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Editors’ Choice: My Favorite Hi-Fi Products & Trends of 2022

2022 was a great year for affordable high-end audio components and the growth of wireless audio. My picks from the past 12 months.

Editors' Choice 2022

It’s almost hard to believe that 2022 is almost done and over the past 12 months, we’ve been fortunate to listen to a lot of products in a multitude of listening environments; dealer showrooms, trade shows, factory tours, private listening events, and our own listening rooms. My favorite Hi-Fi products of 2022 cover a wide range of categories and also include a unique retail experience that is clearly becoming a trend — at least we hope that it does.

It’s no secret that we have pivoted away from the types of products that we think have a very limited audience; it doesn’t help our readership if we waste a lot of bandwidth on products that most of you can’t afford; and it certainly doesn’t help attract a new generation of audiophiles if we reinforce some silly notion that you have to spend a minimum of $20,000 for a real high-end audio system.

We know that is not the case.

That doesn’t make $20,000 amplifiers bad or $30,000 loudspeakers a waste of money if you have the ability to afford those types of products — they are just unobtainable for 99% of the planet and most audiophiles as well.

I have nothing against really expensive components in the same way that I don’t begrudge anyone who can afford to spend $300,000 on a car — may we all work hard enough or marry into money and have the ability to do so.

If the technology from the best components manages to trickle down into products that more people can afford — that’s a win for both manufacturers and consumers.

Just don’t expect me to tell readers that your $3,000 cables make that level of difference.

2023 Maserati Grecale Trofeo
Maserati Grecale Trofeo SUV with Sonus faber premium audio system

As someone who loves cars, I’m the first to admit that I was very jealous when eCoustics Editor-at-Large, Chris Boylan, flew to Italy this year to test drive the Maserati Grecale Trofeo SUV through the Italian countryside listening to a state-of-the-art Sonus faber system designed specifically for the car — it was supposed to be me but some health issues got in the way.

Will I get that opportunity again? Probably not but I was fortunate to spend hours in traffic inside the 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer experiencing McIntosh’s assault on reference caliber car audio.

2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer Interior with McIntosh MX1375 Reference Entertainment System Front View
2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer Interior with McIntosh MX1375 Reference Car Entertainment System

Exiting the Holland Tunnel on our way home to the Jersey Shore with the system unleashed was both exhilarating and also thought provoking.

The convergence of high-end audio and the luxury automotive world gained a lot of momentum in 2022 and whilst that opportunity is limited to those who can afford specific automobiles and trucks — it’s a much larger and more diverse audience than you normally see in Hi-Fi stores.

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Dolby Atmos is starting to show up in cars including Tesla and that can’t help but broaden the base of consumers who get to experience the surround format.

Call it “spatial audio” or “immersive audio,” — it doesn’t matter. Create something new and unique for consumers in the place where they spend the most time listening to music and that will trickle down into the home.

This is about marketing. The opportunity to demonstrate what you can do in the confines of a vehicle filled with screaming children and dirty dogs, with the hope that this person will be so impressed that they will want the same experience at home.

May it create 10,000 new audiophiles a year for the next decade.

Gamers

Do you know how you create the next generation of audiophiles? Design a category leading gaming headphone that also delivers an excellent music listening experience at the same time. If you think we’re being funny — just ask the folks at Audeze how their decision to do just that changed their business model. Audeze’s award-winning gaming headphones represent 40% of their sales.

Gamers care about sound quality and an immersive audio experience.

If you think Audeze and Beyerdynamic are going to be the only high-end headphone manufacturers to invest heavily in the market — you’re completely not understanding the potential for growth.

Cutting the Cord?

KEF LSX II Wireless Speaker Colors
KEF LSX II

Wireless loudspeakers took huge steps in 2022; products like the KEF LSX II and LS60, Dynaudio Focus Series, Triangle Borea BR03 BT, and the Q Acoustics M20 HD cover a wide range of price points but all deliver a far superior experience than what has been available in the past.

That’s a good thing because it is another opportunity to attract younger music listeners into the audiophile experience.

Note that I didn’t say audiophile “community.”

I think we need to focus less on that and more on creating better music listening experiences for people.

Passive loudspeakers are not vanishing from dealer shelves over the next 3-5 years, but I expect to see almost every high-end loudspeaker manufacturer looking to stay in business offer more than just one wireless loudspeaker between now and then.

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Q Acoustics M20 HD ($599)

Q Acoustics M20 HD Wireless Speakers Front Angle in Black, White and Walnut
Q Acoustics M20

My favorite affordable wireless/Bluetooth loudspeaker system of 2022 has taken up permanent residence on my desktop flanking a 27-inch Apple iMac. If you like the Q Acoustics ‘house” sound — the M20 HD is a powered Bluetooth option that sounds very full and detailed. It’s not as polite as the 3050i loudspeakers but also lacks the bottom end.

