Recommended Components 2020 Edition

Commercial products listed here have been formally reviewed in Stereophile, and we have determined them to be among the finest available in each of four or five quality classes: Whether a component is listed in Class A or Class D (or E), we consider it to be a genuinely recommendable product.

Each listing, in alphabetical order within classes, is followed by a brief description of its performance characteristics and a note indicating the issue of Stereophile in which its review, and in some cases Follow-Up reports, appeared—ie, "Vol.42 No.6" indicates our June 2019 issue. And so forth.

A relatively small number of products listed here have not yet been reviewed but have been suggested by one or more of our writers as deserving of consideration. Those products are rated with the letter K, used to identify new products that we hope and intend to review as soon as possible. No one here remembers what the K stands for, but we're reasonably certain it isn't Krispy.

Stereophile's Recommended Components listing is almost exclusively concerned with products currently available in the US through the usual hi-fi retail outlets, although some of them can be ordered online.

We recommend that you read any product's entire review before seriously contemplating a purchase (and so products without reviews should be treated with caution): Many salient characteristics, peculiarities, and caveats appear in the reviews but not here. To obtain back issues of the magazine, visit our website: stereophile.com. We regret that we cannot supply photocopies or email copies of individual reviews. All full reviews are republished in our website Archives section: These are marked WWW. More are added each week, usually while you sleep.

How We Did It
We try to include in Recommended Components every product we have found to be truly excellent or to represent good value for money. The listing is compiled after consultation with Stereophile's reviewing staff and editors and takes into account continued experience of the product after the formal review has been published. In particular, we take account of unreliability and defects that show up after extended auditioning. The fact that a product received a favorable review cannot therefore be regarded as a guarantee that it will continue to appear in this listing.

The ratings given components included in this listing are based entirely on performance—ie, faithfulness of reproduction to the original, in as many aspects as possible. Products markedly deficient in one or more performance aspects are downrated to the extent that their deficiencies interfere with the full realization of the program material.

Bear in mind that many different tastes are represented. Our reviewers have their own points of view—something in which we who publish them take pride—yet Recommended Components is a funnel into which all of their opinions are poured: The letter grades they have chosen may survive this blending, but the nuances of their perspectives may not. You may see on occasion a very expensive and well-regarded product receive a B while a far less expensive, competing product that has deeply impressed one or more writers gets an A. We editors sometimes intervene in the assignment of ratings, to smooth those steps into a more reasonable-looking wave—but the real answer lies in making sure to read the whole of a review (and, ideally, other pieces by the same reviewer) before making a purchase decision. Of course, you can also audition it yourself.

The prices indicated are those current at the time the listing was compiled (January 2020). We cannot guarantee that any of these prices will be the same by the time this issue of Stereophile appears in print. (Note also that, in products where multiple finish options exist, the price we list is for the base-level finish.) There is a near-universal consensus that at some point in the upward climb of product prices, severely diminishing returns (performance vs price) set in. However, there is no agreement as to the price level at which that takes place. Where we have found a product to perform much better than might be expected from its price, we have drawn attention to it with a $$$ next to its listing.

Please bear in mind that deletion of a product from this list does not mean we woke up one morning, decided the thing was terrible, and banished it from our pages. In general, products do not remain listed for more than three years, for two very good reasons: There's not enough space in the magazine for several years' worth of products of merit, and it's impossible to compare a component to others when your memory of it is dim—which is why a component may remain on the list if one of the magazine's writers or editors has had continuous experience with it.

Discontinuation of a model by its manufacturer also, of course, precludes its appearance. It is also possible that fast-moving technology has left a once-cutting-edge product high and dry. We indicate with a star ★ products that we have chosen to keep on this list for longer than three years, judging them to have achieved sufficient stature to remain.

So please don't be upset if a product you purchased on our say-so has fallen, leaflike, from Recommended Components. And if you are upset, please don't call to tell us about it.

Individual reviewers identified by their initials are John Atkinson, Jim Austin (JCA), Brian Damkroger, Robert Deutsch, Art Dudley, Michael Fremer, Larry Greenhill, Jon Iverson, Fred Kaplan, Michael Lavorgna, Eric Lichte, Sasha Matson, Ken Micallef, Thomas J. Norton, Wes Phillips, Herb Reichert, Bob Reina, Kalman Rubinson, Jonathan Scull, and Jason Victor Serinus.

