Notice that I wrote "world"—for, EISA, once a European organisation, has gone global, with members from Japan, Hong Kong, Australia—and the United States, where Stereophile is the only member of EISA's Hi-Fi Expert group. (Stereophile's partner publications, Shutterbug and Sound & Vision, are also EISA members—in the Photography and A/V categories, respectively.)
This year's awardees are the survivors of a rigorous process of company presentations and reviewer auditions by EISA reps over a long weekend in Antwerp, Belgium, last May; EISA hi-fi members—editors of high-end audio magazines from around the world—voted at another meeting in Slovenia in June. The winners—listed below—will receive their awards at the EISA Awards Gala at the Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA)—Europe's equivalent, roughly, of the Consumer Electronics Show in the United States—in Berlin, Germany, on 6 September.
Part of a new, two-strong active speaker range from ELAC—there's also the larger floorstanding ARF-51—this bookshelf design combines custom drivers and an analogue crossover design all perfectly integrated with inbuilt amplification to give a sound of remarkable precision and clarity. By dedicating one amplifier to each driver—the tweeter and midrange are mounted concentrically for enhanced focus—ELAC ensures each is driven to the best of its capabilities. Connect the speakers to a preamplifier via RCA or XLR cables, and you have a complete, optimised system. You can even connect the speakers wirelessly using a choice of ELAC AirX2 hubs. Brilliant!
Naim created a whole new market sector with the launch of its Mu-so: a high quality all-in-one streaming system. With the Mu-so 2nd Generation, it has taken that winning formula and reinvented it, packing in both extra features and more sound quality, utilising completely new drivers co-designed with Focal, making this even more of a one-box solution for room-filling music. The adoption of Naim's 'Future Platform' brings a wider range of streaming options, including audio at up to 384kHz/32-bit and a huge number of services via Chromecast Audio. The inclusion of an HDMI-ARC input also allows the new Mu-so to enhance your TV, but the real revelation is the sound: wide-open, fast, detailed and yet reassuringly weighty, it sets the standard all other integrated systems now have to beat.
In a history stretching back almost 60 years, affordable amplifiers without frills but packing lots of performance have been central to the Rotel story. The A11 is the latest in this illustrious line—and it's an absolute bargain. Built around the classic Rotel Class AB amplifier design, it's rated at 50W per channel, and has a sensible array of inputs for the modern user. It will accommodate four line sources, there's a moving-magnet phono for a turntable, and aptX Bluetooth for wireless streaming from portable devices. Add in the sound quality made possible by careful design and the use of custom Rotel components, and you have an extremely attractive music-first integrated amplifier.
The Pro-Ject name is synonymous with value-for-money turntables built in Europe. Since 1991 the company has arguably been leading the vinyl revival, and the X1 is its latest reinvention of the classic Pro-Ject 1 deck that started it all. Look beyond the gloss finish, using eight layers of paint and several rounds of hand-polishing—yes, on an affordable turntable—and you'll find just about every aspect of the design has been improved, from the MDF plinth to the platter, the motor suspension and speed control, and the carbon/aluminium sandwich tonearm. Even the pre-fitted cartridge is new, being made by Ortofon and tuned by Pro-Ject. This is surely the best sub-€1000 turntable package on the market.
Building on decades of success in speakers both small and large, the Monitor Audio Gold 100 is a bookshelf/standmount design with a big sound that belies its compact dimensions. Featuring the latest version of the company's C-CAM driver technology, using a composite ceramic/aluminium magnesium construction for lightness and rigidity, it sounds fast, detailed and powerful, with excellent integration between the drive units, and surprisingly deep and tuneful bass. Add in Monitor Audio's meticulous construction and beautiful choice of finishes, and you have a truly superior compact speaker design.
