Value, performance, and cutting-edge technology headline the 2013 HomeTheaterReview.com Best of Awards. Of the 43 products included on our list, 29 are priced below $2,000 per component (or pair of speakers); 19 are retail-priced below $1,000, with no component even coming close to the $10,000 mark this year. This shows a significant move in the industry toward value. Plasma HDTVs make a big splash on the list, perhaps for the last time – given Panasonic’s confirmed departure from plasma production and the arrival of big-screen OLED TVs on the market. If you are looking for the best products in the specialty audio/video world, you’ve found your resource.
GIK Acoustics Scatter Plate – $49
Room acoustics are the most overlooked element of both audiophile and home theater systems, and they might be the most important way to get great sound in your specific room. GIK’s scatter plate is an add-on option to the many tools in GIK’s acoustic arsenal, costing just $49 each. It’s a simple tool to help you design an AV room with professional room tuning without breaking the bank.
Roku 3 Streaming Media Player – $100
There’s no shortage of options when it comes to picking a streaming media player, but Roku leads the pack with its vast selection of apps, its speed and stability, and its great user experience. The Roku 3 is the most expensive of Roku’s standalone set-top boxes, adding perks like wired Ethernet connectivity, a USB port, and a great motion-controlled remote.
Westone Adventure Series ADV Alpha Earphones – $250
Headphones are a boom industry today, with a lot of options for every type of shopper. Westone’s in-ear Adventure Series ADV Alphas are aimed at the active/sports market. They’re well built and comfortable, and they offer good performance, to boot.
EMP Tek E5Bi Bookshelf Speakers – $250 per pair
Selling speakers Internet-direct is all the rage these days, and this is where many of our readers go to get the best value and killer customer support. RBH has entered the fray with its new EMP Tek brand, and the E5Bi bookshelf speakers we reviewed did not fail to impress.
Pioneer SP-FS52 Floorstanding Speakers – $260 per pair
These speakers may be priced like the ones sold by the guy in the white van at the supermarket, but they sure don’t perform that way. Several of our reviewers commented that these might be the best budget tower speakers ever. If you’re trying to assemble a great audio or HT system on a limited budget, look no further.
Visual Apex VAPEX9100SE Electric Screen – $279
Visual Apex might be better known as a projector retailer that sells Epson, BenQ, Panasonic, and other high-value projectors. But don’t discount the company’s in-house line of affordable screens, which are priced to be game changers. This 100-inch, 16:9, motorized screen offers good performance and a ton of user-friendly features for less than $300.
Aperion Allaire ARIS Wireless Tabletop Speaker – $297-$374
We’re not sure which aspect of the ARIS impressed us more – its versatility or its sound quality. Connect audio sources via the basic aux input, or step up in price to add Bluetooth and/or DLNA streaming. This well-built, stylish tabletop speaker has great dynamic ability and surprisingly good bass for its size.
Vizio S4251w-B4 Soundbar – $330
A soundbar with dedicated surrounds and a wireless subwoofer for $330? How good could it possibly be? Turns it, Vizio’s S4251w-B4 is pretty darn good, offering dynamic, enveloping sound in a package that’s easy to set up and use.
Paradigm Atom Bookshelf Speakers – $398 per pair
Paradigm continues to refine its most affordable and most lauded bookshelf speaker. It’s hard to imagine how the Canadian speaker company keeps eking better performance out of such small speakers, but they do. The impressive little Atom packs a lot of performance for not a lot of money.
Aperion Audio Intimus 5B Bookshelf Speakers – $430 per pair
Portland’s king of Internet-direct speakers always delivers on value, but we discovered that the well-built Intimus 5B bookshelf speakers also deliver on performance. These would make a great foundation for a low-profile multichannel HT system.
Parasound Zdac Digital-to-Analog Converter – $475
Don’t call it a comeback because standalone DACs have been around for a long time, but perhaps no other product is as relevant today as the USB-equipped DAC. What would have cost you $5,000 a few years ago costs one tenth of that today. The $475 Zdac is a true overachiever whose performance bests that of much more expensive DACs.
Emotiva UPA-700 Seven-Channel Amplifier – $499
There’s no denying that Internet-direct company Emotiva makes the products that the hardcore fanboys swoon for, and who can blame them? The seven-channel UPA-700 offers impressive performance given its $499 asking price. Consider this amp the Adcom for a new generation.
Onkyo TX-NR626 AV Receiver – $599
Onkyo is a stalwart in the category of affordable AV receivers, and the TX-NR626 is another example why. This $599 7.2-channel receiver is loaded with all the latest and greatest AV and networking features, it’s simple to use, and it offers very good performance for the price.
Emotiva UMC-200 AV Preamp – $599
Locked in bitter trench warfare with Outlaw Audio’s 975 AV Preamp, the Emotiva UMC-200 is a vast upgrade over the company’s previous high-value AV preamps. Seemingly gone are the firmware glitches, and what’s left is one of the best values in the entire AV preamp market.
