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AVRev.com's Best of 2000 List  Print E-mail
Home Theater Feature Articles Best Of & Top 100 Lists
Written by AVRev.com   
Friday, 01 December 2000

A New Format
For the year 2000, we decided to list the best gear we have reviewed in each category of audio/video product. This includes not only the best products reviewed in 2000, but also in past years as well as long as they are still currently in production. The idea is to give you, the AudioRevolution.com reader, a comprehensive list of gear you need to see and/or hear before you plunk down the Platinum card.

BuyUltimate Loudspeakers (Over $10,000)

Revel Studio
$9,995 per pair – Bryan Southard flipped for these speakers made by Madrigal, complete with the R&D and budget of Harman International, makers of JBL and Infinity. The Studios have a warmer sound but are not as quick as the comparably-priced Wilson CUB IIs. The industrial design is excellent and the speaker is a fully integrated product that needs no stands.


Wilson CUB II
$10,000 per pair including stands – reviewed by Bryan Southard, the CUB IIs are much improved over the CUB Is, with both a new cabinet and better stands. The price has increased quite a bit as well. Southard liked how fast the CUB IIs responded, especially in the bass frequencies. While CUB IIs won’t go as low as many speakers priced at $10,000 per pair, they are very resolute and have much of what AudioRevolution.com publisher Jerry Del Colliano likes in WATT Puppies at half the price.

Wilson WATT Puppy v6.0
$20,000 per pair – Controversially reviewed by Jerry Del Colliano as the best speakers money can buy, Wilson WATT Puppies were completely redesigned for version 6, with new cabinet materials, better drivers and a stunning finish. With 92 dB efficiency, the beautiful Wilson Gloss paint process and a relatively small footprint, WATT Puppies make it into many true high-end audio and theater systems when other great speakers can’t.

High End Loudspeakers ($2,000 to $10,000)




API Athena $4,200 for 5.1 system
Reviewed by Brian Kahn, the Athenas are a new product offering from API, the Canadian manufacturers of Energy and Mirage. Kahn noted the Athena’s flexibility in configuration. The smaller speakers interlock with larger powered subwoofers, allowing the user to configure the system to exactly fit the needs of a specific environment.

Evett and Shaw Elan
$2,000 per pair – If you are like our publisher, Jerry Del Colliano, you spend 10 hours a day in your office. However, your best audio gear is most likely at home. Evett and Shaw makes a tiny nearfield monitor designed for desktop environments that are something special. Finished to match your desk or computer, Elans sounds as good as they look. They are also well-paired with the matching Flatte Design 50 amplifier, which is equally as beautiful.




Martin Logan Request
$4,500 per pair – Reviewed by Jerry Del Colliano, the Martin Logan Requests are hybrid electrostatic dynamic loudspeakers that are noted for their impressive midrange reproduction. There really is no match for an electrostatic loudspeaker’s ability to reproduce the large majority of musical information. It is also undeniable that dynamic drivers resolve low-frequency material without equal. The Requests benefit from both technologies.





Martin Logan SL3
3,400 per pair – Reviewed by Bryan Southard, the Martin Logan SL3s were his personal reference loudspeakers for over three years. Southard made special note of the SL3’s ability to reproduce live music with excellent detail, thanks to Martin Logan’s electrostatic panel technology.




Martin Logan Scenario
$2,100 per pair – Reviewed by Michael Fuschi, the Martin Logan Scenario is one of the best speakers we have found anywhere near $2,000. While the bigger Martin Logans benefit from having larger electrostatic panels, the Scenarios have the ability to wow you with how well they can reproduce live music.




Meridian DSP 5000
6,950 per pair – Kim Wilson reviewed these digital, powered loudspeakers. Complete with DACs, 75-watt amps and its own control system, Meridian takes the idea of the loudspeaker into the 21st century. Very well suited for DVD-Audio and home theater applications, the Meridian DSP 5000s are a high-tech dream come true.

Loudspeakers Under $2,000




Dynaudio Audience 40
$699 per pair – Dyn Audio, known more for supplying drivers for speakers like Cello’s Stradivari Series and Wilson WATT Puppy V6.0, make a set of speakers for the masses with the Audience 40s.




Energy e:XL 28p
$1,250 per pair and up for 5.1 system – Canadian loudspeaker maker API went all out to pack a powered sub in this sleek, floor-standing speaker. Tony Kaklamanos was a fan of the sweet highs and fast bass – characteristics usually reserved for speakers costing five times the price of the Energy.




