
BØrresen Acoustics 01 Two-Way Monitor
An unending oasis of musical reality.
Review By Dr. Michael Bump
professional musician and university professor of 36 years, I can appreciate the
weight behind Benjamin Franklin's infamous quote. Though people may well forget
what you say or present, engaging them holistically – mind, body, soul –
often translates into a life-learning moment. Thus the question; Are we involved
within the moment and, in turn, an extension of the moment? The power of music,
in particular, is a spiritual transfer of learning energy.
Read our BØrresen Acoustics 01 monitor review.
Chord Electronics Huei MM / MC
Making music sound like music, which is what makes high-end audio high-end audio.
Review By Tom Lyle
the past I've had the pleasure of reviewing two other components made by Chord
Electronics from East Farleigh, Kent UK. In December of 2014 I reviewed the
first version of their Hugo,
a battery powered digital to analog converter. During January 2019 I
reviewed their Symphonic
moving coil phono stage, which in this case is more than noteworthy
because the Huei phono stage that is being reviewed here is a smaller version of
their excellent Symphonic phono stage.
our Chord Huei MM / MC phono stage review.
CH Precision I1 Universal Integrated Amplifier
A new paradigm for the integrated amplifier
Review By Greg Weaver
was founded by Florian Cossy and Thierry Heeb, two alumni of the
highly influential and innovative Swiss high-end audio firm Goldmund. Given the
wide-reaching acclaim and the host of industry awards they have garnered since
their founding, it is hard to believe this company is just rounding out its
first decade! For reasons that will become clearer as you get further into
this evaluation, I must preface this examination by noting that my experiences
with their early offerings had left me somewhat wanting.
Read our CH Precision I1 Universal Integrated Amplifier review.
Coincident Dynamo SE34 MK III Vacuum Tube Int. Amp.
A tube amplifier that is true to the master tape with soul.
Review By Tom Lyle
2016, Enjoy The Music's Rick Becker reviewed the previous incarnation
of this vacuum tube stereo amplifier, the Dynamo SE34 MK II. It was bestowed Enjoy
the Music.com's 2016 Blue Note Award, and so, I suppose the best thing I
could do would be to read Rick's review, and simply tack on an addendum, adding
my thoughts on the differences between the two. Even though Rick Becker is an
excellent high-end equipment reviewer, without listening to the older Dynamo
34SE MK II, I would feel more than a bit uneasy making any assumptions about how
the MK II would sound in my system and listening room as compared to the MK III.
our Coincident Dynamo SE34 MK III amplifier review.
EMM Labs DV2 Integrated
A truly magical musical machine!
Review By Phil Gold
It's many years since I've owned a
standalone DAC. When your CD Player is from EMM Labs it not only
contains a world class DAC, but that DAC keeps improving sonically with
regular free firmware updates. On top of that, EMM Labs has updated the
XDS1 CD Player to V2 and now V3 with new physical components for a
reasonable update charge. Without doubt today's XDS1 V3 shows remarkable
improvements over the initial model I first reviewed in 2010.
Read our EMM Labs DV2 integrated DAC review.
KEF LS50 Active Wireless Speaker System
bookshelf speakers still tower over much of the competition.
Review By Rogier van Bakel
long had a predilection for prix-fixe meals. And why not? Hacking your
own path through the culinary scene is fine, but it might be unwise to turn up
your nose at three or four courses pre-selected by a talented chef. I don't
presume to know his cooking better than he does, so if he tells me that the
suggested dishes are his way of combining quality ingredients, his special skill
in preparing them, and a reasonable bill at the end, I'm in.
Read our KEF's LS50 active wireless speaker review.
Kimber Kable Carbon 8 Interconnects,
Carbon 18 XL Speaker Cables, Ascent Power Cables,
And Select Copper USB Cable
Mega-transparent, plus satisfying every other trait one would expect.
Review By Tom Lyle
said that the best way to test audio cable is to rewire one's entire system with
that brand or model. This way one will be able to hear the difference in sound
quality with any influence from other types of cable, and truly hear its
affects. Kimber Kable (not a typo, Kimber likes to replace the "C" in cable with
a "K") is one of the only brands of cable that I have found where I could
replace once interconnect in my system, and hear a very distinct improvement of
the sound of my system due to this one cable change.
