2023 Audioholics Product of the Year Award Winners!
Introduction to 2023 Product of Year Selections
I am very thankful for the continued success of Audioholics which affords us the privilege to test a wide variety of today's best home theater and audiophile gear covering entry level to the absurdly expensive and high performance so we could present a range of options to meet your budgetary and performance goals. You will see a near tie in one product category that has never happened in our 24+ year history of publishing. You will also find some products at entry level prices that punch way above their weight class as well as some products that could literally tear your walls down, causing us to redefine our Bassaholic Room Size category to accommodate its awesomeness and badassery. The products chosen in this selection are based on long-term testing and/or formal reviews by our editorial staff. Some of the reviews will be published in 2024 so please check back on this article after the new year for updated links. Without further ado, here are our selections for Audioholics 2023 Product of the Year Award Winners!
Best AV Receiver
Denon’s flagship AVRs are the stuff of legend. Not since the days of the venerable AVR-5805 has Denon produced a beast worthy of the Super Receiver moniker. The 15.4 channel Denon AVR-A1H gets us there with a massive power plant consisting of a 25.4lbs E-Core transformer, 2 x 33,000uF power supply capacitors and a power rating of 150 watts/ch x 15. With 2CH driven, the power is even higher at around 175 watts/ch thanks to the reserves and the A1H has a 70% guarantee with up to 9CH driven. That's a whopping 105 watts/ch with 9CH driven. The AVR-A1H's 15 channels of on-board power, enabling the user to drive 15 speakers and 4 independent subs for a 9.4.6 speaker configuration without any additional/external amps. The Denon AVR-A1H is also the only AVR that supports both Audyssey MultEQ X PC and Dirac Live with DLBC and possibly Dirac ART in the near future. No other AVR on the market that we know of has this level of power and sophistication wrapped all into one box.
Best 2CH AV Receiver
Yamaha really upped their two-channel game for 2023. From the awesome 5000 series to the company flagship R-N2000A, these products all have two things in common, excellent craftsmanship and performance. The R-N1000A borrows much of the tech from its big brother, the R-N2000A, but in a more affordable package and appropriately scaled down build quality and internals, and sadly no VU meters. What the R-N1000A doesn't lack is features most competitors don't have in this price class including: HDMI eARC, bass management, MusicCAST music management and streaming capabilities, Apple Airplay2, bluetooth and more. The R-N1000A has a solid power platform with a large E-core transformer and dual heatsinks with a true 100 watts/ch (both channels driven, 8-ohms) and plenty of current for 4-ohm drive that most multi-ch AVRs in this price class simply can't compete with. The R-N1000A also sports a high-end 32-bit/384kHz ESS SABRE ES9080Q DAC to handle all of your high-resolution audio playback needs. If you're looking to add high performance audio to your HDTV but don't want the fuss of surround sound, the Yamaha R-N1000A is a great option. Stay tuned for our full benchtest report.
Best AV Processor
MSRP: $7500 ($6,375 on sale)
The AVM 90 is Anthem's best measuring and best sounding processor—ever. In the AVM 90 8K, Anthem finally delivered the worthy successor to its legendary Statement D2v. And its sound just blew us away.
A pair of ESS Sabre's flagship ES9038Pro 32-biit/768kHz DAC's grace the main channels and a pair of ES9038Q2M 32-bit/768kHz DACs are dedicated to the quad subwoofer outputs. ESS flagship DACs serve as heralds for the AVM 90's reference-grade audio chops. An upgraded six layer DAC board, upgraded voltage regulators, upgraded op amps, and 0.1% precision resisters reflect the audiophile-grade audio circuitry under the AVM 90's hood. The AVM 90 8K is designed precisely for that enthusiast who demands the best two-channel and immersive audio performance in a multi-channel processor.
Anthem's flagship 15.4-channel processor supports Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX enhanced, and eARC through its seven HDMI 2.1 inputs. It's built for streaming in any environment too with Apple AirPlay2, Chromecast, and Spotify Connect. That promised Roon integration? It remains on our Christmas wish list! Anthem's large display make it a joy to use versus the AV 10's porthole and pull down front flap.
Best of all, the AVM 90 8K comes standard with the full blown ARC Genesis Room Correction suite. ARC Genesis remains one of our favorites with its combination of raw power, ease of use, and the fact that it remains one of the few room correction solutions to operate at 192kHz.
