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AWARDS • 20th Anniversary

i.e. the twenty most important products in "High Fidelity" history.

Part 1

Such an opportunity happens once in a while. Taking the opportunity of two decades of “High Fidelity” on the Internet, we would like to share with you our suggestions of twenty (plus) devices that we have remembered and loved best over this time. Welcome to Part 1.

KRAKOW ⸜ Poland


images "High Fidelity", Leben (no. 5), Piksel Studio (no. 13)

No 241

June 1, 2024

The following list is the result of our reflection on the last twenty years, or rather on the devices we have tested. We present it to you believing that in this way we also point out the companies that have stood the test of time and whose products are not only interesting, but simply iconic. Welcome to part one.

I DON'T KNOW WHY IT IS SO, but I have an irresistible feeling that the coolest ideas related to “High Fidelity”, or at least a good part of them, come from people around me. These can be ideas, solutions or concrete suggestions that I later transform into reality. I wish it was different, that I was the source of all the best things that happen to me, but it is what it is.

For example, the idea that I don't need to photograph equipment at all, with all the tubes, backgrounds and stuff, and that all I need is ambient light and the actual situation in the listening system, was inspired by CAI BROCKMANN, the unfortunately late founder and editor-in-chief of the German magazine "Fidelity" (whole interview → HERE. When I saw the first issues of his (then) bimonthly magazine, what immediately caught my attention was that, unlike almost all audio magazines, and mainly his previous employer, "Image Hi-Fi", photos in his magazine were taken in reviewers' homes, and technically were not too good. Yet they were reliable, which was crucial to me.

⸜ "High Fidelity" system, A.D. 2024

And I also kind of got "High Fidelity" itself as a gift. As I have emphasized several times, it was conceived by my wife, in the sense that she once asked me, seeing me clearly bored, why I would not do a magazine on my own along the lines of one I was following on the web at the time. There were literally a couple of such ventures on the Internet, none in Europe I think, so there was room to show off. I had started writing for the "Audio" magazine some time earlier, but I was working from home and I had gained my PhD, which gave me more time than before. This is how the idea of "High Fidelity" was born.

It was similar with the article below (the twenty devices that have impressed me most in the last twenty years) – the idea was given to me by my son. As it seems to me, he saw something in the magazine's output that I didn't, namely a kind of a "stamp" confirming not only the quality of sound, but simply the credibility of the awarded products. Although, after all, I thought of my work in a similar way, I never articulated it directly, trying to maintain far-reaching modesty, so to speak.

So, when Bartek, on some occasion, probably over a pint of beer or a glass of wine, or during one of the outings to readings related to the architecture of Nowa Huta, which we try to attend regularly, asked me why I wasn't planning something like this, I had to ask myself, with surprise: Well, why exactly? After all, twenty years in the audio industry have given me the tools to evaluate, the thousands of products that have passed through my hands during that time have equipped me with the necessary knowledge, and time has provided me with the proper perspective. So – there you go!

I would like to say that the choice was difficult and I couldn't decide – but I can't. The selection took me, at most, an hour and I immediately had at least half of the products I wanted to write about in my head. The other half came just as easily once I had scanned all the tests so far. However, there was a problem I couldn't solve. The selection might have been easy. However, I chose not twenty but over forty products.

It all became clear to me when I looked at it this way: since once a year we dedicate an entire issue of the magazine just to products from Poland, why not do it here, too. Not because they are inferior to those from abroad, but because I wouldn't want to miss any of them. Anyway, explaining this to you is unnecessary – today we know that many Polish manufacturers offer equipment, speakers, cables, etc. at least comparable, and sometimes much better than those that have to be imported to Poland. So, please consider the division into "foreign" and "Polish" sections arbitrary and as a tribute to the domestic Polish market.

Therefore, there will be two editions of "20/XX". We're publishing one right now, splitting it into two parts to make sure everything fits nicely for us, and you'll find the other one in the September issue of "High Fidelity". For a start, there is a product from outside the twenty chosen ones, which we treat as one of key importance to our history. Then there are two companies we'd like to recognize for their overall performance, followed by the actual top twenty, ranked by the date of our publishing the test, and finally there is an "honorary five" which is equally important, but didn't fit into the core twenty..

You are welcome to join us on our journey through the twenty years of history of our magazine!