Monitor Audio Silver Four
$840 per pair – Using their C-CAM (Ceramic Coated Aluminum Magnesium alloy), Monitor Audio packs a lot of high-end sound into a bookshelf loudspeaker. Kim Wilson noted the Silver Four’s ability to warmly resolve acoustic stand-up bass.




Paradigm Phantom
$399 per pair to $1,405 for 5.1 – There are many cheap speakers on the market and most of them are just that - cheap. Paradigm Phantoms are speakers priced for most people just getting started with home theater, but they have enough high-end performance so that anyone wise enough to invest in Paradigm speakers will get hooked on hotrodded sound.




Paradigm Studio 80's
$1,500 to $1,800 per pair, depending on finish – Second from the top of Paradigm’s reference speaker lineup, the Studio 80s are floor-standing speakers that compete with other transducers costing double the price. Kim Wilson noted that the optional finishes were well worth the price and made these affordable speakers look even better.

Subwoofers

Monitor Audio ASW 210 subwoofer
$999 – 200 watts of power, C-CAM technology and a moderate price tag make this British sub worthy of consideration for music and theater playback.


Sunfire Signature Subwoofer
$1,895 – This subwoofer is the pinnacle of Bob Carver’s recent patented work. In true Carver form, Bob gets an incredible 2700 watts from the internal amp inside the True Sub Signature through his Tracking Down converter design. The real draw to the sub is the fact it is small and really rocks. Del Colliano uses a pair of these subwoofers with $20,000 per pair Wilson WATT Puppy v6.0 loudspeakers.

Sunfire True Subwoofer Jr.
$895 – This is the smallest of the Sunfire True Subwoofers, at a diminutive nine inches cubed. It benefits from all of the technologies of the (only slightly) bigger Sunfire subs, but has a smaller price tag. Some use two Jr. Sunfire woofers in a stereo pair, as opposed to a single larger one to get better coverage in a listening environment, especially a large room.

Power Amps

Anthem Amp 2
$1,795 – Anthem gives its amps and its customers the white glove treatment with this half-tube, half-solid state amp. Unlike most mid-priced tube amps, the Anthem really puts out with a power rating of 165 watts per channel. It can also be bridged to mono to get as much as 600 watts in that channel. While not the most high-end amp we’ve reviewed, the Anthem is a fave among the entire AudioRevolution staff for its sweet highs, power output and value pricing.


Audio Research VT100
$4,999 - Bryan Southard’s former reference amplifier, the Audio Research makes up for its (dare to call it ugly) utilitarian looks with the sweetness of tube power. When paired with electrostatics, a VT 100 can take you to sonic heaven.

Krell FPB 600
$12,500 – The Krell FPB 600 has the best bass we’ve ever heard on any amplifier at any price. The FPB is a very critical amp that can also err on the side of clinical. It is an incredible amp for rock ‘n’ roll, even on speakers so demanding that they make other so-called high-current amps explode.


Krell KAV 300I
$3,000 - The idea of an integrated amp fell out of favor at some point in the late 1980s. However, it is still a very viable solution for many music fans who want to minimizes costs and maximize performance. The Krell packs in 150 watts per channel with the type of bass impact you’d expect from this brand. The KAV 300I also comes with a good remote and an optional tuner.


Magnum Audio MF 160
$750 – Michael Fuschi commented that, at $2,000 each, the Magnum amp and preamp were worthy of consideration. At $750, the Magnum MF 160, designed by one of the founding fathers of Rega, is a steal.

Mark Levinson No. 336
$9,995 – This is Del Colliano’s reference amplifier. With 350 watts per channel, it can drive any speaker, but its mild-mannered excellence is what Del Colliano likes best. While some amps shine more brightly in select categories, the No. 336 excels at everything.

Proceed HPA2
$3,250 - Kim Wilson uses the Proceed HPA2 as her reference amp, powering everything from Revel F30s ($3,500 per pair) to any number of other speakers. While a Proceed amp will never be a Mark Levinson amp, it does share many design traits and sonic characteristics. Proceed is apparently being marketed as a home theater-oriented line. However, the Proceed HPA 2 is a very capable high-end stereo amp with a much more realistic price tag than some of its bigger Mark Levinson brothers.


Pass x350
$9,000 –Southard feels that the Pass Labs X350, designed by legendary high-end wizard Nelson Pass, competes well with some of the bigger and more expensive amps from Levinson and Krell.