A very well made system that keeps me going all day and night. 

Read our review here

Where to buy$599 at Amazon | Crutchfield

Triangle BOREA BR03 BT ($1,000)

Triangle Borea Br03 Bluetooth Speaker Pair in light oak and blue

The French manufacturer has really hit one out of the park with the Borea BR03 BT; the industrial design, build quality, connectivity options, and overall sound quality makes this a great system for most people. Just add a turntable with a MM cartridge and you’re done.

I like it so much that I might buy two different finishes in 2023 for use in the bedroom and our dining room. One of the best kept secrets of 2022. 

Read more about the Borea BR03 BT here.

Dynaudio Focus 50 ($11,000)

Dynaudio Focus 50 Loudspeakers Walnut
Dynaudio Focus 50

$11,000 for a wireless loudspeaker? Please show the same degree of indignation and incredulity when someone mentions $5,000 interconnects and $80,000 turntables and we can have lunch together.

The Focus 50 offers everything but a turntable and it’s not hard to understand why some audiophiles would ditch everything except for their digital and analog sources and enjoy the rest of the audio journey with this magnificent loudspeaker from Dynaudio.

You can connect the Roon Ready Focus 50 loudspeakers to your network via WiFi or Ethernet and the system also supports Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay, Google Chromecast, Tidal Connect, Spotify Connect, and Internet Radio — which is pretty much every possible streaming platform you will ever need. Qobuz is supported via Roon (or via Bluetooth) if you roll that way.

The 72 pound cabinets offer that understated Danish flair that I inherently love and while the Focus 50 are rather large loudspeakers, they also come with Dirac Live built into the package and control app. 

Why does that matter? Dirac Live does an impressive job of room correction in listening spaces that may not want to cooperate fully. This would be one of the first high-end wireless speakers to offer this package and it means that the Focus 50 can be tailored to work in any room (for the most part) even if you move into a different home and your listening space changes rather dramatically. 

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Learn more here.

Storm Clouds on the Horizon?

Princeton Record Exchange Cheap CD Bins

Records have become too expensive and we’ve heard that from more than a few established online retailers who are concerned that demand is starting to peak for new vinyl releases.

Inflation has not helped and I’m a prime example; we’ve spent an additional $5,000 on food in 2022 compared to the previous 12 months and that certainly forced me to cut back significantly on non-essential purchases.

Will I return to my old record buying habits in 2023? Very unlikely.

Used CDs are flying out of bins and we’re likely to see that trend continue for another few years which will actually stimulate some CD player sales; certainly not in the same way that vinyl sales helped move over 300,000 audiophile turntables over the past 2 years but expect to see new models in 2023.

Focal Powered By Naim

Focal Powered by Naim Store in Dallas, Texas

Do you remember the last time you purchased something from a Hi-Fi store as opposed to an online dealer or brand like Schiit Audio that sells direct to consumers?

It has been at least 14 years for me and I’m the EIC of a Hi-Fi magazine.

Tells you a lot about the experience.

When I visited the Focal Powered By Naim Houston boutique during the pandemic, I was immediately impressed by the long-term vision and could understand why they were investing millions of dollars into the concept in the lower 48; which represents only a tiny fraction of the investment that Focal and Naim have made in the global roll-out in Europe and Asia.

Creating a very personal experience for consumers who are not traditional audiophiles is the smartest way to do it; the locations offer a wide-range of two-channel systems, headphones, home theater and CI multi-room audio options in an environment that people can relate to.

Learn more about Focal Powered by Naim which opened in Miami and Austin.

Wireless Headphones Finally Don’t Suck

It is projected that the wireless headphone category will grow to almost $27 billion by 2027 or 2028, and that leaves a lot of room for growth over the next five years. Sony, Bose, and Apple have dominated the wireless ANC headphone vertical for almost 5 years but 2022 has proven to be a much larger challenge for all 3 brands with Sennheiser, HiFiMAN, Focal, Mark Levinson, Bowers & Wilkins, 1More, and Master & Dynamic introducing superior alternatives in some cases. 

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Every model on our 2022 “Best Wireless ANC Headphone” list has been thoroughly tested and there is no question that ANC technology is evolving and having less of an impact on the sound quality — which has been the primary criticism to this point. 

Products in the $300 to $500 range have never been this good and that’s great news for consumers who might feel a sense of sticker shock when they look at the recent models from FocalMark Levinson, and Bowers & Wilkins that are $700 or more.

