THE BEST OF STEREONET UK APPLAUSE AWARDS 2018
It has been quite a 12 months for the inaugural outing of StereoNET UK. We have had both the pleasure and the honour of reviewing over 30 individual hi-fi components; however, only a small fraction have received the revered StereoNET Applause Award.
It has been a remarkable year (or 9 months for this long-haired editor), and the amount of support we have had from retailers, brands and distributors has been fantastic. Let me take this opportunity to thank you all. That support has enabled us to review some incredible products, including a few exclusives. Even though we have been truly overwhelmed by all the support, not to mention speakers, amps, headphones, DACs, turntables, etc. that we have been sent to review, we do not merely hand out awards as a way of promotion. We only present the Applause Award to those items that genuinely blow us away.
To that end, here is a recap of the chosen few that the StereoNET UK team felt were exceptional, outstanding and generally remarkable.
Applause Award 2018 Amplifier
Leema Pulse IV integrated
At a shade over £2,000 the Leema Pulse IV certainly has a lot going for it. Firstly its hand-crafted build quality is faultless. Then you have its dazzling array of inputs, both analogue and digital. The DAC is impressive, and Bluetooth is a handy inclusion for those who need it. However, for me, the star of this show is the phono stage.
The Leema Pulse IV is a really great all-rounder (I even gave my aged TEAC cassette player a spin). Thanks to a solid performance in every arena and a sterling phono stage at an extremely reasonable asking price, it was deemed worthy of a StereoNET Applause Award.
For more information, go to Leema Acoustics.
Applause Award 2018 Audio Streamer
Bluesound Node 2i
The Bluesound Node 2i is a hugely enjoyable and highly capable player in a small attractive package which is likely to remain relevant for many years to come.
Considering its price versus performance and features, trying to find fault with the Node 2i would be akin to expressing disappointment at your 10-year-old child because they only read at a 14-year-old level.
This thing is bound to convert many music fans into audiophiles, and they may not even know it until it’s too late.
For more information visit Bluesound.
Applause Award 2018 Portable Speaker
At a whole £140 cheaper than the KATCH (£330), it more than delivers and punches well above its weight. There's more than enough grunt to fill an ordinary room, and even more surprisingly, a bottom end that keeps up. Considering the durability, sound quality and output, battery life and price, we have no choice but to give the Tivoli Audio Andiamo our StereoNET 5-Star Applause Award.
For more information visit Tivoli Audio.
Applause Award 2018 Headphones
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless
After using Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless for two weeks, there is no doubt that this is the best product I’ve tested all year. They're a zero compromise In-Ear Monitor, which isn’t held back by the fact that it’s a wireless product. It offers a fantastic feature set, terrific battery life, and stunning looks. They are remarkably intuitive to use, all while delivering powerful, detailed and fast sound, with a programmable EQ to boot.
I never thought I could feel so strongly about a Bluetooth audio product, but it's finally happened.
Without hesitation, I put forward this review with the stamp of a StereoNET Applause Award, and give my strong recommendation for Product of the Year. I love it.
For more information visit Sennheiser.
Applause Award 2018 Turntable
The Prime turntable is magic. How else can anyone explain the sheer effortless way the Prime can perform so well at this price point?
There is a beauty to the way this record player is able to flow with the music and lets the artists do the talking on its behalf. I also find the design rather attractive but acknowledge this might not be to everyone's taste.
£4,200 is not exactly impulse-buying territory for most of us; however, I would confidently put the VPI Prime against any others in this price bracket, not to mention further up the ladder. Also, bear in mind that this price includes the tonearm where many others in this price range would require you to either supply your own or select an arm as an optional extra. Talking of extras, don't forget that there is an upgrade path to take too, should you want.
Add to all that the relative ease of construction and low maintenance, having all the tools needed to complete the task bundled in and something quite lovely to admire even when not being used. The VPI Prime is hard to beat, and that's why I give it the StereoNET Applause Award.
For more information, go to VPI Industries.
Applause Award 2018 Portable DAC/Amp
The iFi xDSD is a compact and highly portable DAC/amp solution that sounds as great as it looks (when polished). Its closest competitor, for me, just manages to edge it on pure sound quality but requires an additional module for it to go wireless.
The controls and indicators do take a moment to become familiar, but the xDSD easily found its way into my day-to-day life.
The iFi xDSD is flexible, performs excellently and has the look and feel of a premium product. If you are on the hunt for a portable headphone amp/DAC and wireless is a must-have feature; the xDSD is, well, a must have.
The iFi Audio xDSD is available now for £399.
For more information, head on over to iFi Audio.
Applause Award 2018 DAC
Chord Electronics Qutest
The Chord Electronics Qutest proves that good things do, indeed, come in small packages. All of a sudden, the £1200 asking price seems very reasonable. I love the industrial design of the Qutest, and the filters proved usable rather just a neat gimmick. I tended to stick with the Incisive Neutral but occasionally went warmer especially for earlier ripped acoustic tracks.
The Chord Qutest DAC floored the one in my Musical Fidelity amp, as well as my little Arcam. Those weren't big surprises, to be honest, given the age of my amp (tech moves fast) and the price point of the Arcam. However, my Oppo UDP-205 was also shaken. One of the reasons for me upgrading to the 205 was its DAC section. There were some tracks when streamed that the Qutest showed the 205 a clean pair of heels. However, the 205 managed to pull things back in other cases.
The overwhelming takeaway from my time with the Qutest is that it has a wonderfully organic presentation and musical ability that would be hard to beat at this price.
The Qutest not only proves Rob Watts’ prowess once again but Chord's ability to make something so small sound so good.
The Chord Electronics Qutest DAC is available now for £1,195.
For more information, head on over to Chord Electronics.
StereoNET UK 2019
Now that we are in a brand new year I am excited to see what new equipment is introduced, what new standards of performance are achieved, if any new brands are announced and, perhaps more importantly, what new ways to entice newcomers to hi-fi appear that will get them just as hooked as we all are here.
Happy new year and see you at a show soon!
StereoNET UK’s Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He’s captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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