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2014 Consumer Excellence Award Winners

by July 08, 2014
2014 Consumer Excellence Award

2014 Consumer Excellence Award

2014 has thus far been a great year for progress in the A/V industry: HDMI 2.0 products have made their debut, and later this year A/V receivers boasting Dolby Atmos will be rolling out. Relatively speaking, the loudspeaker industry isn’t making incredible strides; however, incremental advancements are apparent, and with some manufacturers are offering advanced DSP correction and slick all-in-one solutions with built in amplification and wireless connectivity. Long story short, it’s a great time to be an A/V enthusiast. We’re getting more than ever for our hard earned dollars, and the trickle-down effect means that even entry level products are better than ever.

The prestigious Audioholics Consumer Excellence (CE) Awards program recognizes the most advanced and forward-thinking products in critical consumer electronics categories submitted for consideration by the industry's leading manufacturers. Awards are presented for products which serve consumers directly, as well as those which serve to improve the business and success of the custom installer. The CE Awards is a clear benchmark award for the products which will make an impact in 2014 and beyond. 

This year we received many excellent entries from all of the major manufacturers. This made the judging process challenging; however, some products naturally rose to the top.  Here are our winners for 2014 based on our criteria for judging.

Category: A/V Electronics


Source Device: Networking Blu-ray Player w/ 4K

Company: SamsungSamsung BD-H6500
Product: BD-H6500
MSRP: $209.99

Buy Now

Yes, the MSRP is $210, but Samsung’s BD-H6500 is really a $150 networking Blu-ray player. For that modest cost, you get UHD/4K upscaling, integrated WiFi, and a host of other useful features. The BD-H6500 comes with Samsung’s Smart Hub, allowing users to connect to a variety of online content including photos, videos, social media, and streaming services including Netflix. Great, we’ve described what quite a few Blu-ray players bring to the table. Fortunately, Samsung has one other neat trick up their sleeves, the SHAPE Multi-room system. SHAPE allows users to wirelessly stream content from the BD-H6500 to compatible speakers and displays in your home without the need for extra wires. If that doesn’t qualify as an advanced, forward thinking design, we’re not sure what does.

A/V Distribution: Wireless

Company: DVDODVDO Air3
Product: Air3
MSRP: $199.99

Air3 Review | Buy Now

DVDO’s Air3 is slick solution to your HDMI cable woes: as its name implies, the Air3 transmits an HDMI signal wirelessly, with an effective range of 10 meters. As you might imagine, Air3 doesn’t utilize run of the mill WiFi technology; instead of transmitting on the usual 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands, the Air3 is a WiHD 1.1 compliant device and operates at a whopping 60GHz. The benefits of this are twofold. There are very few devices operating at such a high frequency meaning minimal interference; more importantly, a higher operating frequency means the potential for greater bandwidth, in this case up to 4Gb/s. With that much bandwidth on tap, the Air3 is capable of passing up to a 1080p/60Hz signal without the need for compression. In addition, the Air3 is MHL compliant, allowing users to attach mobile devices as well as sources like Roku’s MHL version of their Streaming Stick.

Category: Displays


Portable LED Projector

Company: BenQBenQ GP20
Product: GP20
MSRP: $1,099

Buy Now

The BenQ GP20 is another case where the MSRP really doesn’t mean much; with a street price around $600 (just glancing at Amazon), the GP20 is made to be a lightweight (3.3lbs), compact, go anywhere projector. OK, let’s address the price tag: yes, this isn’t a high end home theater projector boasting 4K resolution and all the trimmings. In fact, the GP20 is limited to 720p resolution (though it can accept a 1080p input). If you can get past that limitation, there’s a lot to like here. The GP20’s 700 lumen LED lamp has a long rated life (20,000 hours in regular mode / 30,000 hours in economy mode). In addition, the system has fairly short throw ratio of 1.2:1, meaning you can project a 40” image from a mere 1 meter distance. We’d also note that the GP20 offers an MHL compatible HDMI input, allowing users to enjoy content from their mobile devices on a huge screen. Last but not least, the GP20 offers a wireless display option for PCs, Mac’s, and iOS, a pretty cool feature given the price.

