I covet the items here and want them for my own. My very own. My preciousesss.
Call them The Editors Choice.
I like to think that if I had more money, this is where some of it would go. In many cases, quite a lot of it already has.
Note: I’ve attempted to keep this list relatively “clean”. Products that are not current and/or are now unavailable, or those that have been substantially bettered by others, have been removed. Not because I don’t love them; just trying to be helpful.
Stuff that’s starred* is more “I think” than “I know” — and usually is on stuff that I have yet to review and tag with an official badge of awesomeness, but clearly warrants significant further investigation.
- *TIDAL Audio Agoria ($100k+): I will never be able to afford these speakers. If I had this kind of money, I’d buy them over a Porsche 911 without even blinking. Statement quality.
- TIDAL Audio Contriva Diacera SE ($65k, with wood finish). Almost as insane as the magnificent Agoria, I actually did manage to get my hands on a pair of show demos. Most incredible “thing” I’ve ever owned. And the sound quality? Astonishingly great.
- *GamuT Audio RS7 ($39,990): A 3-way super-speaker, with gorgeous sound and equally gorgeous looks.
- Volti Audio Vittora System ($30k for speakers + subwoofer): Outstanding — a modern heirloom that your heirs will cheerfully stab each other over. (Review Part One, Two, Three).
- *Harbeth 40.2 ($15k). Perhaps the best near-field monitor I’ve ever heard. Shockingly great.
- Harbeth Super HL5+ ($7,995) A more tube-friendly version of the Monitor series, and so much fun (review).
- DeVore Fidelity Gibbon X ($15k): A new legend. (review).
- DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96 ($12,000): high sensitivity, full range, gorgeous in looks and sound — and not the size of a house. My current reference (review).
- Living Voice OBX-RW ($12k): freakishly, unexpectedly, absolutely wonderful. Absolutely stunning in the near- to mid-field. Another current reference. Now in version 3 (e.g., OBX-RW3).
- Joseph Audio Pearl 3 ($30k): Best all-around loudspeaker? Maybe — but certainly one of my favorites. If I could, I would.
- Joseph Audio Perspective ($13k): I really have no idea why they sound so damn good, but they do. Huge soundstage, huge presence.
- Joseph Audio Pulsar ($7,500): Mini-Pearls! The best-performing and most-convincing stand-mount loudspeaker I’ve ever heard, much less owned (review).
- Quad ESL loudspeakers from Kent McCollum at eStat Solutions (varies, but about $5k). Vintage to a fare thee well, and then completely refurbed and updated.
- Fritz Speakers Carrera 7 Be loudspeakers ($3500/pair). Possibly Fritz’ finest to date (review).
- KEF LS50 Wireless ($2,200/pair w/o stands). Buckle up, buttercup, the future is here (review).
- Studio Electric M4 ($2,500/pair). Eric was gobsmacked (review).
- ELAC Debut Series (Amazon). “Affordable audio”, redefined (review).
- ELAC Uni-Fi Series. Debut, accelerated (review).
- Bricasti M28SE monoblocks ($30k): Paired with the matching M1 DAC, this combo created the highest level of reference-quality sound I’ve yet hosted at home. (Review).
- Vitus Audio SIA-025 integrated (€21k): Elegance and class. (Review).
- Border Patrol S10 with EXS package ($26k): best SET ever? My reference amplifier. Dual-mono PSU with 100lbs of copper and iron per channel. Oh. My. Lawd.
- Border Patrol P20 with EXS package ($26k): for when the S10 just won’t do. The extra watts (and slightly different architecture) are more than enough to drive all but the most absurdly “modern” loudspeakers to deafening levels. (Review).
- Pass Labs XA100.8 monoblock amplifiers ($20k): Absolutely reference class; possesses the incredible ability to make your whole system actually sound better. (Review).
- Pass Labs X600.8 ($26k/pair). “The finest amplifiers I’ve ever had in my home.” (review).
- Pure Audio Reference monoblocks ($15,500). Plinius Class A sound, evolved. (Review).
- First Watt SIT-1 mono blocks ($10k): low-power magic without any of the tube fuss. Fast and tonally dense, this amp doesn’t make any sense, but when you have speakers that can pair well with this amp, the results are amazing. (Review).
- McGary Audio SA-1 ($3,985): “a special midrange presence and inner luminescence” that bowled us over (review).
- *Miyajima Lab 2010 OTL amplifier ($10k). Absolutely gorgeous. Paired with Quad this is maybe the best sound I’ve heard. Hypnotic. I want a pair of them to run them mono/bridged!
- TIDAL Audio Preos preamplifier (~$29k). Best preamplifier I’ve heard. The Preos D has replaced this model, retaining the fabulous volume control, now includes a DAC and a phono pre.
- Pass Labs XP-30 preamplifier ($16,500) (Review). Astonishing clarity. Perhaps the best piece of electronics coming out of BorderPatrol.
- BorderPatrol Control Unit EXT-1 ($12,250). Best tube preamplifier I’ve heard.
- Pure Audio Control preamplifier ($9500). Fantastic attenuator with a slick, dead-simple interface and a “healthy” remote (Review).
- Red Wine Audio Isabella [This item may be discontinued]. (Review).