Sharp SM-SX100
$12,500 – Wilson loved this Class D digital amplifier. While it is pricey, it shows a new look in a traditionally stale field of audio design. With DVD-Audio a reality, an integrated, big-dollar Class D amp may make sense for those looking to keep it simple and sounding sexy.

Sunfire Signature Amp
$3,000 - Bob Carver takes the Signature part of his Signature amp very seriously in that he personally signs the faceplate of each amp. The Signature amp features Carver’s Tracking Down converter technology to output incredible amounts of power. The Signature amp sounds as close to tubes as Del Colliano has heard in a solid state amp, without any of the hassles involved in owning a tube amp.

Sonic Frontier Power II
$5,000 – As a guitar player, Del Colliano knows tubes, yet this was the first audio tube amp that made him really fall in love. Tube amps may not have the weight in the low end that a comparably-priced solid state amp has, but tubes do have an aural appeal that is undeniable. Somehow tubes highlight harmonics and frequencies that excite emotions. For a perfect example, try a Power II with Wilson CUB IIs on Dark Side of the Moon.

Five-Channel Amps

Anthem MCA5
$1,395 – Unlike most other Anthem amps, the MCA5 is not a tube or tube-hybrid design. It is rated at 200 watts times five and has many of the sonic characteristics of Anthem and its bigger brother, Sonic Frontiers. They are all ready to go for home theater and 5.1 music.


Outlaw Audio Model 750
$1,099 – Outlaw sells this five-channel amp direct, thus cutting much of the distributor margin out of the retail price. At $1,099, the Outlaw Audio’s 165 watts x five channels is a serious bargain.

Proceed AMP5
$4,995 – While it is far from inexpensive, the AMP 5 is a great solution for home theater, with good upgrade paths. Proceed has much of the Mark Levinson sound without all of the impact and control found in the big Levinsons. The AMP 5 can be used along with more high-end amps and can be bridged to give extra power to the center channel in order to keep up with, say, a Mark Levinson No. 336.

Proceed HPA2 - HPA 3
$3,250 and $4,750 – Coupled together, the HPA2 and HPA 3 are far more powerful than a Proceed AMP 5 at over 250 watts per channel. While this system uses two chassis to house five channels of amplification, they are very well sonically matched to provide lots of power specifically for home theater and 5.1 audio application.

Rotel RB 976
$600 – With 60 watts per channel, the Rotel RB 976 is a great upgrade for someone making the move from a receiver-based theater to a more high-end setup. Priced at $600, this Rotel amp makes it hard to lose.


Sunfire Cinema Grand
Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature
$3,500 – This Bob Carver design is one of the best five-channel amps ever built. Despite its significant (though not astronomical) price tag of $3,500, the Cinema Grand Signature, with its incredible 405 watts x five channels, has won over many a fan. The Signature amp has a warm tube-like feel with the power of a V12 engine behind it. Of course, as a Signature Edition, each Cinema Grand has a faceplate personally signed by Carver.

AV Preamps

ADA Cinema Reference
$8,000 - Kim Wilson noted that while the remote for the ADA redefined clunky, the sound was stellar. A great deal of attention went into the goods under the hood on the ADA Cinema Reference.

Proceed AVP
$4,995 – At its price point, the Proceed leads the others with great-sounding DACs and processors, along with software upgradeable feature sets that can be downloaded from the Internet.

Sunfire Theater Grand II
$3,200 – The Sunfire Theater Grand II has all-new circuitry, making it different from the first version. It is an audio preamp first, with Sunfire’s tube-like sound and many of the latest features and inputs needed for a modern home theater.

Theta Casablanca
$5000 to $12,000 plus – While the Casablanca was plagued by numerous technical problems, it was the first AV preamp to execute on the mainframe design concept. The Casablanca’s glitchy performance is made up for with excellent sound and phenomenal upgradeability, even though many of the cards promised, like a z-systems digital EQ and a line doubler, were never made. A Casablanca could be the heart and soul of a big-gun theater.

Receivers

Onkyo TX-DS989
$3,199 – With 24/96 DACs, THX EX for 7.1 surround and 130 watts per channel, this Onkyo receiver is good enough to return Onkyo to its roots as the high-end leader for affordable AV electronics. It is also ready for DVD-Audio today, when all only the very best AV preamps can make that claim.

Rotel RSX 965
$1,200 – Many of the Japanese electronics firms don’t focus as much attention on sound as Rotel does. With 75 watts per channel and a boatload of goodies, the RSX 965 can cut it in any music lover’s theater.