You can create up to four calibration profiles and assign any of those profiles to the 30 virtual inputs available on the AVM 90. Moreover, ARC Genesis comes with all the tools you need to optimize your sound in a single interface. QuickMeasure instantly measures a speaker or subwoofer to optimize placement—and now you can compare measurements with and without ARC in real-time. A new phase tool will instantly set each subwoofer's optimal phase to the main speakers. And with the AVM 90, ARC will calibrate up to four subs independently. Finally, the upgraded ARC Genesis software lets you tweak the target curve with room gain, separate deep bass frequency targets, and even set a target curve tilt.
From its hardware to software, everything you need for reference-grade, mind numbing, two channel and home theater performance is included in the box—unlike the competition (that includes you AV 10) who compel you to spend hundreds more on software license upgrades and calibrated microphones to unlock peak performance.
Best AV Processor - Honorable Mention
Marantz really turned it up to volume 11 with their flagship AV 10 15.4CH AV Processor. It's shares a similar architecture as the Denon AVR-A1H minus the amp section but with fully balanced preouts and very strong clean output drive. The AV 10 is the ultimate HDMI 2.1 AV processor for the serious enthusiast or pro calibrator wanting to assemble a world class 15CH speaker system with 4 independent subwoofers. The AV 10 is perhaps the perfect processor for custom installers. It has more flexible configuration and tweaking options than the Anthem AVM90 thanks to Audyssey MultEQ-X PC and Dirac room correction systems (though you need to purchase those full licenses and calibrated microphones at extra cost). In fact, I was so impressed with how precisely I was able to tune the family room system in the AH Smarthome with Audyssey that it produced near perfect results after some manual tweaking that you just can't do to this level with Anthem ARC Genesis. Marantz also has the ability to pump LFE into your main speakers EVEN when you have active subwoofer channels. No other AV Processor on the market to our knowledge other than Storm Audio or Trinnov offer this feature. The AV 10 also has three zones to the AVM 90's two. Made in their premium factory in Japan, the Marantz AV 10 looks the part and has that pride of ownership build quality that will endure for many years to come. Marantz Amp 10 is the companion to the AV 10 and features 16 channels of high efficient, quality amplification with the option to bridge channels for more power.
Best Network SACD Player
The Marantz SACD 30n is a networking SACD player capable of delivering high-resolution playback performance of SACD and CDs while also serving as a networking streamer with USB DAC function and can even eliminate the need for a preamplifier if you use the variable outputs. The Model 30n produced excellent benchtest results that match the high quality sound that we heard in our listening tests. Anyone still spinning silver discs will want a reference player and the Marantz Model 30n is that player especially if you have a collection of audiophile grade SACDs. Marantz just updated their HEOS music management app so streaming just got that much easier and cooler on the Model 30n.
Best Compact Network Streamer
If you've tossed the sliver disc to fully embrace high-resolution music streaming, we think the Cambridge Audio MXN10 is the best-sounding in its price class for only $499. Don't let its diminutive size fool you. The MXN10 is compatible with UPnP, USB media, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Qobuz, Roon Ready, Airplay 2 and supports virtually every audio format including: ALAC, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, DSD (x512), WMA, MP3, AAC, HE AAC, AAC+, OGG Vorbis. Pair the MXN10 with Cambridge Audio's matching 200M DAC and you've got a handsome pair of hi-fi separates small enough to fit on a computer desktop but powerful enough to rock out your room when paired with a great pair of powered monitors like the RBH Sound 61/AX.
Best Infrasonic Subwoofer
RBH Sound’s Unrivaled 21-SF/R is a 370+ lbs. monster that uses a 21” carbon fiber driver with a 4" voice coil, 38mm XMAX and powerful neodymium motor structure powered by a 4,000 watt Class D amplifier with full DSP control. One unique aspect of the 21-SF/R construction is the G.A.D.S. system which stands for Granular Acoustic Damping System (patent-pending). This gives the enclosure incredible rigidity and damping to eliminate mechanical resonances and take full advantage of the superb driver. The enclosure is sealed for the very lowest group delay and best transient response and with room gain, we are seeing single digit bass response for true infrasonic playback. This bruiser is so powerful that it forced us to create a whole new category of performance for our Bassaholics room rating called Maximus.In fact, we are deeming this new RBH Sound 21-SF/R subwoofer the "Foundation breaker". Your neighbors will love you if you add this badboy to your system :-)
Best Reference Subwoofer - Honorable Mention
By now, Perlisten's THX Dominus-rated Reference series subwoofers should need no introduction. Their high performance, low distortion, and low group delay in dual-driver push-pull design have smitten home theater enthusiasts who want a subwoofer that can deliver the goods with movies and music. While the D215s is the best measuring subwoofer our own James Larson has ever come across, the D215's footprint is massive and makes it very difficult to manage in a domestic environment.
