Hardware Reviews

Best Hi-Fi of 2022

The Ear BEST OF 2022 820 547

The hi-fi highlights of the year

The Ear picks the best hi-fi of 2022. This has been a good year for hi-fi with many brands creating outstanding products that give you the chance of hearing more of  what makes your favourite music so fabulous. Our annual round-up consists of products chosen by each reviewer and thus represents the best that they have heard in that time. We tend not to review products that don’t sound good so these are literally the best of the best that we have heard over the last 12 months. There are examples of just about every genre of component, so whatever you are looking for there should be a solid recommendation here. Click on the model names for a full review of each.

Aavik SD180

Aavik S-180 and D-180

network streamer & integrated amplifier
€6,000 each
Aavik take a different approach to electronics and their entry level streamer and DAC make that pretty clear. The cases are a wood composite and the power supplies a variation on Class D called resonance mode, add to this a dedication to keeping noise (RFI and EMI) to an absolute minimum and you have a streaming system that can compete way above its pay grade. Don’t let the simple, clean lines of this Danish duo fool you, they are capable of delivering genuine high resolution in a musically compelling fashion that allows all your favourite tracks to reveal their innermost secrets. JK

Atoll SDA200 sig

Atoll SDA200 Signature

streamer/DAC/integrated amp
One of the very best streamers/DAC/amp options out there and, even better, it’s designed and built in France. Feature packed, and with a remote plus dedicated app for even more enjoyment such as endless internet radio stations, the design is superb and engineering quality sublime. The sonics are also darn good thanks to a classy Burr-Brown based DAC which can handle myriad file types. Portrays sounds as they were recorded, presenting a wonderfully realistic and natural soundstage. It’s priced as something of an audiophile bargain to boot. Connect to your favourite steaming service for endless enjoyment, or use the USB/Ethernet or Bluetooth aptX connectivity to access your own libraries. Alongside all the inputs you need are also digital outputs. That five-inch TFT LCD screen shows track details, sampling rates, etc. The Atoll SDA 2000 Signature should be on every serious digital audiophile’s shortlist. TB

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Auralic Aries G1.1

network streamer
With the Aries G1.1 Auralic made one of the best midrange streamers better. By adding a new base plate and updating the software Auralic’s entry level streamer gained what it needed to remain a leader in its field. The feature count is huge but highlights include the option to have onboard storage and to rip CDs to it with almost any peripheral drive, you can play CDs straight from the same drive and navigate your collection with one of the best looking control apps around. The crux of this particular biscuit however is the sound which is pretty well as good as the source and DAC can deliver, the Aries G1.1 lets the music flow without addition or subtraction. JK

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Blumenhofer Acoustics Tempesta 20

horn loaded loudspeaker
Reproducing the sensory energy and emotion felt during live music performance is at the heart of every Blumenhofer Acoustics design.  The breathtaking immediacy and power of the Tempesta 20 thrusts you into the front row of the concert with more conviction than any loudspeaker I’ve auditioned.  Its uninhibited character won’t appeal to everyone but, when paired with the right amplification, this two-way hybrid horn floorstander offers a unique and utterly enthralling listening experience.  I’ve heard a lot of speakers and Tempesta is one that will live long in my memory. RB

Coppice X2

Coppice X2

floorstanding loudspeaker
We had the beautifully-crafted Coppice X1, a 2-way stand-mount, but then came the goliath in the X2 floor-standing model. It also heralds from the Cotswolds but offers so much more: more of the glorious 22mm natural timber, more of the finesse of engineering prowess, and more of the stunning sonic character that this embryonic company has created in its first products. Competitively priced as well, here is a truly-British creation based on a 165mm high-excursion, coated-paper mid/bass unit alongside a 1-inch fabric-dome tweeter, both sourced from Peerless. Here is a loudspeaker much more ‘musical’ and less sterile-sounding than my usual MDF-encased monitors. Timing is one of their key strengths, another facet I miss from my daily boxes. If the bass in the X1s was ‘extended’, for the larger X2 it is approaching seismic, the rear letterbox port works so well. Treble is refined and detailed, while the midrange sounds natural. All-in-all the perfect combination for a most enjoyable listening experience. I can only urge a personal appraisal. TB

