Home Theater Review 2009 Best of Awards
For the first time, Home Theater Review com’s editors have picked a select list of the best gear from many of our AV equipment categories. The winners are picked subjectively by our staff. In today’s economy, value matters – this factors into the decision-making process of many editors. At the same time, when you are speaking of “the best,” often that accolade comes with a hefty price tag. If you would like to share your vote, please feel free to post your comments below.
AV Preamp Winner: Classe SSP-800
This category was a very tough decision, as the Anthem D2v has more features and the kind of stability that dealers rave about. The Classe’s audiophile sound, stunningly beautiful industrial design and easy-to-use interface got it the editors’ nod.
• Runner-up: Anthem D2v
AV Receiver: Marantz SR-6004
Forget the clunky iPod doc. Beyond having all of the latest surround codex and a laundry list of other features, the Marantz SR-6004 wows with Bluetooth connectivity for sources like Apple iPhones or an iPod Touch.
• Runner-up: NAD T747
Blu-ray Player: Oppo Digital DP-83
This is the player that the dealers don’t want to talk about. For $500, you get it all, including SACD, DVD-Audio, Blu-ray, CD and more. Other players ask $2,000 and higher for players that only play Blu-ray and CDs. Crazy audiophiles send their Oppo players out for DAC upgrades from Modwright.
• Runner-up: Sony BDP-S5000ES
Video Projector: SIM2 Lumis Host
This pricey three-chip DLP is one serious bad-ass projector. Color fidelity is topnotch. Blacks are dark as night and the industrial design is sexy and Italian. If you have the cash, it’s hard to lose with the SIM2 Lumis Host.
• Runner-up: Anthem LTX LCOS projector
LCD HDTV: NuVision NVU 42FX5
NuVision is a somewhat new brand to the end user, but installers like its no-frills appeal, strong reliability and Costco-savvy pricing.
• Runner-up: Sony KDL-65W5100
LED HDTV: Toshiba REGZA 46SV670U
The LED-backlit LCD HDTV is the hottest item in the AV business right now. Its brightness is what gets the attention of the consumer. However, the Toshiba has the best full-panel color uniformity, as many other LED HDTVs just light the edges of the panel. Not this Toshiba. It’s bright, accurate and beautiful.
• Runner-up: LG 55LH90
Plasma HDTV: Panasonic TC-P46G10
Contrary to some reports, plasma is far from dead. In fact, plasma HDTV still offers the best black levels money can buy in today’s market. Panasonic’s blacks are deep and rich, while their color fidelity is stunningly good. Add in Vieracast goodies and you have a true winner.
• Runner-up: Pioneer KURO Pro-151FD
Video Screens: Stewart Filmscreen Starglas
Not everyone knows what Stewart Filmscreen’s Starglas material is and that’s a shame. This reflective, glass-like material allows you to use a video projector to create larger-than-plasma installations for a fraction of the price, which can be installed locations outdoors, in-walls and beyond.
• Runner-up: SI Black Diamond Screen Material
Great advice and products for your Home Theater Room can be found at HTMarket.com.
Bookshelf Speakers: Orb Audio Mod4 Speakers
Orb Audio is one of the best success stories in the AV business and their Mod 4 speaker system is at the core of their success. They are one of the best-sounding speakers under $1,000 a pair, in a shape that works with HDTV-centric installations.
• Runner-up: Paradigm Atom Monitor V.5
Floor-standing Speakers: Revel Ultima Salon 2 Speakers
These redesigned audiophile speakers are better-sounding, easier to drive and even easier on the ears. Showing no audible or physical weakness, the Revel Ultima Salon 2 speakers are just hard to beat for movie soundtracks or any of the best HD audio sources on the market today.
• Runner-up: MartinLogan Spire
Headphones: Etymotic Research ER-4 Pro
Everyone has an iPod, but if you want your iPod to sound more like your audiophile speakers at home, you need a serious pair of in-ear monitors. When using custom ear molds, you can block out significant amounts of background noise (think: screaming babies on airplanes), as well as creating a pleasant environment to listen to your music, movies and TV while on the road.
