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Awards of the year

Previous years:

Awards of the Year 2011, see HERE

Awards of the Year 2010, see HERE

Awards of the Year 2009, see HERE

Awards of the Year 2008, see HERE

Awards of the Year 2007, see HERE

Awards of the Year 2006, see HERE

Awards of the Year 2005, see HERE

Awards of the Year 2004, see HERE

Text: Wojciech Pacuła | Marek Dyba
Graphics and logo design: Bartosz Łuczak/Piksel Studio
Translation: Andrzej Dziadowiec

Published: 3. December 2012, No. 103

Viella V12 + AMG 12J2

REVIEW: No. 98, June 2012, see HERE
Precision engineering achieved by the best audio manufacturers is stunning. Take, for example, AMG. Preserving the purity of line, design simplicity and compact size Mr. Werner Roeschlau, AMG’s owner, managed to design the Viella V12turntable which is a true work of art. Together with the manufacturer’s 12J2 12" tonearm they create the absolute high-end tandem. The beauty of design and manufacturing goes hand in hand with a beautiful well-ordered sound. The turntable will bring out the best from each LP without falling into a romantic exultation, usually obscuring the essence - music presentation. I wouldn’t change anything in it and just enjoy the music as long as I breathe…

Master Tape Sound Lab -
For going back to the roots

REPORTAGE: No. 98, June 2012, see HERE
The revival of reel to reel is, paradoxically, related to the digital revolution that takes place right before our eyes, i.e. the transition from physical media to computer files. But it is not only and merely nostalgia - analog tape still remains the best known musical medium. Even vinyl is merely an attempt to approximate what can be found on 1/4 inch analog tape played at 15 ips.
But this is a very expensive hobby, even in such a luxurious world as audio. Therefore, the company that stakes everything on one card – or rather tape - and says "I call" to the new formats must be noticed. And if it does it so well, so endearingly as Master Tape Sound Lab, it must be awarded.
Mr. Todor Dimitrov, head of MTLS, did something that seemed unattainable – he persuaded Kostas Metaxas to make his tapes recorded over the years available to a wider audience. That is how the MTSL catalog - in many ways a reference - came to be. Congratulations!

Taku Hyodo
Leben HiFi Stereo Company

Japanese artists, designers in the audio world do not need awards and honors. They work on the assumption that their designs, their creations speak for themselves, and they are satisfied with knowing that what they do is good. It is no different with Mr. Taku Hyodo, the owner and chief engineer of Leben HiFi Stereo Company, in short - Leben.
And yet the CS-300 and CS-660P tube amps, and now the CS-1000P, only to mention the most notable products of the last three years, have already become legendary. They are beautiful, manufactured with heart and soul and they sound like a dream. The CS-300, as well as its subsequent versions, proves to be a great headphone amplifier – it is a reference for "High Fidelity" editorial team. We wish Mr. Hyodo many more so successful, so wonderful products!


REVIEW: No. 97, May 2012, see HERE
The audiophile market has its own prejudices and stereotypes. One of them is (almost) an axiom, according to which the best sound is offered by SET tube amps, then PP tube, followed by solid state class A and PP, and the rest is crap, simply a waste of time. Amplifiers operating in class D are often thrown in this "trash".
How much one can go wrong! The Japanese from SPEC Corporation who designed the RSA-V1 integrated amplifier gave everyone the finger, a flip on the nose, even if not intentionally (OK, knowing the Japanese, I'm actually sure that it didn’t even crossed their mind), offering a high-end amplifier with class D output section.
The amplifier sounds like a wonderful SET amp but with a much better frequency extension and higher dynamics. Warm, fantastically defined sound from a small box? Yes, you can! All you need is a comprehensive approach, high-quality components, well thought out chassis, extremely refined in this case, and we get something that changes our view of reality. It's a stereotype breaker, hopefully one of many.

ModWright Instruments
LS 36.5

REVIEW: No. 100, August 2012, see HERE
It's easy to reward, recognize, elevate, point the finger at anything that is both the best and the most expensive. Although it is an extraordinary achievement to design a device placed at the very top, it's even harder to come up with something not much inferior for a fraction of the cost.
Dan Wright, head of ModWright Instruments, knows how to do it. And it can be heard – the LS 36.5 preamp designed by him sounds like a dream. Made entirely in the U.S. it has a solid chassis and well thought out, sensible electronic circuit with quality passive components. The unit can be upgraded with an outboard tube power supply which further enhances its value. For that money it's simply a killer!