Dynavector 10X5 mk2

Dynavector DV-10X5 MkII

moving coil cartridge
For anyone looking to upgrade from their first moving magnet cartridge to something better, this high output moving coil from  the well-respected Japanese brand Dynavector could be the ideal choice. Designed to be used with a moving magnet phono stage, the DV-10X5 MkII is an exceptionally musical communicator, one which I thoroughly enjoyed through the built in phono stages of two different integrated amplifiers and my own Gold Note PH10/PSU. A worthy recipient of our Best Buy award, this was definitely one of my favourite review pieces of this or indeed any year. CK

Goldring Eroica HX main

Golding Eroica HX

moving coil cartridge
This Goldring really does offer performance which would have you believe it was worthy of a much higher price tag. While not perhaps offering quite the absolute ’nth-degree’ of resolution, what it does reveal is both musical, poised, and balanced. For a high output MC its capability for dynamic contrast really is exceptional (many similar offerings can sound a bit restricted), and its open and airy presentation creates a tangible illusion of the performers being right in front of you. CBe

Grimm MU1 main

Grimm Audio MU1 

network music player
Lift the lid and be deceived; at first glance it might appear to be poor value given the amount of empty space inside. However, it’s a Roon core, it’s a streamer, a digital volume control for DACs and active speakers, a scaler, and a re-clocker. Add an internal SSD and you’ve a digital hub for all seasons. But the MU1 is about more than just flexibility. Grimm Audio’s relentless focus on the quality of its NUC coding, power supply, clocking, and its file conversion and filtering – all of them proprietary and the result of seriously informed engineering effort – result in perhaps the most natural and immersive streaming and locally played experience currently available. For the money, and quite a bit beyond, it’s currently the product to beat. KF

Jays CDT3 mk2 547

Jay’s Audio CDT3-MK3

CD transport
A statement product that disproves the argument that little good comes out of China. Chief engineer Jay Ho and his colleagues exercise some serious engineering chops to deliver Red Book CD replay of a very high order; the blackest of backgrounds, a rich tonal palette, impeccable timing, and dynamic expression right up there with the best. Connect it to a decent DAC using a Tubulus Concentus I2S/HDMI interconnect and hear why, despite the appeal of streaming, we shouldn’t abandon our CD collections just yet. KF

Klipsch Forte IV Lifestyle main

Klipsch Forte IV

horn loaded loudspeaker
A surprisingly competent, musical and engaging speaker for, in performance terms, not a lot of money (yes I know they’re expensive, but for what they do they’re a bargain). It would be very difficult to come up with as competent a speaker at this price point which is relatively benign as far as room placement is concerned, and which can be driven by a wide variety of amplifier types and power ratings and still performs this well. CBe

M2Tech Marley MKII main

M2Tech Marley MkII

headphone amplifier
M2Tech’s brave decision to include not only a crossfeed circuit in their Marley MkII but also an output impedance, balance and three-band tone control has unquestionably paid off as this headphone amplifier satisfies more desires than any other I’ve used.  Aside from XLR preamp outputs, I don’t think there’s anything else that would make this transparent, powerful, feature-packed amp more appealing than it already is.  No matter where you are on your headphone journey, the M2Tech delivers a level of performance and adaptability that won’t be easily outgrown. RB

m2t nash main

M2Tech Nash

phono stage
A real surprise this one, with a giant-killing sonic performance that was completely unexpected given its compact form-factor and relatively modest price. At its heart is passive resistor network RIAA correction that somehow manages to deliver an astonishing level of dynamic expression and detail, topped off with a whopping 95dB of available moving coil cartridge gain (65dB for moving magnet). The Nash as reviewed is powered by a wall-wart, but a larger stand-alone power supply can be added to lift performance even higher. KF

