These are good times for stereo. Right now, you have a wider choice of seriously talented products at almost every price point than has been the case for many years.
This means that almost everything we can devote review time to is something that we already believe is going to be pretty good. This, in turn, means that picking the best of the best is no easy task. Nonetheless, after some thorough checking and a little soul searching, we have rounded up the Hi-Fi products that really shone this year. The criteria for being eligible are simple. 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 2018.
We looked at some brilliant, affordable speakers this year, but Mission showed that, if you increase your budget a little, you can buy something that is genuinely astonishing. The QX-2 is a sophisticated piece of design and engineering that delivers a staggeringly capable performance for the asking price. It's well made, unfussy about partnering equipment, and looks great too. An absolute star.
The Special Forty is Dynaudio's fortieth birthday present to itself, but the good news is that it's a gift that keeps on giving. Taking many pieces of existing Dynaudio technology and refining them further, the result is a truly stupendous piece of equipment. There are few absolutes in audio, but there are almost no conditions under which this is not the best speaker you can buy at, or anywhere near, the price.
In the Planar 1 Plus, Rega has created a turntable that is as 'fit and forget' as it is possible to make a record player. They achieved this without affecting anything that makes a Rega turntable a truly great way of listening to music, and did so at a price that is impressively low for something built as well as it is and looks as good as it does. If you've been wondering about the best way to dip a toe in the waters of analogue, wonder no more. This is it.
Naim has potentially made a bit of a rod for its own back with the Star. For starters, it does everything - network audio, multiroom capable, great selection of analogue and digital inputs, as well as CD playback and ripping and even the ability to act as a server. It then does all of these things ridiculously well. To finish off this catalogue of over achievement, it looks brilliant, it's incredibly well made and a joy to operate. We said at the time, it is hard to assemble a system that does everything this does as well as it does for the same price, and very little has changed in the meantime.
The Exposure exemplifies everything that the company excels at - namely well engineered amplifiers that manage to balance accuracy with musical joy. It then comes in a compact and easy to accommodate box that also contains a truly lovely sounding selection of digital inputs and a fantastic phono stage. The XM5 shows that if you take what you're good at and tweak the details, you can still rule the roost in 2018.
Yes, it isn't cheap and it is quite a bit more expensive than the model it replaced. That is really where criticism of the HD800S ends, though. This is an unflinchingly accurate headphone that musters a level of three dimensionality and realism that is hard to find anywhere else. It is built like a piece of lab equipment and manages to be comfortable into the bargain. This is the headphone by which all others are judged.
Best Digital Hi-Fi Product Under £1,000 – iFi xDSD
It was always going to take quite a product to topple the Chord Mojo as the best portable DAC going. What iFi has done with the xDSD is look at every aspect of the design and hone and refine it to best in class
status. It handles any format you are likely to encounter (and quite a few you aren't), the business of using it on the move has been carefully thought through, and it includes an excellent Bluetooth implementation. Finally, it sounds superb. Music on the move never sounded so good.
The Qutest might well classify as the most affordable piece of high end equipment you can currently buy. The level of performance that it offers is truly outstanding - nothing less than a perfectly accurate window onto the material you play through it. It supports every format you will need, manages to be a piece of Chord equipment without being bonkers and it carries a price tag that makes many rivals look a little bit foolish. This is a genuine bargain.
As a subjective area, very few Hi-Fi products can demonstrate almost universal appeal. The Special Forty is the exception to that rule. It's compact, easy to accommodate and simply beautifully made and finished. It then goes on to deliver a level of performance that is truly untouchable at the asking price. It is accurate, capable of scale far beyond what you'd expect and it does this while sounding utterly joyous. This is everything that Hi-Fi should be in an exquisitely made box and for this reason, it's the Hi-Fi product of the year 2018.