Best HiFi Products 2021 Awards
There is a video created for my Best HiFi Products of 2021 in my YouTube channel, to watch it click here
Looking back over a busy year
2021 was without question another very challenging year with everything from supply chain lead times to mask wearing rules changing month by month. It was a very hard year for me and I am sure you too but looking on the bright side we both made it.
Looking back over the last 12 months I was astonished to see I had reviewed around 52 different HiFi products but that really is testament to how hard I have been working, 7 days a week with hardly any time off and it paid off as a great year for Pursuit Perfect System.
But you are here because you want to know what are my best and the stand out HiFi products of 2021 and there has been some interesting, some stunning and some awesome products to grace my listening room, some so good they are still here as I had to buy them.
Best Speakers 2021
2021 was the year of the stand mount speaker for me, I reviewed at least 22 different pairs of them which is pretty insane but that is what two big speaker group tests will do for you. I found this a very rewarding year because I would have said I am a floorstander speaker audiophile because I like the kind of bass the larger speaker create, however speaker design has moved on and in 2021 there are some incredible stand mount speakers that product floorstander like bass.
ATC SCM50 – my year started with a comparison of ATC’s legendary speakers in their Passive and Active forms and both made a huge impression on me. ATC have an honesty to how their speakers sound but at the SCM50 level its honesty at a really high quality level and its obvious why these speakers have been loved by so many for so long.
KEF LS50 META – was a standout speaker for me in 2021 because KEF took a modern day classic speaker, improved it and combined it with their latest breakthrough speaker technology using Metamaterials and then didn’t really increase the price much. For many audiophiles the LS50 Meta is a pinnacle speaker for achieving a serious level of sonic transparency for affordable money still with an exceptional build quality and modern aesthetic.
Acoustic Energy AE500 – these speakers stood out to me for the opposite reason, you can just sit and listen to them and enjoy your favourite music without the fuss of trying to find the perfect HiFi system synergy. They make music fun and enjoyable to listen to, with enough quality to satisfy, a sweet in the main treble and also excellent fit and finish.
Arendal 1723 THX – these speakers stood out initially for their physicality, they are large speakers and huge for stand mounts. Beyond that and their plain styling they delivered a tight, focused and “accurate” sound with a lot of qualities that appealed to me with very few obvious weaknesses. For the money I think they are hard speakers to beat for the audiophile who is running a dual HiFi and Home Cinema system, they are excellent
German Physiks HRS130 – stood out for being different, but good different. Their omnidirectional design meant I had to set them up differently and they didn’t fully suit my room but even so they created a sound stage with a 3-dimensional holographic nature that I have not had from other speakers before. Its a very compelling way to listen to music and they are extremely cohesive in their vocal and treble delivery as the one DDD driver is doing it all with no crossover.
TAD Compact EVO One – I haven’t heard the best of these speakers yet, I think it would take a system quality I haven’t had access to at the time of writing this article. There is something about their bass I am not 100% sure of at the moment, but its big and bold and warm and I cant help but like that. Its the mid range and vocals delivered from the beryllium coaxial driver that are extremely stand out. These speakers make me a feel a certain way when I listen to music, I feel good, I feel happy and that makes me want to listen to more music.
The Winner – Best Speakers 2021
Martens Parker DUO speakers both the Ceramic Edition and Diamond Edition impressed me in their own ways and did just about enough of everything right to stand out as my winner from the crazy stiff competition. There is excellent tonality from these speakers and I find that compelling but its the bass they deliver that has won me over. Its big enough for me, its bold enough for me and its tight too. The diamond edition of the Parker Duo changes things a little but for the better, it opens the window wider onto the music or the musical stage but there is a lofty price tag to match. For most Audiophiles the ceramic Parker Duo with the right amplifier will open the window wide enough while being a little more forgiving and slightly warmer and a lot more affordable.
Both versions of the speaker need to be used on their dedicated speaker stands for the best sound quality. I tested this enough to be able to make this statement to you, the dedicated stands are expensive but they matter. I think this is for the slight angle they place the speaker at, but also because they feature isolators designed by IsoAcoustics very similar to their GAIA and these do matter, they help the speaker disappear.