Compared to the D215s with it's dual 15-inch carbon fiber drivers, the D212s sports 12-inch carbon fibre drivers with the same low distortion, low group delay, and high performance found D215s—but in a smaller footprint and won't play as deep as the D212s. That in no way means that the D212s is a puny subwoofer. On the contrary, this subwoofer's performance is nothing short of reference. The Perlisten D212s needs to be experienced to be appreciated.
And here's the real secret. The D212s has both brawn and brains. The D212s comes with Perlisten's mobile app which gives you complete, granular control over just about every aspect of the sub's performance including three banks of 10 PEQ settings, phase and polarity, group volume control, and so much more to fine-tune the D212s into your setup. No other subwoofer comes close to the Perlisten's sophistication to fine tune it to your environment.
Audioholics' own Theo Nicolakis took four Perlisten D212s into his review setup and paired with the Anthem AVM90 8K with stunning results that shook even Shane Lee to his core. We're therefore giving the Perlisten D212s our honorable mention as the best reference subwoofer of 2023.
Best Budget Subwoofer
MSRP: $299.99 (includes shipping)
Audioholics reviewed a fair number of budget subs this year, but one stands out for the sheer power delivered at a very low price: the Monoprice SW-15. In our review, we found that few subs could touch its output potential even at twice the cost. It isn’t the prettiest sub, and it doesn’t have sophisticated features like app control, but when looked at in terms of SPL for the dollar, it has to be one of the greatest values of all time. We still don’t know how Monoprice can do this at a $300 price point. It was so powerful, we had to remeasure it in multiple sessions to make sure our testing equipment was working correctly. In order to attain its tremendous output, it does have to give up bandwidth, so it doesn’t dig very deep in frequency or have great high-frequency extension for a sub, but between 40Hz to 80Hz, it is an absolute riot. If you want to endanger the structural foundations of your home but are on a very tight budget, the SW-15 is the right subwoofer for you.
Best Bookshelf Speaker
A bookshelf speaker that we found to be a true delight this year was PSB’s Synchrony B600. At $2.8k a pair, they are not at all cheap, but they tick off all the right checkboxes for a great hi-fi sound system. They have a beautifully neutral sound with excellent low-frequency extension down to 40Hz which is astonishingly deep bass for their size. Their directivity indexes were ruler flat meaning that they should work well over a broader range of acoustic conditions than typical speakers, so they are not as picky about the room they are used in to sound good. The build quality is excellent - that is expected at its pricing, but it is still done well. And they hit a perfect aesthetic balance of looking upscale without being showy. The only point of criticism that we had for the B600s was the somewhat awkward binding posts, but that is a trivial shortcoming. Anyone currently looking for one of the most well-rounded pairs of hi-fi bookshelf speakers on the market should take a long look at the B600s.
Best Budget Powered Speaker
Kanto ORA Desktop Speakers | Review |
We at Audioholics only occasionally review desktop speakers, so when we do, we pick ones that really stand out as something special. That is certainly the case with the Kanto ORA speakers, a pair of powered desktop speakers that have DSP in all the right places. They are the first Kanto speakers to use active crossover filters, and that gives them very precise control over phase and frequency shape. The end result is a small speaker with a ruler-flat response and superlative directivity control. In other words, the ORAs maintain a highly accurate sound over a broad listening area. They have terrific low-frequency extension as well, especially for their diminutive size, and they hold a flat response all the way down to 60Hz (although the addition of a subwoofer is still recommended for real dynamics in bass). They can accommodate a USB Audio input, analog RCAs, and Bluetooth as well. Connecting them to a sub automatically engages a 100Hz crossover filter. They are just about an entire sound system in one small package; just add source. Their small size allows them to fit in small desktop spaces where wide monitors don’t leave a lot of room for speakers, so if you are looking for a way to maximize the audio footprint for the dollar, the ORAs are a great choice for the money.