REVIEW: No. 98, June 2012, see HERE
Eva Manley, head of Manley Laboratories, Inc.. is a remarkable woman. She is a manager of a group of guys, engineers who are not usually willing to come to compromise. Somehow she still manages to be something of a catalyst to extraordinary products from Chino, California. One of them, still considered as the reference by many reviewers, is the Steelhead phono stage.
Our award-winning Chinook is its scaled down version, a less expensive counterpart, manufactured according to the same procedures and using similar components and systems. Fortunately, this is not a "reduction" but rather a completely new proposal building on Steelhead’s strengths while also adding something new, especially harmonic saturation of the whole frequency range.
An American device, manufactured entirely in the United States by extremely competent people, designed to sound equally well ten or twenty years after the purchase. A small classic.

Audio Research

REVIEW: No. 102, October 2012, see HERE
A lot can be said of the Americans as a people. Depending on our likes and dislikes, the level of knowledge and ignorance, we may say that they are enterprising, resourceful, lazy, fat, arrogant, insensitive, always smiling, cheerful, and hard-working. Knowing American audio manufacturers I would first say that they are reliable. A good example of that would be the Reference 75 power amplifier awarded by "High Fidelity".

Its design is unique. Common sense combined with experience resulted in a large yet classic-looking product that will be equally attractive in a few or a dozen years. Amplifier’s sound refers to the best years of the manufacturer - it is a bit warm, smooth, rich in harmonics. Hook it up with speakers that will not spoil that and we will have an amplifier for life.


REVIEW: No. 103, November 2012, see HERE
My meeting with Anssi Hyvönen during this year's Audio Show (2012) was a big experience for me. It confirmed everything I’d already known of him through exchanged e-mails and my assumptions based on listening to his top speakers. He is a very warm, wise man, pursuing his passions and goals in such a way as to not hurt anyone - whether his employees or, for example, the nature. Without overusing it, "good" would probably be the word to briefly describe Anssi.
And it can be felt listening to his speakers, headed by the Krypton3. Precise and even frequency response, phenomenal soundstage and insight into the recording as if we were sitting in the recording engineer’s room – these are the main features. Strengthened by an inner harmony and consistency that keep the sound from being clinical and bright.
Timeless design and sound with a concrete, good (and I was not to overuse it…) person behind.


REVIEW: No. 101, September 2012, see HERE
That is a classic example of a niche product - a little known company, unless you remember it from the Audio Show 2010. Ardento offers speakers that are not only - remarkably – based on an open baffle design, but additionally come at a price that seems crazy in Polish conditions. Although addressed to a specific group of people, apparently "vintage", the Altera offers splendid, full-band, energetic and sophisticated sound that in comparison with more well-known competitors make their price not just crazy but also an insane bargain. Consistency, fluidity, saturation and musicality from the lowest bass to the highest treble, combined with excellent workmanship and finish, can win over many an unrepentant supporter of bass reflex design. Some of the best speakers I've ever heard, they sound equally well with tube and solid state and they are a Polish product – full respect!


REVIEW: No. 103, November 2012, see HERE
Another product closely associated with the company’s owner, not only by his signature on a special aluminum plaque on the rear panel. The C1 from the Confidence line was for Mr. Wilfried Ehrenholz, Dynaudio’s owner, a dream speaker. That was what he chose and used for many years in his own home audio system. The launch of "anniversary" models allowed, however, for such clear improvement to many elements of this speaker that they resulted first in the Confidence C1 II model and then the special Confidence C1 Signature.
That amazing, small speaker delivers huge sound and great bass. Its treble can be exemplary for all other speakers, regardless of their price. Its value is further increased by the fact that it’s a special, limited edition. We are thus dealing with a collector’s item, a reference speaker from the owner of the company that sells even several times more expensive designs - that speaks for itself… Intended rather for small rooms and high current efficient amps, it will provide hours, days, weeks and years of musical ecstasy.


