Product of The Year | 2020











Product of The Year 2020

Publisher’s Note: Someone told me that hanging a Product of the Year 2020 ribbon would be odd. Maybe this year was not the year to do “congratulations”, and any award, other than “Congrats, we made it” (to those of us that actually did make it), would be out of place. I hear that. To a very large extent, I completely agree–to say that “this year was not a typical year” will probably end up in some dictionary under the heading “blithe understatement”. This was a year that started with a bang followed by a long whimper. We lost so much, and the hits just kept coming. And yet. And yet, with that said, some remarkable things still happened. Like these products, collected here. Acknowledging them seems like the least we could do.

It also feels a bit weird to say that 2020 was, in spite of it all, a banner year at Part-Time Audiophile. We have new writers, a new editorial structure, and perhaps surprising given that for most of the year the world was on fire during a time of plague–and that was just the election season–we saw our readership and reach expand explosively. To all of our readers: we’re grateful to have been part of your survival plans, my friends. And here’s to a vastly different 2021.

To wrap things up for the year-best-forgotten, we launched our massive year-end Buyer’s Guide. Check it out, below. It’s far too large to eat at one sitting, so feel free to click through when you’ve got some time and a tall carafe of your favorite tasty adult beverage.

One last thing remains for us to do at this point: announce the winners for Product of the Year 2020.

These products were special. Dear. Precioussss. They tickled our fancy. Tickled our wallets. Tickled all of the naughty-bits we’re not going to talk about here. And they won awards.

This is our best-of-the-best if you will. It’s not complete. Such a list never is. Our best stab at that is the Buyer’s Guide (again, see below). All we’re doing here is giving “just due” to those over-achieving products, those products that made us sit up and question our (sometimes, rather tenuous) grasp on reality. They made us start letter-writing campaigns to dead physicists and forgotten pin-up idols, asking plaintive questions about the meaning of life and why it is we are so very broke. Ah well. Anyway, enjoy. And congratulations to all of the following. Your work made our work so much more fun.

Cheers,

Scot Hull


Product of The Year

Vimberg Amea Loudspeakers

While others in the high-end audio industry are choosing products packed with the latest technology as their pick for Product of the Year 2020, we’re picking a pair of two-way monitors. What’s up with that?

As Marc Phillips mentioned in his review of the Vimberg Amea, it’s not quite fair to compare these German beauties to other two-way premium monitors, because they sound nothing like a stand-mounted speaker once you close your eyes. It’s obvious that Jorn Janczak of TIDAL Audio has pushed the envelope of small monitor design with the Amea, and yet he chose to do it at a price point where could he include it in the (slightly downscaled) Vimberg line.

That makes the Vimberg Amea an extraordinary performer at $15,000/pair, although we’re more than intrigued with the idea of the $10,000 diamond tweeter option that is supposed to be a step beyond.

The Vimberg Amea is so special. It is a big speaker. With compact dimensions.

It really is incredible. If you’re a fan of 2-way loudspeakers, the Vimberg Amea is an experience you need to have.

Editors’ Note: The Vimberg Amea was indeed available for ordering in November of 2019, that is a fact, but as any Amea owner knows, it was not physically available to anyone (including reviewers) in the United States until March of 2020—and for that reason, we’re considering it a 2020 product.

You can find the review >>here<<

More information can be found at Vimberg Audio >>here<<


The Nominees for POTY

Acora Acoustics SRC-2 Loudspeakers

It’s been a fairly short road from “have you checked out those granite speakers from Canada?” to “Oh my God, we have to give them the Summit Award.” Dave McNair and Eric Franklin Shook reached a point in the review process of the flagship Acora Acoustics SRC-2 where they simply threw up their hands and declared, “This is the best we’ve heard. Time to retire.” That caused some controversy behind the scenes–some wanted the Summit Award to be something that is rarely if ever used, but Dave and Eric–two very discerning audiophiles who’ve heard almost everything–won the day with their stubbornness.

That’s not to suggest that Acora Acoustic has detractors among the PTA staff. No, most of us have fallen for their charm, especially when it comes to eliciting strong emotional reactions to our favorite music. But are the Acora Acoustics line of loudspeakers–the SRC-2 3-ways, the SRC-1 2-way floorstanders, and the SRB monitors–truly innovative? It’s clear that Valerio Cora, the founder of Acora, has a masterful way of choosing the right type of granite for his speaker enclosures. But if the presence of granite is the secret to great loudspeakers, why isn’t everyone using it?

It’s because Acora Acoustics pays just as much attention to the selection of electrical and mechanical components, and acoustic design as they do to geology, and we should consider ourselves lucky that Cora chose this path to show off his enviable skills.

The Acora Acoustics SRC-2 won our prestigious Summit Award and was nominated for Product of The Year 2020.

You can find the review >>here<<

More information can be found at Acora Acoustics >>here<<

Qln Prestige 3 Loudspeakers

When we first poked our head into Vinnie Rossi’s room at a high-end show, we noticed these petite 2-way floorstanders, raked back at a dramatic angle, and just filling the room with a powerful, deep and clear sound. Man, Vinnie’s new amps sound great, we said. What were those little speakers again? Qln? Wow, did they sound great or what? Wait, we have to go back there. We have QUESTIONS.

Where did this brand come from?

