Well its that time of year when we look back on the best of what happened in the last year. 2018 was a great year for me. I finally got the blog off the ground and was convinced to jump on Facebook after many a year of fighting the trend. I still feel like a cat trying to swim across the Atlantic at times, but I’m learning.
Product wise, its been a great year too. I am going to dub 2018 the year of Audio Upstarts. Many new products from companies we hadn’t heard of before or new product lines from companies we were familiar with but not in that role not only arrived on the market, but made a big impact.
Over-ear Headphones of the year:
Dekoni Blue = This rethinking of the Fostex t50rp may be the best $200 spend in headphones at the moment. A lot of us were familiar with Dekoni as the maker of some of the best pads on the market but few saw the Blue coming. I’ve had no less than 6 versions of the T50rp and can say the Blue is the best tuning of the driver I have heard to date.
Campfire Cascade = The Cascade was the first on/over ear from a company we have long known for in-ear models. The Cascade redefined what a closed back on ear can do in terms of detail retrieval and sound quality and quickly silenced any concerns about its asking price. At last check they were sold out everywhere and Campfire has a waiting list.
Earphone of the year:
In this category, I am going to award a company as a whole and a specific model from another. BQEYZ gets the nod for best of 2018. The company has been an OEM for others for years but hung out its own shingle for the first time in 2018 and then released a string of no less than 5 highly competent models with complementary sound signatures all of which are currently available for $70 or less. If you can’t find a BQEYZ in ear that suits your style, wait a few weeks. I’m told there is more to come.
For the single product, I nomintate the NiceHCK M6 as in-ear of the year. With an $88 price tag (Head-fi discount) and a sound signature that competes in the the $250 bracket, it is an easy pick. With the ability to use not only the filters that came with it, but the filters from the LZ A5 to custom tune the M6 to your liking, this one is top choice.
DAC of the year (Desktop):
Part of me wanted to put the Topping DX7 in this spot as it brought the price of high-end gear down into a much more manageable range. Even so it still is cost prohibitive to all but the most die-hard amongst us. Instead, we are going to award the Topping D50 as best Desktop DAC of the year. This $250 DAC puts up numbers that most $1000 models would be proud to claim and packs in more features than most. It was a good year for DACs with many other good options released, but for price/performance the Topping D50 gets our nod. (I need to finish my review on this one too – been slacking).
Amp of the year (desktop):
Here the Burson Fun/Bang! get the nod. With enough power to drive just about anything you could want including efficient speakers (and some not so efficient ones) combined with the ability to roll in op-amps to adjust the signature to your desire the combo packs a ton of punch for a small price. Whats more, you can purchase the base models and upgrade as you go to spread the cost out even further. For those looking for desktop setups for the office or small spaces, this pair is tough to beat. (Combined with the D50 listed above, this is a very competent setup for a very minimal price)
DAP of the year:
Our DAP of the year was an easy call. I got my Opus #1s in early 2018 and it has been my daily driver ever since. At $400 it offers the sound quality of much more expensive models and a UI that is both responsive and stable. The Opus doesn’t have the streaming features of something like the Shanling M3s which was our 2nd place finisher but it all came back to sound quality and the #1S has it in spades.
DAC/Amp of the year (portable):
This was definitely the year of the stick DAC with many USB and lightning models either appearing for the first time or releaseing new models. Having said that, the feature sets were generally incremental improvements if at all and none were something that jumped out as head and shoulders above the pack. What did jump out was a little titanium gray box from iFi. The x series absolutely blew up this year and it would be near impossible not to choose the xDSD as our portable DAC/AMP of the year. Its specs would be impressive for a full-sized desktop package let alone something the size of a deck of cards. It manages to support PCM, DSD, and MQA out of the box, and includes iFi’s match technology for impedance matching I’ve used mine both paired to mobile sources (Cayin N3) and used from a laptop running the Cascades at home and this little box continues to amaze me.
Amp of the year (Portable):
Well, I had this section written, I was entirely prepared to give the Ibasso PB3 the portable amp of the year award two weeks ago and then another iFi box arrived for me to review. The one thing I had lamented on the xDSD was the lack of an analog input so you could just use the amp section with DAPs that already sported good DAC sections. So when I opened the package and saw the same little titanium gray box, I thought “Oh cute, an xDSD with analog in”. But NO! iFi has completely rethought the xCAN and it is in no way just the analog section of the xDSD. It it quite frankly the most ridiculously potent fully balanced portable amp I have ever had the chance to try. Few amps in this class offer balanced input, even fewer offer output power that can make both low impedance/high sensitivity IEMs and 600Ω Beyers sound good. Lets not even mention that it gets a better than 10 hour battery life and while using it for 8 hours straight I had no heat issues. Now we are into borderline fairytale stuff. (Review coming soon).
News for 2019! We are going to start 2019 off right for a few other people by giving away some of our favorites from 2018. First up is Dekoni Audio! This is one high bang for the buck outfit. They started out making great pads for great headphones and now have jumped into making a headphone of their own. I expect to see more from Dekoni in 2019 as I know they are just getting started good. We will be giving away a Blue Headphone and a set of Elite Fenestrated Sheepskin HD600 pads in February. The Elite fenestrated sheepskin pads are easily my favorite and Dekoni’s best selling pad and the Sennheiser HD600 series is the world’s best selling headphone What’s not to like.
After turning some one Dekoni Blue for Valentine’s day, we intend to turn someone Green for St. Patrick’s day with the NiceHCK M6 in bright green and a matching set of LZ A5 filters to tune it to your liking.
Watch for contest rules shortly and keep reading Audiofool Reviews!
Thanks for putting up with me in 2018 and I hope to see you back again next year!