Welcome to the 2011 edition of The Absolute Sound’s Editors’ Choice Awards, our annual Recommended Products list. On the following pages we present the gear that our editors and writers have selected as most worthy of your consideration. These are the components we ourselves would buy—or recommend to friends and family. Each product category is divided into price ranges, with components listed in order of ascending cost (though a few items, like cables and accessories, are listed alphabetically for clarity’s sake). Each recommendation is also accompanied by a capsule review, the original reviewer’s name or initials, and the issue the review appeared in. Note that in a few cases a product may have been reviewed in one of our sister publications, Playback or AVguide.com, or the review may be pending publication, or the product may not have been formally reviewed but earns a recommendation based on one or more writer’s extensive experience with it.
Given that this is the high end, where components generally have long lifespans, some of our recommendations look back several years. At the same time, in an effort to be as selective and up-to-date as possible, we have dropped some components that appeared on last year’s list, usually because they have been discontinued but sometimes because fresh competition has caused us to reconsider the choice.
$349 & $499
The entry-level C315 is still the go-to amp for audiophile newbies who crave sonic neutrality, good power output, nice tactile feel, and NAD’s characteristic quality-control. Looking for a little more oomph? The 50Wpc C325 will make BEElievers of even the most jaded audiophiles.
C315 reviewed by WG, Issue 140; C325 reviewed by NG, Issue 183
It’s not easy to build on a proven winner, but the 60Wpc Azur 550A does just that. Its midrange is richly detailed, with natural acoustic timbres and an uncanny ability to grab a recording, lock in images, and mount a soundstage. Dynamically, this amp has legs, communicating a weight and sophistication that are generally the hallmarks of uptown efforts.
Reviewed by NG, Issue 200
A very good-sounding, well-built little amp at a fair price, the Brio 3 outputs 49Wpc into 8 ohms and 64Wpc into 4 ohms—enough to drive any reasonably sensitive loudspeaker—and its input array will accommodate the typical assortment of sources owned by most music fans. The inclusion of a real phonostage is nice.
Reviewed by Barry Willis, Issue 167
The 80Wpc C356BEE borrows technologies from NAD’s Master Series M3 dual-mono integrated. Its tonal balance leans slightly to the darker side, bringing a bit of extra wood to strings and burnish to brass. The soundstage is large, with a good sense of air around instruments, and a nice sense of depth.
Reviewed by WG, Issue 210
Another barebones integrated, Vincent’s SV-129 is a bit dark and grainy, but it really delivers the essence of the music. An immediate, communicative midrange leads to burnished tone colors, explosive dynamics, tight, forceful bass, fine ambience and depth retrieval, and sufficiently wide dynamics.
Reviewed by WG, Issue 178