The Best of 2022!

Now That's What We Call Music

We ask around Upscale for the personal highlights of 2022

My Sonic Lab Phono Cartridge

My Sonic Lab Signature Gold Moving Coil Cartridge.

From wireless headphones to tube amps to top-of-the-line streamers, we played, we listened, and we argued.

If we missed your favorite brand and/or model, we strongly encourage you to write us an aggrieved email. After all, the only definitive rundown of the great Upscale products of 2022 is upscaleaudio.com, yes the entire website. This list, meanwhile, has to be a subjective snapshot of a moment in time if it's to fit in an email newsletter. We think it sums up our year pretty nicely.

PrimaLuna EVO 400 Integrated

An Upscale Audio bestseller and the product that is the natural pick for such a large percentage of listeners and systems, that we almost left it unspoken. But how can we not look back over the year and think about the number of happy homes created around the merry little hearth of glowing tubes that's the EVO 400 Integrated? With its double set of power tubes it has headroom enough for nearly any speaker out there, but never, ever sacrifices tube magic at the altar of power.

 PrimaLuna EVO 400 Integrated Tube Amplifier

Hana Umami Red Moving Coil Cartridge

A unanimous pick by the Upscale Analog Lab. This is the cartridge so many of our vinyl lovers would pick for their own system. Coated in glorious Urushi lacquer and using ebony, rare earth magnets, diamond, and CNC Duralumin, this study in scarlet is a cartridge that is forensic in its detail retrieval while still blooming and glowing with life.

Buy Hana Umami Red Phono Cartridge
 Hana Umami Red

My Sonic Lab Signature Gold Moving Coil Cartridge

We spent some extremely high-quality time with the Signature Gold from My Sonic Labs. We found it to be the perfect marriage of a Koetsu's warmth and tonal balance, with the slam and detail of a Lyra. It was a real product of the year, and we can't wait to bring in more of Yoshio Matsudaira's creations in 2023.

My Sonic Lab Signature Gold Phono Cartridge
 My Sonic Lab Signature Gold

 

Pathos InPol Remix MkII Tube Hybrid Integrated Amplifier

Stereophile has just featured this on the cover of the January 2023 issue, with the headline "High Excitement!". For those of us who've worked the headphone table at audio shows, we fondly remember the faces of people who plug their headphones into this amp, not knowing what to expect, and after the astonished glance in our direction, end up staying so long we have to hint it's time for them to let someone else experience this transcendental Italian music-making machine.

Pathos InPol Remix MkII Tube Hybrid Integrated Amplifier
 Pathos InPol Remix MkII Hybrid Integrated Amplifier

Feliks Audio Envy Headphone Amplifier

If there's a quintessential, archetypal vacuum tube, the curvaceous 300B is certainly the favored finalist. Feliks Audio has clearly created the Envy as a celebration of this tube, not just sonically, but visually too: seeming to formally serve a pair of 300Bs to us on a block of richly grained walnut or oak. Hand-crafted in Poland and filled with only the best components, this is the headphone amp you will want beside you on your deathbed.

Feliks Audio Envy Headphone Tube Amp
 Feliks Audio Envy Headphone Amplifier

Dr. Feickert Analogue Volare Turntable

Another brand that you regularly see in Upscale Audio employee systems, Dr. Feickert Analogue is known for beautifully executed, seemingly traditional design that's packed with modern tweaks and materials. The Volare is the most accessible of the Doctor's creations, developed from scratch to be just as qualified as the top models, albeit on a smaller scale.

Dr. Feickert Volare Turntable
 Dr. Feickert Volare Turntable

Rega Planar 6 Turntable with Neo PSU

Rega has always followed the "simplify, then add lightness" mantra of fellow British brand Lotus Cars, resulting in a lithe, dynamic sound. By using designs that dissipate vibration early (rather than high-mass designs that reject vibration, but are expensive), Rega is truly the race leader in the budget table market, with the Planar 6 filling in one of the great sweet spots of hi-fi, especially considering it comes with a power supply that's designed like a high-end two-frequency streaming amp.

Rega Planar 6 Turntable

Sutherland TZ Vibe Phonostage

Transimpedance is the new phono buzzword, and when Ron Sutherland of Sutherland Engineering gets his hands on the concept, you know he's going to distill it to its most beautiful essence. "We don't do features," says Ron, "we do simplicity." Transimpedance circuits are praised for "filling every square inch of the room with music" and the TZ Vibe is an affordable way to pair your low-impedance, low-output moving coil cartridge with a dance partner that will never tread on its toes.

Sutherland TZ Vibe Phonostage
HiFi Rose RS150B Reference Network streamer

HiFi Rose RS150B Reference Network Streamer

Some people love products with lots of features, while others are suspicious of them, fearing that the extras get in the way of good sound. HiFi Rose is one of those rare brands to win everybody over. Rigorous build quality and shielding keep the audiophiles happy, but HiFi Rose's best trick is how it makes skeuomorphism (in this context, software products made to look like their real-world counterparts) delightful and surprising even in 2022. See the photo of the FM-tuner screen above. Even the most jaded of us smile when they see that and reach over to press the buttons or turn the dial and watch the needle move across the scale.

HiFi Rose RS150B Streamer

Aurender N150, N200, N20 Streamers

Aurender makes excellent DACs, but we think they specialize in streamers that make your current DAC sound better than you could have ever imagined. This is why several members of the crew picked out Aurender streamers across the price range: weighty hunks of metal that bring lightness and air to your digital replay, and also imbue it with great tonal density, and a touch of warmth. It may be hard to fathom how streamers make a difference to the sound, but once you hear just how profoundly one can sound different from another, you'll be addicted just as we are!

