Its been quite a year. A ton of great gear was thrust upon the market that made for good listening at almost any pricepoint. The hobby hasn’t stagnated. New tech is being applied to traditional forms of listening and good ‘ol proven technologies continue to see robust use across the board. The list below is in no particular order, nor is it a definitive list of everything best that came out this year. Its simply a collection of things we enjoyed most about this great year in audio. Op’ would be proud.
The Schiit Modi Multibit
We didn’t get this little monster into our hands until late into the year, but it was worth it. The Modi Multibit features R2R (also referred to as Ladder DAC) technology at a pricepoint previously untouched by the topology. We were really impressed with the smooth treble and rich tones that it was able to produce from a such a small package. The Multibit is a real value at $249 and includes a full array of digital inputs to its SE outputs. While budget priced here, the trickle down technology appears in Schiit’s line at a variety of prices, but none so easily had as the Modi. The Multibit is capable of pumping some of that full sound back into your tracks in an atmosphere that can far too often feel threadbare from over digitalization.
Audeze iSine IEM
Pushing boundaries is nothing new for Audeze, but taking the leap down to a smaller form factor for their iSine planar magnetic IEM was something particularly special for the industry. Pulling together all the technical knowhow from their years designing some of the industries best over ears, their new venture into the in-ear attempts to tap into something few, if any have. Open back and spacious, the two-tier product line of iSine (models 10 and 20, $399 and $599 respectively) breaks the mold in an attempt to broaden the out-of-head experience that has long hamstrung one of the most convenient portable forms of listening.
The MEZE 99 Classics
Our recommendation for the $300 pricepoint. This over-ear headphone may not be the pinnacle of micro detail, but at $309 it stands out amongst a very crowded market with natural, believable tones complimented by a superior, massively fun sound. The build and materials feel a cut above the market waterline to boot.
Elac Uni-Fi Series
Last year Andrew Jones crushed it with the Debut series, and the follow up Uni-Fi did not disappoint. At $500 a pair for the bookshelves and $1k for the F5 Floorstanders, Elac brought the thunder once again with definition, extension and many other “ion” superlatives that aren’t often heard at this cost.
1MORE Triple Driver IEM
Aimed squarely at those looking to dip a toe in the water or for the audiophile on the go, 1MORE drove it home with the Triple Driver IEM for $99. Touching all the bases with maximized comfort, durability and well defined sound, this IEM utilizes a hybrid design with 2 balanced armature drivers and one dynamic driver. It fits in the cradle of the ear extremely well and helps redefine what is possible for in-ears that cost less than a c-note.
Spatial Audio Hologram Series
The baffle-free futuristic Spatial Audio M4’s had us at Adelle’s “Hello”. Packed with two 15″ drivers and a concentric compression driver, the minimalist approach of this loudspeaker can be had for less than the average high end fancy piece. The M3 Turbo starts at $2,195 a pair and the smaller 12″ M4 starts at at a mere $1,695. The loudspeaker’s full presentation brings excellent detail retrieval along with solid reconstruction along the entire frequency spectrum. Plus, they look pretty cool.
Campfire Audio Andromeda IEM
Few IEMs on the market have the capability to produce the timbral richness that that Andromeda’s 5 BA drivers and aluminum enclosure do. Maybe its magic elves, or maybe its the Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber™ in any case, the secret sauce here is absolutely tasty on many levels. The $1,099 IEM comes complete with a themed carrying case, silver-plated copper Litz wire cable and MMCX connections. Its dimensional, meaty mids are further complemented by extended reach on both ends, making the Andromeda one of our favorite listens in personal audio all year.
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Recordings
We got to sample both SACD and Vinyl versions from MoFi’s Original Master Recordings collection this year and in both cases the results were not only noticeable, but most welcome. Using a branded technology called the Gain 2 system, new files are recaptured from the masters but with updated and modern gear. From our listening tests against more publicly available files, the sound of MoFi was more full, more fluid and more “right there”.
The Classic Eames Lounge Chair
One of the most iconic chairs ever made for the lounge. The Eames chair and ottoman is available now through Herman Miller, you can custom order the materials and colors for around $5k-$6k out-the-door. A great complement to any listening session, jam session or just some quick Sunday afternoon shuteye.