Stereophile’s Products of 2019

July 2, 2023 0 By JohnValbyNation

The first vote I ever cast was in 1964, when I was 10 years old. Our fifth-grade teacher, a psychotic harpy who fined students 25 cents if they dropped a pencil, directed us to elect a Class President and a Class Treasurer: positions of indeterminate powers, although it was generally understood that they did not include the ability to wage war or annex adjoining classrooms. In retrospect—I didn’t realize it at the time—the very loud nominating process was straight out of Lord of the Flies, and even before the day’s final votes were cast, it was clear that the winners would not be chosen on the basis of intelligence, problem-solving skills, or ability to lead. It was a popularity contest. The winners were the brawniest boy and the prettiest girl.

Already, a benevolent monarchy seemed more sensible.

I turned 18 at more or less the time that that became the legal voting age—finally, teenaged males were allowed to participate in choosing the people who would use them as cannon fodder—and on my first try I failed to effect the changes for which I hoped. I wasn’t daunted. I realized by then that voting was serious stuff, a privilege and a grave responsibility, and I kept at it for many years to come.

Now, more than a half-century later, it’s my privilege and responsibility to preside over and report on some other grave and serious business: Yes, it’s a popularity contest—but it is also Stereophile‘s 28th annual product of the year awards. I have come full circle, and the experience has left me with a longing for gingerbread cookies shaped like windmills and milk that’s warm from being left too near the radiator.

Now, let’s see which candidates were the prettiest and the brawniest . . .

How We Did It

This year, the awards process began in early September—around the time of the Democratic presidential candidates’ third 2019 debate, now that I think about it—when Editor Jim Austin asked my colleagues and me for nominations in seven categories: Loudspeaker of the Year, Amplification Product of the Year, Analog Component of the Year, Digital Component of the Year, Headphone Product of the Year, Accessory of the Year, and Budget Product of the Year. The candidates were limited to products evaluated in our November 2018 through October 2019 issues, whether in a full Equipment Report or Follow-Up, or a column by me or my colleagues Michael Fremer, Herb Reichert, and Kal Rubinson. We did not consider products that took top honors in any previous year’s POTY celebration. That would have been the wrong thing to do.

The next step was when Jim compiled and distributed a list of finalists, the top six vote-getters in each category. (Each finalist earned a first, second, or third-place vote from at least three reviewers, an indication of broad support.) Then the Stereophile contributor’s job was to cast three votes in each of the categories: to give three points to his first choice, two points to his second choice, and one point to his third. (Virtually every year, at least one reviewer gets that bit wrong and assigns to their first-place choices the numeral 1: an understandable mistake with amusing consequences.) In that manner, the results reveal a certain density of information: Surely there are distinctions between the product that receives three first-place votes and the one that receives nine third-place votes.

After the votes were in, Jim Austin sent to all of us Stereophile reviewers the names of the winners in each of those seven categories and asked us to vote one more time—for the Overall Product of the Year.

The final step: Jim asked me to compose this essay and allowed me to vent a few lingering resentments in the process. It is Jim who tallies the votes, so it is he to whom noncomplacent firebrands should send notes of praise and blame. (See former Editor John Atkinson’s comments on the voting process here.)

A few miscellaneous notes: The equipment prices listed herein were current at the end of August 2019. To order back issues mentioned in this article, call (888) 237-0955 or visit (MasterCard and Visa only).

And the winners are . . .

NEXT: Loudspeaker of 2019 »


Page 1
Loudspeaker of 2019
Amplification Component of 2019
Analog Source of 2019
Digital Source of 2019
Headphone Product of 2019
Accessory of 2019
Joint Budget Components of 2019
Joint 2019 Components of the Year
Editor’s Choices of 2019

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