Over the past 12 months, I have had the opportunity to listen to a lot of Hi-Fi components at home, trade shows, dealer showrooms, factories, and private listening events.
Readers love to kvetch when we don’t include their “favorite” pair of loudspeakers or network player in our annual “Best of 2022” Buying Guides but the reality is that we can only listen to so many products in one calendar year.
If a product makes the list, it is because we actually spent time with it. In some cases, the reviewer bought it after the review was already published or after trying it on multiple occasions. Listening to something at a trade show for 20 minutes doesn’t count. Not even remotely.
After listening to the Kuzma Stabi R Turntable at T.H.E. Show in June, I really wanted to request a review sample, but it really didn’t make sense in the context of our coverage which is more focused on affordable high-end equipment.
The Slovenian turntable is one of the best I’ve ever listened to and for $27,000 (with cartridge) — it really should be. One can easily spend a lot more on a turntable in 2022, but that’s not really our audience. It’s hard to understand how that moves the needle for the industry if we devote a lot of time to such products when there are 20 other magazines willing to drool over it with the same readership.
There are 6 weeks left in 2022 and I will have a lot to say about a dozen products between this week and December 31st.
I feel comfortable making this list after listening to over 160 new products in 2022 and a few trends are starting to really bother me and also excite me about the future of this hobby and industry.
You may not agree with any of my picks. That’s the best part of being Editor in-Chief — I have the opportunity to listen to a lot of average, good, excellent, and often very overpriced and hyped products that most consumers don’t have access to.
In Part One, we’re going to focus on wireless loudspeakers and turntables. Part Two will feature bookshelf loudspeakers, phono cartridges, and phono pre-amplifiers. Part Three will focus on integrated amplifiers, network players, and CD players.
The Future of Hi-Fi
There are going to be a significant number of wireless loudspeakers on my list in 2022 because the category is really starting to move in the right direction; both in terms of performance and connectivity options.
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.
If high-end loudspeaker companies want to grow, they will not be able to rely on the 50+ crowd (that would include myself and many of you) because many of us are consolidating what we own out of financial necessity and housing changes.
Younger listeners will demand wireless systems that can work with their new turntable and TV setup. That’s non-negotiable.
There’s nothing wrong with a high-end wireless 2.1 system. It’s a lot better than a generation listening to music on only a pair of Apple AirPods.
My Magnepan LRS will survive the transition because they are too good for the money, but everything else in my system that can’t work with wireless speakers (minus the turntables) is expendable.
There are a lot of excellent affordable high-end products right now. Certainly the most in the 24 years I’ve been writing about the industry for SoundStage!, Big Picture Big Sound, Digital Trends, Gear Patrol, eCoustics, and The New York Times.
In the CI market, mid-tier projects are suffering the most as consumers either go for cheaper entry-level projects for the home or very expensive systems for the entire home which includes home theater and multi-room audio.
I’ve spoken to a number of very successful custom integrators who have told me that the middle is dying for them.
Is that the direction that high-end audio is headed?
We look at entry-level from the perspective of $400 turntables, receivers, CD players and loudspeakers. If you spend that much on 3-5 components and cables, you might already be approaching $1,200 to $3,000 for a high-quality entry-level system.
That’s a lot of money for most people. Perhaps not to those willing to waste $3,000 on a single power cord, but it represents more than 95% of the population.
Sonos can barely keep its products in stock; my baby sister and her husband earn enough money to easily spend $50,000 USD on a system but it’s not something that they would ever contemplate.
When she gave me a budget during her recent home renovation, I recommended 5 rooms of Sonos for its multi-room audio capabilities and the Sonos ARC Soundbar for their living room and a 65″ LG OLED. She added a turntable and Sonos hub so that she could enjoy her record collection wirelessly in her home along with their TIDAL and Spotify accounts.
If the system couldn’t be controlled from all 4 iPhones — No Sale!
They all use it and think Uncle Ian is the best. Except my sister who thinks she overspent on the turntable. Sigh.
But enough of the family.
Favorite Wireless Speakers
Q Acoustics M20 HD Wireless Speaker System ($599)
My favorite affordable wireless/Bluetooth loudspeaker system of 2022 and one that 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.