I will never be a TWS earbuds person — I really don’t enjoy sticking things inside of my ear canal and taking phone calls that way has never really appealed to me.

We reviewed so many wireless headphones in 2023 that it feels almost impossible to pick only one that I really enjoyed listening to.

Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 ($399)

Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 Wireless Headphones in Black, Blue and Grey
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2

There’s something about the understated styling of the Px7 S2 that just appeals to me and while I think the Focal Bathys are the best wireless headphones that I have ever tried from a sonic perspective — the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 feel less cumbersome on my rather large head and the tonal balance just works for me with the music that I enjoy.

The price difference also gave me some extra money for the headphones that were my top pick of 2022.

Read out review.

Where to buy$399 at bowerswilkins.com | Amazon | Crutchfield

From Romania With Love: Meze Audio 109 Pro Headphones

Meze Audio 109 Pro Open-Back Headphones
Meze Audio 109 Pro Open-Back Headphones

Having used the Meze Audio 99 Classics as my daily driver for the past 5 years, it would be accurate to say that I put a lot of trust In their headphones. They are not perfect, but I’ve yet to find a single pair of headphones that would make me dump the other 24 in my collection. 

I will take a slightly darker sounding pair of headphones 99 times out of 100 because most of the desktop headphone amplifiers and Dongle DACs currently available in the $100 to $500 price range are on the more neutral side. 

Nothing gets used as much as the Meze 99 Classics. Not even close. 

The only issue after 5 years of listening, is that I would love an open-back version of the 99 Classics with slightly less bass impact and a much larger sounding soundstage. 

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Antonio Meze must have read my mind.

One significant difference between the 99 Classics and Meze Audio 109 Pro is that the 109 Pro are not as easy to drive; my since retired iPhone 6s could drive the 99 Classics and when I started using Dongle DACs — power was never an issue. 

The Meze 109 Pro need something like the Helm BoltQuestyle M15, or iFi GO Bar to really let you hear what they are capable of.

My early take on them after two weeks of listening is that they really don’t sound like an open-back version of the 99 Classics at all. Maybe a tad in the tonal balance department but they are so much more open sounding and detailed. 

The top end has greater extension and energy but it never gets out of control. 

In some respects, they are closer to the Empyrean in their ethereal clarity than any other headphone in the Meze Audio lineup.

Horns have more bite and texture as well. These are excellent headphones for jazz listeners; the 99 Classics are rather good in the pacing department, but the 109 Pro’s do a better job of keeping up with the timing and speed of the music. 

The open-back design does sound a lot more spacious and the soundstage extends outside of your head and that’s definitely a noticeable difference between the two models.

They are quickly becoming my favorite Meze Audio design because of the transparency, resolution, and spacious presentation.

Where to buy$799 at MezeAudio.com | Audio46

Grado SR80x Headphones ($125)

Grado Labs SR80x Headphones Angle Left
Grado Labs SR80x

As much as I enjoy the high-end headphone experience, spending more than $700 on a pair is never happening. Our monthly education bill with 3 children in college and private school makes it impossible for me to consider anything higher than something like the Meze Audio 109 Pro — and nobody should cry for me in that regard.

That’s akin to complaining that one can only afford a BMW 3-Series or Jeep Grand Cherokee. 99% of the planet should be so fortunate.

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My headphone experience started with a pair of Grado SR80s back in the 1990s and they went everywhere with me. From Israel to Paris and the coldest parts of Northern Ontario and Quebec — a Grado headphone was always in my knapsack.

I attribute my 30 year relationship with Grado Labs to our mutual desire to escape sameness. And there is a lot of that in audio these days. Sameness and Brooklyn do not belong on the same page and that is why Grado Labs can never stop being what it is.

I like the Grado SR80x a lot for rock, metal, and electronic music — that extra degree of swagger just pushes one over the finish line with many recordings. It’s punchy and never boring to listen to.

Learn more from my review.

Where to buy$125 at Amazon | Audio46 | Crutchfield | 4OurEars

You Spin Me…

While I am in a very committed relationship with two restored Thorens turntables from Vinyl Nirvana, 2022 was the year that I spent a lot of time listening to more than a dozen new turntables, phono cartridges, and preamplifiers.

Andover Audio SpinStage MM/MC Phono Preamplifier ($250)

Andover Audio SpinStage Phono Preamp
Andover Audio SpinStage

Andover Audio had a really strong 2022 with a good mix of affordable turntables and wireless speaker systems; the best of the bunch may have been the SpinStage MM/MC Phono Preamplifier that was just released in late-November.

