The European Imaging and Sound Association celebrates the year's most desirable hi-fi hardware
Welcome to the EISA Awards for 2016-2017. The European Imaging and Sound Association is the world’s largest independent awards panel and one that reflects the collective opinion of the 45 most respected specialist magazines centred on, but not exclusively based within, the European community. And while the repercussions of the recent in/out referendum dominate headlines in the UK, the collaboration between EISA’s member magazines continues without pause. Just as hi-fi and music-loving enthusiasts will persevere in scouring the world for the best that audio-centric brands can offer.
So, from the EISA Convention held in May to the final General Meeting in June, member magazines continue to pool their experience and inform the Association’s consensus of the very best in home and mobile sound and vision products.
Hi-Fi News will always reflect the ‘borderless’ reality of our hobby as we review state-of-the-art products from both established and new specialists across the wider European continent and, indeed, the world. Unsurprisingly many of this year’s EISA Award-winning products, including those from Marantz, AKG, Pro-Ject, B&W and Chord were premiered – as World Exclusives – within the pages of Hi-Fi News.
To find out more about EISA, visit www.eisa.eu
The British company’s 800 series has long showcased the peak of its expertise and this year saw the range brought bang up to date with the launch of seven new loudspeakers. Standing over 1.1m tall, the 802 D3 is the penultimate floorstander in the line-up and features an entirely redesigned ‘Turbine’ head assembly, machined from solid aluminium and housing its new Continuum midrange driver and trademark diamond-dome tweeter. With twin Aerofoil bass units providing a solid foundation to its sound, this latest 802 delivers the marque’s most lucid and insightful music-making yet. It is a true reference in the world of hi-fi loudspeakers.
The Debut range represents a step change for the German company as it is designed in California by world-renowned audio and loudspeaker engineer Andrew Jones. The flagship F6 is a three-way, bass-reflex floorstander featuring a 25mm cloth dome tweeter, 165mm aramid-fibre midrange driver and twin 165mm aramid-fibre woofers. It’s no easy task building a fine-sounding budget loudspeaker, but the F6 succeeds by putting the emphasis on fun while never tripping-up when handling busy-sounding or complex mixes. This is an honest, generously-proportioned and highly entertaining music-maker and you certainly can’t take issue with the price.
This miniaturised next-generation version of Naim Audio’s 2015-2016 EISA Award-winning Mu-so sees no fewer than five drivers, each with its own Class D amplifier, plus a pair of passive bass radiators arranged inside a very compact and beautifully built one-box music system. Alongside UPnP streaming, AirPlay, aptX Bluetooth, optical and line-in connections, there’s native support for Tidal, Spotify and a host of Internet radio streams plus multiroom capability. If you’re looking for a sound that’s open, effortless and punchy straight ‘out of the box’ then once again Naim has the perfect solution.
Released to celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary, the timeless, traditional look of The Classic hides plenty of up-to-date engineering aimed at making this two-speed turntable as plug-and-play as possible. The main chassis plate rests inside an elegant wooden frame on six elastomer balls that provide some measure of isolation, while the inner circumference of the precisely-machined 2.1kg aluminium platter is also damped with a similar material. The deck is pre-fitted with a hybrid carbon/alloy tonearm that offers the potential to unleash even greater potential with better pick-ups, and rounds off one of the most stylish, snappy-sounding and user-friendly vinyl sources around. A new classic is born!
High quality stereo separates are this company’s mainstay, its 6000 series being first launched some six years ago. This latest iteration of amplifier and CD player sees both components share a tried-and-tested 192kHz/24-bit DAC, upstream from its custom HDAM audio stages, as used across the Marantz range. While the CD6006 now boasts specially selected components and a reworked circuit layout, the PM6006 gains an optical digital input and a beefier design better suited to driving a wider range of loudspeakers. If you’re seeking the high-end Marantz sound at a bargain price, this combination’s supremely polished, yet powerful performance won’t disappoint.
