2019 Super Award Ceremony of Audio Excellence
Today I’m handing out accolades to products that won my heart throughout 2019. These weren’t necessarily best in class in every case, but the ones that stuck around in my daily driver lineup and made the most impact long term, or as long a term as could be given they were all received and reviewing during the 2019 calendar year. Let’s get started!
Disclaimer: Everything here is my subjective opinion. None of these manufacturers had any say in what I selected, or will even know they’re on the list (unless they read it). This is really just me shooting the $#!^ and letting my readers know what resonated with me most throughout the year. Also, it only includes products I’ve reviewed. I would have loved to include the BLON BL-03 as Product of the Year, despite thinking it was just okay, solely because of the hilarious memes, crazy hype, and unusually positive community it has behind it. It’s too good not to at least mention 😀
The TRN V30 isn’t the best built. In fact it feels kinda cheap. Comfort is great though, and its detailed sound, excellent bass, and general aural refinement belies the low price tag and budget appearance. It serves as a magnificent daily driver, one that I have been happy to keep on my person most days.
Tin stormed onto the scene with the T2 which demanded an audience thanks to a near-neutral sound uncommon among its competition. I still hold it in high regard. The P1 wowed at first with it’s unique, planar magnetic driver tech, but over time my love for it has faded. The T3 on the other hand remains as my left hand man, always within arms reach at my desk. I love the bright, detailed signature, bass response compared to the T2 and P1, and overall tight, refined sound it outputs. In my opinion this is still the best product TinHiFi has released, though the T4 could change that when I finally get my hands and ear on a set.
Shozy killed it this year with the CP, a triple armature behemoth that features some of the best build quality I’ve experienced, regardless of price. The neutral-warm signature is a blessing to the ear and technically competent, with some customization available thanks to the two nozzle filter options. Add to that a gorgeous cable, effective passive noise isolation, and top tier comfort, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
The S6 Rui came out of nowhere to completely win me over. It does everything the Shozy & Neo CP does, but better, and with a more full, robust sound, and some seriously impressive bass for a balanced armature only unit. Aside from a finicky cable port, the build is stellar. Just look at that face plate and peer at through the clear acrylic to bask in the Fearless and S6 Rui branded drivers within. It is unquestionably a stunner both visually and through it’s top-of-the-line taunting audio performance. Plus, it’s not so expensive to be out of reach for many, pending you’re willing to save up. This one is worth it.
If you’ve got money to burn and want the best of the best, there isn’t much I’ve tested that can hang with the Solaris, outside of CA’s own Andromeda and the Hifiman RE2000 Silver. The gold plated shells look the part of a top-of-the-line product, supported further by its heft and dense, weighty cable. No one would pick this thing up and say it feels cheap. Nor would they say that about the way it sounds. With a vast sound stage and impressive technical ability backed by a fun-u-shaped signature, the Solaris is easy to get lost in while you relive your favorite tracks.
It’s an affordable, well built, great sounding, planar magnetic headphone from the company that has pretty much defined what a benchmark in the planar/orthodynamic headphone segment should be. Need I say more?
After going silent for a couple years to develop new material, Astrotec jumped back into the earbud scene with a strong lineup of three new Lyra products (32 ohm, 150 ohm, and the Classic). This lineup has been pared down and refined into one, the Lyra Nature, which incorporates all the sonic prowess of its predecessors, now with removable cables. It looks expensive, feels expensive, sounds expensive, but it’s not.
The Astrotec S60 5.0 was released not too long after the original S60, hosting a plethora of improvements over it’s initial incantation; Bluetooth 5.0, better battery life, a revised (aka. superior) tune, improved controls, and more. It is small, comfortable, reliable, and the single Knowles driver provides a well-rounded and versatile tune that should please most discerning listeners. The S60 5.0 is a logical evolution of an already excellent product, easily earning itself a place on this list.
Last but not least, I want to give a shout out to Double Tap Audio for the R2 which I am going to make my Surprise Favorite of the Year.
I could have picked from a number of amazing products because this year was full of them, but the R2 is something that surprised the heck out of me, and kept impressing me long past when the review was posted. The original R1 was a very cool product with it’s hand constructed housings made from expended shell casing and the overkill paracord cable, but it never really gave me “the fizz” as James May would say. The R2 shares much of the same design philosophy yet it ticked all the right boxes for me. It can be fully kitted out with cables and a Bluetooth module, but my recommendation is to skip all that and go with the most affordable, earphones only option, then add your own cables and accessories. Going this way, it is a product everyone can afford, nearly everyone can enjoy (taking into account personal preferences and whatnot), and it supports a small manufacturer whose products are clearly a labour of love and a response to the mass-produced, cheaply built, disposable gear that permeates the market. The R2 isn’t perfect and it isn’t the best product I’ve used, not by far, but it’s full of character, sounds fantastic, and can be afforded by most.
It’s a short list, but this is it for the year for me. The absence of DACs and AMP comes down to there being a lack of variety/quantity in the units I tested, and in all honesty, none of them being worthy of a place on this list. The ZiShan DSD sounds amazing, has tons of power, and a snappy GUI, but it in no way looks or feels like a modern product, is huge, and the lack of Bluetooth support meant it was relegated solely to testing duty leaving the venerable Shanling M0 as my daily driver. Not that there is anything wrong with that. The M0 is amazing, and had I not reviewed it in 2018 would have absolutely appeared on this list. The Period Audio Nickle was a really cool product and it’s something I continue to use regularly when paired to the equally tiny M0. But, the unrefined build, high noise floor with sensitive iems and headphones, and most importantly cost, kept it from this list. There are many other products that could have just as easily appeared on the list but were not selected, so they deserve an honorable mention. Any of these are absolutely worth your time and money and if you’re in the market for something in their segment, should be considered.
Thanks for another awesome year and for all in the community that support me. I don’t write for money, or free stuff, but because I enjoy it and like helping people find products that bring them joy. The comments and questions you leave mean a lot and keep me going. Not sure what 2020 will bring, but you can count on at least a handful of additional reviews, a number of which are already in the works for gear from brands like XDuoo, Hifiman, and Dudios, among others.
Happy holidays and a happy new year to all!