It brings me joy to announce our Best Of 2005 Blue Note Awards. A paltry 18 items have been given the nod as having that something extra special. From December 2004 until November 2005 Enjoy the Music.com has reviewed approximately 80 products including those covered within our Viewpoint articles and our sister publication Superior Audio. Items from Superior Audio are awarded here within our Review Magazine so they do indeed count as items to be recognized as earning special recognition. Please remember that we do indeed have some great gear and music discussed in the Viewpoint section of our Review Magazine.
Let is be said here and now that we make no apologies that in 2005 our staff found a grand total of zero amplifiers to receive an award. In fact only one disc player received an award, and it is actually part of a receiver! It is simple really as we refuse to make any compromises simply to fill a gap within our awards. Besides, this industry is filled with certain magazines that hand out awards like children eat candy.
And now i, Editor Steven R. Rochlin, with the great staff at Enjoy the Music.com present to you our choices for Best Of 2005 Blue Note Equipment Awards. And the winners are:
For me, one product stood heads above the rest in terms of value and that is the NAD L53 DVD-Receiver. Add a decent pair of speakers and some lamp cord and you have a fuss free high quality hi-fi that includes a high quality tuner. Add a screen to the mix, and as an added bonus, you have a highly competent 2-channel home theatre. Of course, all-in-one music systems have been with us since the invention of the acoustic gramophone, but this is one example where little if any sacrifice has been made to the sound quality. I simply fail to see how a music lover could go wrong with an L53. It is what I recommend to people who love music and hate hi-fi. It is my choice for a Blue Note. — Jeff Rabin
For those of you looking for that last 5 percent, the Opera Droplet LP5.0 is a downright steal. It's scary good for the money. Very few of the other turntables in this (or nearly any other) price range offer the features and the sound quality of the LP5. In fact, none of them in this price range comes with an integrated stand. This table comes with my highest recommendations. — Scott Faller
This $950 headphone amplifier, hand-built by designer Graham Slee in the north of England, is an extremely wide bandwidth device. Backgrounds are silent, distortion absent and dynamic range is wide. This small box, powered by the external PSU1 power supply, offers two inputs and provides enough power to support two sets of headphones. Enough power but not enough jacks — you'll need to supply your own splitter! — Phil Gold
Delivering an incredible amount of information and dynamic contrasts to match! Time and time again the XR-10B separated the men from the boys with it's ability to unravel every complicated, full-on, onslaught of music i could throw at it. Sure small ensembles and duets were easily handled, but where is the challenge in that? Think 1812 or Wagner Die Walküre Ride Of The Valkyries and all the information most phonostages simply obscure... but not the Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline XR-10B. Tonal textures were spot on and the soundscape was an amazing true 3D. — Steven R. Rochlin
The Model L2 Reference's persuasive musical presentation blends tonal neutrality and explosive dynamics with a flowing, almost lyrical reading of musical lines. It dares you to put it under the microscope. Under higher magnification, peering deeply into the musical tapestry – the harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic structure of the music is as lucid and pure as it is from a distance. This is a rare quality for an audio device. In contrast, most preamplifiers come across as electronic devices with obvious distortions that make it difficult to accept their version of the truth. It is undoubtedly a towering achievement that takes the road less traveled by combining a massive tube regulated and tube rectified power supply with a mosFET signal path. This is the one, my nominee for line preamplifier of the new millennium! — Dick Olsher, Senior Editor
This two-chassis plus transformer box preamplifier design takes the "clean box/dirty box" architecture seriously as power, switching, etc. reside in one box and the power transformer in another. The third box insures purity of the critical audio circuit and input/output jacks in a heavily shielded and totally sealed enclosure. This is the stuff that dreams are made of. I can't even begin to make a reasoned analysis of its value for the dollar. As the old saying goes, if you have to ask how much, you can't afford it. Based on my tube-rolling experiences I feel comfortable saying that the audio circuit of the PR-T1 is so pure that in effect it has no sound of its own; it will sound like the tubes you put in it. A masterpiece, visually as well as musically. — Wayne Donnelly, Senior Reviewer & Classical Music Editor
Listening to this fine preamplifier was never less than enjoyable. The ModWright 9.0SE is almost spookily quiet — even more so than many solid-state preamplifiers. You get a volume knob with gradual scale for very fine adjustments at the lower listening levels and this unit proves to be easily compatible with various sources plus tube and solid-state amplifiers. It shows no imbalances or serious errors of commission. The SWL9.0SE is easily the best preamplifier I have heard anywhere near its price. In fact, I urge any audiophile looking for a superior line stage to compare Dan Wright's impressive creation against competitors costing three or four (or even more) times its price. — Wayne Donnelly, Senior Reviewer & Classical Music Editor