Read our Kimber Kable Carbon cables review.
LampizatOr Golden Gate 2 DAC
An accurate and unfettered music source for my system.
Review By Matthew Clott
Vacuum tubes versus solid-state are the
Audiophile's version of red versus white wine. Both are lovely and both
have die-hard fans and haters alike. I don't buy into either club
completely, and I don't want to start the next Vacuum Tube Versus
Solid-State war. I have enjoyed and currently own both tube and
solid-state gear, and use both for reviews. That said, years ago I
developed an aversion to tubes in my DAC's, partly due to experience and
partly due to unsubstantiated personal bias (hey, at least I'm honest!).
Read our LampizatOr Golden Gate 2 DAC review.
Lindemann Musicbook SOURCE And POWER 500
Beautify, simplify, electrify... may the SOURCE be with you.
Review By Clive Meakins
The old days are gone... well,
almost. How many of us still have piles of audio equipment connected via cable
spaghetti? Is it crazy to dream of simplifying Hi-Fi systems into a very few
items of equipment? Doesn't such simplicity come at the expense of quality?
There are of course economies in reducing the Hi-Fi box count; chassis costs are
high so fewer of these should result in a major saving. Reducing the number of
power supplies is beneficial too as is directly connecting circuits internally
which can cut the costs associated with providing external connectivity.
Read our Lindemann Musicbook SOURCE & POWER 500 review.
Metronome Le Dac
...and the Technicolor Dream.
Review By Paul Schumann
of you who have read some of my previous reviews know that I am in some ways a
throwback, sticking with my compact discs while some audiophiles have moved to
uncompressed digital files and others have embraced the vinyl side. I have a lot
of CD's, and by god, I'm going to still listen to them. A few years ago I purchased the iFi
Audio iDSD, and that opened
up my world on how far digital has come in the last decade.
---> Read our
Metronome Le Dac review.
Mola Mola Tambaqui Hi-Res Stereo DAC
An astonishing benchmark in musical expressiveness and transparency.
Review By Greg Weaver
introduction of the Makua linestage with its optional phono stage and DAC
($22,490 as configured) in 2016 driving a pair of their Kaluga mono amps, I was
very taken by the systems engaging attributes; fast impactful bass, clean
transients, articulate mids, and luxuriant body and bloom. So when GTT
Audio's Bill Parish, the North American importer for Mola Mola, asked if I'd like
to take a listen to and report on the Mola Mola flagship DAC, the Tambaqui,
without hesitation a resounding, "Yes, please" flew out of my mouth!
Read our Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC review.
Pro-Ject X2 Vinyl LP Turntable
Easy to set up and very easy to use. You will not be disappointed.
Review By Tom Lyle
the technology advances, it's only natural for any decent audio manufacturer to
take advantage of this new technology. And so, when Pro-Ject was faced with
improving upon their Debut and Xpression series of turntables, which are both
very successful designs, they decided to, in their words, "improve on the
technologies that had already been established". As a result, Pro-Ject
introduced their X1 and X2 turntables. The X2, the subject of this review,
besides many other improvements, makes the most of higher quality raw
materials to use in its production (even though they are more difficult to
Read our Pro-Ject X2 vinyl LP turntable review.
Raidho TD4.2 Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Raidho's TD4.2 delivers the meaning of music.
I admit it.
The pair of TD4.2 speakers that have taken residence in my listening room are
the best speakers I have ever had the pleasure of auditioning. They are also the
most massive, most substantial, and at $122,000 to $142,000 a pair,
the most expensive. It was a bit of a humbling experience unpacking these
speakers. This is because getting them out of their crates and into the
listening room required hired help - there was no way I could move these
speakers into the listening room upstairs by myself.
Read our Raidho TD4.2 speaker review.
Rotel RC-1590 Stereo Preamplifier
A stereo pre that should be on your list to audition.
