It's nearly time to close out 2016 as it's probably 2017 in Australia by now and the Summer 2017 editions of magazines are about to hit the shelves. First, we must give credit where credit is due. Throughout the year, manufacturers, software developers, engineers, distributors, and dealers all put in countless hours to bring us the products that improve our musical lives. Most of these products were in development long before we got our hands on them in 2016. While it's easy to complain about one aspect of a product not meeting our needs or expectations, we should all keep in mind that product development isn't easy. People in this industry have put their careers on the line to bring products to market. Others have put their entire companies on the line to develop new products that they just knew the market would embrace.
Needless to say, we have the easy part. Sit back in a comfortable chair with remote in hand, listen to great music, and repeat. Evaluating products and reducing years of others' hard work into a few paragraphs can't do these products justice. I encourage everyone to get out to the nearest dealer, or online dealer for those in many areas, and listen to everything this wonderful hobby has to offer. Here at CA we only review a very limited number of components each year. There are many other fine products discussed in the forum that likely deserve much more attention than we can provide. That said, we pick and choose carefully and only review products that meet strict criteria. Of those products, the following are the best of 2016.
P.S. We don't hand out participation trophies or awards just for producing a product. There are no classes of products here, or even runners-up. Only the best.
Thank You to the CA Community
Before presenting the awards for 2016, Computer Audiophile would like to thank the dedicated members of the CA Community for all their efforts and continued support of the site and this wonderful hobby. It all starts with the CA Community. Without it, there would be no CA. I'm always humbled by the contributions of members from all over the world. Again, it's you guys that make CA what it is. You aren't here because of me, I am here because of you.
- Chris Connaker, Founder
Overall Product of the Year: Sonore microRendu
"The Sonore microRendu is the hottest piece of hardware in HiFi. It's versatile while avoiding the jack of all trades moniker. The mR was custom designed and built to deliver USB audio in the most pristine way possible, and it accomplishes this goal magnificently. Versatile software with uncompromising inflexible hardware is a great combination. There is one way in and one way out, Ethernet to USB. Don't like it, move on. Those willing to try the microRendu will likely be as impressed as I am. With the mR in my system, I'm getting the best sound I've ever heard in my house. That said, it may not be the best "source" available because all components are user and system dependent. Users seeking local storage, network-less audio, and a software/hardware solution from a single vendor must look elsewhere. Everyone else should seek out the microRendu without apprehension. The ultra low noise bespoke design of this unit, a micro computer designed for audio only, has lead to some amazing listening experiences for me over the last several weeks. From the beautiful distortion of Hendrix to the simplistic vocals and whisper soft trumpet of Chet Baker, the microRendu enabled all the music to shine in its best light. I don't believe I've had a sonically better source connected to my system at any time."
DAC of the Year: AudioQuest DragonFly Red
Full review found here (LINK)
"AudioQuest continues the dynasty of its category defining DragonFly with the new DragonFly Black and DragonFly Red. Both devices could fit perfectly in a home-audio system or as the centerpiece of any traveler's laptop-based system. However for me, the DragonFly Black and DragonFly Red are critical pieces of my mobile iOS playback setup. Whenever I'm in the car or on a plane, I have the DragonFly Red or Black connected to my iPhone 6 Plus. The days of using a separate digital audio player are circling the drain because of the new AudioQuest DragonFly Red and DragonFly Black. It simply doesn't make sense to carry an extra player with limited storage and connectivity, when one has access to all the music ever made and excellent sound quality, by using an iPhone and AQ DragonFly. In addition, when Apple removes the analog headphone output from the iPhone, the AudioQuest DragonFly will become a necessity. Only rubes will stick with the Apple EarPods with built-in lightning support or switch to one of the few lightning-enabled headphones. Combined with a lightning USB adapter and an iPhone, the DragonFly Red and DragonFly Black enabled me to hear albums like never before on the iOS platform. The original DragonFly was one of those products everybody just had to have. The new DragonFly Black and DragonFly Red improve upon the original and expand its use into new territories. If history is any indication, the new Flys will be replacing a ton of originals and improving the sound of countless iPhones for the first time. Unequivocally recommended and C.A.S.H. Listed."