I was simply amazed at how refined this DAC sounded. So many try to overdue the music by bringing too much detail to the forefront. In turn, they can become aggressive sounding. The 2.1x Signature DAC retained all of the detail without being overbearing or fatiguing in the least. It was a welcomed change over the sound of the typical DAC's that have passed in front of me over the past few years. — Scott Faller
This little speaker is no bargain in terms of size per dollar at $4295, but the looks and the sound quality more than make up for that. This is a coaxial design using SEAS drivers - a 1-inch tweeter in the center of a 7-inch fiberglass mid/woofer. Highlights include excellent imaging and outstanding orchestral color. Not for the head-bangers amongst us. — Phil Gold
These loudspeakers easily convey a sense of space and ease. From a very quiet background the sound emerges. The sound itself is a truthfulness that is very rare as every note that emerges in outstanding. It can not be stressed highly enough concerning a special honesty about the sound, one that combines the seductive immediacy of a horn with the rigor, stability of image and articulation of the highest-tech designs. It's quite a package. Everyone should have the opportunity to listen to the Midis, just for the pleasure of it, or maybe to know what you might be missing. Add to that the design of the cabinets which are visually engaging and come in many colors. I purchased the review pair. — Rick Jensen
The attractive looking ACI Titan subwoofer made above average improvements in Tonality, Sub-bass and Mid-bass. Fit and Finish were superb for a subwoofer in this price range, with no Self Noise. The Titan appearance and power, with two steep adjustable controls, make it a very enjoyable companion for full range speakers. It is the first time I awarded five Blue Notes, for Excellent Value! — A. Colin Flood
The soundstage that this system projects is better than many of mega-buck systems I've heard. The Epiphany's absolutely disappear within the room. Everybody that has heard this super affordable system was damned impressed. Not just for the reasonable cost but for the fabulous sound of the music. The Odyssey Budget System is a highly affordable foray into the audiophile scene. I'd have to imagine that if you bought this system, you might never want to upgrade it (with the exception of adding a sub for the deepest of bass). — Scott Faller
So how do you really know the speed of your turntable? Hagermen brings the kit lover and precision geek in me with their UFO. Sure they offer cable burn-in device for $30, a battery powered phono stage for $30, a tubed phono stage for $95... but as of this writing all i got was the UFO for review. The half kit is basically the boards and electronics. An hour or so soldering and you are all set. Besides insuring the speed of your turntable you can leave it on as a cool conversation piece at the next party. Ultra-coolio! — Steven R. Rochlin
Above all else, the KR Audio 300B's sound is exceptionally natural and organic, without any false sonic editorializing. And that counts for a whole lot in my book. It has been said that tube quality ultimately rests upon the manual skill and experience of the production staff. KR Audio is a case in point. Its sound quality flows from a perfect union of materials excellence and superb craftsmanship. Long live the new King! — Dick Olsher, Senior Editor
It seems many mid-price receivers will soon have an auto-equalizing function. For those systems that won’t have this feature, there is Behringer's Digital 24-bit/96 kHz Mastering Equalizer. Although meant for the professional audio market, which means hobbyists have to buy or build adapting cables; this Ultimate Tone Control improves most Enjoy the Music.com™ scoring categories such as Tonality, Sub-bass, Mid-bass, Midrange and High frequencies beyond the average. By affecting the entire spectrum, the DEQ2496 improves Imaging and boosts Enjoyment. Selling on the street now for half of its originally listed $379 price, it is a 5 Blue Note Value for the Money. — A. Colin Flood
Click here to read Mat 1 review.
Click here to read TuneBlock review.
As I look back on 2005, the components that excited me the most, and made the largest contribution to my system, were two products from an upstart company that challenged and even surpassed similar products I had been using in my system. That they did so for such a modest cost adds to my delight, for they bring to the system improvements that would cost upwards into the thousands of dollars for component upgrades. Furthermore, they will most likely benefit my future purchases on the audiophile merry-go-round, thereby avoiding obsolescence. I speak of Boston Audio Design, headed by Austin Jackson, and thank him for pursuing his research with carbon graphite that lead to the development of the Mat 1 turntable mat, which worked wonders on my Linn turntable, and the TuneBlocks with the tungsten carbide bearing upgrade, which took all my source components to new heights. — Rick Becker
Although George Louis would surely demur in calling this unit a tweak, to me it is the best improvement I've heard in CD playback, including cleaning solutions, demagnetizers, green pens, and chips. While the unit doesn't work for SACD, DVD-Audio or DVD-Videos, with the best CD's it can bring them up to a level of realism approaching high bit recordings for significantly less cost. — Bill Gaw