Meze LIRIC main

Meze Liric

I loved these headphone for their build quality, style and refined, well-organised sound. For a closed-back headphone, they sound remarkably open and produce a holographic soundstage which is detailed and musical. Whilst there may be alternatives that offer a bigger and more dynamic sound, including from elsewhere in the Meze range, the Liric made listening to music at even low volumes a joy, they always remained engaging and insightful. Being a closed-back design means one can use them in public places and when the rest of the household does not wish to be disturbed. Being a hybrid planar design, they require a healthy amount of current, but I still obtained a full-bodied sound using various high-quality portable devices. These are an excellent choice for use with a good DAP and for those who want to enjoy music in private, but they will work equally well in a top-tier home setup. CB

neat majistra main

Neat Majistra

standmount loudspeaker
Fourth to be unveiled in Neat’s Strata range was the Majistra, a two-way bookshelf design which punches well above its weight. We have careful integration of a true-ribbon tweeter via a minimal audio-grade crossover. One 170mm drive unit handles bass and midrange with a second inside, behind the main drive unit; the space between sealed in isobaric configuration. More than merely enjoyable, these speakers are fun, slightly sumptuous in fact as the music simply flows from the drive units. Really well-recorded material was shown to be silkily smooth and I basked in some of my favourites. Neat has created another masterpiece in a very civilized design and one which avoids that all-too-common tendency to be overly frenetic but without being unnaturally slow or lagging behind the beat. The value of the tweeter becomes clear as it leaves mere domes at the starting gate. Treble has a glorious openness which extends to the upper midband, while percussion is rendered with an enjoyable crispness as harmonics are handled with aplomb. All-in-all, hard to beat in terms of design, engineering standards and sonic ability. TB

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Network Acoustics Muon

Ethernet filter and cable
The sonic benefits of the Muon ethernet filter and cable, collectively known as the Network Acoustics Streaming System, are not in the slightest bit subtle, it’s up there with a significant DAC upgrade. Stopping noise getting into a streaming system really does make that much difference. In a revealing system placing these elements between the network switch and streamer or music library results in a considerably more open, relaxed and natural sound. This is true with both locally stored music and streaming services, in both cases you will get a much better idea of your system’s full potential; noise elimination of this calibre is not just nice it’s essential. JK

pmc 25.24i

PMC twenty5.24i

floorstanding loudspeaker
If you’ve shied away from transmission lines fearing they’ll overwhelm your room with too much bass then you need to hear some from the company that’s been refining the art of quarter-wave bass loading for more than three decades. Featuring cutting-edge technology from its flagship Fact Fenestria, PMC’s Twenty5.24i delivers an addictively crisp and open sound with a pacy bottom end that hits low and hard without drawing attention to itself.  This svelte floorstander also achieves the rare feat of being highly revealing of what’s upstream without being overly fussy about placement, its wide imaging sweet spot makes it an especially fine choice for less than ideal layouts. RB

quadraspire SVT main

Quadraspire SVT

equipment rack
5 tier rack £1,650
This rack makes me smile every time I look at it and has made my system sound more refined and enjoyable. I chose to review the SVT as I feel it is the sweet spot in their range from a price vs performance perspective, along with its domestic acceptability compared to the Reference range. The unique shape of the rack is said to break up vibration nodes and the avoidance of magnetic materials reduces the transmission of RFI. I can only speak for the results, which were a significant sonic upgrade over my already well-regarded rack. Each part of the rack is made in the UK by passionate craftsmen and is both upgradable and expandable. Whilst, not a budget offering, it should last a lifetime, and Quadraspire’s reputation means their products retain a strong resale value. The wide range of different colours and configurations available means most audiophiles should find a great-looking and sounding solution that suits their room and system. CB

rega elicit main

Rega Elicit Mk5

integrated amplifier
Next year Rega Research will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, which is a wonderful achievement. I have in my time owned a full Rega system and highly enjoyable it was too. The Elicit Mk5 integrated amplifier, which came through my listening room in the late spring/early summer this year, is another milestone product from this proudly British brand. Pushing out a quoted 105 watts into an 8 Ohm load, it is capable of driving a wide range of speakers without losing composure. It is equipped with a very good moving magnet phono stage, a very capable DAC with the choice of coaxial or optical inputs and four line level analogue inputs. I owned a predecessor Elicit model 10 year ago and would be very happy to have the latest version in my system in  2022. It was fully deserving of  its coveted Editors Choice award. CK