Software of the Year: SonoreUPnP Bridge
We haven't review this product yet, but we've been using it and recommending it quite a bit. The SonoreUPnP Bridge can "bridge Squeezebox and UPnP protocols. It can appear in Roon as a SqueezeBox player." That's right, everyone who has UPnP enabled devices can use the SonoreUPnP Bridge software to send audio from Roon to the devices, even though their devices aren't RoonReady. In other words, the SonoreUPnP Bridge makes UPnP / DLNA devices appear in Roon as an audio zone. Very cool.
Music of the year:
These albums weren't individually reviewed on CA, but we've used them during many product evaluations. Music is art, and art's beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We make no promises of eternal enjoyment from giving these albums a listen, but we strongly encourage everyone to give each one a chance. The April Maze is a duo from England and Australia. It's album Recycled Soul is easy on the ears both for its musical content and sound quality. Sonatas for Piano and Violin is from Pentatone's Remastered Classics series. "Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau, generally considered to be one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century , and Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux, the most important representative of the Franco-Belgian violin school as well as a truly great violin virtuoso, joined forces in Amsterdam in 1973 to record the Beethoven piano and violin sonatas nos. 1 and 5." The album is musically wonderful and sonically superb.
Popular - The April Maze, Recycled Soul (released in 2010, but listened to a heck of a lot in 2016) (Purchase Here (LINK))
Classical - Sonatas for Piano & Violin, Artur Grumiaux and Claudio Arrau (Released on 01-08-2016 , PTC 5186235) (Purchase Here (LINK))
Bargain of the Year: Nano Neo Pi
Full article found here (LINK)
"Using low cost components to accomplish specific tasks and using higher quality components to get one over the sonic finish line can be not only smart, but also rewarding. I've spent the last 36 hours using the new $7.99 NanoPi Neo from a company named FriendlyARM. It's not perfect, but it's well worth the price. Single and multi-zone high resolution audio from this tiny and inexpensive device isn't the height of living when it comes to sonic bliss, but it's just plain cool."
Best Music / HiFi Related Book of the Year: The Revenge of Analog, Real Things and Why They Matter
Full editorial and review here (LINK)
"The entire book The Revenge of Analog is filled with stories, anecdotal information, and objective information covering not only the comeback of vinyl, paper, and film, but more importantly, to me, how both analog and digital can coexist and how analog can make digital even better. The entire time I was reading the book, I kept thinking to myself that all audio software developers must also read The Revenge of Analog. There is so much to be learned about improving the digital experience, that I look forward to the coming improvements. I spend so much of my life in front of a screen, whether it's an iMac, iPhone, or iPad, that I long for what I'm missing.
Music is something I cherish and couldn't live without. Yet, I often wonder if my listening experience has really improved, as much as I think it has, with the advent of computer audio. I have no question that the best sound quality I've ever heard, comes from computer based systems. I'm also unequivocal that the advantages of computer audio far outweigh the disadvantages. In other words, there's no way I'm switching to an analog based system. However, this doesn't mean I am satisfied with the current digital experience. The introduction of Roon software is actually a nice step forward with respect to the whole digital experience. Many members of the CA Community have said Roon reminds them of the old album jackets because of all the information it provides and its rich interface. I agree, and believe Roon has changed the listening life of many, for the better. But, digital must get beyond the simple screen swipe and tap. How this is done, is beyond me, but I believe it's necessary. I've often wondered if selling 21st century "album jackets" would improve the digital experience. When an artist releases an album or a single, there is a simultaneous release of a physical product. This product may be similar to an album jacket, but much better because its form mustn't follow the function of holding a physical album. Maybe it's a nice magazine or book that's made available with each new music release. This would enable a hybrid experience of both analog and digital, using each one in the best light. I love the touch, sight, and smell of analog items, but I want to play digital music.
The Revenge of Analog is much more than the fad I once believed it to be. I was often stuck on the red herrings of sound quality and nostalgia, to justify my point of view. It took my own deprivation of analog, immersion in a complete digital world, and my own renaissance of analog photography to understand why analog matters. Analog matters because it's real. In the future, analog will make digital, its one-time nemesis and the very thing that sought to kill it, even better. Analog ideas and the ability to interweave analog and digital is the only way forward."