LED Smart/Interactive TV

Company: SamsungSamsung UN55HU8550
Product: UN55HU8550
MSRP: $3,999.99

Buy Now

Yep, $3,999 is a load of hogwash. With a street price of ~$2,300 on Samsung’s website, it’s nonetheless clear that the UN55HU8550 is a relatively advanced LED display. With local dimming (called UHD dimming here), a quartet of HDMI 2.0 inputs, and Samsung’s Smart Hub for internet streaming services, the UN55HU8550 has everything you’d expect in a modern display. Of course there’s more: the Samsung offers full UHD/4K upscaling, a feature called “Clear Motion Rate 1200” to reduce motion blur, and “Wide Color Enhancer Plus” for a more vibrant picture. If all that sounds cool, you haven’t heard the best parts: this Samsung also includes voice control. If you like to pretend that you’re Captain Picard on the bridge of the Enterprise, the UN55HU8550 is your dream come true, allowing you to issue basic commands (“turn off”, “record”, or “last channel”) to control your display. In a similar vein, the display can also come with a camera accessory designed to recognize hand motions. This allows users to control the device (think of the hand motions used to control a tablet), as well as play games.

Category: Portable / Lifestyle


Bluetooth Speakers

Company: AperionAperion Allaire Bluetooth
Product: Allaire Bluetooth
MSRP: $399

Allaire Bluetooth Review | Buy Now

We’ve raved about Aperion’s Allaire Bluetooth speakers before: for $399, you get a very good set of active bookshelf speakers. Backed 50W of amplification per side, users can simply hook the Allaire Bluetooth set to a CD player, TV, etc. via an optical digital cable, and start listening. But wait, there’s more: these speakers offer a subwoofer output, meaning you can add a subwoofer from Aperion (or sub specialists like SVS, Power Sound Audio, and Hsu), and build a full range system; no A/V receiver or mess of wires necessary. Did we mention the Allaire Bluetooth can also connect to your mobile devices wirelessly, allowing you to stream music courtesy of a built in Bluetooth adapter? Yeah, it does that too. Whether you need high quality stereo system that can move from room to room, or you’re building a second setup for a den or bedroom, we can’t recommend this setup enough!

PC / Desktop Speakers

Company: Definitive TechnologyDef Tech Incline
Product: Incline
MSRP: $399

Incline Review | Buy Now

We’ll make a bold statement: by in large, computer speakers suck. Yes, there are a few exceptions, but those tend to have far more in common with bona fide bookshelf speakers you’d find in a conventional stereo rather than the junk you’ll find on the shelves of your local big box store. At first glance, you might write off Definitive Technology’s Incline desktop speakers as belonging to the latter category; you would be mistaken. Each speaker offers a 0.75” tweeter paired with a 4” mid/woofer, as well as a 1.5” full range driver on the rear panel. The low end is augmented by a 4” passive radiator, and helps the Incline achieve a low end response down to 45Hz (-5dB), which is quite good considering there is no outboard subwoofer. In terms of sound quality, we found the Incline to deliver superb imaging with minimal distortion at high output; the rear firing driver also helped achieve a room-filling sound lacking in so many cheap PC speakers. The small footprint also ensures the Def Techs will actually fit on your desk, unlike so many bookshelf turned computer speakers. 