Combining style and simple operation with flexibility and striking performance, the Marantz 'Melody' series of compact systems has long been attracting plaudits—and the M-CR612, or 'Melody X', is its best yet. Available in either gloss black or classic Marantz champagne gold, it combines CD playback, network music and streaming services including Spotify, TuneIn Radio and Tidal, FM/DAB+ radio, and both analogue and digital inputs, so you can use it to boost your TV sound. It's also compatible with HEOS, so can be used as part of a multiroom wireless audio system, and can even be voice-controlled using Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple Siri. Add in the option of running two pairs of speakers with separate volume controls, or doubling the power into one pair, and you have a remarkably flexible—and superb sounding—compact system.
Designed as a replacement for the acclaimed 2Qute, the Chord Electronics Qutest differs from the company's other compact DACs in that it has no built-in headphone amp, but puts all its effort into delivering top digital-to-analogue quality. Based on the company's celebrated FPGA DAC architecture from the Hugo 2, it has optical and coaxial digital inputs, plus an isolated USB-B input for computer connection. All this is wrapped in Chord's superb-quality milled aluminium casework, with analogue outputs adjustable to suit power amps, preamps and headphone amps. If you want a big, dramatic sound from a compact DAC, this is the one.
Although best known for its turntables, Pro-Ject is building an enviable reputation in digital audio, too—and this two-box CD transport and DAC/preamp is its most impressive component yet. A real ground-up design, the CD Box RS2 T features a customised CD-Pro 8 transport mechanism, supported by an alloy/carbon fibre chassis and state-of-the-art disc-reading electronics. Digital connections to the hugely flexible Pre Box RS2 Digital DAC even include HDMI, with a synchronising clock. The latter also boasts Bluetooth, USB-B, coaxial and Toslink digital inputs, with a choice of solid-state and tube-based analogue outputs. With support for MQA and no fewer than seven digital filter options too, this combination delivers CD and hi-res digital audio sound in a range of delicious flavours—this is true audiophile performance, and supreme flexibility, packed into two remarkably compact enclosures!
The Elegia is Focal's first audiophile circumaural closed-back headphone, and brings a wide range of Focal's own technologies together to create a model with a powerful yet precise sound. These include the company's M-profile driver for a wider radiating surface, a frameless copper voice-coil and ultra-fine surround to keep the driver firmly under control. The easy-to-drive Elegia delivers a wide frequency range from deep bass to the subtlest ambient nuance, helped by the noise-excluding properties of that closed-back design. It's a great listen, and comfortable to wear, whether at home or on the move.
We all know the value of isolation when it comes to getting the best from hi-fi electronics, but until you hear IsoAcoustics' GAIAs in action, you'll never know how much this applies to speakers, too. Proving there's life beyond the old faithful floor spikes, the cylindrical GAIA 'pods' connect into the base of your speaker, isolating the cabinet from vibration while resisting any tendency for it to move. Typically, they have the effect of lowering the noise floor, improving soundstage focus and tightening up the bass. With a machined stainless steel housing finished in dark chrome, and able to support up to 100kg, the GAIAs look superb—and what they'll do to your music is magical.
At first glance, Hegel's H390 looks like a slimmed-down, more affordable version of the Norwegian company's mighty H590 amplifier—which is hardly surprising, because that's just what it is. However, there's more to the H390 than that: it offers almost all of the performance of its 'big brother', for about half the price! That means the ability to drive just about any speaker to stunning effect with its 250W per channel output, built-in UPnP and AirPlay 2 streaming, Roon Ready certification and MQA plus DSD decoding. Access online services, plug in digital or analogue sources, or simply send it music from your phone—this superbly flexible, yet simple-looking, amplifier will do it all.
KEF has been making great speakers for almost 60 years, but it's hit a new high in style, performance and value with the new R Series. The R11 brings together all the elements of that success, from the latest generation coaxial Uni-Q driver for superb imaging and focus, anodised to match the choice of premium cabinet finishes, through to the clever microperforated grilles, which solve the old 'on or off' problem. The result is a slender speaker capable of a big, rich, room-filling sound packed with detail and delivering superb musical involvement, and with the style to ensure it looks every bit as impressive as it sounds.