Red Dragon Audio M500MkII Monaural Amplifier – $799
Red Dragon Audio is another Utah-based audiophile company, along with Wilson, Kimber Kable, Tekton, RBH, and others. The M500MkII mono block is a digital amp with a warm sound and loads of power for a price that won’t send you to the poor house.
Paradigm Soundtrack Soundbar – $799
Form factor is more and more of an issue with today’s flat HDTV installations, which is why Paradigm cooked up the slick Soundtrack soundbar. Take the sound quality you expect from a pair of Paradigm Atoms, add in a wireless subwoofer, and make the speakers as flat as your TV, and you can see where this system fits into the marketplace.
Noble Fidelity LS-85 Mk II In-Ceiling Speakers – $899 per pair
For in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, there might not be a more hip, helpful, and audiophile-savvy player in the space. The LS-85 Mk II offers spectacular performance, and you won’t likely find any company that’s more willing to help you make the most of your speaker placement, setup, and installation. Add in green building advantages and sustainability, and you’ve got a winner with Noble Fidelity.
GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array Soundbar – $999
Don’t let the name “soundbar” scare you off. The three-in-one SuperCinema 3D Array is about as close as you can come to true L/C/R performance in a soundbar’s uber-compact design. It’s a great pick for someone who wants the form factor of a soundbar but places a higher priority on audio quality, both with movies and music.
Oppo BDP-105 Universal Blu-ray Disc Player – $1,199
Big brother to last year’s “Best Of” entry, the BDP-103, the BDP-105 is more than just an audiophile-oriented universal disc player. It can also serve as an AV preamp, a high-performance DAC and headphone amp, a video switcher, and a media server, which actually makes that $1,199 asking price a true value.
Astell & Kern AK120 Portable Music Player – $1,299
We reviewed both the AK100 and AK120 players from Astell & Kern this year, and our nod goes to the AK120. You can enjoy a variety of file formats (including DSD 64x) at a resolution up to 192 kHz, and this model can also serve as a USB DAC. Its sound quality far surpasses that of any other portable player we’ve tested.
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD Universal Blu-ray Player – $1,299
On first glance, the 752BD seems very similar to Oppo’s latest universal offerings, but Cambridge puts its own unique design touches on this product, including a different power supply and different audio circuitry and processing that create a different quality of sound. Compare and decide for yourself which brand you prefer.
See more of our Best of 2013 honorees on Page 2.
SVS SB13-Ultra Subwoofer – $1,599
Dollar for dollar, the SVS SB13-Ultra is one of the best (if not THE best) subwoofers on the market. Powerful, deep bass. Equally adept performance for music and moves. The only way to make it much better is to buy two.
Panasonic TC-P60ST60 Plasma HDTV – $1,700
When friends ask, “What HDTV should I buy?” this is our go-to answer, offering performance that’s close to the VT60 and even the ZT60 for a fraction of the price. But you’d better get while the gettin’s good, since Panasonic has confirmed that it will end its plasma panel production this month. When current production units are gone, that’s all she wrote.
MartinLogan Motion 40 Floorstanding Speakers – $1,898 per pair
Not everyone can accommodate the look and form factor of a stereotypical MartinLogan hybrid electrostatic speaker, but most everyone we know loves the sound. Now, for under $2,000 per pair, you can get that lush Folded Motion tweeter sound in a traditional speaker cabinet.
Audeze LCD-3 Over-the-Ear Headphones – $1,945
There was no one product that got more universal approval for inclusion on our Best of Awards for 2013 than the quite pricey Audeze LCD-3 headphones. There might not be a more comfortable, better-sounding set of “cans” on the market today. Send your wife subconscious messages that this would be the perfect holiday gift and that you will respond in-kind with diamonds or Jimmy Choos.
SVS Ultra Floorstanding Speakers – $1,998 per pair
SVS already got some love on this list for its bread-and-butter, kick-ass subwoofer. The company may be a new player to the world of loudspeakers, but the Ultra towers are worthy of your attention. Glossy, gorgeous, and powerful only begin to describe these Internet-direct speakers. With SVS’s 45-day in-home trial option, those who are shopping in the $2,000-per-pair market owe it to themselves to give these towers a try.
Definitive Technology SoloCinema XTR 5.1 Soundbar – $1,999
Two grand is a lot of money for a soundbar, but the SoloCinema XTR 5.1 isn’t your average active soundbar. With HDMI video switching, high-resolution audio decoding, and a powerful 250-watt wireless subwoofer, this is a complete audio system that offers complete performance. Mate it with a top-performing, large-screen flat-panel HDTV, and be happy. Very happy.
Anthem MRX 710 AV Receiver – $1,999
Anthem’s newest top-shelf receiver almost failed to make our 2013 list – not because its performance is lacking in any way but because it’s so new, the review almost didn’t make the 2013 schedule. The full-length review will post very soon, but here’s a hint: The new MRX 710 delivers the sound quality we loved in its predecessor but with even better room correction and custom integration.