The latest version of this versatile network media player has not only gained sleek-looking casework but now sports more inputs, including wired and wireless Ethernet, USB, aptX Bluetooth and a combo optical/3.5 mm socket. The NODE 2 is also easier to use, with playlists being compiled automatically, and is more responsive thanks to an increase in processing power. Support for Spotify, Qobuz and Tidal, among others, plus compatibility with MQA means listeners can enjoy easy access to web-streaming in lossless sound quality. Best of all, the NODE 2 sounds dynamic, three-dimensional and fatigue-free, making for a performance that belies its deceptively modest appearance.
Built around a very select choice of upsampling and DAC chips, and with some digital wizardry of its own, Hegel’s HD30 is both a DAC/digital preamp and high-end audio streaming solution. This digital control centre offers eight digital inputs, including USB and an Ethernet port that allows the HD30 to function as a DLNA digital media renderer, allowing access to music over a home network, and supporting AirPlay. Moreover it can also drive a power amp directly via its balanced and unbalanced analogue outputs. Full compatibility with high resolution file types, including DSD128, is offered and all are delivered with remarkable impact, sweetness and detail. It’s our first choice for enjoying the highest quality sound without the clutter.
While not the first headphones to boast on-board digital signal processing, this closed-back design has an ace up its sleeve. TruNote technology uses microphones located within the headphone capsules to automatically correct the frequency response for the ears of any listener. There’s also active noise cancellation, a choice of three sound modes and a built-in DAC fed by a micro USB input, also used to recharge the internal battery. Open and neutral sounding, with particularly impressive bass, the AKG N90Q gets closer than most to achieving loudspeaker-like sound. Game-changing technology often comes at a price, but if you want to take your private listening to the cutting edge, the AKG N90Q is well worth the cost.
Sonos’ intention to attract hi-fi enthusiasts has been realised in the sleek curves of the PLAY:5. It now combines six specialised drivers, including three tweeters and three mid-woofers, angled to produce a wider soundstage, and new and improved Class D amplifiers offering three times the power of its predecessor. Using Trueplay via the user-friendly Sonos-app, even non-experts can obtain a higher quality sound in acoustically challenging rooms, such as kitchens, while special orientation sensors enable the compact enclosure to be positioned horizontally or vertically. Sonos has become the byword for multiroom, wireless audio and in the PLAY:5 it has found a champion worthy of the acclaim.
With technology distilled from its high-end DACs, Chord’s pocket-sized yet hugely capable USB headphone amplifier comes in a milled-from-solid aluminium case, decorated with colour-coded controls. Battery-powered, all the Mojo’s digital processing and DAC functions are implemented in custom code rather than with off-the-shelf parts, promising compatibility with LPCM audio up to 768kHz and DSD up to DSD256. With expansion modules planned to accept SD card storage, Wi-Fi capability and a Bluetooth add-on for wireless connection, a better mix of versatility, sound quality and sheer value for money has yet to be found.
(Combined award with Mobile Expert Group)
Home entertainment enthusiasts are used to controlling multiple devices with multiple remotes, often leading to a frustrating experience. SPIN remote flips the control concept on its head with a revolutionary new design that favours simplicity over complexity. This sleek silver dome is packed with sensors so that it can detect motion, rotation, orientation and touch, allowing the user to take control using a series of gestures and movements. Via an intuitive smartphone app, different functions can be assigned to the controller depending on how it is held, making operation of your devices – TV, speaker system, smart lighting – way more fun than it has any right to be.
(Combined award with Home Theatre Video Expert Group and Home Theatre Audio Expert Group)
HOME THEATRE AUDIO EXPERT GROUP
HOME THEATRE VIDEO & DISPLAY EXPERT GROUP
PHOTOGRAPHY EXPERT GROUP
IN-CAR ELECTRONICS EXPERT GROUP
MOBILE DEVICES EXPERT GROUP
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