» 2011 «

MAKING the HARBETH M40.1 LOUDSPEAKERS STAND OUT among the other award-winning products was the only sure thing for me when I embarked on their selection. After all, if I had to point to one product that has most strongly shaped my thinking about sound and that I have used the most for thirteen years now, it would be my Harbeth speakers. Compared to their top competitors, they are inexpensive, not too big, and very traditional in their choice of components and chassis. They offer sound that is right for me. It is organic, full, natural, smooth, resolving and dynamic.

Manufacturers or distributors of loudspeakers who visit me have many times asked me why I don't use products of some more expensive brand offering modern solutions, because, they say, the Harbeth speakers have "their" sound, and are also many times cheaper than the cables that connect them to the amplifier. I have a proven answer to this: I seat them in the “sweet spot” and play music. The "patent" has always worked, except for very few times, but then I knew that it was either jealousy or deafness.

Since I first listened to the M40.1, this British manufacturer has offered several more development versions of this model, all of them wonderful. However, Alan Shaw, the heart and brain of modern Harbeth speakers, decided to get rid of the so-called "BBC dip" in them, i.e. the slight bass boost characteristic of early products coming from the British Broadcasting Corporation's technical department. From a technical point of view, the right decision resulted in a different sound, more precise and balanced, which no longer seems to me as pervasive as what I hear every day. That's why the M40.1s are the "golden mean" for me and a vehicle that transports me to the very center of music.

» Publication: No. 90, OCTOBER 2011, test → HERE



anti-vibration products, cables, accessories, AC power supply
» 2009-2024 «

MY RELATIONSHIP with Mr. Ken Ishiguro, owner of Acoustic Revive, goes beyond the classic producer-reviewer relationship. He visited Cracow once, so we know each other personally, but the thing is not in private contacts, but rather in mutual understanding, that's how I see it. I have been using his products for many years, fifteen to be exact. I am often the first reviewer in the world to receive them for listening. And I have never been disappointed.

Whether it's products to dampen vibrations, improve CD performance or minimize noise, stands (for my Harbeth speakers) or cables and AC power system components, they all work the better the more of them are in the system. Even products from other companies that are many times more expensive can't often do the same thing in an equally fascinating way.

Acoustic Revive products produce a cumulative effect, so it is worth building an audio system with them and growing with it. If properly chosen, they will stay with us for many years.

» Publications (among others):
• No. 67, NOVEMBER 2009, test → HERE
• No. 109, MAY 2013, test → HERE

D/AmP Audio GmbH
» 2013 «

JÜRGEN STRAUSSMAN is one of those people from the audio world who appears in my memory as an example of exceptional talent, amazing ideas and unbelievable musical sensitivity. He designed not only excellent amplifiers, but also a phono preamplifier, and was involved in patenting a wheel-shaped D/A converter, a variation of which we now know from Esoteric's top products. He also had in his mind a complete digital system with a file player in the lead role, and this was, let me remind you, eleven years ago.

Unfortunately, Jürgen is no longer with us and what we are left with are just memories. But they are beautiful memories, priceless ones for me. I considered his work as a breath of fresh air in a rather ossified audio world, full of either crazy audiophiles or technical thinkers. Straussman was both. In addition, he was simply a good person who one wanted to spend time with.

» Publication: No. 115, NOVEMBER 2013, column → HERE


˻ 20/XX ˼
» Part 1 «

integrated amplifier
» 2010 «

IT CAN BE SAID THAT I discovered this amplifier for the Western world. It sounds pompous, but that's how it is. Mr. Yoshi Hontai, who runs Muson Project, a company that acts as an intermediary between several Japanese companies and the outside world, including Leben, has told me this several times, so I take it as fact.

He sent me the device, if I remember correctly, sometime in 2008, without knowing me too well at all. We had previously met at the High End exhibition in Munich, as I was already after testing, also for the first time in Europe, cables from Oyaide, but it was an acquaintance on the level of konnichiwa (こんにちは)and a bow. However, Yoshi trusted me and sent his CD-300X model to remote Poland that was virtually unknow on the audio market at the time.

At the time I tested it for the "Audio" magazine (05/2008), just like the next one, the CS-300X (S). The next "300" that came to me was already my own hand-made copy crafted by the company founder, Mr. Toku Hyodo, who also left his signature on the back panel of the device. The device differed from others in that the EL84 tubes in it operate in Class A and are from a rare group made by Toshiba for Japanese radio. Over time, Ancient Audio and LAR made some modifications for me, but even the basic version of this product is stunning.

