Welcome to our first Awards in several years. The audio world went through some fairly radical changes in the last few seasons, and we felt it was so fast moving that to give a product an Award in a category that might not be relevant two months later serves no purpose to anyone. And, if we are being truly candid about such things, the volatile financial world had such an impact on high-end audio for a few years, we felt it was best to let things ‘settle’.
While the audio world is still very fluid, it does look more ‘predictably defined’ today. The ‘battle’ between DACs and streamers, for example, was raging two years ago and that meant products came and went very quickly in both categories. However, that battle (such as it was) ended in a draw and both DACs and streamers remain entirely relevant. As a result, they have both stayed on the shelves for longer now. Even the digital disc player – the end of which looked distinctly nigh just a year ago – is proving more resilient than anyone expected. But this means any awards in audio result in a lot of categories as we need to cater for everything from classic vinyl to innovative downloading services.
Having a hiatus in our awards does pose a problem, though. There are some great products that were launched in the last few years that remain relevant and worthy of an award, but how do we reconcile them with the constant cry of ‘what’s new?’ This is why we decided to move our awards issue from the usual spot of mid-way through the Autumn of each year to the first issue of the year. That way, our Products of the Year, are just that: products we have seen throughout the previous year, which we feel to be exceptional. In this particular case, however, we have simply extended the time-line back to include products we’ve seen in the last few years, not simply the best of 2015. Over the next two weeks, we will showcase all the best products we’ve seen in each category, starting today with source components.
There is an important rule with awards that deserves repeating. These products may be the best engineered, the most important, or the best sounding products in their category that we have ever heard, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will automatically work together in a system. The importance of system building means that the best sounds may well come from a system that features award winning products, but simply vacuuming up the award winners in each section and assuming this will produce a great sounding system is, at best, naïve. Fortunately, this is unlikely with a high-end magazine like Hi-Fi+ because you would need some really deep pockets to buy all our Award winners! Nevertheless, not simply picking up a system made of Award winners is a good maxim to live by when reading any list of top-grade products.