The Expert Imaging and Sound Association celebrates the year's most desirable hi-fi hardware
Welcome to the EISA Awards for 2018-2019.
For over 30 years EISA has been selecting the most innovative, cutting-edge products for its prestigious EISA Awards. The Awards are debated and voted upon by groups of specialist judging panels covering the full spectrum of consumer electronics and photographic products, including Hi-Fi, Home Theatre, In-Car Electronics, Photo, Video and Mobile Devices. Key to the success and relevance of the annual EISA Awards lies in the evolution of its categories, always reflecting the changing trends and technologies of the consumer electronics world. Moreover, the Association itself continues to evolve, recently welcoming new members from Australia, Canada, India and the USA.
To win an EISA award all products undergo a comprehensive multi-step judging process. Products are intensively tested at the facilities of individual EISA member magazines and are also presented at the Association’s annual Convention in Antwerp in May. Products that pass this stage already rank among the best in the world. The final deliberations take place at EISA’s annual Global Meeting in June where a democratic voting process establishes a consensus of excellence and determines the winning products. Unsurprisingly many of this year’s EISA Award-winning products in the Hi-Fi category were premiered – as World Exclusives – within the pages of Hi-Fi News.
To find out more about EISA, visit www.eisa.eu
With the record revival in full swing, more and more people want a simple, one-box vinyl solution. The Pro-Ject Juke Box S2 is precisely this, being an ‘active turntable’ with a phono stage, amplifier and Bluetooth built in. You can also buy the matching Speaker Box 5S2 speakers, or source your own. Ease of use is important for a product such as this, so a Pro-Ject cartridge comes pre-fitted and the arm is pre-aligned. Just remove the stylus guard, attach the drive belt and you’re ready to go. The sound is big and addictive, giving LPs old and new a fresh lease of life.
The latest iteration of Denon’s CEOL compact music system is the first with HEOS multiroom streaming built-in, making this cute little unit more versatile than ever. Despite a footprint less than the size of an A4 page, the CEOL N10 neatly bundles a radio tuner, CD player and a wealth of streaming options. Via the user-friendly HEOS app you can listen to music via popular music services, or stream your hi-res music over a network or from a USB stick. Alternatively, you can play your favourite tunes wirelessly via Bluetooth or AirPlay 2. Whatever the source, the Class D amplifier amazes with its powerful sound – something totally unexpected from such a small system.
Don’t be fooled by the gorgeous metal casework, for the Uniti Atom is more than just a pretty face. Its large top-mounted volume control is intuitive to use while the crisp looking, informative display makes accessing the Atom’s myriad functions easier. A streamer, DAC and preamp are all built-in together with the same gutsy power amplifier design seen in the company’s grown-up NAIT integrated amps. It’s extremely flexible with Google Chromecast, Tidal, Spotify Connect and Internet radio on board, plus AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth aptX HD. The accompanying Naim app is well thought out and easy to use, and allows for multiroom use. Smooth, detailed and dynamic, this is a super sounding small system.
One of the major downsides of having a decent hi-fi system in your home is the mess of cables that inevitably results. DALI has overcome this by producing the active Callisto loudspeakers that work with the company’s Sound Hub. Stable transmission at a high 96kHz/24-bit resolution gives great stereo sound without wires. The Callisto/Sound Hub system works seamlessly, playing from external sources such as a CD player, or streaming via Bluetooth aptX HD. Add the NMP-1 expansion card for total compatibility with the BluOS multiroom platform. Surprisingly easy to set up, you’ll soon be enjoying a thoroughbred musical performance thanks to the best driver technology that DALI offers.
Offering great performance at the price, the ND8006/PM8006 streamer/integrated amplifier combination plays pretty much any music format from any source. The ND8006 spins CDs and streams via AirPlay 2, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Deezer and more. Meanwhile, HEOS compatibility allows it to play in a multiroom set-up with matching products. It sports multiple digital inputs with 192kHz/32-bit conversion via an ESS DAC, and the unit is sprinkled with hi-fi goodies including Marantz’s selectable digital filters. The partnering PM8006 amp boasts 70W per channel, sports proprietary HDAM op-amps and a double-shielded toroidal transformer. A special mention goes to its exceptional phono stage. It’s a classic combination.
