The SoundStage! Network includes four main review publications:SoundStage! Hi-Fi (this one),SoundStage! Xperience, SoundStage! GoodSound!, and SoundStage! Xtreme(aka Ultra Audio). Throughout the year, each site gives awards to those components considered better than the rest: the Reviewers’ Choice Award for Hi-Fi and Xperience, the Great Buy Award for GoodSound!, and the Select Component Award for Ultra Audio.
It’s from this list of Reviewers’ Choice, Great Buy, and Select Component recipients that we choose our Products of the Year, which are divided into two main groups: Exceptional Value and Outstanding Performance. Exceptional Value emphasizes performance and affordability, while Outstanding Performance recognizes performance regardless of cost.
We also give two more Product of the Year awards: Pioneering Design Achievement, for a product that brings something new and innovative to the high-performance-audio market, and Aesthetics and Sound, for a high-performing product that looks as good as it sounds. And that’s important — high-end gear is seldom onlylistened to; it’s looked at and admired as well.
Outstanding Performance: Power Amplifiers
Audio Research Reference 250 monaural amplifier
Audio Research’s 11-tube, 77-pound, 250W Reference 250 monaural amplifier may be not only one of the best tubed amps you can buy, it may well be one of the best amplifiers of any type — which is why it’s our top-rated amplifier this year. Pete Roth alluded to its superiority near the end of his September 1 Ultra Audio review, when he compared the Ref 250s to his reference Ayre Acoustics MX-R solid-state monoblocks: “I must conclude that the sound of Audio Research’s Reference 250s is finer.” High praise indeed — and even higher praise is warranted when you learn that a pair of Ref 250s, while expensive at $25,990, doesn’t cost nearly as much as some amplifiers on the market these days, some of which have moved up into six figures. So in the sometimes crazy world of high-end audio, what’s asked for a pair of 250s is reasonable, given their world-class sound.