Best Active Monitor Speakers
The RBH Sound 61/AX active speaker system has a lot of tech and performance packed into a compact package that can be deskmounted or placed on stands. The 61/AX in a 2-way design featuring RBH's legendary 6" aluminum cone midbass driver and 1.1" AMT tweeter. The system has built in amplification with 200 watts/ch to the tweeters and another 200 watts/ch for the midwoofer for total system power of 400 watts! The 61/AX are a fully active DSP controlled design with no degrading analog crossovers in the circuit paths. The RBH Sound 61/AX come preloaded with different DSP settings to optimize your listening experience depending on how you're using the speakers. The end result is dynamic sound quality as a nearfield monitor or as part of a hi-fi 2CH music system.
If you want to make this a truly full-range system with bass commensurate with the performance of the 61/AX Monitors, we recommend RBH Sound's new 12P-SF/R powered subwoofer. This subwoofer uses their signature reference 12” woofer with an 800-watt DSP driven amplifier and makes for a perfect 2.1 pairing.
Best Tower Speaker, Luxury High End Audio
Focal Scala Utopia EVO | Review | Buy
Featuring a pure, inverted dome, 1.1-inch Beryllium infinite acoustic loading driver in its own enclosure, a woven glass midrange woofer, and 11-inch bass driver, this three-way speaker sets a true reference standard for two channel music and home theater. The drivers in the Scala Utopia feature Focal’s “W” composite sandwich cone. The drivers are comprised of two sheets of woven glass tissue sandwiched onto a foam core. The composite driver has the lightness, rigidity, and dampening to provide control over the frequency response curve.
Each driver is housed in its own isolated enclosure. Each isolated enclosure is then angled and passively time aligned with what Focal calls "Focus Time."
Sized to the right room, the Scala's full range performance is so good and clean down to 26Hz that it will disabuse you from thinking about adding a subwoofer—and the Scala Utopia will outperform many stand alone subs.
The Scala Utopia's sweet spot is wide and precise and throws a huge stereo image. And with its 92dB sensitivity, it plays whatever you feed it effortlessly, with engaging dynamics, and absent any overt coloration—aka the sound of the "cabinet". If money is no object and you want to build your entertainment system around a true reference, then consider the Scala Utopia Evo for that foundation. Yes, Focal's Scala Utopia Evo really is THAT good.
Best Mid Price Tower Speakers
MartinLogan's Motion Series line underwent a significant upgrade from the previous series including a new waveguide and revamped drivers, add to this an aesthetically pleasing design and top-notch build quality, and you've got a pair of $4,500 speakers worth recommending. The XT F100s are a 3-way tower featuring a 1.25" x 2.4" Gen2 Obsidian Folded Motion XT tweeter, a 6.5" nomex reinforced Kevlar cone midrange with cast aluminum basket, and 3 x 6.5" aluminum cone bass drivers with cast aluminum baskets. The F100s are 4-ohm nominally rated impedance with 92dB sensitivity (2.83V @ 1 meter). The F100s are ported at the bottom of the cabinet with the bass drivers closely placed towards the floor to minimize ground bounce. We first heard the XT F100s at the MartinLogan Unveling event hosted by our friends at Audio Advice earlier this year and were completely floored by the great demo experience. Our own Matthew Poes got in a set for review and put them through his rigorous testing and determine, while not perfect in their measured response, the measured very well and most importantly performed musically at a very high level. I've heard these speakers again at Audio Advice Live 2023 and walked away with the same listening impressions. The MartinLogan F100s are as gorgeous to look at as they are to listen too. They go down as my personal favorite pair of speakers at under $5k/pair for 2023.
Best Tower Speaker - Honorable Mention
The decision for the tower speaker product of the year was not an easy one, especially having covered the Philharmonic Audio BMR HT Towers. The BMR HT Towers make a strong case for themselves with their dead-accurate response, beautifully controlled dispersion, and state-of-the-art drivers. We felt like the F100’s deeper bass extension and possibly wider dynamic range may give it an edge, but mostly for systems without subwoofers. However, we have to acknowledge that a lot of people already have subwoofers or don’t have to look far to get a good one, and in that case, it becomes more difficult to argue for the F100 or many other tower speakers in the same price class as the BMR HT Tower. It doesn’t hurt that the BMR HT Tower is not a huge floor-standing speaker and looks stylish as well. So while the Philharmonic BMR HT Tower didn’t quite net our product of the year for tower speakers, it may well be yours if you give them a listen.