Review By Brett Rudolph
world of stereo equipment started with very humble beginnings. Many types of
equipment have changed from their historical roots to today's modern versions.
For example, the preamplifier began as nothing more than a device to amplify
low-level signals into ones that are capable of being amplified for playback.
The same is true of many companies that produce the equipment for the audio
Read our Rotel RC-1590 preamplifier review.
Sonus Faber Nova II Floorstanding Speakers
These are immensely sexy speakers with the build quality, and attention to detail, that you would expect
on an Italian sports car.
Review By Dean Cacioppo
this started with a hi-fi thought exercise. When does a loudspeaker become
something that is considered a luxury item? Is $1000 per pair of speakers a
luxury item? How about a $5000 pair? What about those that are priced at
$100,000? Although we all may have a different idea of what luxury is, we all
know when we are in the presence of something that is truly luxurious.
Read our Sonus Faber Nova II speaker review.
SVS Pinnacle 3.5-Way Floorstanding Speakers
These speakers can rock, plus produce excellent macro and micro dynamics too!
Review By Dr. Matthew Clott
came on the scene several years ago and impressed everyone with their range of
high performance subwoofers. They established themselves as a high value to
performance product and sold primarily dealer direct. Their subwoofers come in
multiple sizes, multiple price points and in both sealed and ported versions to
seamlessly mesh with home audio and home theater systems. With their success,
speaker production was an obvious progression and they introduced a 5.1 HT
system, bookshelf speakers, dedicated surround speakers and floorstanders.
Read our SVS Pinnacle speaker review.
Synergistic Research Foundation Cables
Oracles house themselves within temples of the humble.
Review By Rick Becker
Like with climate change,
it's hard to believe there are
still cable deniers in this world, but they show up in the forums with a loud
voice. You would think the multitude of High End cable manufacturers would be a
clue. After all, if high end cables were all snake oil would so many companies
exist? Would so many people buy them? And importantly, would brick & mortar
stores, who build their reputations and depend on repeat customers, be selling
them? At audio shows nobody runs generic power cords or interconnects.
our Synergistic Research Foundation cables review.
Top Wing Suzaku
/ Red Sparrow MC Phono Cartridge
Perhaps the last cartridge you will ever need.
Review By Tom Lyle
A few years
ago I reviewed
the Van den Hul Crimson Stradivarius phono cartridge. I began that
review by expressing my love-hate relationship with phono cartridges. The love
stems from my love of music, and the fact that I prefer music reproduced by
vinyl, and that the phono cartridge converts vibrational energy from the grooves
of the records into an electric signal and then this electrical signal is
somehow converted into the music that comes forth from our speakers.
Read our Top Wing's Suzaku / Red Sparrow MC review.
Verity Audio Otello Floorstanding
A loudspeaker for music lovers.
1995, Verity Audio hit the ground running in 1996 with the debut of their first
speaker, the Parsifal. The Parsifal has gone through at least four iterations
since its introduction, retaining the qualities that made the original so
special. The speaker was known for a smooth treble that tended oh so slightly
toward the dark side of neutral, a midrange that was transparent but is somewhat
laid-back and bass that has weight and meaningful extension.
Read our Verity Audio Otello loudspeaker review.
YG Acoustics Hailey 2.2 Floorstanding Loudspeaker
The middleweight contender....
Review By Phil Gold
Cards on the
table. I've owned the YG Carmel and the YG Carmel
2, each of which I've reviewed in these pages in January 2012 and July 2015
respectively. You can read them here and weep. I'm addicted to
the ultra-high resolution, low distortion, lightning reflexes, dynamic range and
the holographic imaging of the Carmel speakers. They are not for everyone.
Due to the particular way they are constructed from billets of aircraft grade
aluminum, they cost a lot of money, and due to their relatively small size, they
don't reach down all that deep. The sealed box design does provide a superbly
fast accurate bass, but while the quality is high, the quantity is limited.
Read our YG Acoustics Hailey 2.2 speaker review.
Previous Annual Blue Note Awards
Product of the Year Awards 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017,
2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012,
2009, 2008, 2007,