Qln’s actually been around for a long time, but again it’s their latest designs (specifically, the Qln Prestige 3 loudspeaker) that have floored us. The bass is deep and full, the imaging exact, the soundstaging impossibly huge, but the whole presentation is so full of warmth and beauty. We asked US importer distributor Mark Sossa of Well Pleased AV if there was a secret to these designs, some sort of fairy dust that took their performance to new heights. “Just good engineering and the finest parts quality,” he replied, but we still suspect that he signed an NDA, and another contract might have been signed with some shady dude hanging out at the crossroads.

Think this is hyperbole? Then you haven’t heard what the Qlns can do.

The Qln Prestige 3 won our Editor’s Choice award and was nominated for Product of The Year 2020.

You can find the review >>here<<

More information can be found at Qln >>here<<

TIDAL Audio Prisma Preamplifier

This preamplifier practically begs for knob jokes, and that’s really not going to make a lot of sense until you have the pleasure of actually turning the crank on one. Is that weird to say? Maybe. But that’s just the first superlative that this magical creature brings to the audio stable–it just goes on from there.

To quote reviewer Dave McNair: “There are those rare components that seem to be essentially colorless but phenomenally pleasing in the way a recording is presented. Clean but not antiseptic. As an avowed vacuum tube and vinyl lover, the TIDAL Audio Prisma never came across in the slightest as dry or clinical sounding. If an almost unmeasurable departure from perfect linearity is the design goal for achieving the most emotionally engaging listening enjoyment from a hi-fi component, the TIDAL Audio Prisma achieves that goal with the swag of Nate Robinson in an NBA slam dunk competition. Plus it looks gorgeous. And it’s built to last a lifetime.”

The Tidal Audio Prisma won our prestigious Summit Award, and was nominated for Product of The Year 2020.

You can find the review >>here<<

More information can be found at Tidal Audio >>here<<

Vinnie Rossi L2i Integrated Amplifier

Marc loved his time with the L2i from Vinnie Rossi: “I had the Vinnie Rossi L2i integrated amplifier in my system for many months, and I listened to hundreds of LPs during that time. I can’t pick out two or three that stood out. I can tell you that this was one of the most rewarding periods of my life as an audiophile. It’s all a happy, satisfying blur.” A highly satisfying, highly engaging ride from one of the most interesting and innovative manufacturers in today’s high-end.

The Vinnie Rossi L2i won our Editor’s Choice award and was nominated for Product of The Year 2020.

Also available from Vinnie Rossi is the upgraded, SE version of the L2i. That review is still being arranged, but we’re all sitting on our hands because we’re worried we’ll pound them directly through the keyboard in our gleeful anticipation. All we want for Christmas is a Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE integrated amplifier with the phono and DAC modules, and a healthy supply of NOS directly-heated triodes to roll in the preamp stage. Can we do that? Please?

You can find the review >>here<<

More information can be found at Vinnie Rossi >>here<<


Budget Products of The Year

Sonus Faber Lumina III Loudspeakers

It’s been a really great year for Sonus Faber, and Marc Phillips got a front-row ticket to the show with the new Lumina III and was wowed by their performance. “Right out of the box, these speakers prompted an immediate double-take. As I mentioned, I had no idea they were going to sound so good.”

Don’t be mistaken, mid-fi they are not, except for the price. Decidedly a true hi-fi speaker with their borrowed tweeter and midrange drivers from the more expensive Sonetto series, and their handmade Italian enclosures, this speaker establishes a new bar for build quality at a ridiculously affordable outlay.

Though a luxurious build and European country of origin are noteworthy mentions from a production and product standpoint, it’s the sound that wins this Lumina III our honors. The field of mid-sized mid-fi priced towers is a crowded one. Among them, the Lumina III towers, well, tower. Marc concluded, “Solid engineering is always about simple yet elegant solutions. By sticking to those ideals, Sonus Faber has come up with a truly remarkable $2200/pair of loudspeakers.”

The Sonus Faber Lumina III is a Best Value award winner.

You can find the review >>here<<

More information can be found at Sonus Faber >>here<<

Audio by Van Alstine SET 120 Control Amplifier

Van Alstine SET 120 Control Amplifier

While it might have felt a little weird seeing a “control amplifier” in the “integrated amplifier” category of the Buyers Guide 2021, when it comes to this round of honor, the Van Alstine SET 120 gets the chance to define its own category more broadly as it is one of our two picks for the budget products of the year.

Ultimately the SET 120 from Frank Van Alstine is a simple as simple gets. It’s a smartly designed “point-to-point wired single-ended-transistor amplifier”, with a high-quality volume control and source selector positioned upstream. Internally the parts are premium. Externally the SET 120’s black anodized aluminum front fascia, folded steel chassis, and textured finish exudes a sense of hardened quality that feels distinctly American to the touch, but is indeed a cost-saving measure.

The entirety of the package screams hand made, while the name on the badge softly speaks of its legendary hi-fi status. The open level of transparency and detail of the SET 120 is something you almost never find elsewhere below three grand, and yet, here it rides into town at just a $1,199.

The Van Alstine SET 120 Control Amplifier earned our Best Value award.

You can find the review >>here<<

More information can be found at Audio by Van Alstine >>here<<


The Buyers Guides of 2021














5 Comments

  1. I’ve read up on SE-Triode, but not SE-Transistor. I suspect it’s a lot of the same in theory. If only that Van Alstine 120 was more brick house than brick lookin, at whatever cost. A triode like Decware, for example, get’s me fired up. A transistor like VA, not so much. There’s nothing more important for hi-fi than lookin good, I’ll always say, because nearly all hi-fi sounds pretty good.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Jeff Rowland Design Group Continuum S2 Integrated Amplifier | REVIEW | Part-Time Audiophile

Comments are closed.