- Emia Passive AVP (varies). Never been a particular fan of passives, but this was easily the best at-low-volume attenuator I’ve ever heard. If you have a DAC that you’re using as a preamplifier (tsk, tsk), this might be just the thing to try. (Review).
- Backert Labs Rhythm 1.1 ($7500). First serious challenger I’ve heard to the BorderPatrol preamplifier (Review).
- Audio Note UK CDT-Two/II CD Transport ($6,500). If you think silver discs are dead, I probably shouldn’t remind you what you probably said about vinyl. Got discs? This is your spinner (review).
- Bricasti M1 ($9k). Established a new reference-level for sound quality. While the “dipped in gold” Limited Edition is better, this “classic” version is still off-the-charts excellent (review).
- AURALiC VEGA ($3,500). PCM and DSD support in the best-sounding under $10k package I’ve yet to hear. And one of the best-sounding all-around DACs on the market. Very open, very clear, and supports just about every sample rate you could want. My current reference. (Review).
- Aurender Music Servers (varies): state of the art in computer audio. Intuitive-to-use and uniformly awesome sounding. Specifically, the X100L was a winner, but is USB only (review). The W20 is full-featured and is absolutely stunning, but it is several multiples of expense. The newest, the N10, splits the difference in price and functionality. A must-listen for reference-level systems.
- Aune S16 ($800): Dr K loved this Chinese over-performer, and at this price, it maybe our least expensive entry into the world of high-end digital (review).
- B.M.C. UltraDAC ($3,490): John thinks this thing is the berries, and he’s never wrong (review).
- B.M.C. PureDAC ($1,790): John found this to be a killer weapon in the headphone enthusiasts tool bag (review).
- BorderPatrol DAC (starts at $1,400). Measurements, schmeasurements — do yourself a favor and try this DAC. It’s a Redbook-only converter, and sports NOS chips and tube rectified power supplies, and it totally rivals the very best digital audio I’ve heard. Even including the ones in this list. No joke — it’s “holy sh!tb@lls good”, with endlessly transparent, natural, and effortless sound (review).
- Exogal Comet DAC ($3,400 with external power supply). Another moderately-priced digital offering, leveraging some proprietary tech and topologies. Sonically, a good contrast to the AURALiC Vega, and should suit a tremendous variety of tastes (review).
- PS Audio DirectStream Memory Player ($5,999): SACDs have never sounded this good before. I think this is the best thing PS Audio makes!
- TW Acustic Raven AC-3 turntable ($~20k with triple-motor/controller). Astonishing turntable — with the new outboard three-motor pod, we’re talking a powerful, driving and utterly quiet sound. Not cheap (ha!), but this may be the cheapest turntable at this level. [Updated, January 2015: the triple-motor controller can support the new 3-motor pod, and that is a significant upgrade. Don’t forget the new mat, either!].
- TW-Acustic/Thöress Audio Raven Phono. No longer available, replaced and updated by a significantly more complicated version, but I’ve been using this thing forever. The TW table is gone. But the phono remains.
- DSA Phono II (review).
- Ortofon Windfeld cartridge. My reference for several years.
- ModWright PH150 phono preamplifier ($7,500). Fantastic, reference-quality sound, with all cartridges. Perhaps the finest thing Dan Wright and Co have managed to create to-date. A real stunner. (Review).
- Luminous Audio Arion phono preamplifier ($6500). I’ve never heard bass like this from my reference vinyl system! Solid-state, but with warm smooth sound that will delight. (Review).
- UHA Tape Machines ($6k+). The price on these reel-to-reel tape machines starts at over $6k and wanders up north of $20k, depending on exactly how far you want to take the refurb. I started with an entry level Phase-1 and quickly upgraded to a Phase 9+. Love this thing. It’s more fun than vinyl, and the tapes, when sourced properly, sound better. Winner winner, chicken dinner (review).
- Technics SL-1200G ($4,000, includes tonearm): Forget all that nonsense about this being a DJ tool. This ‘table has surprisingly high build quality, with excellent drive and pace. Elegant, functional, and awesome.
- MrSpeakers Ether Flow headphones.
- Focal Audio Spirit Professional headphones (review).
- Noble Audio Kaiser K10 custom in-ear monitor (video, review).
- Pass Labs HPA1 headphone amplifier (review).
- Viva Audio Egoista headphone amplifier (review here).
- Viva Audio Egoista 2A3 headphone amplifier (review here).
- Woo Audio WA5LE v2 headphone amplifier (review).
- E.A.R. HP4 headphone amplifier (review).
- Astell&Kern AK240 digital audio player (review).
- Calyx M digital audio player (review).
- Pono! (Review).
- MG Audio Design. Planus III speaker cables and Planus AG interconnects. Great recommendation for tube gear. Extreme bass extension and top-end clarity. Note that both models have been dramatically revised recently.
- Triode Wire Labs (review). The power cords approach the very best; easily outclasses power cords 10x their price. Signal cables are exceptional in quality, tone and price. My default recommendation (review).
- Tel Wire. Best power cords on the market. Boom.
- B.M.C. PureUSB1 ($290): Best USB cable on the market? (Review).