The Bowers & Wilkins 600 Series has set the standard in affordable speakers for decades, and this latest version is its best yet. That's especially true of the floorstanding 603, which offers a striking combination of performance and value for money, thanks to technology trickled down from the flagship 800 Series Diamond speakers and a range that's rationalised down to just the essentials. The 'Decoupled Double Dome' tweeter and 'Continuum Cone' midrange give the speaker detail, focus and presence, while twin bass drivers with 'Flowport' tuning ensure the sound is always rich and dramatic. This is a surprisingly advanced speaker design for the money.
It took a while for NAD to enter the world of all-in-one network music solutions, but the M10 was worth every moment of the wait, for this sensational little amplifier is also a complete 'just add speakers' music system. The dramatic full-width touchscreen display sets the tone, allowing you to access the full range of the M10's capabilities. These include streaming music services, with BluOS allowing multiroom playback with Bluesound products, Bluetooth and AirPlay 2, plus digital and analogue inputs, an HDMI-ARC connection for TV sound, and even Dirac Live room correction to optimise the sound. Finally, with NAD's HybridDigital amplification on board, the M10 will drive virtually any partnering speaker—it is a true master of modern music playback.
Recipient of a previous EISA Award, Primare continues its winning ways with this I35 amplifier and CD35 Prisma CD/network player. The amplifier is a simple, but fabulous-sounding, all-analogue design that delivers plenty of power using the company's UFPD 2 amplification. Its modular design means you can add Primare's DAC stage, and the Prisma network/multiroom module, when required. The CD35 Prisma CD player is also fully networked, offering wired and wireless connectivity for AirPlay, Bluetooth and Spotify Connect, as well as Chromecast built-in to access thousands of streaming services. This is so much more than a simple CD player/amp system: it's the future of hi-resolution home hi-fi.
As the name suggests this latest Mytek product is designed to form the bridge between network audio and a hi-fi system—but it goes much further than that. Based on the technology of the company's DAC+, the Brooklyn Bridge combines network player, DAC and preamp in one compact unit, complete with digital, analogue and phono inputs, and RCA, XLR and headphone outputs. Controlled by a smartphone app, it will play from network sources, Roon, online streaming including Qobuz and Tidal, a computer via USB, and even USB storage devices. It may be compact, but this is a remarkably flexible—and superb-sounding—network streaming player.
From the same company that brought you Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab vinyl pressings, the UltraDeck+M is not just an excellent turntable, but also a complete 'plug and go' solution to play your records. It comes complete with a pre-fitted high-quality MoFi MasterTracker moving-magnet cartridge, meaning you can have it up and running in minutes, and is superbly engineered throughout for precision and quality, drawing on the expertise of some leading names in vinyl replay. That means it delivers rock-solid pitch stability, while that metal-bodied cartridge really gets 'under the skin' of the music you choose to play, emphasising the value and engineering on offer here.
KEF created quite a stir when it launched the wireless version of its EISA Award-winning LS50 speaker, transforming an already hugely impressive design into a complete 'hi-fi system in a speaker' solution. The LSX makes that concept both more compact and more affordable, combining the company's expertise in driver, amplifier and wireless streaming technologies with a stylish design available in a range of eye-catching colours. With Apple AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth built-in, plus access to Spotify and Tidal, all controlled from a neat app on your smartphone, this could be all the hi-fi system many users will need.
Every AV system needs power—and lots of it—but only clean power will let all of your components, audio and video, deliver their very best performance. IsoTek's SMART Power range takes things even further, for as well as cleaning the power line, removing extraneous noise, and protecting against power surges and spikes, it offers fully programmable system power-up and shutdown. Using control over LAN or Wi-Fi, you can sequence the order of power on/off, assign names to each of the unit's outlets, and even set it all up and 'drive' it from an app on your phone. They don't call it 'SMART' for nothing—and its effect on your system's performance will be just as impressive.
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