Best Home Theater Projector
JVC has done it again. Technically speaking, we would give the nod for the absolute best home theater laser projector to JVC's flagship DLA-NZ9. Its industry-leading tone mapping, 3000 lumen output, BLU-Escent laser light source, 8K e-ShiftX, clear motion drive, 4K/120 low latency, broad HDR support—including HDR10+, and auto calibration make it a sure-fire winner.
But the NZ9's asking price soars into the super-heavyweight category of home theater projectors at a whopping $26,000.
Now here's the secret: JVC's next model down, the DLA-NZ8 (RS3100) specs in at 2400 lumens output, sports a 65mm all glass lens, and comes with every aforementioned technical feature found in the NZ9 for an MSRP that's $10,000 less!
Not to be outdone, JVC continues to offer improvements to the projector's performance. On November 15th, JVC launched firmware 3.0 which now allows you to adjust the laser light source's output can be finely adjusted to the environment and user preference from 1-100. The update likewise upgraded the NZ8 to JVC's second generation Frame Adapt with improved Dynamic Tone mMapping for HDR images with high peak white information.
We can tell you first-hand that the JVC DLA-NZ8's picture quality is stunning in a moderately-sized home theater. Does that make the NZ8 the perfect "goldilocks" projector on the market today? We think so and we're giving it our nod for 2023 Projector of the year.
Best Budget Wireless Headphones
The legendary UK speaker company made its first headphones over a decade ago and has been filling a niche in wireless hi-fi headphones almost as long. When the company launched its most recent round of wireless Bluetooth headphones featuring the aptX Adaptive codec for increased resolution sound, it demonstrated that its a seasoned veteran status for polished new headphone releases. While we were suitably impressed with the Px8 and its leading-edge carbon fibre driver capabilities, it's the Px7 S2 that gets the nod as an unexpected sleeper hit for anyone looking for wireless, portable sound without breaking the piggy bank. The Px7 S2 with its biocellulose driver gives Px8 a run for its money at just a little over half the price. Sure, if you read the early our 2023 Px8 review there are areas in music reproduction where Px8 excels, but Px7 S2 is so tantalizingly close with a naturalistic sound profile that brings a calming warmth to the soundtrack of your life. If you needed a true hi-fi headphone to tied you over until the industry begins delivering high-quality implementations of true lossless Bluetooth codecs, the Px7 S2 will not disappoint.
It's difficult not to say a few words to compare this years "Budget Wireless Headphone" winner with last year's "Wireless Headphone" winner overall, Bathys by Focal. Our headphone reviewer of both units is adamant that these are different listening experiences. Bathys is still worth every penny, especially now that these days as you may find them for less than their launch-day retail price. But where the Bowers & Wilkins lineup brings a natural-sounding calm and cool, Bathys delivers the energy and slam of its aluminum/magnesium M-shapped dome drivers with magnificent dynamic range. Both manufacturers push then envelope on the finer details in sound beyond anything you thought a Bluetooth codec could pass.
One of the best things about B&W's new headphone designs are their low-profile esthetic. Px7 S2 may not posses the finer gem-like details you'll see in Px8, but at first glance they look almost identical. If you're prone to wearing headphones while out among crowds but don't care for screaming "Hey Look, I'm Wearing Wireless Headphones!" at passers-by, Bowers & Wilkins latest lineup is it. Subdued but classy color schemes that fit low and narrow on your head will help you blend into the crowd. If James Bond wore headphones, they'd almost certainly be wireless and he'd surely choose a Bowers & Wilkins.
2023 seems to fly by so quickly. Perhaps, it's because yours truly recently turned 50 realizing I have less days ahead of me than behind. As we approach 25 years of publishing, I remain extremely appreciative and humbled by the fact that we've built such amazing relationships in this industry with some of the very best AV brands, engineers, and pro-installers and calibrators. I'm even more grateful that we have amassed such a talented team of writers and contributors to this publication. We've collectively had our hands on truly excellent audio and video gear in 2023 and are proud to have included many of those products on this list.
Don't forget to check out our Christmas Gift Guide for end-of-year sales that are too good to pass up if you're on the market for buying AV gear. We hope you've had a great year and all of us at Audioholics wish you, your families and friends peace and joy befitting this holiday season. May we all find continued peace and prosperity in 2024 and beyond. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all us at Audioholics.com
The above photo is from Gene's 50th Birthday party with the following Gangstas from left to right (Don Dunn, Matthew Poes, Gene DellaSala, Tony Leotta and Theo Nicolakis). What a great time!