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.
Yet another “how does he do it?” loudspeaker from the prolific mind of Paul Barton. The new, more curvaceous Alpha combines mind-bending dynamics and rich mids in a speaker barely a foot tall. Even the midbass has power and pitch definition rare in this modest price range. Only the nebulous soundstaging is less than excellent.
Reviewed by Neil Gader, Issue 170
The newest version of Paradigm’s second least expensive speaker provides more than a taste of what music sounds like played through speakers made by people who care about the sound of live music. The Minis offer a surprising level of sonic quality for a ridiculously low price.
Reviewed by Steven Stone, Issue 190
Four things distinguish Usher’s S520 from run-of-the-mill, sub-$400 mini-monitors: a crisp and revealing treble, an unusually open and dynamic midrange, taut and surprisingly extended bass (no midbass hump here), and eye-popping build-quality. One caveat: The S520 needs lots of break-in, so be patient.
Reviewed by Chris Martens in AVgM, Issue 10
Although nominally a bookshelf speaker, the Focal 706V delivers an oversized presentation, with the bass power, weight, and extension of small floorstanding units. Highly dynamic and visceral, it has a forward perspective that puts vocals right up front. Shines on rock, blues, and orchestral music. Highish sensitivity makes it an easy load for an amplifier. If you can get by with a little less bass extension and output consider the 705V for $150 less.
Reviewed by Robert Harley, Issue 173
705V reviewed by SS, Issue 183
Small and attractive enough to place on a desktop without rearrangements, the MM-1 features B&W’s famed Nautilus tweeter technology, a pair of 3" “woofers,” and four miniature, Class D, 18-watt amplifiers. The sound is notably natural with vocals, well balanced, and surprisingly open. Although there is no deep bass, what’s there will satisfy most, without the need of a cumbersome add-on subwoofer.
Reviewed by Wayne Garcia, Issue 204