Triangle BOREA BR03 BT ($1,000)
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.
KEF LSX II ($1,499)
The LSX II is a very interesting product from the perspective that it offers the right mix of connectivity options for the 2.1 music/movie customer and because it takes up very little space. The images are very accurate. I do wish that the stand options were not so expensive. The temptation to buy a pair and a KEF KC62 Subwoofer is very strong right now because the system is one of the easiest to use with a smartphone and it offers both Spotify and TIDAL Connect capabilities.
It does not include its own internal phono preamp which seems wrong at $1,500.
Read our review here.
Sonus faber Omnia ($1,995)
I spent a few months with the Omnia before it was launched and thought the team in Italy accomplished all of its goals. This is more of a lifestyle wireless speaker system; it just happens to be one of the best ones from the perspective of performance and its unique industrial design.
Sonus faber can barely make enough of them and I am seeing them with increasing frequency in retail stores, offices, and people’s homes. It doesn’t offer the slick interface of the Sonos S2 app, but it’s a lot more fun to use and designed by people who really care about build quality and sonic performance.
Read our review here.
Dynaudio Focus 50 ($11,000)
$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 primary speaker has two sets of analog inputs, and 3 digital inputs (1 Toslink, 2 Coaxial), along with a single subwoofer output.
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.
Learn more here.
2022 was a great year for turntables with some excellent new affordable options from Pro-Ject, U-Turn Audio, Audio-Technica, Roksan, Fluance, NAD, and Technics. Having owned some very expensive decks in the past from Michell, Audiomeca, and Wilson-Benesch, I’m fully aware of the playback differences between $1,000 and almost $7,000 with a rather expensive Benz Micro MC at one point on the Michell Orbe SE.
A Michell Gyro SE is an aspirational product for me at this point; I am rather content with my restored Thorens TD-160 Super and TD-145 MKII from Vinyl Nirvana in New Hampshire.
Much to my wife’s dismay, I also own 3 other turntables that get a fair amount of listening time; an NAD C 588, Yamaha YP-701, and the Andover Audio SpinDeck Max.
Audiophile Entry-Level (Below $600)
Andover Audio SpinDeck Max Automatic Turntable ($599)
There is a lot of competition below $600 and I was fortunate this year to try many of them from Rega, Pro-Ject, Fluance, and Andover Audio. The level of performance that can be squeezed out of an entry-level deck is surprising, but for most people — they just want to set it up and listen.
I wasn’t really blown away by the SpinDeck but the SpinDeck Max is a completely different table that is manufactured in Germany for Andover. The automatic design just feels more substantial and it’s built to a much higher standard; which includes the tonearm and rather beefy platter.
The supplied Ortofon OM10 is fine but I swapped it out for a Grado Prestige Red3 which just sounds fuller and less bright in my office system. The SpinDeck Max is not a fancy deck but it comes across as slightly more authoritative sounding with excellent pace in most systems. It can also be tweaked with a cork platter from Analog Restorations and certainly benefits from some isolation. You might be surprised at what this deck can do with a better cartridge and phono preamplifier.
Learn more here.
Pro-Ject Debut PRO ($1,000)
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.
Watch our video review here.
Audiophile High-End ($2,500+)
Pro-Ject X2 B ($1,799)
Does balanced really make a difference?
My experience suggests that it does if you have to contend with certain noise issues.
Almost 22 years ago, I invested in a very expensive turntable and felt that I had reached vinyl nirvana. I paid a professional $200 to properly install the cartridge, setup the table which had a finicky suspension system, and help me mount the turntable shelf to the wall.
My building at the time was a pre-war in downtown Toronto that needed an upgrade on the electrical front. Noisy to say the least.
No matter what I tried, my turntable setup always sounded noisy; ground loop issues, constant hiss, and it became a a source of depression (first world problems). Why bother spending almost $8,000 on such a system if it sounded terrible.
A local dealer suggested that I have my arm and table modified so that I could run a fully balanced rig; which also included upgrading to a balanced phono stage. I sold a few other items to facilitate the changes.
But when I listened to the same records that mattered to me — I was stunned by the differences in clarity, noise floor, and overall dynamics of the sound.
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.
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.
My rather long and in-depth review after Thanksgiving. Learn more here.