2014 Products of the Year -- and My Favorite Album of the Year

I’m not foolish enough to think that, if I wrote an article focusing only on my favorite music releases of 2014, many people would read it. What audiophiles want from their hi-fimagazines, print or online, are articles about gear, gear, and more gear -- which means that music reviews or articles, no matter how well written, are often passed by. So to give my pick for best album of 2014 as much exposure as possible, I’m putting it right at the top of this annual article about the winners of our Product of the Year awards.

Adam Cohen’s We Go Home was released in mid-September. Joe Taylor reviewed it on SoundStage! Access, and gave it higher marks for enjoyment than he did Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems, released one week later. Adam is Leonard’s son.

According to a YouTube video produced by Adam Cohen, he had every intention of following up his very successful 2011 release, Like a Man, quickly and easily in the studio. But when he finished the recording, he realized he’d “missed the mark.” He scrapped what he’d done, and retreated with his band to his childhood homes in Greece and Canada, where he recorded what became We Go Home. I’m glad he did -- the 11 songs have resonated powerfully with me since the first time I heard them. Cohen and his group sing and play (mostly acoustic instruments) with such passion and feeling that the result feels almost like a live recording. And despite sounding more like folk than rock or pop, most of these songs have hooks that grab and don’t let go -- I can’t count the number of times I’ve found myself singing, in my head, a song from We Go Home. The last album that clicked this well for me was Tracy Chapman’s self-titled debut -- and that was in 1988.

On his second time around with these songs, Cohen hit the mark -- I like every tune on We Go Home -- but for me, the knockouts are “Song of Me and You,” “We Go Home,” “I Swear I Was There,” and the strikingly simple “Boats.” Each alone is worth the album’s price. I recommend CD or LP for best sound, but if you’re OK with lo-rez recordings from iTunes, you’ll get two additional tracks those physical formats don’t include: “Sun” and “Don’t Crack.” I avoid anything of less than CD quality, so I haven’t bought the downloads; I’m hoping they’ll make it onto a future “special edition” CD or LP.

We Go Home

SoundStage!’s 2014 Product of the Year Awards

For the first three categories -- Pioneering Design Achievement, Aesthetics and Sound, and Innovation in Design -- we recognize just one winner. For Outstanding Performance and Exceptional Value, we recognize multiple products of various categories.

Every Product of the Year received a Reviewers’ Choice award when it was reviewed -- they’re truly the best of the best.

Pioneering Design Achievement

Devialet 400 mono integrated amplifier-DACs ($17,495), SoundStage! Ultra

Aesthetics and Sound

Sonus Faber Olympica III loudspeakers ($13,000/pair), SoundStage! Hi-Fi

Innovation in Design

Definitive Technology Mythos ST-L SuperTower loudspeakers($4999.90/pair), SoundStage! Access

Outstanding Performance

Anthem Performance MRX 710 A/V receiver ($1999), SoundStage! Xperience
Ayre Acoustics AX-5 integrated amplifier ($9950), SoundStage! Hi-Fi
KEF Reference 1 loudspeakers ($7499.99/pair), SoundStage! Hi-Fi
Luxman C-900u preamplifier ($19,990), SoundStage! Hi-Fi
MartinLogan BalancedForce 212 subwoofer ($3999), SoundStage! Hi-Fi
Oppo Digital PM-1 headphones ($1099), SoundStage! Xperience
Rega Research Limited RP8 turntable ($2995), SoundStage! Hi-Fi
Revel Performa3 F208 / C208 / M106 / B112 home-theater speaker system ($12,000), SoundStage! Access

Exceptional Value

2014 Product of the Year

Cambridge Audio Aero 2 loudspeakers($549/pair),SoundStage! Hi-Fi
Focal Spirit Classic headphones ($399),SoundStage! Xperience
Monitor Audio Silver 6 loudspeakers($1500/pair),SoundStage! Access
NAD D 7050 integrated amplifier-DAC ($999),SoundStage! Access

With that, the book of hi-fi history closes on 2014, and I start to look forward to all the great products we’ll be reviewing in 2015. But before I get too far ahead of myself, the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show is just around the corner (January 6-9), in, as always, Las Vegas. I’ll be on location there with our team of reporters -- you’ll find our coverage of CES 2015 on SoundStage! Global -- and I’ll be assembling my list of the Best Products at the Show, which I’ll report on in this space next month.


— Doug Schneider —