Welcome to our latest annual Editor’s Choice awards. The Editor’s Choice Awards celebrate the best products of the year. They are the items we think stand head and shoulders above the rest. The criteria for being eligible are simple. It must be a product that has been reviewed by AVForums in the last 12 months and it must currently be available as part of the official product range from a manufacturer and not discontinued before the end of 2020.
Although Hi-Fi launches were also affected by the ongoing disruption, it didn’t stop a selection of superb equipment reaching us for testing. The sheer quality in depth that we saw over the year was worthy of note but even in a field of greatness, some products truly stood out.
Best Hi-Fi Speaker Under £1,000 - Mission LX-2 MkII
Mission didn’t tear up the rule book for the LX-2 MkII. It simply took a speaker that was already superlatively good and set about making it sound better, look better and function as part of a wider range of speakers to give you a better chance of having the model you need.
There is a compelling argument that these speakers represent a superb demonstration of what can be achieved by taking something that works well and then carefully and fastidiously working through the details. At the asking price, they’re truly outstanding speakers that will work with a wide spread of equipment and look good while they do so. The Mission is an outstanding affordable speaker.
Best Hi-Fi Speaker £1,000 to £3,000 - Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature
It has been a busy year in all senses of the word for Bowers & Wilkins. In amongst this, the Signatures felt like a little reminder that when they turn their full attention to making a box loudspeaker, the results are truly magnificent.
We reviewed the 702 Signature first and felt it was a fine device. The 705 Signature however is a truly great speaker. It takes the solid underpinnings of the 705 S2 and turns it into something that is more than the sum of its parts. There is a sense of joy to everything you play on it that is utterly captivating and can be enjoyed without any feeling you are compromising on the reality of what you’re listening to. It looks good and sounds wonderful; what more could you want?
Best Hi-Fi Speaker Over £3,000 - Kudos Audio Titan 505
Let’s cut to the chase. The Titan 505 is a lot of money for a two way standmount. You can buy larger, more ornate and more impressive looking devices for the same amount of money. What’s rather harder though is buying a speaker that’s better than this one is.
I’ve tested and enjoyed other speakers at higher prices but this one is the speaker I covet more than any other and I’ve felt that way since I heard the prototypes at the Bristol Show a few years ago. I love the way it looks and feels, I love how it dials into the sort of UK lounge that most of us are saddled with in a way that convinces utterly without dominating it visually or overdriving it. More than anything else though, I love its unwavering ability to deliver joy across everything you ask it to play. This isn’t simply the best speaker I tested in 2020, it’s the best speaker I’ve ever tested.
Best Turntable Under £1,000 - Pro-Ject T1 Phono
There’s nothing intrinsically revolutionary about the T1 Phono; although it might be fair to say that revolutionary things in vinyl are not terribly common. What you get is Pro-Ject refining the aesthetics of their affordable turntables and putting together a turntable that delivers an excellent specification at a seriously competitive price.
More than this, it sounds unreasonably good for the asking price. This is a turntable that lowers the price point at which vinyl ceases to be an interesting novelty and proceeds to offer a performance that is a genuine alternative to digital. If you are looking for a starter turntable that will satisfy enough to stick with, this is an absolutely barnstorming choice and is a demonstration of Pro-Ject effortlessly upping its game in response to the competition.
Best Turntable £1,000 and Over - Rega Planar 10
The Rega is a rare thing in analogue terms. It’s small, easy to use and completely free of the intimidating faff that can go hand in hand with serious turntables. Despite this, it sounds monumentally good. If you simply want to hear what is on the record, without colouration or embellishment, the Planar 10 is the device for you.
The really clever bit is that this exceptional transparency hasn’t come at the expense of the innate joy that Rega turntables possess in spades. The review sample stayed on hand for testing throughout 2020 and it hasn’t missed a beat in that time, despite being moved around, connected to a huge selection of devices and put through its paces time and time again. It’s a modern masterpiece.
Best All-in-One Hi-Fi Under £1,000 - Marantz Melody X
The compact CD fronted all-in-one might feel like a ‘legacy’ category but Marantz has gone ahead and built a device that does everything you would expect a unit of this nature to do… and then ensured it does a great deal more besides.
The key thing about the Melody X is that it doesn’t care how you send content to it, it sounds outstanding regardless. You can buy it for the convenience and rejoice in the fact that it sounds genuinely lovely at the same time. This was one of the most surprising products I tested all year and a real star.