serhan swift MU2 Black white main

Serhan Swift Mµ2

standmount loudspeakers
From Australia, this is possibly the best small speaker you have never heard of. The Mµ2 impressed with its speed, dynamics, exquisite imaging and surprising bass capabilities, especially considering their diminutive stature. They excel with all types of music, surprisingly even metal and dance, no doubt helped by fantastic timing abilities. The price may initially raise eyebrows for a small speaker but their super rigid cabinets and top-of-the-range Scanspeak Revelator drive units mean they sound far larger than their small stature might otherwise suggest. Due to the incredible resolution of the speaker, I found even relatively poor recordings were delivered in a way I could enjoy them with minimal fatigue. Fed with a high-quality signal, they remain composed, even at high volumes and never fail to deliver the music in an involving way. CB

shuyata hydra main

Shunyata Research Hydra Delta D6, Delta XC & Delta v2-NR

Power distributor and power cables
Hydra Delta D6 £3,500
Delta v2-NR £1,500
Delta XC £1,400
I know that few topics prompt heated discussion amongst audiophiles more than the merits or otherwise of mains cables and mains distribution blocks. From my own experience however I am confident that well designed and executed systems such as this do make a significant and beneficial contribution to my listening experience. The Hydra Delta D6 block and Delta cables brought an extra level of performance from my system and have allowed me to wring every last ounce of musical enjoyment from my sources and amplifier. I have tried various pieces with the mains leads supplied plugged directly in to a wall socket, yet not one has failed to deliver better performance through the Shunyata Research components. The Hydra Delta pieces are not inexpensive, but they deliver terrific value every time I listen to my system. CK

Vertere MG 1 main

Vertere Acoustics MG-1 MkII, SG PTA and Mystic

turntable, tonearm and MC cartridge
Any source component that costs a five figure sum had better be pretty special, and this record player from Vertere Acoustics is an extraordinarily gifted conveyor of music – not just the right notes in the right order but the very soul of it. If vinyl replay is important to you and you have the financial means, these components make a very compelling case for themselves. Brilliantly conceived by the fertile mind of Touraj Mogahddam, the sheer musicality of this system would be hard to better at any price. MG stands for Magic Groove and this system more than fulfils that promise. CK

Best Hi-Fi of 2022

Vivid Giya G1 Spirit

floorstanding loudspeaker
This loudspeaker is more radical than it looks, and it looks pretty wild. Vivid do not follow convention in cabinet materials or drive unit shape, what look like regular drivers are in fact catenary domes which are shallower than regular domes and have lower colouration. The ‘box’ consists of glass-reinforced composite skins with a balsa wood core, and if that were not enough, every driver has a tapered tube behind it to absorb rear radiation. Technological innovation has been harnessed to produced one of the very best loudspeakers on the planet, with the lowest colouration and the greatest potential to deliver musical realism the like of which is extremely rare. It’s expensive but there are plenty of more spendy speakers that aren’t as good. JK

Best Hi-Fi of 2022

The Wand 14-4 & The Wand Plus 10.3

turntable and arm
If ever a product was significantly more than the sum of its parts, the Wand arm and turntable combination must be one of those. A truly unfussy performer, easy to set up, resolutely practical in terms of use, and utterly engaging with respect to conveying the emotional aspects of music, it’s got to be one of the turntable bargains of the year. Again, not a cheap package, but for what you get, it’s waaaay up there in the value for money stakes. CBe


loudspeakers turntables headphones network streamers streaming accessories amplifiers MC cartridges CD transport headphone amplifier phono stage


CB - Chris Baillie, CBe - Chris Beeching, KF - Kevin Fiske, CK - Chris Kelly, JK - Jason Kennedy, TB - Trevor Butler

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