Yamaha RXV1
$3,100 – With nearly every feature you can imagine packed into one chassis, the RXV1 is a do-it-all receiver, complete with 110 watts x eight channels. It has digital EQ, a host of surround effects and more. For many, it is a better choice than separate components.

CD Players - Digital

Audio Research CD2
$3,495 – With 20-bit DACs and a design that looks about as bad a George W. Bush suit, the CD2 isn’t sexy, but it is built to reproduce warm, engaging music from a CD.

Mark Levinson No. 39
$6,500 – This CD player offers analog and digital inputs, 20-bit DACs and digital volume control, which makes it an excellent front end for an integrated audio system. Just add speakers and an amp and rock. The No. 39 has a beefy remote and a killer CD drawer mechanism, much like what you’d expect from a B&O product with sound you’d expect from a Mark Levinson component.


Sonic Frontiers Processor 3
$6,999 – A handful of AudioRevolution.com reviewers think this is the best DAC made. With 20-bit DAC chips and a tube output stage, the Processor Three disproves many critics’ claims that the CD format is necessarily shrill and bright.

DVD Players

Camelot Roundtable
$3995 – The Roundtable has practically every technology Camelot (and others) make, all packed into one case. It is called Progressive because the Roundtable has a DvDo line doubler built right inside the unit. The DACs are excellent, and the Roundtable makes for a great CD player as well. Built far better than the Theta DaViD, the Roundtable gives high-end theater some relevant, high performance features.

Konka KD1800
$199 – For the price, the Konka DVD player is a winner. It has many of the bells and whistles of more expensive units without the higher build quality. For many, that may not matter. With Korean workmanship, the Konka is a steal.

Video

Vidikron Vision One
$50,000 - The Vision One is the king of CRT projectors. With nine-inch guns, auto convergence and the sexiest color-matched case, the Vision One is a projector that inspires lust. The colors are luscious and rich, while the depth of field is second to none. There are other digital video technologies pending, but right now, a Vision One can still blow your mind.

Pioneer PDP-501m Plasma
$20,000 - To date, the Pioneer 50-inch plasma monitor is the best one made. The extra eight inches of screen size makes a big difference compared to a 42-inch screen, especially for non-stretched NTSC 4x3 video. The Pioneer is the largest plasma screen on the market, yet it is also the thinnest. We recommend a Faroudja line doubler with a Pioneer Plasma for video switching and progressive scan performance. It is far more reliable than a CRT and much easier to place in a room.

Runco DTV 991 – SC 4200
$50,000 - Runco’s nine-inch CRT & quadrupler is about as good as it gets. We’ve seen the DTV 991 light up incredibly huge screens at tradeshows with astonishing brightness. While not quite as physically sexy as the Vision One, the Runco may have the edge for brightness.

Sony PFM 500 Plasma
$9,000 – Far less expensive than the Pioneer 50 inch, the Sony Plamsa benefits from all of the advantages of plasma, but suffers from some off-axis viewing issues, as well as a fault of nearly all plasma, a lack of strong black levels.


Sony 36XBR200
$2,500 – The new version will be HDTV-ready, but this XBR TV set is still the best going on the market. It has a huge WEGA flat screen, along with all of Sony’s best electronics and comb filtering. Using the Sony menus can get the 36 XBR singing in ways that can only be dreamed of by many sets or projectors costing many time more.

Personal TV (PTV) and Other AV Sources

Escient Tunebase 2000I
$2500 estimated – The Tunebase 2000I pulls more tricks than a Heidi Fleiss girl at the Peninsula on a Saturday night. You can organize a huge CD collection, download cover art, song lists, lyrics and more. The interface can be on screen or on your touch screen remote. Really trick multi-room systems can access thousands of CDs in color in every room right on a Crestron control pad.


Lansonic DAS-750
$600 to $2,200 – Depending on how many MP3s you have, the Lansonic can help you organize and play them on your music or multi-room audio system with ease.

Panasonic Showstopper with ReplayTV
$499 – VCRs suck. PVRs are far superior and the Panasonic Showstopper is the best of short list of contenders. TiVo may be a bit easier for the layman to use, but ReplayTV gives you more record time and more special features.