There is no shortage of affordable audiophile phono preamplifiers in 2022 and that’s rather important if the industry wants to keep those people who purchased their first turntable over the past 3 years.

If you don’t give consumers a reasonable path to better sound quality — they’ll lose interest and spend their money elsewhere.

The SpinStage is both affordable at $250 and rather versatile because of its loading options and support for both MM and MC phono cartridges. The build quality is very good at the price point and it doesn’t have to be visible.

I’ve only been listening for the past 2 weeks with the Goldring E3 and Grado Labs Prestige Red3 cartridges and they might have a winner here. Especially when combined with the warmer sounding Grado cartridge and their SpinDeck Max turntable

It is a somewhat lively presentation but it’s far superior to any internal MM stage in most $400 to $500 integrated amplifiers. Detail retrieval and clarity are not what you normally expect at $250.

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Read more about the Andover Audio SpinStage MM/MC Phono Preamplifier.

Pro-Ject Debut PRO

Pro-ject Debut Pro Turntable Front
Pro-ject Debut Pro Turntable

Having spent two months with the Debut Pro which proved to be one of my favorite products of 2022, I’m more than confident to recommend it to anyone in the $1,000 range. Inflation has pushed everything higher but I’d still spend the extra money on this one. 

I compared the Debut Pro to all 5 tables that I have at home and while I’m not in any hurry to swap it out for my Thorens TD-160 Super/Rega RB-303/Ortofon 2M Black setup, it certainly kept my attention for almost 60 days. 

Pro-Ject has the ability to manufacture almost anything and the new tonearm and very inert platter elevate this table in a very substantial way; it sounds far more forceful and dynamic compared to the Debut EVO tables that lack some bottom end weight and presence in comparison.

The supplied Sumiko cartridge works well but swapping that out for the Sumiko Wellfleet or Blue Point No. 3 is a very worthwhile upgrade. 

Read my review here or watch our video review here

Where to buy$999 at Amazon | Crutchfield | Turntable Lab

Pro-Ject X2 B

Pro-Ject X2 B Turntable Walnut
Pro-Ject X2 B

Does balanced really make a difference? 

My experience suggests that it does if you have to contend with certain noise issues. Does a balanced setup always sound better? Not necessarily and I’m not convinced that every manufacturer who markets “balanced” is really offering that.

The Pro-Ject X2 B offers both single-ended and balanced connection options, but you do need to use an MC cartridge for a balanced setup. 

Is there a huge gap between the Debut PRO and the X2 B? Fair question. 

If running the same MM cartridge like a Sumiko Wellfleet, I would still give the edge to the X2 B when it comes to impact and overall resolution, but the gap isn’t enormous.

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However, when running a MC cartridge into one of the Pro-Ject balanced phono pre-amplifiers or something like the Moon by Simaudio 610LP — the gap between the two tables is rather enormous. 

The clarity, bass impact, soundstage depth and width, and overall dynamics of the system totally changes. 

The Pro-Ject X2 B goes from being a very good $1,799 turntable to a rather exceptional table that can compete with with some tables in the $2,500 to $3,000 range and I’ve heard enough $3,000 tables to know. 

Learn more here

Grado Labs Timbre Opus3

Grado Timbre Opus3 Phono Cartridge
Grado Timbre Opus3

Spending $3,000 on a phono cartridge is stupid. I would rather buy a $300 cartridge and spend the balance on records because of the long-term return on investment.

The Opus3 is nestled inside a Maple housing (8 grams) and I discovered that it sounded the best on my vintage Yamaha YP-701 and the replacement Ortofon LH-2000 Headshell that I ordered during the pandemic for another cartridge.

The cantilever is made from aluminum and the Opus3 uses an elliptical diamond stylus; mounting the cartridge was quite easy and I settled on a tracking force of 1.8 grams which was within the range but closer to the very top. 

Grado offers multiple versions of the Opus3 including the high output (4mV) version supplied, a low output model (1.0mV), and a mono version as well.

Presence, tone, texture, and detail have to be present or it’s just some flat rendition of something that doesn’t engage you at all. The Grado Labs Opus3 succeeds in every way with the kind of vocals that I enjoy listening to and that makes it a keeper.

If your budget ceiling is $300, the Grado Labs Timbre Opus3 is definitely a high-output cartridge to seriously consider. 

Where to buy$275 at Amazon | 4ourears

Sumiko Blue Point No. 3

Sumiko Blue Point No. 3 High Output MC Phono Cartridge Front
Sumiko Blue Point No. 3 High Output MC Phono Cartridge

Sumiko is one of our favorite phono cartridge brands and the Japanese manufacturer doesn’t update its extensive lineup unless the changes are significant. They consistently deliver great sound quality, excellent tracking, and long-term reliability; they didn’t become one of the most popular audiophile cartridge brands by accident. 