Category: Speakers


High End Tower Speakers

Company: Legacy AudioLegacy Aeris
Product: Aeris
MSRP: $15,900

Legacy Aeris Preview | Buy Now

Legacy Audio’s Aeris isn’t your average loudspeaker for a variety of reasons. For starters, there’s the high end price tag of $15,900/pair. What does that princely sum buy you? Each speaker boasts a 1”x4” plus 1”x1” air motion tweeter/supertweeter, 8” open back midrange driver, 10” midbass driver, and dual 12” subwoofers powered by 1000W worth of ICEpower amplification. All of that hardware sounds impressive, and it is. However, the secret sauce to this system is the included 24 bit DSP system used to divide, time align, and contour the response to an individual room. Up to 8 bands of parametric EQ are available on each of the 8 outputs of the system, allowing the Aeris to fit your space like a glove. Needless to say, the end results are quite impressive; while we’ve not formally reviewed the Aeris, we have had opportunities to listen to this monolith, including at Capital Audiofest 2013. We found the Aeris presents huge dynamics, a low end thump that easily keeps up with some of the best subwoofers on the market, not to mention crystal clear sound. 

Bookshelf Speakers

Company: KEFKEF LS50
Product: LS50
MSRP: $1,499/pair

Buy Now

KEF’s LS50 monitors make an incredible promise: flagship sound for the reasonable sum of $1,500. That’s no small statement for a company that has non-flagship offerings that run into the five figure range. How do they do it? KEF starts with their famed UniQ concentric driver, in this case a closely related variant of the model used in the Blade. Add in an overbuilt, vented enclosure, and you’ve got a recipe for excellent sound at an affordable price. Of course, such a system has obvious limitations: the LS50’s aren’t made to dig deep, and will require a subwoofer for full range performance. Customer’s browsing through KEF’s website might also notice there are no pictures available of the LS50 with a grill: none are offered. If the lack of a grill doesn’t bother you, and you’re OK adding in a sub or two like the recently reviewed SVS SB13-Ultra, you can have performance that approaches that of the $30,000 KEF Blade for a small fraction of the price. Not a bad deal in our books.

Sub/Sat System

Company: NHTNHT Super Stereo
Product: Super Stereo System
MSRP: $600

NHT Super Stereo Review | Buy Now

Are you looking to build a compact 2.1 system for a small room or apartment? Do you not have thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars to spend on such a luxury? The folks at NHT have you in mind with their Super Stereo system. The Super Stereo pairs NHT’s legendary SuperZero monitors with their Super 8 subwoofer to create a full range setup. As you might gather from reading (or watching) our review, we found sound quality to be phenomenal, particularly when accounting for the budget friendly price (which we’d also note is currently $499.99 directly from NHT). As you might expect given the size and price, these speakers aren’t going to deliver ear bleeding output, particularly in larger spaces. However, paired with an entry level A/V receiver, the Super Stereo makes an excellent starter system that you can build on. Want surround sound? Another $300 will net you an extra trio of SuperZero speakers, giving you 5.1 channels of sound for less than $1,000.


Company: SVSSVS PB2000 SB2000
Product: 2000 Series
MSRP: $699-$799

2000 Series Review | Buy Now

SVS has been one of our favorite subwoofer companies for a long time. While their products may not always offer the most dB for the dollar, they always offer linear response, low distortion, and solid deep bass output. All of this is delivered without making unwanted noises, i.e. rattles, substantial port chuffing, and obvious signs of driver strain when driven to the limits. Moreover, all SVS products are backed with a 5 year, bumper to bumper warranty,free shipping and a generous 45 day return policy by a company that has been in business since the 1990’s. The big ported PB2000 and compact sealed SB2000 are the latest additions to SVS’ stable. Both models sport a 12” driver motivated by 500W RMS of amplification. Rated frequency response suggests both models offer subterranean extension, with the SB2000 digging down to 19Hz and the PB2000 plumbing the depths down to 17Hz. After a bout of testing, the PB2000 achieved the Bassaholic Large Room certification (good for a room 3,000-5,000 cubic feet), while the pint sized SB2000 walked away the with Bassaholic Medium room certification (good for a room 1,500-2,999 cubic feet).


About the author:
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Steve Munz is a “different” addition to Audioholics’ stable of contributors in that he is neither an engineer like Gene, nor has he worked in the industry like Cliff. In fact, Steve’s day job is network administration and accounting.

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