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

Time for Stereophile to review the Denafrips flagship Terminator DAC (under $5k) :-) ........

Kempff's picture

Audioquest Nightowl Carbon (and its Nighthawk sibling) have been discontinued.

There's a new version of the Chord Mojo? Do you know something no one else does?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

AQ NightOwl Carbon is listed under Class-B headphones :-) .......

Kempff's picture

That’s my point. Discontinued items aren’t supposed to be listed.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be the people who worked on the list are dis-connected :-) ........

Jim Austin's picture

When we contacted companies about changes in their product lines, as we do before every Recommended Components issue, we were told by AudioQuest that the NightHawk and the NightOwl were still current products.

As for the Mojo, the reason given for its deletion from the list is in error--my error. It is the Hugo, not the Mojo, that has been replaced. The Mojo was deleted because it was last auditioned by a Stereophile writer in the February issue, 2016. Unless awarded a star, components typically "age out" after about three years.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Kempff's picture

I guess one hand doesn't know what the other is doing at AQ. They sent out a letter to dealers over a year ago announcing that they were "leaving the headphone category," and they stopped producing the nightbirds at that time. But their website still features them as if they're current.

I'm not sure I understand about the Mojo, though. There are quite a few things on the RC list that were reviewed before the Mojo and don't have stars -- the Audeze LCD-X and Senn HD-650, to pick a couple from the same page. Besides, the Mojo surely deserves a star if anything does: it's a classic, sounds fantastic, and has no competition at its price point. It was the RC listing and JA's review that convinced me to take the plunge, and I've loved it ever since.

Jim Austin's picture

Thanks for your note. Well, the HD-650 should have a star, and I'm going to give it one; there aren't many headphones (HD-600 to name one) that have been around as long and still perform well. In any case, I own a pair, and I think JA1 does, too. As you can read in the intro to the section, we keep things on the list if a reviewer has recent experience and still finds the product worthy. The LCD-X is an example of that: JA owns a pair and uses them often.

That's the general case: Products that were reviewed longer ago than the Mojo but still on the list are there because they are in some reviewer's system.

I've never heard the Mojo, but based on its reputation, I certainly respect it. Whether it's a "classic" is of course a judgment call; smart people can disagree.

Best Wishes,

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

to "excellent" ?

Are some reviewers assigning the Excellent designation but not quite meaning it unless the "truly" adverb precedes the critical adjective? Is this a "secret" writers code word for some reason ?

Why do people feel the need to crutch support their declarations with clumsy adverbs?, seems like it dilutes the most important concepts and fosters mistrust of the Writers intentions.

Those dam Brits have taken to say'n "to be honest" or "if I'm honest" . ( We don't see it here, thank you. )
Feels like the Brit leading off with "If I'm honest" is someone I shouldn't be listening to. ( especially if it's coming from a Religious Minister that buys a series of my Sunday performance Sermons ).

My Audio Importing, Manufacturing & Retailing experiences reveal these Recommended Component Issues to have critical influence in the buying decisions of Audiophiles. Your gifted "fiancé of audio adventures" ( Mr.HR ) is probably the most influential man of letters in this here entire Industry. Mr.Steve G. is souring into Cassey Neistat territory with his Audio related YouTube dailies, big hair & colorful shirts. ( he only needs an electric scooter to ride the now-Empty Streets of Manhattan ) The NEW Steve G. is makning 33.3 look like its soooooo Old-School tired. Of course, I approve.

Tony in Venice

Tony in Sunny Venice

ps .. by the way, Audiologists are still using Astell & Kern players.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

To be honest, I think these recommended component lists are very excellent :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW ....... Tom Brady is gonna play in a town near you :-) .......

tonykaz's picture

and...

Who cares ?

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You don't know the record holder, 6 times Super Bowl winner? :-) .......

tonykaz's picture

I have a super bowl that holds 5 cups of cereal.

Tony in Venice

ps. I'm probably not a proper American

Tromatic's picture

Oddly enough I can believe someone who praises the Chinese government does not know who Brady is, although I do agree with "who cares".

tonykaz's picture

Who? I don't know anyone like this .

