Choosing the Part-Time Audiophile 2022 Product of the Year was far more difficult than in years past. Since I was determined not to repeat what I did in 2020 and 2021–choose a two-way loudspeaker that had only been heard and reviewed by me–I asked the PTA staff to nominate their favorites. For the most part we agreed on the products that made the final cut, the seven you see right here. There’s an excellent reason to choose any one of these products as the winner.
The difficulties arose when we started disqualifying our favorites from contention for a variety of reasons, the first being the adherence to rules we’ve set for ourselves. For instance, one of these nominees was actually reviewed back in 2021. POTY is supposed to reflect what we’ve loved THIS year, not last year. Blah blah blah.
We also decided not to crown the 2022 Product of the Year if, as in years past, only one person has heard it. This resulted in a lot of collaboration between PTA staffers over the last couple of months–Eric Franklin Shook, Dave McNair, Grover Neville, Graig Neville, Jameson Mourafetis and Marc Smazik, among others, gathered for HubCom 2022 in North Carolina. Mohammed Samji hosted both Grover and myself in Seattle just last week, where we listened to his magnificent system and evaluated the Wilson Audio Alexx V speakers and the Dan D’Agostino Momentum S250 MxV power amplifier. Finally, during a very busy year for high-end audio shows, the team listened to as much gear together as possible.
The results, however, were quite surprising. I’m surprised, and I’m the one who ultimately picked the 2022 Product of the Year–based on the PTA staff’s recommendations, of course. And here are the nominees:
These tubed monoblocks, which cost $26,000 per pair, might have been the 2021 Product of the Year if we had been a little more patient with the process. Grover Neville reviewed the Zions very favorably, but when the 2021 POTY nominees were first discussed, the Zions were not mentioned.
What happened? That’s easy to explain. Grover’s love and respect for the Ampsandsound Zion monoblocks grew over time, long after the review was published. Then Dave McNair heard them, and he loved them so much that he bought a pair, along with the Ampsandsound Nautilus integrated/headphone amp and the Ampsandsound Bryce monoblocks. Eric and Jameson quickly concurred. Before long, I started hearing things like “greatest tube amp ever” and “I like that other amp, but it’s no Ampsandsound Zion.”
When we first discussed the 2022 Product of the Year nominees, Ampsandsound made a strong showing. I asked the team which of Justin Weber’s products should be nominated, and everyone agreed that it was the Zions. And then, Grover asked this question: “What year did we review the Zions?” Yes, it turned out that they were reviewed in 2021, not 2022. That’s when Dave McNair decided to write a follow-up review of the Zions, which appeared recently. And unless you readers have a serious problem with this rationalization, this slight bending of the rules, we’re going to go ahead and say the Zions are natural and legitimate contenders for the 2022 Product of the Year.
The Brinkmann Taurus turntable was reviewed in early 2022, despite the fact that I spent most of 2021 listening to it in my reference system. With the Brinkmann 12.1 tonearm, the Brinkmann Edison Mk. II phono stage, the custom HRS isolation platform, the Koetsu Urushi Black cartridge and the Koetsu Step-Up Transformer, the Taurus turntable offered the greatest analog sound I’ve heard in my home. Too bad this particular rig costs as much as a new Toyota KR Supra, or else I’d be riding the Brinkmann gear into the sunset.
I was especially impressed with the Brinkmann Taurus itself, without all the talented assistance. This is a simple design deep down, with extraordinary materials coupled to real engineering. Everything fits perfectly because of the close tolerances, next-level machining, and the focus Helmut Brinkmann has brought to every square inch of this “record spinner.”
It’s one thing to see a top-shelf turntable like this at a show, or in a dealer’s showroom. It’s quite another to use a product like the Taurus day in, day out, for several months. Sure the Brinkmann Taurus is expensive at $15,000–not counting the $6K-plus arm and the $4K platform and the $11.5K worth of cartridge and SUT. But the Taurus, on closer inspection, sounds as “perfect” as it looks. I loved the time I spent with this rig, and I felt like it taught me just a little bit more about the joy of listening to vinyl.
I knew, back in January 2021, that we’d be talking about the Taurus as 2022 Product of the Year. I was right.
I keep forgetting that there’s a guy named Mohammed Samji, and he lives about three hours away from me by car, and he runs a system with Wilson Audio, Dan D’Agostino, dCS, Transparent and more, and he actually writes for Part-Time Audiophile. I’m not sure why it’s taken so long for us to meet in person, but it finally happened, just a few days ago. Both Grover and I descended upon Casa Samji in Seattle, and we sat and listened and asked him HIS opinions on the 2022 Product of the Year.
Mohammed reviewed two components in 2022 that took his system to new levels–the Wilson Audio Alexx V speakers (starting at $135,000/pr USD) and the Dan D’Agostino Momentum S250 MxV stereo power amplifier ($44,950). I must point out that Mohammed Samji had already purchased both the Alexx Vs and the Momentum S250 MxV. In my opinion, that’s the best approach for a thorough and thoughtful high-end audio review: tell us WHY you laid out close to $200K. We followed that approach several times during the year–Dave McNair has purchased plenty of gear from VAC, Qln, Ampsandsound and more, Graig Neville bought the Backert Labs preamplifier he loved, and I just bought myself a new turntable, which will be revealed soon.
This is the part where I tell you what Mohammed said in his review about the S250 MxV, but I will instead implore you to read his review, which follows the updating of his existing S250 to MxV with the man himself, Dan D’Agostino. When I first read his review, I was Proud Papa/Editor-in-Chief and in awe of the mastery and depth in Mo’s chronicle. If I haven’t told everyone what a gift Mohammed Samji is to Part-Time Audiophile, I will right here and now.