• Runner-up: Ultimate Ears UE11pro
In-wall Speakers: Wisdom Audio Sage Series
In a perfect world, we’d have all the money and all the space to buy and install the biggest audiophile speakers. Even if you are sitting on a healthy net worth, often there just isn’t room to park a pair of $100,000 speakers in your room. Wisdom Audio is the solution. In-wall (or on-wall, if you like) speakers, complete with room correction, powered bass drivers and true audiophile sound coming from between your studs makes this $70,000 pair of in-walls a Best of winner.
• Runner-up: Bowers and Wilkins CT 700 Series
On-wall Speakers: Definitive Technology Mythos 7 System
Easily configurable to the needs of your HDTV-based AV system, Definitive’s on-wall speakers sound much more like audiophile speakers than you might expect. The dynamics are there. The imaging is tight and the look is sexy. Oh, and the bass – it’s rock solid.
• Runner-up: KEF KHT 5005.2 wireless speakers
Media Servers: Meridian-Sooloos
Everyone has played with an iPod or an iPhone with its sexy, one-finger control over music and movies. Meridian-Sooloos is even better. Worthy of a true high-end system, the Sooloos system allows you to access the best meta-data in the business in ways that don’t allow for competition, even from the mighty Apple. And that is saying something.
• Runner-up: Apple TV
Multi-channel Amp: Emotiva MPS-2
Bang for the buck is in style and, much like Adcom and Aragon years ago, direct reseller Emotiva is setting new standards in direct value power amps and electronics. If you want to light up your speakers without lighting up your checkbook, HomeTheaterReview.com’s editors recommend Emotiva.
• Runner-up: Krell Evolution 403
Source Components: Krell Evolution 505 Disc Player
While SACD and DVD-Audio might be dead formats, the fact is, if you want to hear the best and audiophile system can sound, you need these HD formats (don’t start with the vinyl debate, as our editors did). Krell’s Evolution 505 player is as solid a player as money can buy. The airy midrange and open highs only compliment Krell’s legendary bass.
• Runner-up: EMM Labs TDS1 & DAC2
Power Amps: NuForce Reference 9 V2
Digital power amps are all the rage. They run cool. They are small. They produce more power for the money, which all has today’s audiophiles paying attention. When it comes to digital power amps, HomeTheaterReview.com’s editors agree NuForce offers the best bang for the buck in stereo amps.
• Runner-up: Cary Audio Xciter Integrated Amp
Stereo Preamp: Benchmark DAC1 HDR
The next generation of audio lovers runs its systems with iPods and there might be no cooler or better-sounding way to build an affordable audiophile system than by using a Benchmark DAC-1 HDR. The form factor is topnotch and the sound for audiophile sources, as well as mobile sources and/or computers, is just fantastic. The internal DACs are excellent and the midrange sounds like a preamp costing triple the price.
• Runner-up: Cary Audio SLP-05
AC Power: Transparent PowerWave 10
When it comes to no-voodoo, no-BS power isolation that sounds truly quiet, HomeTheaterReview.com editors agree that Transparent Audio Power Wave products would go in their racks. True to audiophile standards, Transparent’s AC power products lower the noise floor and provide electronics with the needed clean current that top components demand.
• Runner-up: PurePower 1050
Remotes: Harmony 890
The concept of Harmony’s user-friendly remote is just fantastic. Harmony’s customer service for consumers looking to get really fancy with their Harmony remotes is even more impressive, but the closer for the HTR editorial staff is the price. You just can’t find a better-value universal remote.
• Runner-up: Philips TSU9400 Pronto
Soundbar: Yamaha YSP-4000
2009 was the year for soundbars. People who don’t want crappy TV speakers look to soundbars as thin, affordable solutions. The Yamaha system is the best we’ve heard to date and it is loaded with features. Even for the jaded audio/video enthusiast, there is likely a room in the house for a Yamaha soundbar somewhere.
• Runner-up: Polk SurroundBar 360
Subwoofer: Paradigm Sub 25
You could spend more on a subwoofer, but HomeTheaterReview.com editors wonder why you would. This big, bad woofer had the power to blow your house down while doing a demo of U-571. Musically, the Sub25 could be matched with speakers costing many many times more the cost of the sub.
• Runner-up: Wilson Audio Thor’s Hammer