Products like this show just how far affordable hi-fi separates have improved of late. Yamaha’s R-N803D is a sophisticated stereo receiver, with careful attention paid to the shortness of signal paths to keep the purists happy. Yet it’s packed with features, including an ESS Sabre DAC for great sound and YPAO – Yamaha’s Parametric room Acoustic Optimiser – to assist in tailoring speakers to your listening room. With substantial power under the hood the R-N803D can drive most loudspeakers with ease, and has a detailed and precise sound that belies its price tag. Factor in Bluetooth connectivity, and Yamaha’s MusicCast streaming platform for Tidal, Spotify, Deezer and Qobuz, and it’s a veritable Swiss Army knife of amplifiers.
Primare’s industrial design speaks volumes in this stylish, slimline amplifier. Despite being just three-quarters the size of conventional separates, it punches way above its weight in sound and features. Alongside conventional analogue inputs, there’s a hi-res PCM/DSD DAC plus Prisma connectivity and control technology that includes Bluetooth, AirPlay, Spotify Connect and Chromecast functionality. It sounds surprisingly good for its size – super-smooth and creamy with detail aplenty and satisfying stage depth. The proven Class D power amplifier is meaty enough to drive most loudspeakers, while the fascia’s crisp OLED display keeps track of source and volume settings. Factor in the svelte alloy casework and the I15 Prisma makes great sense for those seeking something out of the ordinary.
To celebrate its 80th anniversary, Pioneer has unveiled this affordable integrated amplifier that exceeds expectations, thanks to an enticing combination of flexibility and smooth sound. With five line inputs, a moving-magnet phono stage and built-in DAC, the A-40AE will form the heart of a great budget system. With generous power on tap Pioneer’s ‘Direct Energy’ amplifier design comfortably drives most loudspeakers, and does so really sweetly. Sonically, its polished yet beguiling sound makes for a satisfying listen, setting up a wide soundstage that is given life by great dynamics. It’s an excellent first step on the hi-fi ladder.
One of the few true digital Class D amplifiers on sale, the sophisticated M32 integrated model uses NAD’s ‘DirectDigital’ technology to deliver a claimed 180W per channel. Combining pre- and power amplifier functions into a single amplifying stage, it’s both technically innovative and highly versatile. Furthermore, an optional BluOS module opens the doors to streaming and networked music playback, making it highly future-proof. Confident and assured, this amplifier sounds open, detailed and expansive – giving a panoramic feel to every piece of music it plays. With its touchscreen display and app control, it’s a breeze to use too, and the robust aluminium casework is as substantial as its sound.
Does the world really need another streamer? Perhaps not, but the Stream Box S2 Ultra offers so much more. Think of it as a powerful network bridge that routes your music from a multiplicity of sources. Just plug in a DAC and the Stream Box S2 Ultra plays music from a hard disk via its USB-A inputs, Bluetooth aptX and online streaming services such as Tidal, Spotify and Shoutcast, plus DLNA- or Wi-Fi-connected NAS drives. It’s Roon Ready and there’s also an HDMI video output. There’s also a handy control app for iOS and Android, and savvy users can even customise the system to their needs. Working at up to 352.8kHz/32-bit PCM and DSD256, it’s future-proofed, too.
Chord’s original battery-powered DAC/headphone amplifier was a hard act to follow, but the new Hugo 2 is a giant leap forward. Inside its ultra-modern aluminium case is a custom-coded digital converter and filter that sounds like nothing else around. Comfortably able to see off any conventional DAC at its price, it’s astounding for a compact music machine, with a vibrant and rhythmic sound. Whether with standard CD or hi-res PCM or DSD, music comes packed with energy and emotion. The Hugo 2 runs for 14 hours from its rechargeable battery, plays practically every format around, includes switchable filters and a uniquely colourful control interface that makes using it fun.
When Technics relaunched its iconic SL-1200 turntable three years ago, its brilliant build and superlative sound caused a sensation. This latest SL-1200GR version is designed to offer value-conscious vinylistas most of this in a far more affordable package. The updated version of the company’s legendary quartz-locked direct-drive system keeps better speed than a Swiss watch, and the deck’s aluminium base soaks up vibration like a sponge. The S-shaped tonearm is robust, a joy to cue and deserves a good pick-up cartridge. The result is a gutsy sound that’s solid as a rock, with bold images and plenty of detail. It’s a great way to spin your precious vinyl.