TiVo
$399 to $499 – TiVo is friendly and easy to use, but its service fee-based system is hard to justify. We recommend you prepay the one-time service fee, which makes TiVo about the same price as ReplayTV. TiVo makes it easy to record all of your ‘Simpsons,’ ‘Three Stooges’ and/or the occasional visit to channel 597.

RCA DTC 100 HDTV DSS receiver
$699 – Not only is the RCA DTC 100 the best way to pull your HBO, Showtime and Discovery Channel from the dish in HDTV, it is one of the best tuners for a terrestrial antenna. Sony has been promising a HDTV receiver for over six months, but none have been released. The DTC is already here and it looks like the real deal.

Sega Dreamcast
$150 – This is a game system that looks and sounds killer in a good home theater. The Dreamcast has a whole host of games that are fun, at least for a while.
While the Sony Play Station II practically impossible to find, the Dreamcast is widely available.

Remotes
Philips Pronto
$399 – This is the best remote made, as for $399, it jumps through hoops and still fits in one hand. It has hard buttons for channel and volume that can be programmed to control the features of different components, depending on what input you have selected. The Pronto is best programmed with a PC and won’t do all of the tricks of a big boy control system like PHAST or Crestron. It is IR-controlled rather than RF-controlled, which isn’t as cool, but for $399, you can toss all of the crap remotes you got with your gear – the Pronto is that good.

AC Power

Monster HTS 3500
$399 – This power filter cleans up all sorts of AC garbage that gets between you and your system. At its price, it is a minimum requirement for those who don’t have private hydro-electric power plants in their backyards and/or the budget to be able to invest in a more pricey AC product.


Richard Gray's Power Company RGPC 400s
$750 – Using exclusive patented technology from the 1930s, the RGPC 400s is less of a power conditioner and more of a reserve of power for up to four components.

PS Audio P600
$2,225 – This power product is based around the idea of amplifying signals to improve the power for your gear. Reviewer Southard and many readers have raved about it. The PS Audio is physically large and has limits on how powerful an amp you can plug into it.

EQ (digital and analog)

Avalon 2055
$5,000 – This fully balanced, dual mono EQ is really a pro audio component and requires a solid understanding of how music is made to use. If you’ve got the ears, the Avalon 2055 can help you get the music in your system sounding better to your ears.


z-systems RDP-1
$5,000 – Not only can the z-systems rdp-1 pull of some amazing feats as a digital stereo EQ, it also upconverts your audio to dithered 24-bit audio output. This means your CDs sound far better with the added zeros and ones, while you have the digital bandwidth to either tune your room and or add flavor to your favorite music.

Accessories

SAS Checkpoint
$200 – Lots of people think they can set up speakers like nobody’s business. They’re normally wrong. You need the right tools. The SAS Checkpoint is used by the best pro installers out there. With a laser mechanism, the Checkpoint uses charts, graphs and laser pointing to help you calculate - not guess at - the best placement for your speakers in your room.


Camelot Technologies Crystal Vision VPS-1
$399 – What makes the Camelot Crystal Vision so good is its superiority to a Sony XBR set. The Crystal Vision is a very good comb filter that cuts way down on dot crawl and other nasty video noise.


Middle Atlantic equipment racks
$500 and up – Audiophiles get scared of rack-mounting gear, but it really is better for performance and results in a far sexier look. You do need to consider cooling issues before you rack ‘em, stack ‘em and pack ‘em. When you are done, you’ll wonder how you lived without it.

Two Channel Preamps

Anthem Pre2L
$1,299 – Brian Kahn noted the smooth sound and extremely good value in this Anthem preamp. A high-end tube amp has a special effect on music, and this Anthem Pre2L brings it home at a nice price.

Audio Research LS15
$3,500 with remote – The Audio Research LS15, AudioRevolution.com’s editor Bryan Southard’s reference preamp for the past year, is a big gun audio preamp without the astronomical price tag.

BAT VK40
$4,000 – AudioRevolution.com publisher Jerry Del Colliano noted that BAT left very little on the drawing board with this solid state audio preamp design. Know for their tube designs, the VK40 is a highly engineered, enthusiast product built to military standards which could last a lifetime.

B&K PT3
$598 – For less than $600, the B&K preamp is a breakthrough product that had Brian Kahn impressed. At the price, the PT3 is the type of product that can get you hooked on high-performance music systems.

AC Power

PS Audio P600
$2,225 – This power product is based around the idea of amplifying signals to improve the power for your gear. Reviewer Southard and many readers have raved about it. The PS Audio is physically large and has limits on how powerful an amp you can plug into it.





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