The Parker Duo are heavy, beautifully made inert structures and they have just worked in my room and made it easier for me to find a good placement for them. They ticked enough of all the right boxes for me and I think its more than justified to announce them as my best speakers of 2021
Best Amplifier 2021
The amplifier is heart of any good HiFi system and its so critical to the systems sound quality, I didn’t look at loads of amplifiers in 2021 but I did look at some stunners both solid state and tube.
SMSL AO200 – this little seemingly insignificant amplifier DAC and Bluetooth streamer costing a mighty £200 really surprised me with what it can do, I think its a great marker of just how far affordable HiFi and modern class d technologies have come. It sounds clean and clear with good musicality and a reasonable amount of gusto and I could happily sit and listen to it.
Leema Acoustics Tucana II Anniversary – I must have spent a good four months with the Tucana II this year as I used it to review 19 different speakers and also to compare to the other amplifiers I reviewed. Its a cracking amplifier with a clean and clear fast sound that is quite upfront and lively but neutral in tonality with loads of oomph. I found it to work better with some speakers more than others as a result but paired with the Marten Parker Duo ceramic edition made for a sensational pairing and sound.
Kinki Studio EX M1+ – I haven’t finished the review of this amplifier at the time of writing this but its made a big impression on me already. I think its hitting big on the bang for buck scale and will likely hold its own with much more expensive amplifiers but I haven’t tested it enough yet to say for sure. Either way its done enough in the short time with me to make the grade to win the mantle as stand out product.
The Winner – Best Amplifier 2021
It almost feels like cheating to award the German Physiks Emperor Extreme, the most expensive product I have ever reviewed with the best amplifier award of 2021 but I have to for its performance, it would be a crime not to. Its an amazing amplifier that seems almost perfect. It has a big power amplifier control with a small power amplifier level of finesse and an overall level of transparency that allows for a 3-dimensional holographic soundstage to form in front of you. Its precise without being analytical and always musical with excellent tonality and out right clarity. I haven’t had an amplifier in my room that has delivered sound like this before and the Emperor opened my eyes to what an amplifier can do to a pair of very good speakers. I don’t think I heard anything like the best of what this amplifier can deliver, but I heard enough of it to name it as my best amplifier of 2021
Best Digital 2021
I am a digital only audiophile so this is a hugely important system component topic for me and I got to look at several very good music streamers from Melco and Cary Audio but not enough variety to claim any as a best for this award. I did however look at many different HiFi DACs using resistor ladder technology ranging from £600 to over £6000 and several stood out.
Hibiki SDS String DAC – I never did quite fully understand the technology behind the Hibiki SDS DAC, there is a lot going on in terms of upsampling the music you feed into but I did really love the sound it created, enough to be a stand out product of the year. It had the benefits of R2R DAC technology such as sounding smooth rounded and musical but with immediacy the area of trade off of some other R2R DAC’s. I was however having a few issues with the SDS DAC that at its price point were not ideal but I still have it here and I am going to try it again in 2022 setup differently to see if that fixes the issues and hopefully it unlocks even more sonic potential
Metrum Acoustics Adagio – The Adagio is the flagship DAC with preamplifier from Metrum, the stand alone DAC version is called the Pavanne. Its big, its heavy and it feels really old fashioned like the Meridian 500 series components you may have owned or lusted after back in the 90’s. This was also a review of two halves I liked the Adagio with the older Transient DAC 2 chips in it but found it a little too warm and not resoling enough but after I upgraded it to the new Transient 3 modules the DAC drastically improved in this area. The result was a nice mixture of warmth and tonality with excellent resolution and space and the Adagio stands out as a result.
No Winner here – Why?
To claim a product is the best of the year I feel like I need to have reviewed a good variety of products from various manufacturers and here now I have two more R2R DAC’s I had hoped to have reviewed but ran out of time. I have the Musician Audio Aquarius and the Denafrips Pontus II so I am holding out on naming a best digital product of 2021 because the comparisons I will be doing in 2022 will be so telling and that means product that wins the title of best digital in 2011/ 2022 will be very worthy of that mantle.
Best HiFi Necessity 2021
I love this topic because I love tweaking my HiFi system and I love it more when a tweak is so good it becomes an essential part of my system moving from accessory to necessity.
