Welcome to our first annual Editor’s Choice awards.
During the review process our editorial team can award badges to products that reach a certain level of performance from Recommended, Best Buy, Highly Recommended to Reference Status. These badges are awarded at the time of the review but do not offer a comparison or state if a product is the best of the best. Our reviews are a guide for our readers and members to use when putting together a shortlist of products to review. However we now think it is time for us to introduce an annual best of the year awards, so enter the Editor’s Choice awards. This is the first time the editor and editorial staff of the site has picked what they consider to be the best products reviewed this year. They will also state the reasons why they have chosen a particular product and why you should consider their choice when looking to demo or buy such an item.
With our two channel reviews, there is greater subjectivity to our findings than is the case with our TV and projector reviews – we can't point to them hitting a specific performance benchmark and their performance will be dependent in part on what you use with them. There are also unquestionably longer lifespans at work here too and one product that was in contention for an award has been in existence in one form or another since the seventies. Even so, the same rules apply as other categories. It must be a product that has been reviewed by AVForums in the last 12 to 18 months and it must currently be available as part of the official product range from a manufacturer and not discontinued before the end of 2017. This means that all the award winners have been fully tested and reviewed by the editorial team here at AVForums and are honestly presented as their favourites for the past year. Without further ado, here's what rocked our world in two channel:
The Mission is an unreasonably good speaker for under £200 – in fact it would still be an impressive product at twice that. There's nothing innately showy about the materials or the design but the performance that Mission has achieved from them is sensational. They achieve a near perfect balance of information, realism and joy and there's very little at a similar price that gets anywhere near them.
Genuine technical breakthroughs in two channel audio are relatively rare and at first glance, the Concept 500 appears conventional enough. The reality is though that this is a significant step forward over pretty much anything else available for similar money. Thanks to its unique cabinet the Concept 500 has a neutrality, tonal accuracy and soundstage that redefine what is possible at the price. Combine this with epic bass extension and the ability to have fun when you need it and you have a truly awesome loudspeaker.
The standards we hold affordable vinyl replay to continue to climb and products like the Essential III are the reason why. Far more than a tweaked version of its predecessor, the Essential III is a wholesale redesign that gives you better features, better looks, better build and – most importantly – better performance. This is a startlingly capable device for the asking price with genuine realism and three dimensionality to the way it goes about making music.
The Planar 6 is not the prettiest turntable we've reviewed this year but it does offer a taste of high end vinyl replay at a pretty sensible price. Far more than a beefed up Planar 3, the Planar 6 is a sophisticated beast that has exceptional performance. Key to this is the inclusion of the Ania cartridge. This clever moving coil was clearly designed with half an eye on the Planar 6 and the two products go together like gin and tonic. We looked at more expensive turntables this year but nothing offered the talent pound for pound that the Planar 6 does.
The Naim was a long time coming this year but it is definitely worth the wait. At a price that is significantly lower than many rivals it offers a superb specification and industrial design that makes almost everything else look rather old fashioned by comparison. Most importantly, the performance is truly outstanding. The Atom has the power, authority and musicality to give any remotely similarly priced separate system a hard time while offering integration and control options they can't get near.
Given that the M-ONE is built into the casework that Audiolab has hitherto used for DACs, we weren't completely sure what to expect from it when it arrived. What we got is one of the most complete amplifiers under £1,000. The Audiolab isn't overburdened with power but what it offers over and above many rivals is a vibrancy and realism that is hard not to be smitten by. Its star turn is that this amp is combined with the company's superb decoding supplied across a suite of digital inputs. With these, the M-ONE can turn pretty much anything digital into a top flight source and deliver a consistently entertaining performance.
Audio Technica has given us some of the best headphones we've tested over recent years but even allowing for this, the SR9 was a surprise. This is a headphone that does all the things we expect from the brand – a neutral yet lively sound, coupled with excellent levels of comfort and superb build. The surprise bit is that there's no 'but' to this. With a design that is no-nonsense and just about small enough to be used on the move, you have a headphone that is an absolutely fantastic all-rounder and capable of delighting you at home or out and about.
The Explorer 2 is one of the more affordable products we looked at all year but in some ways one of the most impressive. Meridian has managed to build it in the UK with their trademark attention to detail and also include MQA decoding as well. It's simple to use and offers sparkling performance both with MQA and with more prosaic digital files. As an introduction to really high quality digital decoding, you can't really ask for anything more.
Replacing the phenominal Hugo was never going to be an easy task but Chord Electronics has done an incredible job with the Hugo 2. What is impressive is that not only do you get an improvement in performance – this is now one of the very finest digital devices that money can buy – but that it is combined with real improvements in how the Hugo 2 operates and the functionality it offers. This is now a device that can be a monumentally good digital front end in a conventional system but still go off on holiday with you. Wherever you listen to it though, it is going to thrill.
Only one HiFi product this year earned a perfect score and a Reference badge. Only one product left us feeling that we were genuinely listening to something that redefined what was possible at the price point. Finally, only one product – even within the boundaries of the subjective nature of two channel audio – demonstrated performance that is clearly a benchmark for anything priced remotely near them. That product is the Q Acoustics Concept 500 and for these reasons and more, it is our HiFi Product of the year 2017.