It's amazing how much music can be brought to life by such a small product, which in addition looks so great. This is a successful example of how the maxim "less is more" can be implemented.

» Publications:
• No. 76, AUGUST 2010, column → HERE

turntable + power supply unit + turntable arm
» 2011 «

THE LEBEN AMPLIFIER RECALLED ABOVE delights in how a small, beautiful product can play great sound. The Slovenian company Kuzma's turntable is no different. The Stabi S is its cheapest product, but it is also a device that has always delighted me and still does. It looks as if a plumber cobbled it together during a cigarette break, yet it plays in an extremely mature way. Even such expensive arms as the one I tested it with in 2011 are not limited by it. It is modest, yet fantastic.

» Publication: No. 87, JULY 2011, test → HERE

MC turntable cartridge
» 2011 «

THE YEAR 2011 WAS, as you can see, especially important for "High Fidelity".One of the products I tested at the time was a cartridge from the Japanese company Miyajima Labs. It was then its top model, and to this day it remains one of my favorite ones. This is because it offers sound similar in character to what I hear from the Harbeth M40.1 speakers: dark on the one hand, and resolving on the other, seemingly based on low midrange, but perfectly attentive to detail, with soft bass, but characterized by softness known from the real world, not from "hi-fi".

I tested many top turntables with the Shilabe model, and then with its subsequent development versions, Madake and Destiny, which I still use today. It is a model of natural sound for me. Sure, I've heard even better cartridges, which were even more resolving, detailed and neutral. But it is the Shilabe that has remained in my memory all these years as something special, to which I return with pleasure in my mind.

audio file player
» 2013 «

AT THE BEGINNING there was... LUMÏN. In 2010, a group of passionate file music listeners, in love with DSD files, decided to design a device to play them. As their model, they took Linn players, popular at the time and in the technical vanguard, and in 2012 they had a ready-made player that they simply called Lumïn, so the same way as the brand itself, adding only: "The Audiophile Network Music Player".

Twelve years later, it's one of the best-known companies specializing in file playback, and its subsequent devices bear letter-number designations. But it is this first model, not quite color correct and not very resolving in retrospect, that seems to be the turning point to me, after which everyone else wanted to play DSD files and later convert PCM to DSD to get similar sound. It was one of those products that have really changed the audio industry.

» Publication: OCTOBER 2013, test → HERE

linear preamplifier
» 2014 «

The linear version of the SPHERIS III is my third preamp from this company after → POLARIS II and → SPHERIS II. So, this Ayon Audio product has been the heart of my system for fifteen years, and an outstanding one. Without getting into a discussion about the superiority of the absence of a preamplifier in the circuit over its presence, I will only say that this purist device, which only has a resistor, a tube capacitor and a transformer in the circuit, gives sound weight, scale, depth and dynamics.

That is why I can’t quite imagine another device in this role. Although, I'll admit, I've heard a few products I could also have: the Mark Levinson No. 52, the Octave Jubilee or, finally, the Naim Statement. None of them, however, have given me as much joy as this two-piece black device. Not only is it musically magnificent, but also very stable and reliable. Next to the CD-35 HF Edition SACD player and the CD-35 II HF Edition CD player, it's the best Ayon Audio product I've ever heard.

» Publication: No. 128, DECEMBER 2014, test → HERE

» 2014 «

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to forget what I heard when I played my first record on the TechDas Air Force One turntable. It wasn't any sonically sophisticated vinyl, but a Polish record by the group 2 Plus 1 Teatr na drodze. Its sound literally stunned me. To this day, this experience is also remembered by Tomek Folta, one of the hosts of the Krakow Sonic Society meetings, even though ten years have passed since that day.

What made it so special that after such a long time I still remember that feeling, that I still get goosebumps when I remember other albums I listened to at the time? I'm not sure, but a big part of it was the absolutely non-mechanical transmission of sound. It wasn't about "analog" or anything like that. Even then, ten years ago, I was already telling anyone who would listen to me that an LP was not the same as a "master" tape and that this was simply one interpretation of it. But Air Force One was able to move past that limitation, showing LPs in a way that was almost unbelievable.

And while I have since heard some absolutely top-of-the-line, much more expensive designs, it is the turntable of Mr. Hideaki Nishikawa, who is sadly no longer with us, that remains my point of reference.