Tellurium Q Blue II Analogue Cables – I spent a week with Tellurium Q ‘s Blue II speaker and balanced interconnect cables listening to them and comparing them to the original Blue. The difference was night and day to me with the Blue II sounding more open, more transparent, clearer and cleaner and to my big surprise more substantial on overall scale, that was not what I was expecting. I have never been a big fan of the original Blue cable and would always recommend people to start with the Black, but the Blue II now sounds a lot like the Black II just a little warmer and more forgiving which could be exactly what you need. The Blue II is a nice improvement over the original Blue but without increasing the price at all, the Blue II were stand out for me in 2021 and are a great place to start.
Atacama Nexxus speaker stands – I got sent a brand new speaker stand design from Atacama in a way purely by the good luck of timing, I contacted them to ask a few questions just as they were releasing the updated version of their most popular speaker stands. The Nexxus (double xx) are more substantial so have more mass to them them naturally but they allow you to add more filler and therefore more mass. The stands biggest strength is they are modular so you can change the height of them, change the size of the top plate, add more mass to the bass and they are still sold for a great price. I had 18 different speakers on them this year and they didn’t let me down once, even supporting the massive and crazy heavy Arendal 1723 THX. although that was pushing it a little bit.
SOTM Iso-Cat6 – the network might not be the audiophiles most obvious area to look at for sound quality improvements but over the last couple of years its become an area I now pay attention to, but some of the products that are of interest to me are extremely expensive especially when you think about adding a good linear power supply too as is often the case for best performance. A product was sent to me for review that is not crazy expensive and doesn’t require any power at all, I knew nothing about it but it made enough of a difference for me that I bought the review unit and still use it now. The SOTM Iso-Cat6 is a simple to use inline filter, you connect your network cable to it and use the included cable to connect the other end to your streamer or DAC. I found this to help clean up the sound some, not massive but enough to warrant its cost and me purchasing it.
JCAT USB Enhancer – a super simple great tweak that’s really designed to be plugged into music streamers or servers but using an adaptor I also plug them into DACs and streaming amplifiers, basically anything I can. Its a power filter device that helps to clean and sweeten your digital components sound, not by a miracle amount, but a nice, noticeable tweak amount. The USB Enhancer is maybe a little toppy on price but it does include Worldwide free shipping. I know when a product stands out to me when I think about buying more of them to use on other things.
JCAT OPTIMO NANO – the NANO are a very specific use case product, they are designed to be a more affordable way to deliver clean power to JCATs Net and USB cards for dedicated custom built computer music servers. I have been building and optimising these for about 10 years so products like this naturally interest me. We have seen a massive up trend in products for music servers from companies like JCAT with their new ranges of linear power supplies, but as these products get better the price of them also rises, in some cases by a huge amount. That’s why the NANO stand out, they are offering a big chunk of JCAT’s linear power supply performance for a quarter of the cost and you can use them with any computer ATX or other linear power supply to clean up their power delivery for better sound. These have quickly become a keeper product for me and have been very stand out to me this year.
Best Home Cinema 2021
I didn’t officially review any home cinema products in 2021 but across many Dirac Live Calibrations I have played with quite a variety with different speakers, subwoofer and room combinations. From all of this two products stood out to me.
NAD T778 – this is an interesting AV receiver because it has very modern appeal in its design, the nice large screen on the front and an impressive visual OSD. However the menu system, how things are organised in the menu feels a little strange and in order to calibrate Dirac and extract the maximum sound quality takes some out of the box thinking. After I worked this out I was very impressed with the T778, it could deliver really big dynamics that kept on giving way beyond where I expected the limit to be for an AV receiver at this money.
Arcam AV40 Processor – 2021 has been a much better year for Arcams newest home cinema products, both firmware 1.46 and 1.52 fixed the majority of the main issues I think most users were having. I have calibrated Dirac within lots of Arcam units and all have worked as I expected and most have delivered unbelievable sound quality. Its the AV40 that has stood out to me in 2021 because I feel like using high quality external power amplification with the right system allows for the true performance of Arcams latest product range to really come through. The AV40 at the front of several very good customers system I have calibrated for the best sound has produced a level of sound quality that is at a genuine reference level and a joy to spend many hours listening to.