REVIEW: No. 103, November 2012, see HERE
Any changes in companies like Harbeth occur rarely and only in exceptional circumstances. For example, if they manage to design a new speaker model that will be significantly better than the previous one. Such changes are thus rare and never apply to the whole offered line but only selected products.
Yet when that happens, it is a kind of celebration - we receive something as perfect as - first – the M40.1 and now its smaller version, the M30.1. It's a fantastic, modestly sized speaker that driven by an appropriate amplifier is able to compete with any speaker from other manufactures, especially, but not exclusively, in vocals’ presentation. Alan Shaw can be really proud of his design!

Monitor Audio

REVIEW: No. 103, November 2012, see HERE
I will be brief – to design something so good for such little money is an art and a challenge, not only to the designer but also the accountant who watches over the budget. In the MR4, but also the MR6 if we’re talking about it, the manufacturer managed to combine all that in such a way that others may learn from that.
Very mature, balanced sound which, to quote the review, "offers something that 90% of currently available speakers do not: "a soul", or whatever one calls it, something that makes the music "alive".

Audiomica Laboratory
EXCELLENCE SERIES: Erys + Celes + Ness

REVIEW: No. 101, September 2012, see HERE
Polish manufacturers face an uphill task. Or rather in general, manufacturers from countries that are not included in the "center". That is also true when it comes to audio products. Therefore, it takes many years of patient and painstaking work to achieve a position of a trustworthy, reliable manufacturer.
Audiomica Laboratory from the Polish town of Gorlice is still a young company, with everything before it. Its cables, such as the Excellence series, however, may already compete with recognized American, British and Japanese products. Saturated, slightly "analog" sound of the cable system that we reviewed in the September, "Polish" issue of "High Fidelity", make the electronics connected by it benefit from some of its advantages which can only come out for the better.

Purist Audio Design
CORVUS Presto Revision

REVIEW: No. 98, June 2012, see HERE
Whether we are pleased with our purchase related to the audio system largely depends on our expectations. Therefore, it is important to listen to individual components at home. We can then find products that change our perception of sound.
On many systems, such "revelation" will be Corvus cabling system in the Presto Revision version, from U.S. manufacturer Purist Audio Design. Warm, slightly weighted sound will help many systems gain weight and body, and regain proper color. The bonus is their specific characteristic – they "release" tension, nervousness from the recordings, allowing everything to sound as it should.

Ear Stream

REVIEW: No. 101, September 2012, see HERE
According to GfK research agency one of the few sectors in specialized audio, in addition to analogue, that boasts a rapid growth is headphones and related products. Everything that is associated with them is therefore a priority for manufacturers that know something about it.
Hence I see a bright future for Ear Stream of Mr. Michał Wyroba, having its registered office in my beloved Kraków. All the more so as his debut is an absolutely mature product, both in terms of circuit design as well as sound and enclosure. The latter is often a problem for most of manufacturers - here we have a model example of how it SHOULD be done. And furthermore precise, open, ultra-fast sound!


REVIEW: No. 102, October 2012, see HERE
Dynamic headphones enjoy less attention than planar, i.e. magnetostatic or electrostatic. It is believed that only the latter can be fast and transparent enough to reproduce fast transients. Without getting into the debate, we can say that this is not entirely true. Lower than high-end price levels are anyway dominated by classical designs with dynamic membrane and that’s where we need to look for better and worse products. The HE-300's from HiFiMAN of Mr. Fang Bian, an American of Chinese origin, is one of the leaders. It is the only dynamic headphones design in the manufacturer’s offer and is immediately remarkable. Saturated, deep, beautiful sound, great ergonomics are just something "for the starter". You will discover all the rest during long, comfortable session with your favorite music.


REVIEW: No. 100, August 2012, see HERE
Although I do not consider myself a great expert on headphones, since I took to them quite recently thanks to the HiFiMAN planars (classic dynamic headphones somehow never appealed to me, despite my numerous attempts with different brands), yet based on my past experience I dare say that the Audeze LCD3 are one of the best headphones manufactured today. The American company was founded by people passionate about designing and manufacturing headphones that would sound as good as their own, perfect dream headphones. And although there is no such a thing as a perfect product, it is now difficult for me to imagine that one could get a fuller, more natural, saturated, full-range (!) and surround sound from two tiny drivers pressed against the ears.