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The end of the year already? Seems like 2011 just started and now I have to worry if the Mayans are going to issue a new calendar for 2013. To select a 'favorites of' for 2011 is going to be tough not because there was a shortage of worthwhile equipment but exactly the opposite. The review pieces that graced my listening room have been nothing short of spectacular and arbitrary picks simply short-change some of the finest designs. Let me review my dilemma. The Bogdan Audio Creations Catalina speaker was a hand-built labour of love with a premium price tag and premium sound to match. The marriage of Raal ribbon and Scanspeak Revelator was beautifully handled, easy to drive and a joy to listen to. This was heavyweight high end with all the musical credentials. Should this be the one?
The serendipitous cohabitation of the Danish Densen Beat 130+ integrated with the Bogdan proved a magical combination. Here was a luxury compact that could swing with the big boys and come away unscathed in comparison. All the refinement with breathless dynamics. When it left the building to grace another reviewer‘s system, he obviously felt the same way and bestowed upon it an Editor’s Choice Award. Had I been hard-hearted in not recommending a coveted blue medallion? Should it not be the 'best of'?
The Shanling 2.1 Export Edition integrated and CD player had represented the Chinese manufacturer with distinction. Unprecedented construction quality and innovation at a ridiculous price, the selectable DAC input capability of the CD player alone was so forward thinking and well executed that it propelled me to start doing some serious research into servers and DACs. Here was noteworthy equipment that set benchmarks of how high one could reach for minimal hard-earned dollar. Maybe these pieces?
The H2O Audio Fire & Ice preamp and amp pair hit like a sonic freight train -with effortless power and dynamic delicacy wrapped in an enveloping soundstage. Yes they were designed around the Apogees and they can make them dance like the Bolshoi Ballet. These were a pair of state-of-the-art sonic contenders without the accompanying price tags. If my current system was not firmly entrenched or room and wallet allowed, these pieces might not have gone back to the manufacturer. Deserving yes. Perhaps time for further acknowledgement?
The Audio Exklusiv d. C. d. Base & Feet entered the doorway in the latter portion of the year. Touting an effective new isolation material they showed some real strengths on the anti resonance front.The Base often gets overlooked in the hunt for shinier toys and certainly deserves some long-absent recognition. The feet proved a forefront banner for those pursuing the goal of system transparency and did so with compelling veracity. A pair were a sonic view through a freshly cleaned window. How could I deny these pieces their due?
Which of these was it to be?
Finally another Audio Exklusiv product, the Silent Plug, made a serious impression. Perhaps not the traditional big statement pieces audiophiles covet, these relatively inexpensive little devices pioneered an entirely new direction in the art of resonance management, contributing almost universal system improvements that were immediately obvious and disproportionate to size and price. This product required the courage to pursue a course that everyone else had overlooked or dismissed. In the end it thus earned the Audio Exklusiv Silent Plug my 'Best Of' for 2011. Small doesn’t mean insignificant.