Best All-in-One Hi-Fi £1,000 And Over - Arcam SA30
A small point of order. As far as Arcam is concerned, the SA30 is not an all-in-one system, which might mean this is the first time that a product that is described as one thing wins an award for being another.
The argument for the defense is compelling though. The SA30 doesn’t need anything other than speakers to work and, while it might have plenty of other inputs, that makes it an extremely effective all-in-one. More than being effective, this is an outstanding piece of kit, combining a great amplifier stage with superb decoding, extensive connectivity and the added benefit of Dirac Live to help it dial into any space you put it in. Well done Arcam.
Best Hi-Fi Amplifier Under £1,000 - Rega Io
The Io is everything that makes a Rega amp a Rega amp, but in miniature. It’s a staggeringly capable little thing that has excellent tonality and imaging, enough power to drive a decent spread of speakers and an excellent phono stage just itching to be connected to a turntable.
What’s best of all though is that Rega has managed to get this little gem out of the door for £380. It’s a startling achievement and if you like what the Io does, you can move further up the Rega product line, knowing that the same basic qualities will be with you all the way. The first rung on the ladder rarely sounded so good.
Best Hi-Fi Amplifier £1,000 to £3,000 - Naim Nait XS 3
We gave this price point particular focus across 2020 and there wasn’t a duffer among them. In this contest of superstars, the Nait XS 3 is the one that emerges at the top of the pile. Here is an amp that is beautifully made, fitted with a decent collection of inputs, including an extremely good phono stage and possessed of enough power to drive pretty much anything you might reasonably expect of it.
More than this though, it’s a monumentally good listen. The Naim has managed to add some new tricks to its sonic repertoire without affecting all the things it did brilliantly before. If you aren’t looking for a system in a box (if you are, look at the Arcam), this is an amp that is very nearly as good as the Supernait 3 for less money and you cannot say fairer than that.
Best Hi-Fi Amplifier Over £3,000 - Krell K-300i
The Krell K-300i is another example of a very welcome development in Hi-Fi; convenient high end. In connectivity terms it is outstanding, with analogue and digital inputs, UPnP and even HDMI switching. It offers an astonishing spec in contrast to the old 'costs more, does less' thinking of the high end.
At the heart of the matter though this is still a Krell, which means that the K300i can take pretty much any speaker you can think of and run it to any level that takes your fancy, up to and including ones that will earn you an ASBO. This is a superb piece of engineering that does a great many things and does them all extremely well. If this is the future, we are very much here for it.
Best Headphone Under £500 - Philips Fidelio X3
The Philips Fidelio X3 delighted pretty much from the moment they were taken out of the box. This is a brilliant headphone for the asking price. I unboxed it with little in the way of preconceived ideas of what it might be capable of and it went on to deliver one of the most convincing performances of any product this year.
This is a great home headphone and one that is exceptionally well priced for the performance it offers. What Philips has built here is a truly outstanding bit of sanely priced Audiophilia. This is a superb piece of industrial design that has no trouble delighting across a wide selection of music and with a healthy selection of source equipment.
Best Headphone £500 to £2,000 - Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020
The Andromeda 2020 is a truly mighty line in the sand for in ear monitors. It’s barely more demanding on equipment than the more affordable models, is comfortable to wear and use and is built to a standard that suggests it will delight for years to come.
It is pricey for an earphone but given the scope of its abilities as a transducer it’s, comparatively at least, a bargain. This is a device that is fully capable of astonishing listeners in a domestic setting… before going on to do exactly the same thing on the move too. It represents one of the high points of the year for its sheer ability and how little it asks of the listener while delivering it.
Best Headphone Over £2,000 - T+A Solitaire P
I had some doubts about the T+A Solitaire P when the concept was explained to me - a headphone that costs five thousand pounds that is made by a company that up until this point had never made a headphone at any price. Let’s cut to the chase though. On their first attempt at making a headphone, T+A has nailed almost every aspect of technology, design and construction.
This is - by some margin - the best headphone I’ve ever tested and it has a depth of talent that is almost unprecedented in terms of how it balances its talents and capabilities. The T+A creates a high end listening experience where speakers cannot. It does so while being an absolute joy to use. If your pockets are deep enough, this is as good as headphone listening gets.
Best Digital Hi-Fi Product Under £1,000 - iFi Audio Zen DAC
For £130, the iFi Zen DAC is simply astonishing value for money. If you only need a USB input, this is a blindingly good piece of kit. It can be placed with electronics that cost significantly more and its performance will ensure delivery of the sort of presentation you expect.