This Adante AS-61 may look understated, yet is actually anything but. Meticulous application of clever technology has given this attractive standmount speaker a surprisingly dynamic and powerful sound for its size. Designer Andrew Jones has achieved great performance from a novel cone/dome coincident driver array, with coupled-cavity bass loading via an auxiliary bass radiator. The result is a wonderfully panoramic soundstage, impressive depth perspective and a smooth tone from top to bottom. The Adante AS-61 is surely one of today’s boldest and most technically advanced new loudspeakers.
This innovative brand has been a powerful player in affordable speakers for a decade now, but the 3050i is arguably Q Acoustics’ best value product yet. More than just another box, this neat two-way, reflex design sports bespoke new drive units, with careful decoupling of the tweeter by a rubber suspension system. The sizeable cabinet has been extensively braced to reduce resonances, and there’s a clever internal ducting system to deliver a more linear bass. The result is a commanding sound with real scale and power – and it is delicate and detailed too. With a range of four attractive modern finishes, this is by far the best all round floorstander at the price.
Enjoying music at home has rarely been as stylish or as smart. Harman Kardon revives the legendary Citation name for this luxurious wireless speaker, adorned with a unique textile wrap from Danish design icons Kvadrat. It’s a pleasure to look at, but sounds pretty special too. The two-way speaker system with passive radiator creates the detailed, room-filling sound expected from Harman Kardon. The standout feature is the excellent integration of Google Assistant, allowing the Citation 500 to be controlled by voice commands. It also forms the heart of a smart home, employing the voice feature to control products compatible with Google Assistant or Chromecast.
Seventy-three years young, Sennheiser has long dominated the hi-fi headphone market – and the new HD 660 S shows just why. This modern rework of a classic open-back design is fashioned with great care, using hand-selected transducers and sturdy detachable cables. The earpads and headband feature thick padding and the HD 660 S is very comfortable to wear for extended periods. Moreover, it is hard not to like its warm, laid-back and friendly sound which bests the performance of many ’phones at twice the price. It’s a fine choice for home hi-fi enthusiasts, especially when treated to a high quality source.
Clear by name, clear by nature. This headphone delivers a wonderfully open and translucent sound thanks to clever design and excellent build quality. It may appear relatively expensive, but Focal has gone all out for greatness and succeeded. Like the company’s more affordable Elear and pricier Utopia models, the Clear’s dynamic drive units have a specially shaped diaphragm with a roll surround, optimising response while controlling any break-up modes. This makes for a crisp and insightful sound that’s fatigue-free yet boasts a particularly firm and animated bass. Factor in the sumptuous leather-covered earpads and headband, and this new design delivers hours of musical fun in consummate comfort.
The M-150 from Micromega’s M-One series is surely this year’s most intriguing new integrated amplifier. The slimline case comes in a wide range of colours, and is packed with handy features. Under the lid, a powerful DSP chip running custom code forms its beating heart while its ‘Micromega Acoustic Room System’ provides correction/equalisation for those who require it in less-than-ideal listening environments. Also inside is a robust 150W power amplifier cooled by a fan-assisted heat pipe system and aspirated by the company’s novel resonant power supply (RPS). The M-150 also offers a wide range of digital and analogue inputs, streaming, a binaural headphone amp and an MM/MC phono stage. But whatever your source, this amp sounds clean, punchy and fun.
With so many mobile audio products on the market, the pressure was on for iFi’s Audio’s new xDSD to sparkle – and so it does. This battery/USB-powered DAC/headphone amplifier turns your smartphone, laptop or portable player into a great-sounding music centre. The secret of its success lies in its combination of super-light magnesium alloy casework, useful S/PDIF and USB-A inputs, PCM/DSD-compatible DAC and punchy analogue output stage – the latter being far more powerful than before. Switchable digital filtering lets you choose between the smoothest frequency balance and the fastest transients. So while iFi Audio’s xDSD isn’t cheap, it exudes quality and is perfect for indulging in music on the move.
(Combined Award with Mobile Devices)
Want the latest issue of Hi-Fi News? Use our magazine locator link to find your nearest stockist!