Tony in Venice

Tromatic's picture

In one of your voluminous screeds about how racist the US is if IRC.
I was going to post something about how the typical Uighur would disagree with you but that would have been off-topic. I'll look for it if you wish, but it may take some time.

I can see how you would forget.

tonykaz's picture

You might have the wrong fellow. I'm contending that China has been an Industrial Quality Leader for the last 5 Centuries ( with the recent decades being the exception )

I do not approve of my GMCorp. going to Asia to take free Labor while abandoning our local legacy Labor.

What is IRC ?

Graham Luke's picture

We must wean ourselves off this curse.
Well, we wouldn't buy stuff from Kim Jong Un so why are we buying it from the PRC....?

misterc59's picture

Sorry, don't know how this ended up under this comment, plus the body of my post went AWOL. I think I'll wait until the posting gods have (hopefully) fixed the problem...

Bogolu Haranath's picture

$400 Project Pre Box S2 is listed in Class-A digital processors ........ To be honest, I think that is very excellent :-) ........

Indydan's picture

To be honest. You should listen to more music, and post less.

tonykaz's picture

"to be honest" is the actual writer saying that he is not normally an honest reporter.

So, I ask, are you being facetious ? I think yes as your comments are typically concise.

Tony in Venice

ps. I'm not here for Music, I'm here for the Literary ( editorial ) Content. I can select Audio Gear without reviewer guidance. I have an Audiologist & Psychiatrist to help me synchronize my personal hearing curves, tastes and synapse tunings. I seem to prefer Class A and still haven't been able to tune-in Class D amplification as satisfactorily as the Norther Europeans have achieved.

Ortofan's picture

... the Pro-Ject Amp Box RS, which combines Hypex class D power amp modules with a vacuum tube input buffer stage.
You could buy one with your $1,200 UBI and still have some change left over.
It's even available at those Best Buy stores with a Magnolia department.

https://www.pro-jectusa.com/en-us/products/pro-ject-box-designs/amplifiers/rs-line/amp-box-rs

Bogolu Haranath's picture

HR could review the Amp Box RS :-) ........

tonykaz's picture

I can't thank you.

Of course you proffer dam good advice, as usual.

I'm something of a Maverick Brand Ambassador for Schiit & PS Audio ( although either Company would & should say that I'm strictly out-on-my-own and not part of their operations ) I think that Mr.s Stoddard and McGowan are both men of high integrity ( maybe even including M.Moffat who might be a horrible smart ass and proud of it )

I was once a Dealer for PS Audio ( 1980s ) and Tyll introduced me to Schiit back in 2011. Both outfits manufacture in the USA, service their products, answer customers, make A+ level products and price sensibly. What's not to like except for Schiit's dam Name and their stupid rear mounted power switches.

As far as those UBIs are concerned, the Corporate worshiping donkeys may not allow we civilians the same life saving financial treatment being lavished on their sponsoring donor Class. Boeing to accept $60 Billion after ruining their financials with the 787 and 737 mismanagements.

Fingers crossed on those $1,200 ea. with $5,000 per family, I'll be investing in Color changing LED Lighting.

Tony in Venice

Ortofan's picture

... Maverick Brand Ambassador for Schiit Audio - and since Messrs. Stoddard and Moffat seem to know their way around tubes, as well as transistors - perhaps you could suggest to them that they design a variation of the Vidar power amp with a vacuum tube front end. It could effectively be a budget version of the PS Audio BHK amp.

tonykaz's picture
tonykaz's picture

I'm certain that Mr.Stoddard would entertain your own personal inquiry far more than they would value my nudging suggestions which typically get tossed ( like my standard insistant demand for ALLLLL dam power switching be located on the dam FRONT panel AND! Dammit, change the Brand Name to Stoddard & Moffat like any respectable Company would normally do!!!

I love your idea for Product Development Improvements. ( go ahead and nominate yourself to Schiit's advisory board, I'll second it)

Are you sure about Moffat and tubes ? I wonder if he's cooking up a nice tube DAC?

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Your idea of a tube DAC is a smart idea for S. Audio ........ They could offer that DAC with a choice of tube or transistor output ......... They could also offer a choice of multiple digital reconstruction filters for that DAC :-) ........

tonykaz's picture

Why does it need multiple reconstruction?