Aurender N150 Streamer/Music Server
Aurender N200 Streamer/Music Server Aurender N20 Music Server/Streamer
 Aurender N150 Streamer/Music Server
Aurender N200 Streamer/Music Server
Aurender N20 Streamer/Music Server

Lumin U2 MINI Streamer

Launched this year, Lumin's follow-up to the excellent U1 MINI offers improvements that turn this streamer into an "ice bullet" as one reviewer called it, to describe how it totally disappeared in his system. The U2 MINI is the streamer to get when you've finally found what you're looking for, and want to get your system to perform at its absolute best by feeding it with the lowest noise and jitter levels you can afford.

Lumin U2 Mini Streamer
 Lumin U2 MINI Streamer

 

PrimaLuna EVO 100 Tube DAC

This is the DAC for people who have tried great DACs and keep going back to their analog sources, citing "something missing from digital." The EVO 100 DAC is tube rectified, with a tube gain stage, so it has all that life and body warmth you love from analog. Incredibly, the clock is a tube as well, a tiny military-spec, long-lived triode. This isn't a marketing trick just to be able to claim this DAC is "all tube." The SuperTubeClock produces a square wave like no other commercial clock, and does so with extremely low noise, resulting in that luscious sound that makes this the DAC for people who don't want a DAC.

PrimaLuna EVO 100 DAC
 PrimaLuna EVO 100 DAC

Berkeley Audio Design DACs

One of our crew listed the Berkeley Audio Design DAC and didn't mention which model, but since Berkeley makes just two DACs, and both are along the same sonic arc, let's list both. The Alpha and Alpha Reference are DACs that show just how soaring and magical digital audio can be. These DACs don't sound "analog" or "digital", whatever those terms mean. These are DACs that sound like music, often a lot of music coming at you and immersing you just as it does in real life.

Buy Berkeley Audio Alpha DAC
Berkeley Design Reference Alpha DAC
 Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 3 Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 3

Focal Bathys and Utopia 2022 Headphones

From its travel-friendly Bluetooth headphone to its flagship microdetail scrivener, Focal has really impressed Upscale's can jammers. The Bathys, the Bluetooth offering with active noise cancellation, has been voted by us as the "don't think, just buy" product of the year. The Utopia 2022 with its beryllium drivers is a more considered purchase and will keep the right listener happy for life, offering a great mix of detail, dynamics, deep bass, and as always, Focal's tight grip on that elusive concept we call musicality.

Focal Bathys Headphones
Focal Utopia 2022 Headphones
Focal Bathys Wireless Bluetooth ANC  Focal Utopia 2022 Headphones

Cabasse The Pearl and The Pearl Pelegrina

One of our favorite things about connected products is that they get better with no effort on our part. After a few hiccups on busy networks, an "over the air" upgrade fixed all that, and now our smitten crew member reports that these all-in-one speakers are "true hi-fi" and that the placement and room correction software is "extremely impressive." Cabasse is known for a dynamic sound with—in contrast to other similar products—a very rich midrange. Supercharging these with a high-end streamer and a power conditioner takes them "to the most exalted realms."

Cabasse Pearl Wireless Loudspeaker
Cabasse Pearl Pelegrina Wireless Loudspeaker
 Cabasse The Pearl Wireless Active Loudspeaker Cabasse The Pearl Pelegrina Wireless Active Loudspeaker

KLH Model Three Loudspeaker

This year was filled with many wonderful examples of the "neo-retro" movement in loudspeakers, but the KLH Model Three stood out as a favorite budget speaker. Said our resident KLH fan, "There might be speakers that are more flashy but if you walked into a room and judged it purely on its sound quality, I bet everyone would be shocked at the price." Plus, that price gets you stands, linen grille cloth, and real wood veneers. It wouldn't be crazy just to buy a pair to have on hand for when you need them.

 
KLH Model Three Loudspeaker
KLH Model Three Loudspeaker

Spendor Speakers

Just "Spendor"? As in, all of them? Turned out, yes, our Spendor lover chose these "goosebump speakers" because they're very fast and dynamic, yet musical and emotional, and non-fatiguing in long listening sessions. The classic models give up that last bit of detail for emotion, a choice that most of us will make every day of the year. And of course, all of us at Upscale love that they are still a family business and make all their own parts. Below are our top three Spendor sellers.

 
Spendor Classic 4/5 Bookshelf Loudspeakers
Spendor D7.2 Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Spendor Classic 3/1 Bookshelf Loudspeakers
Spendor Classic 4/5 Bookshelf Loudspeakers Spendor D7.2 Floorstanding Loudspeakers Spendor Classic 3/1 Bookshelf Loudspeakers

REL Acoustics HT/1510 Predator Subwoofer

Of course we're excited about the No.31 and 32, REL's brand-new flagships. But we're saving those for deep dives and lots of experimentation in 2023. In 2022, we had our eyes opened by the REL HT series, specifically the HT/1510 paired with Klipsch Cornwall and driven by a PrimaLuna EVO 300 Integrated. Owners of high-efficiency speakers are dead against subwoofers with good reason. The REL Predator hunts down and kills that reason, offering a sub that's fast and powerful enough to support speakers with sensitivities in the high 90s and beyond.

REL HT/1510 Predator Subwoofer
 REL Acoustics HT/1510 Predator Subwoofer
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