It’s time for the Best of 2015 Awards here at CA. To be considered for the awards, a product must have been used by me over the last year. The product doesn’t need to be released in 2015, only used in 2015. The number of products in the Best of 2015 Awards is short compared to some lists. This is because there are no participation trophies here at CA. The products below earned their places on this list. Adding a position for every component I’ve used this year would only serve to dilute the list and take away from those products truly deserving of the Best of 2015 award. There are only winners on this list. No ties, co-winners or runners-up.
I'm excited to read what the members of the CA Community list as their products of the year. Please light up the comment section with your Best of 2015 selections.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
Overall Product of the Year: Roon
Roon has without a doubt been the biggest thing in high end audio in 2015. Everyone from end users to manufacturers has been talking about how it has changed their music loving lives for the better. As much as I liked the Schiit Audio Yggdrasil DAC this year, I didn’t consider it, for more than ten seconds, for the overall product of the year because of the huge impact Roon has had on my listening experience. Since its launch at the Munich high end show, the team at Roon Labs has continued to improve the product and add features. 2016 should be just as exciting for fans of Roon. Hardware manufacturers can’t wait to get out of the software business by enabling RoonSpeakers on their devices, and end users can’t wait for a bunch of devices to support Roon.
(Click on the Youtube logo to watch a much larger version on Youtube)
DAC of the Year: Schiit Audio Yggdrasil
From my full review found here (link)
When a pair of industry veterans get together to create excellent products for incredibly reasonable prices, consumers win. Schiit Audio's products range in price from $79 for the Fulla USB DAC / headphone amp to its flagship $2,299 Yggdrasil DAC. Based on my experience with countless DACs and after spending a couple months with the Yggdrasil, I can say without a doubt that this DAC is very special. It's one of my favorite DACs available today. In fact, I will happily mention the Yggdrasil in the same sentence as some of my other favorites, the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS ($16,000) and the EMM Labs DAC2X ($15,500), when talking to fellow audio enthusiasts. The Yggdrasil is one of those products that subtly grabs hold of the listener, yet the listener is the one who can't let go. I couldn't stop listening through the Yggdrasil enough to write this review on time. The Yggdrasil is a musically addictive drug without the expense and potential repercussions. When something is this enjoyable and the consequences of continuing its use aren't dire, the result is a foregone conclusion. More listening. The Yggdrasil has a rare ability to reproduce acoustic music on a level with some of the best DACs I've heard. Resonating Spruce wood from a double bass sounding so realistic as to breathe new life into old music, is a characteristic of the Yggdrasil. The juxtaposition of a coarse bowed bass with a silky smooth violin playing out in front of the listener as the sound simply hangs in mid-air until it appropriately decays, is part of an experience readily available through this DAC. The Yggdrasil has a really solid yet simplistic build quality on the outside and very selective component use on the inside. However, I believe the Yggdrasil's performance has much more to do with intellectual property than any other factor. Any manufacturer can use identical hardware in a competing product, but only Schiit Audio has its closed-form filter. In addition, the amount of engineering expertise required to implement the Analog Devices AD5791BRUZ DACs in an audio product is more than many companies have or costs more time and money than they can afford. To say the Yggdrasil is a unique product that's equal to much more than the sum of its parts is an understatement. Great technology and engineering coming together to reproduce fantastic sound quality at prices unheard-of in this industry is characteristically Schiit Audio. The Yggdrasil is a disruptive product that I can't recommend enough to both new and experienced music aficionados. Add to cart and enjoy.
Music of the Year:
Fink Meets the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
From my article about the recording (link)
Last night I had the lights in my listening room off, the Pass Labs amps warmed up and front panel lights glowing blue, and the volume on my Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS cranked up. As soon as the first note of the first track of this album came through my TAD CR1 loudspeakers, it was suddenly April 29, 2012 and I was transported to the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. I ended up listening to the album three times in a row, on repeat. When I went to bed, I queued it up on my iPhone in TIDAL HIFI, got my headphones ready, then thought, I better not burn this one out as I’ve been known to do in the past. I set my headphones down and went to sleep with the lyrics to the track Berlin Sunrise and the accompanying string section flowing through my head. When I woke up, I went back to my listening room and fired up the entire album once again. It was at this point, I stopped writing a component review, due for publication this week, and started writing this article. I felt like I had good news and I just had to deliver it to the Computer Audiophile Community.
Peter, Paul and Mary - In The Wind (Audio Fidelity version)
I did’t hear this album until CES 2015, when Andrew Jones used it as demonstration material. After CES the track All My Trials was used in all my reviews because I loved the music and it sounded really good. Later in the year, at Rocky Mountain Audiofest, Aurender’s John-Paul Lizars introduced me to the Audio Fidelity remaster of In The Wind and I was immediately in heaven. This version is currently only available on physical disc. I can’t recommend it enough.
Most Enjoyable Product of the Year: Naim Mu-so
From my full review found here (link)
The reason all of us entered into this hobby was because of the music and how it made is feel emotionally. We didn’t start purchasing sterile HiFi gear only to find out we could play something called music through said gear. Music brings out emotion like few other things in this world. What can make the emotional experience even better for many of us is getting closer to the performers and the actual sound of the recordings through great HiFi components. In addition, the ability to share both our favorite recordings and high quality reproduction with our friends and family is hard to put a price on. The Naim Mu-so enables us to overcome many barriers to bringing music back into our every day lives. The Mu-so’s high end build quality, aesthetic appearance, comparatively small size, high sound quality, and well made remote application make it the perfect piece to place almost anywhere in one’s home or office. When tens of millions of tracks are available in high quality at our fingertips we are guaranteed to enjoy this wonderful hobby even more and share what we’ve known forever with our loved ones. Great music is one thing, but add in the element of high quality playback and the listeners can be transported to places only limited by the imagination. The Mu-so has enabled me to share more music and high quality sound with my daughter, in a short period of time, than any piece of HiFi gear I’ve used in her three years on this planet. That fact alone makes the Mu-so worth its weight in gold. As soon as my daughter asks for Pearl Jam in high resolution, the Mu-so will literally be priceless.
Most Surprising Product of the Year: AudiophileOptimizer
From my experience using AO for the first time (link)
Hi Guys, just a quick update from my travels this week. I’m currently flying over northern California on my way home to Minneapolis. I’ve been in the Bay Area for four days working on a couple music servers. My task was to install Windows Server 2012 R2 and Audiophile Optimizer to squeeze every ounce of sound quality from a computer. The end result surprised me very much. I had some reservations about the install and the efficacy of going to such great lengths tweaking a PC. I figured the sound would improve, but I didn’t figure it would improve by so much. This week I heard the best digital playback I’ve ever heard. Period.
We continued to listen to all kinds of music and continued to hear incredible sound quality. Everything from soundstage to reverb trails to the ambiance of a concert hall was improved with these software optimizations. On one track the drummer struck a bell and the sound seemed to hang in the air for ever while at the same time being completely distinct from the rest of the sounds. Every instrument had its place and its space. The listening experience was truly something to behold.