This is not a statement that nothing after this point gets better - I assure you it does - but a reflection that this is a level of performance that was unimaginable for the price even five years ago. This isn’t some sort of abstract technical exercise either. That iFi has done this while still equipping the Zen DAC with some very useful extra features only sweetens the deal because it can be used in a surprisingly comprehensive number of ways and it feels extremely accomplished in all of them. This is a truly brilliant bit of kit that will deliver superb digital on a seriously tight budget.
Best Digital Hi-Fi Product £1000 And Over - Auralic Altair G1
The Altair G1 sounds absolutely fabulous but in 2020, that’s the easy bit. It’s also very well made but we’ve seen plenty of well made things too. Where the Auralic truly shines is just how flexible it can be.
Want a line level streamer? Fine. Need it to be a server too? Not a problem. Handle additional digital sources too? Yep. Want to simply connect it to a pair of active speakers for a slimline elegant system? Ready when you are. It’s this ability to do so many different things, and so many of them well, that really helps the Auralic to justify the asking price over some talented but simpler rivals. This is truly brilliant digital front end and a worthy award winner.
Best Wireless Speaker Under £500 - LG PN7 XBOOM Go
Yes, it has an odd name and it isn’t the most subtle looking device on the awards roster but the LG PN7 XBOOM Go is a seriously good listen. This is undeniably a great-sounding speaker that benefits from some solid engineering combined with cutting-edge tech.
The result is a clean, detailed and balanced sound that's sure to please, regardless of where you use it or what you listen to. The DTS Stereo Plus feature is genuinely effective, producing a bigger and more immersive soundstage. If you simply need Bluetooth for your audio, the LG is a bargain and a deserved winner.
Best Wireless Speaker £500 to £2,000 - Naim Mu-So Qb 2nd Generation
While the Nait XS3 edged to its award in a keenly fought category by a narrow margin, the Mu-So Qb 2nd Generation sits in the middle of one of the most populated and competitive categories in the entire audio market… and still wins by miles.
The Mu-So Qb2 is an outstanding bit of kit. It simply takes the original Qb and, minor gripes about the Bluetooth fitment aside, makes it better in every single way. It sounds absolutely brilliant, it looks fantastic, has a killer specification and it’s a joy to use. As a combination of specification, performance and aesthetics, this is an absolute star turn and a product that richly deserves this year’s award.
Best Wireless Speaker Over £2,000 - T+A Caruso
A few short years ago, the idea of this category existing at all would have been hard to get your head around. Not only is this now a category of note though, it contains a technological tour de force like the T+A Caruso.
What has surprised me, pretty much from the moment I turned it on though is how close it gets to ‘real’ Hi-Fi at times, whilst being as convenient, user friendly and generally clever as smaller and more ‘normal’ wireless speakers. If you can’t face the system matching hassle, you don’t want the extra boxes, complexity and general faff that comes with breaking things up by role, the T+A starts to make more and more sense. This is almost certainly the shape of many things to come.
Best Newcomer 2020 - Vertere
So as to keep pedants happy, Vertere is not a new company but 2020 was the first time we looked at one of their products and quite a product it was too. The Vertere DG-1 doesn’t do ‘normal.’ It doesn’t look normal, it doesn’t have normal engineering and neither is the performance remotely normal - it is one of the very few devices that can keep the Rega Planar 10 honest.
The DG-1 is one of the most effortlessly transparent vinyl replay devices that I have ever tested and it has gone some way to recalibrating some of the things I thought that turntables at the price can do. It successfully brings a hint of what the more expensive models are capable of down to a nearly sane price and does so while looking and feeling like nothing else on the market. As an opener for AVForums from Vertere, it was a very welcome one and we look forward to seeing what comes next.
Hi-Fi Product Of The Year 2020 - Rega Io
This was a record year for the issuing of 10/10 scores. Why then, have we awarded Product of the Year to something that ‘only’ managed 9/10? There are two very good reasons for this. The first is that the Rega Io is not a piece of exotica. At £380, it is as close to ‘real world’ as you might reasonably expect a superbly performing, handsome and well made amplifier to be. It is the physical manifestation of Rega’s desire to never lose an affordable entry point to their range. This is something that deserves recognition.
The second is the element of the unmeasurable. I enjoyed reviewing and spending time with the Rega as much as I did the T+A Solitaire P, the Krell K300i and, yes, even the Kudos Titan 505. This compact amplifier makes music enjoyable, no matter the genre. It’s a pleasure to use and to live with and it makes you feel special when you use it. It is everything that great Hi-Fi should be and it does it at £380. Well done Rega.