Best Gear of September 2018

Best Gear of September 2018

Three of the five audio products that achieved Sound & Vision’s Top Pick status in September prove that you don’t have to empty your wallet to get great performance. Among them is a soundbar that earned our new Top Value designation for combining an impressive set of features with authoritative sound at a price that’s hard to believe. At the other end of the spectrum is a reference-grade 4K Blu-ray player and a power amplifier reserved for listeners who will settle for nothing less than the best. When you’re finished here, be sure to visit our Top Picks page for more recommendations.

Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital Headphone Amp/DAC: $399

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value

Pro-Ject is best known for its impressive turntables and related phono gear but the 27-year-old Austrian company is quite accomplished at building a variety of other audio components. The versatile Pre Box S2 Digital delivers a step up in performance with low- to medium-priced headphones, especially those with a treble emphasis, but it’s more than a headphone amp/digital-to-analog converter (DAC) — it doubles as a stereo preamp that differentiates itself with dual DACs, separate left/right signal paths, and support for MQA and DSD playback. Reviewer Mark Fleischmann’s take: “You’d have to spend a lot more to improve on Pro-Ject’s Pre Box S2.”

AT A GLANCE

Plus

Dual mono DACs
DSD and MQA support
Can function as a preamp

Minus

Limited portability

Full Review Here

Panasonic DP-UB820 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player: $499

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value

Streaming is all well and good but if you want consistent reference-level performance with impeccable high-dynamic range (HDR) playback, the DP-UB820 Ultra HD Blu-ray player is the way to go. Reviewer Kris Deering called it the “first must-own player to hit the market” — one that sets a new bar for HDR playback with flat-panel TVs and projectors. Much of the credit goes to Panasonic’s unique HDR Optimizer, which draws on an assortment of brightness presets and controls to correct common HDR tone-mapping issues. “Its overall video performance is without peer,” wrote Deering, who added: “I’m sure it will improve playback of 4K/HDR on the majority of displays. A Top Pick for sure!”

AT A GLANCE

Plus

Reference-level video performance
In-player tone mapping for HDR and conversion to SDR
Multichannel analog output

Minus

Image enhancement options can be overwhelming
Setup not always intuitive
No 4K/HDR streaming support

Full Review Here


Micromega M-150 Integrated Amplifier: $7,499

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value

Orange Crush would be an appropriate nick name for the Micromega M-150 integrated amplifier/DAC, which packs 2 x 150 watts of Class AB power and a 32-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC) into a chassis that’s only 2 inches tall. Its vibrant exterior screams excess but the M-150 is actually a basic component that does one job and does it well: deliver reference-grade sound, whether you’re spinning virgin vinyl or streaming a hi-res file. For better or worse, it eschews extras such as Wi-Fi, onboard access to streaming services, and even an onscreen interface. As reviewer Dan Kumin put it, the amp is aimed at the “dedicated audiophile in search of a truly compact, single-piece solution to the one task that matters: serious listening at the highest quality level. This the Micromega M-150 unquestionably delivers, though at a price.”

AT A GLANCE

Plus

Reference-grade sonics
Outstanding digital audio performance up to 32-bit/384kHz
Gorgeous fit and finish and industrial design

Minus

Basic user interface
Comparatively limited onboard music streaming options
Ethernet connection can be finicky

Full Review Here

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