You might notice that the Lab12 Integre4 is the only component to appear as both a 2022 Best Value nominee and a 2022 Product of the Year nominee. There’s a simple reason for that. The Integre4 costs just $4,450. At the same time, I could easily live with the Lab12 as my sole amplification for the rest of my life without a complaint. It’s a sign of true excellence that the Lab12 checks both boxes. It’s a liberating feeling, knowing that true happiness costs far less than I thought it would.
I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already said about the Lab12 Integre4 integrated amplifier in the 2022 Best Value Awards–WHICH IT WON. I loved this modest tube integrated amplifier when it was in my system, and I never wanted it to leave. Don’t be surprised if I circle back some day when I’ve gotten off the audio merry-go-round for the sake of my own sanity.
For the first half of 2022, the Lab12 Integre4 integrated amplifier was my front runner for the 2022 Product of the Year. For the second half of 2022, it was the Qln Signatures–yet another expensive two-way loudspeaker just like the Vimberg Amea (2020 POTY) and the Sonus faber Maxima Amator (2021 POTY). In addition, I reviewed the Qln Signatures. At the time, no one else on the PTA staff had taken a listen.
If Part-Time Audiophile was a one-man show, the Qln Signatures would be the 2022 Product of the Year. Slam dunk. Then everyone would make jokes like “What two-way monitor will win Product of the Year in 2023? Heh heh.” Considering that I’ve got a pair of Borresen Z1 Cryos in the system as I write, it could happen. But should it?
It’s downright fortuitous that I could pick Lab12 and Qln as my favorites of the year, and the synergy between these two brands is compelling beyond belief and reason. Warmth, detail, everything in between, everything that constitutes music. I can’t say that the Qln Signatures are the best two-way monitors I’ve heard up to this point, but that’s only because I would insist on lining them all up and doing some serious A/B comparisons. But if was a retail customer with $24,000 in my pocket and I heard them at a dealer’s showroom, I’d be making it rain all over the sales floor. Which sounds kind of dirty now that I put it into words.
These are the rare two-way monitors that can sound big and impressive and deep, like a 400 lb. five-way tower, but they have the coherence and imaging of the greatest two-ways. Because that’s what they are, in my humble opinion.
I love the unexpected inclusion of the TIDAL Audio Intra power amplifier for a few reasons. First of all, TIDAL Audio of Germany is one of the genuine titans in the high-end audio industry based solely on their magnificent range of loudspeakers. But TIDAL makes sources and amplification as well, and they’re just as cutting-edge as any of those speakers. (The TIDAL Audio Prisma preamplifier is one of only three products to earn one of our Summit Awards.)
The second reason is that the TIDAL Audio Intra reflected a certain recurring theme among the PTA staff, and that theme is “Class D amplification has become really, really good.” Many of us have had similar epiphanies concerning class D and how far it has come in just the last couple of years, but the $28,000 Intra just sounded like TIDAL to us–exacting, athletic and as close to perfect as we get in this day and age.
Last year, when we were choosing the 2021 Product of the Year, Mohammed Samji was rushing to complete his review of the new Wilson Audio Alexx Vs so it could qualify for POTY. When that didn’t quite happen, I told Mohammed to wait until January to finish the review so we could consider it for the 2022 Product of the Year. I’m keeping my word.
As I mentioned, I just returned from Mo’s house. Grover Neville and I spent a couple of days listening to these gorgeous speakers. Mo has one of the finest systems I have heard in a fellow audiophile’s home. But the Wilson Audio Alexx V, for me, represents a new chapter in the Utah-based company’s history–after founder David Wilson passed away, his son Darryl has taken over and imbued his designs with a little more humanity. For the last few years, I’ve been consistently impressed with Wilson Designs such as the Tune Tots, the SabrinaX, and now the Alexx Vs, which start at $135,000/pr USD.
But when you stand close to a pair, consider its shapes and contours and finishes, and you see how much engineering goes into one of these massive towers, you start realizing that it’s not only worth it–it may be reasonably priced.
And the Part-Time Audiophile 2022 Product of the Year is…
Surprise, huh? But here is the reason why the Qln Signature monitors are the PTA 2022 Product of the Year: they deserve it. I kept saying things like “I can’t keep picking two-way speakers every year” and “we really need to pick an amp or a turntable or something” and then a singular thought popped into my head.
How fair is that to the Qln Signature?
Why penalize Qln’s Mats Andersen for creating my favorite component in 2022 just because it’s not a DAC or a $25,000 phono cartridge made of gold? I’ve spent decades looking for the perfect two-way monitor, and I think I’ve found it. Will I find something else I like more next year? Possibly. It’s an occupational hazard. But right here, right now, in 2022, the Qln Signature is at the top of my list for Santa.
I hooked the Qln Signatures to $5,000 integrated amps with a $300 pair of AudioQuest Rocket33s, and I hooked it up to $135,000 worth of amps, cables and power management. Not once did I hear a sub-optimal match, or something that sounded less than spectacular. Dave McNair once spoke of a pair of speakers as “the marrying kind,” and that’s how I feel about the Qlns, like my search has ended. That brings up, of course, our previous qualifier–that I’m the only one who had heard the Qln Signatures up to that point. Fortunately, much of the crew that covered the 2022 Capital Audiofest heard the Qlns, and when they returned they all gave this incredible loudspeaker their blessing.
Congratulations to Mats Andersen of Qln, as well as Qln sales manager Mark Sossa for winning the 2022 Product of the Year.