Sony STR-DA5800ES AV Receiver – $2,100
With the STR-DA5800ES, Sony set out to raise the bar or, should we say, “elevate the standard” of the AV receiver category. This 9.2-channel 4K receiver delivers in both features (including Control4 integration) and performance. Some of our readers have said that they use this AV receiver without the internal amps as an AV preamp, and who could blame them?
Samsung UN55F8000 LED/LCD HDTV – $2,500
While the Samsung UN55F8000 doesn’t quite have the black-level performance of the best plasmas we reviewed this year, it’s still a fantastic performer that’s well suited to both daytime and nighttime viewing. Add in its very attractive cabinet design and one of the smartest “smart TV” platforms out there, and you’ve got the makings of a winner.
Epson Home Cinema 5020UB LCD Projector – $2,599
Another great projector offering from Epson, the Home Cinema 5020UB combines great light output, good black levels, and plenty of convenient setup features. The “UBe” model that we actually reviewed has built-in Wireless HDMI, but we think you’re better off saving $300 and getting the non-wireless version instead.
Cambridge Audio Azur 751R AV Receiver – $2,999
Think Krell meets AV receiver when you think of the Azur 751R. It’s that well built and packed with audiophile-grade parts, resulting in one amazing-sounding product. For those who want to combine the ease of use of a one-chassis receiver with the performance of separates, check out the 751R.
Wisdom Audio Insight P2i In-wall Speakers – $3,100 per pair
There are some who will say, “$3,100 for a pair of in-wall speakers…are you crazy?” Those would be people who have never heard Wisdom Audio’s Insight line of speakers. Wisdom is known for in-wall and on-wall speakers that cost much more and are designed to not just match but best the sound that comes from the best audiophile speakers (think: Magico, Wilson Audio, Bowers & Wilkins, Revel etc..). The P2i is targeted more for the masses, and thank God because they are top-performing in-wall speakers for people who truly love music.
Kaleidescape Cinema One Movie Server – $3,995
Kaleidescape servers used to be the coolest “rich guy” toy in the AV business. Now you don’t have to be quite as rich to experience the best interface and user experience of any movie and music server, along with Blu-ray-quality downloads from the Kaleidescape Store with 1080p video and uncompressed multichannel audio.
PS Audio PerfectWave MkII DAC with Bridge – $3,995 ($795 for Bridge)
The combination of the PerfectWave MkII DAC and add-on Bridge gives you an excellent-sounding digital front end with network audio streaming capabilities. It’s designed for the audiophile who’s ready to add high-resolution digital files to the repertoire and demands a pristine experience.
Panasonic TC-P65ZT60 Plasma HDTV – $4,010
The top-shelf ZT60 is Panasonic’s plasma swan song, and what a sweet song it is. Yes, the high-value ST60 will be good enough for most people, but the ZT60 is THE choice for videophiles who demand the best performance at a still-reasonable price point. Farewell, Panasonic plasmas. Much like the Pioneer KURO, you will have a special, well-deserved place in our heart for a long time.
Revel Performa3 F208 Floorstanding Speakers – $4,500 per pair
Revel is one of the top names in high-end loudspeakers, with products costing many times the price of the F208s. But, when it comes to bang for your buck, Revel has reinvented itself with this speaker. Our reviewer called it the most neutral speaker he has ever heard at any price. What more can we say?
Bowers & Wilkins 805 Diamond Bookshelf Speakers – $5,000 per pair
Talk about audio jewelry: the Bowers & Wilkins 805 Diamonds give you nearly everything you will get from their big brothers, the 800 Diamonds, sans the lowest bass. Add a subwoofer or two, and enjoy an exceptional audio experience through these $5,000-per-pair gems.
RBH SX-1212P/R Subwoofer – $5,300
For those of you who need big bass – we mean REALLY BIG bass – RBH got cookin’ on a subwoofer that can move you. Literally move you. Just take our advice: get some people to help you move the SX-1212P-R, or you might be headed to the chiropractor.
Lawrence Audio Mandolin Bookshelf Speakers – $5,500 per pair
For those who have had the rare chance to hear the Lawrence Audio Cello speakers, the Mandolin is a smaller version that packs much of the same performance for a fraction of price. Yes, they’re still big bucks at $5,500 per pair, but you get some of the sweetest-sounding audiophile transducers around.
Melody AN 300B Integrated Amplifier – $5,999
Every one of these Best-of lists has that one inclusion that people go crazy over. How can a $5,999 amp be a top value? When it can compete with $60,000 A-list gear, that’s how. Melody is a brand that deserves recognition and some of your demo time, as they’ve captured some serious audio magic.
Krell Foundation AV Preamp – $6,500
There might not be a product that’s hotter in the high-end market than the Krell Foundation AV preamp. Audiophile sound – check. Ten HDMI inputs with two outputs – check. Beefy construction – check. Killer support – check. The Krell Foundation can only be compared with preamps costing significantly more…it’s that good.
By HomeTheaterReview.com, HomeTheaterReview