Stuff I was vastly impressed with in 2012? Oh yeah — there were lots. So, here’s a list (in alphabetical order):
Part-Time Audiophile’s Top Ten of 2012
BorderPatrol P20 EXD (~$17,000). If I can find the cash, I’m getting this 300b-based push-pull stereo amp. Definitely not cheap, but easily one of the best I’ve ever heard — and with the right speakers, the best.
First Watt J2 stereo amplifier ($4,000). A superlative amp with some of the best detail and speed I’ve ever heard — and yes, 25wpc is plenty for just about every loudspeaker. These are my first trip with a First Watt amp, and frankly, I’m almost scared to hear what else Nelson might be cooking up in his secret lab. Truly remarkable stuff.
Magnepan Mini System ($1,500). Words will never be able to capture how alarmingly different and awesome this 3-piece ensemble sounds on your desk. Best in class — and nothing else comes even remotely close. I ran them with a Red Wine Audio Signature 15, a Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum, a Luxman L-505u, and a Peachtree NovaPre/220 combo — and a few more amps besides. Gobs of power is good, but not necessary — contrary to rumors about Maggies generally, 15wpc lit up my desk in a most satisfying way.
Odyssey Audio Kismet-in-Khartago monoblock amplifiers (~$4,000). OMG these amps are fantastic. 200wpc is more than enough even for my big Magnepan 3.7 loudspeakers. Rich, full, with sub-woofer type bass and finesse all over the audio band. To better them, I had to go way up the food chain. There’s a reason why TAS loves these amps. Interestingly, you can upgrade the living tar out of anything you order from Klaus — call him and ask “what’s possible”. I started with a Khartago and ended up with him stuffing that case with the kitchen sink — the resulting amps? His top-of-the-line Kismet, but in a much less expensive chassis. Like I said — you have to call Klaus. Do it. Do it now.
Peachtree Audio NovaPre/220 combo ($2,300). This pairing is stupid-good. Aesthetically, I’d opt for the wood veneers, but functionally, I can’t find a missing piece here. There’s a tube, an async USB DAC, and a gobs of power. Ta-freakin’-da — you are done.
Red Wine Audio Signature 15 integrated amplifier ($1,500). This thing was killer. The only limit here was the 15 watts per channel — assuming that this was enough (think, “good speaker matching”), this little amp was top of the heap. Very impressive!
Sjöfn HiFi ( the clue ) ($999/pair). I can’t think of a more room-friendly loudspeaker. It sounds amazing in just about every room I tried them in and with their up-against-the-wall preference, they leave more open space than I’m entirely used to. The sound? Ha! You’re not going to believe me. If I were in the habit of giving gifts in this price range, this — plus a pair of stands and a nice 2″-4″ thick acoustic bass trap from GIK — would be it. Ska-doosh.
Tekton Lore S ($1,399). Best budget all-round speakers I’ve heard this year. Better detail retrieval and bass response than a speaker this small has any right to. The veneers will add $$$ but will also dramatically improve the aesthetic. Entry level? Hardly.
Triode Wire Labs Seven+ power cord ($499). Triode Pete makes a few different power cords, all of them excellent, but the one that really lights up my monoblock amps are the Seven+. These things use huge wire and really ought to be about as flexible as a hunk of re-bar. But they’re not! They’re actually the most flexible power cords I’ve tried. My system hasn’t sounded better, and add that dollop of depth-charge deep bass responsiveness and you’ll want to hold on to yours, too.
WyWires Gold interconnects and speaker cables (varies). Cables are the black art of audio. If your system can’t tell the difference between great cables and merely okay ones, stop now and explore no further. You’ll be much happier. But once you’ve made that plunge, WyWires can be a safe, final refuge. The best, most neutral and open sounding cables I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. For me, they’re not only my standard, they’re SOTA.
And that’s all she wrote.
Happy new years to you all!