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The Sumiko Blue Point No. 3 High and Sumiko Blue Point No. 3 Low phono cartridges replace the venerable Blue Point No. 2. Featuring a similar low-internal vibration body and mounting block as the recently updated moving magnet (MM) line, the Blue Point No. 3 is able to separate the cartridge’s generator from mechanical vibration more effectively than ever before. 

The result is an affordable moving coil (MC) design that produces unparalleled detail and stereo separation. 

Both models benefit from a new shell design and a smoothly bevelled front fascia that allows for excellent visibility of the stylus tip when mounting. 

Instrumental separation and soundstage are excellent. Instruments and voices are clearly differentiated, and placement of each performer in relation to the listener easily discernable.

The $499 asking price will deter some because $500 is the absolute ceiling for most consumers when it comes to phono cartridges but it’s definitely worth the money and proof that you can find a high-performance MC for $500 in 2022. Just ask Denon and Sumiko. 

Where to buy$499 at Crutchfield (High Output) | $499 at Crutchfield (Low Output)

Unlimited Power

Neither of my amplifier picks in 2022 offer unlimited power and they certainly don’t sound even remotely similar. They land at opposite ends of the spectrum but they both succeed at making music come alive in your listening space.

Unison Research Triode 25 Integrated Amplifier

Unison Research Triode 25 Integrated Front Angle Black
Unison Research Triode 25

Italians make beautiful things. The Unison Research Triode 25 Integrated Amplifier ticks off every box and then some.

I have long held the belief that audio components reflect the culture of the people behind them; the Italian obsession with design, craftsmanship, beauty, and quality is reflected in many of the products that are produced by brands like Audio Analogue, Opera, Gold Note, Sonus faber, and Unison Research.

Italians care about the little things that make their cars, clothing, shoes, cuisine, wine, firearms, and Hi-Fi components very different; strip away the design beauty, and one is left with products that not only strive to be unique, but are often temperamental, seductive, and quite emotive.

The Triode 25 can sound very bold with high sensitivity loudspeakers, but also charm the pants off a depressed Italian football fan with layers of detail, resolution, and wonderful presence with the human voice.

It draws you into every track in a way that kept me up most nights and I can’t say that about too many amplifiers that I’ve heard in recent years.

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The Unison Research Triode 25 is certainly not inexpensive at $4,499 USD, but it is a very strong performer that keeps getting better with each passing day.

This one might be a keeper. 

Viva Italia.

Marantz 40n Integrated Amplifier

Marantz Model 40n Network Integrated Amplifier Silver Lifestyle Angle
Marantz Model 40n

It’s probably a sign of the times that “vintage Marantz” is one of the most searched topics on this website and on a lot of Hi-Fi Forums. Vintage Marantz equipment has definitely become more expensive over the years; perhaps not as expensive as vintage McIntosh but there are a lot of audiophiles willing to spend money on some of the classic pieces from the 1960s and 1970s.

The $2,499 Marantz Model 40n Integrated Amplifier is not your father’s Model 2270 and for a new generation of listeners focused on wireless streaming, home theater, and vinyl playback, it represents a rebirth of the brand that Saul Marantz launched in 1953 in New York.

The new Marantz Model 40n shares a very similar aesthetic to the Model 30 Integrated Amplifier and I’m definitely a fan of the industrial design. 

The price doesn’t faze me having listened to two different systems with loudspeakers that were far more expensive than the amplifiers; the 70 watts per channel, Class A/B integrated amplifier had zero issues driving either loudspeaker and I slightly surprised by the depth and width of the soundstage watching clips from Jurassic World.

Having just reviewed the Marantz CD60 CD Player, I already know how this scenario is likely to play out in the coming months in my living room; plans are underway for a system consisting of the Model 40n, CD60, and a pair of loudspeakers that are slated to arrive in a few weeks from England.

Where to buy: $2,499 at marantz.comAmazon, and Crutchfield 

Wishing you and your families a wonderful Christmas, Chanukah, and joyous 2023.

Related Reading:

Editors’ Choice 2022: My Favorite Turntables

Editors’ Choice 2022: My Favorite Headphones

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Editors’ Choice 2022: My Favorite Wireless Speakers

Editors’ Choice 2022: My Favorite CD Players & DAC

Editors’ Choice 2022: My Favorite Bookshelf Loudspeakers

Editors’ Choice 2202: My Favorite Integrated Amplifiers

Editors’ Choice 2022: My Favorite Floorstanding Loudspeakers

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