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.
Although the 130Wpc Odyssey Khartago solid-state stereo amp has been around for better than a decade, it was new to JV. Shockingly similar in tonal balance to high-priced solid-state amps, it has no discernible grain, high resolution, and a deep, wide soundstage. Positively, the best budget amp JV has heard (and the $2k Odyssey Khartago monoblocks are great, too).
Reviewed by JV, Issue 195
Parasound’s A23 isn’t the last word in low-end authority, and it’s a bit cool in the midrange, but what it lacks in oomph it makes up for in finesse and pitch definition. Moreover, this reasonably priced amp is musically quite involving.
Reviewed by SB, Issue 138
A paradigm of minimalism and musicality, this small, cool-running sixty-five-watter is stuffed with sonic virtues: a forgiving tonal balance, good soundstage dimensionality, and naturalistic depth. Paired with its companion preamp, the solid Soloist 3 is a great way to get into separates at an integrated-amp price.
Reviewed by NG, Issue 174
The Ultravalve represents the distillation of over 30 years of design experience. Sounding more powerful than its 35Wpc would indicate, it is intended as a thoroughly modern and rationally priced vacuum-tube amplifier. While its perspective is not as romantic as that of its “godmother,” the Dynaco Stereo 70, it is far better focused, clearly more dynamic, and in general a higher-resolution device. A synergistic match for the Salk Sound SongTower.
Reviewed by DO, Issue 204
At 140Wpc the most powerful iteration of Peter Walker’s famous “current dumping” amplifiers, the 909 has one of the most natural yet vividly lifelike midranges, qualities that extend to the top of the spectrum. By design the bottom isn’t flat to DC, so this may not be the best choice for deep, deep bass freaks. Eleven very muscular amps of peak current ensure formidable dynamic range and stability. A great sanely‑priced option for driving any Quad ESLs.
Reviewed by PS, Issues 128 and 203