» Publication: No. 119, MARCH 2014, test → HERE

C.E.C. TL0 3.0
Compact Disc transport
» 2014 «

JUST LIKE THE AIR FORCE ONE TURNTABLE in a way "set up" my understanding of turntables, so the Chuo Denki Company's (C.E.C.) TL0 version 3.0 did with my thinking about Compact Disc transports. You only need to look at the pictures to learn that it is a unique device. The spring-suspended belt drive with heavy-duty compression and flywheel is, in its own right, a transfer of solutions from the analog to the digital domain. Although at the time of its creation it seemed to be form over substance, it was simply the only sensible way to achieve the goal.

For today we know that digital distortion (including that resulting from the of equalization circuits operation or, to go further, from vibration) is, next to digital noise, the most annoying and at the same time incredibly difficult to eliminate problem in the world of optical discs. The CEC TL0 3.0 does just that best from among all CD transports that I know. Additionally, it looks superb.

» Publication: No. 122, MAY 2014, test → HERE

Mark Levinson No. 52
linear preamplifier
» 2014 «

The No. 52 PREAMPLIFIER from the American company Mark Levinson is the third product we tested in 2014 which is included in this list. So, just like 2011, it must have been a special year.

It was only the third reference preamplifier from this manufacturer, following the 1972 LNP-2 and 1998 № 32 models. And it was the first device of its kind that I liked more than my preamp, the Ayon Audio Spheris II. I still remember both its fast, precise and deep sound, as well as its fantastic build quality and pleasant handling.

Tested in the tenth year of "High Fidelity" existence, it celebrated the brand's 40th anniversary. Ten years later, it is still a bright light for me, showing that not only small, specialized companies, but also large corporations know what high-end is about.

» Publication: No. 126, OCTOBER 2014, test → HERE

» 2015-2022 «

The Siltech and Crystal Cable brands are the only instance in this listing where two brands appear together. However, I did so with full awareness. For not only do they belong to the same company, International Audio Group, but they are also the result of thinking about signal transmission by the same man: Edwin van der Kley, partnered by Gabi van der Kley-Rijnveld in the case of the latter brand. In addition, both are excellent, each in their own way.

My adventure with Siltech's top-of-the-line products, the Triple Crown series, began in 2015, i.e. quite recently: only nine years ago. The interconnect I tested at the time delighted me to the point that I sold off what I could, borrowed where I could and bought it for my system. After some time, that is, after three years, I was ready to complement this set with speaker cables and an AC power cable.These are the best cables I have heard in my listening system.

In some ways, Da Vinci Crystal Cable's new top-of-the-line Art Series is just as interesting. So, I had to, I mean I simply had to have at least a speaker cable that I use regularly in amplifier tests. It's beautifully crafted, fast, dynamic yet color-dense sound that will fit into probably any system. In doing so, both brands show that "silver" is true "gold" in audio. Let's add that both Edwin and Gabi are frequent guests of the Krakow Sonic Society and its members.

» Selected publications:
• No. 134, JUNE 2015, test → HERE
• No. 165, FEBRUARY 2018, test → HERE
• No. 222, OCTOBER 2022, test → HERE ˻ PL ˺

integrated amplifier
» 2017 «

IF I had to name one product that best embodies the definition of high-end, it would probably be the OnGaku amplifier from the Japanese company Kondo. Its prototype, in 1988, commissioned by a multimillionaire as an accessory for his yacht, was made by Mr. Hiroyasu Kondo. The amplifier was presented to the public in 1989 and instantly became a classic. It was one of the first designs in decades to use single-ended power triodes, i.e. with a single tube operating in Class A – HERE 211.

This device comes in several versions and, obviously, its apologists believe that the older the copy, the better it plays. Without settling this dispute, I will say that the sound of the 2017 copy I had in the test was simply wonderful: dense, warm, smooth, but also resolving. The appearance of the device was also very "Japanese," at least if we think of small, even artistic companies. This single device embodies everything that is best for the industry and for Japanese audio.

If I weren't a reviewer who needs the most versatile devices in the system, it could be my amplifier "forever".

» Publication: No. 154, MARCH 2017, test → HERE


IN THIS WAY we have closed the first part of our compilation of twenty products from twenty years of "High Fidelity" existence that have been most memorable to us. But right now we invite you to the second part, which will also include the "honorary five" products for which we also have warm feelings.