I suspect that we are already past the point where DACs feature discernible sound quality differences, although professionals like Bob Katz carefully choose converters and can hear details beyond "normal" amateur listeners.

But...

... for the sake of outlandish Pricing, Schiit could offer a DAC made up of ONLY Tubes, much like the very first IBM Computer needing a very large room. Price it at, say..., 3 Million Dollars. Lets give em sumpt'n to talk about.

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

*

tonykaz's picture

...

Bogolu Haranath's picture

*

tonykaz's picture

...

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Almost all of the DACs which offer multiple filters, also offer the standard linear phase 'brick-wall' filter ...... Some listeners choose other types of filters because, they say that, those filters sound more 'analog like' .......... Those other filters are available with a push of a button ....... Similarly, tube or transistor output could be chosen with a push of a button :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

When Mr.Tony and Mr.Ortofan become the board members of S. Audio, they could make the suggestion about the above mentioned tube DAC :-) .......

tonykaz's picture
tonykaz's picture

Sir Ortofan is leagues beyond me in logical expressions, I would never be welcomed to that exclusive Board of Directors ( BOD ).

Can Orto fandom be explained?

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Mr.Ortofan got a 'face tat' which says 'I got the power' :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Or ..... May be the tattoo says 'Better at 70' :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Mr.Indydan ........ To be honest, you should listen to more music and read less posts or, better yet, read no posts at all :-) .......

tonykaz's picture

looks like a $1,200 UBI per person with a married cap ( possibly $2,500 )

Tony in Venice

enrique majluf's picture

Dear Misters. of Stereophile, it seems to me that they have made a mistake in removing the DAC Bryston from the list, since Larry Greenhill has them within his teams for his reviews, as well as other components of Bryston. His last review was on February 27, 2020. You can't say you haven't been auditioned in a long time.

jay.levine's picture

Just curious how that decision is made? I have a VTA 120 from Bob Latino and it too can be purchased fully assembled--great amp for the money (along with his mono-blocks)--surely they along with a couple of other similar amps deserve attention.

davemill's picture

I am wondering why the B&W 702 S2 are considered “Full Range” while their specifications don’t go to 20 Hz. Stereophile’s review measurements also don’t support this categorization. If these really aren’t “Restricted Extreme LF”, the same should apply to the Revel Performa F228Be.

davemill's picture

I am wondering why the B&W 702 S2 are considered “Full Range” while their specifications don’t go to 20 Hz. Stereophile’s review measurements also don’t support this categorization. If these really aren’t “Restricted Extreme LF”, the same should apply to the Revel Performa F228Be. Perhaps this rule only applies to Class A, I may have just answered my own question. This seems arbitrary to even have Restricted Extreme LF categorization for the other classes unless there are different requirements for them?.

brams's picture

It is not very clear (at least to me) how items rated in one class are subjectively considered to be superior performers to those in the class below. To clarify this it would be helpful in each case to include a small blurb in the comments for each item not considered to be in class A as to why they were not included in the class above. For example the comment for an item in class B would say " Misses class A because in all systems tested it lacked the ultimate resolution of the lowest ranked item currently considered to be in class A" or "Is slightly too sweet or bright to be considered neutral".

In some cases the reasoning can be gleaned by careful reading of the reviews (and perhaps that is Stereophile's intent), but in many cases it is simply not clear.

As a case in point, consider the case of the Kef Reference 5. It is rated as class B while the LS50 is rated as class A LF. However a reading of the Reference 5 review specifically with comparison to other speakers (eg. Magico) currently listed as class A provides no clue to the reason for the ranking especially relative to the ranking of the LS50. Yes, the Reference 5 appears to be slightly sweeter than other class A speakers, but we are also told that its high end performance is similar to the class A Magico.

Now I have heard both the LS50 and Reference 5 in various systems. I also own the little brother to the Reference 5, the Reference 1. It is my opinion that there is no sane person who after hearing all three who could realistically make the case that the LS50 is anywhere near the performance of either Reference speaker. This opinion appears to be supported by any objective testing I have seen. How then does Stereophile explain this discrepancy?

Stereophile owes it to its readers to explain such anomalies as it risks casting doubt on the legitimacy of the Recommended Components list. Perhaps there is a valid reason in the example provided. If so, I would like to hear it. Your general comments in the "How We Do It" section does not appear to cover this.

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