Don’s recommended products page

I have posted many of my recommended products here. I spend a lot of time researching and testing products to find the best performers and best values for you.

If an Amazon link is available I used it, for three reasons.  First, using the Amazon listing tool allows me to edit and modify this page very quickly.  Second, the product descriptions tend to be very detailed and you can see real-world reviews from users as well.  Third, when you buy through the links here it supports my efforts in producing the column and this website. So, if you order through here I appreciate it!

I have also listed many products that are not available on Amazon, with links to the manufacturer’s websites or direct to other vendors.  For example, my absolute two favorite speaker companies, GoldenEar Technology and Ohm Acoustics, do not sell on Amazon but they are linked here along with my absolute highest recommendation. Sound Advice is a labor of love for me, not an Amazon storefront.  Still, as I said before if you order something from Amazon through this site it helps cover my web hosting costs.

Check out the Systems section for pre-matched, pre-built audio systems.  Not only will you see some examples of component matching, you may find exactly what you are looking for. I will be adding new systems regularly, including camera outfits.

Most of the products here are affordable priced.  If you want to build a high-end system then email me to discuss your needs.  I am always happy to help!

A work in progress

No matter how this page looks now, you can count on it to be expanded, tweaked and refined on a regular basis.  I have a vision in mind for this page that includes a lot of additional information and shopping tips, but I have to start somewhere.

Now, on to the products!  The market changes quickly but I will do my best to keep things up-to-date.

Headphones

Headphones are one of the top recommendation requests I receive, and you can expect more headphone reviews on this site in the future.

If you want something really special to last a lifetime, check out Oppo’s $699 PM-2 and PM-1 open-back planar magnetic headphones have truly spectacular sound quality.  I wrote about them in this column.



Earphones


 

Bluetooth speakers


Soundbars and Soundbases

Poor television sound and hard-to-understand dialogue is the biggest complaint sent to my newspaper column. A soundbar or soundbase is a great way to improve your television’s sound with minimal complexity.  

ZVOX invented the category and tends to be my top recommendation. Some ZVOX models have a feature called AccuVoice to improve the dialogue even further.

You can search for the proper ZVOX soundbase for your TV below.


Cambridge Audio and Pioneer make nice products as well.  They focus on two-channel sound and music reproduction a bit more than the ZVOX products.

The Insignia NS-SB314 soundbar is a good choice if you can find it for under $79. It’s not the last word in sound quality, but will make your TV sound better at an affordable price and it is easy to see and buy at your local Best Buy store.


 

Stereo and home theater speakers

The speakers are by far the most important part of your audio system and determine how it will sound.  Buy good speakers and get clean power to drive them, and you will have great sound.

The following four brands are sold factory-direct or through authorized dealers.  GoldenEar Technology and Ohm Acoustics are my favorite brands and my top recommendation for the highest performance systems, though they are far from the most expensive speakers you can buy.

GoldenEar Technology: GoldenEar is the latest venture of audio legend Sandy Gross, who helped found Polk Audio and founded Definitive Technology.  GoldenEar speakers often have the best sound at CES, despite not being the most expensive.  A full range is offered from in-wall to impressive towers with built-in subwoofers.  The Aon 3 bookshelf speakers are stunning at $999/pair.

Ohm Acoustics: Ohm’s patented Walsh driver brings 3D sonic realism combined with impeccable sound of pristine clarity.  I’ve used them continuously since 1986 and a pair of their Walsh 5000s grace my living room. Handmade to order in the USA, with some of the finest customer service you will ever experience.  They are not inexpensive, but they outperform speakers selling for tens of thousands more and are a lifetime investment.  Prices start at $1,400 per pair and Ohm often has refurbished models available at significant savings.

Magnepan: Flat panel speakers with a huge audiophile following. I am huge fan of the Magnepan MMG, which sells for only $599. 

Chane: Starting at $299/pair, Chane loudspeakers use exotic technology in plain boxes, delivering sweet, beautiful and detailed sound well competitive with much more expensive speakers.

SVS

SVS Prime is a great line of speakers, specifically the towers, which provide truly high-end resolution and bass reproduction of remarkable accuracy, and the Prime Satellite System, which is one of the best 5.1 systems you can buy under $1,000 (if not THE best!) The Piano Gloss finish is exquisite and adds $200 to the price.


Most of these recommendations are towards the affordable end because once you are over $1,000 I tend to recommend GoldenEar and Ohm.




Stereo receivers and amplifiers

I will be brief and say that modern stereo receivers are rare and for the most part, poor quality.  The only two I recommend are the Onkyo TX-8020 and the Outlaw Audio RR2150.  There are some nice integrated amplifiers out there though if you can get by without a tuner. There are some neat tube amplifiers available at affordable prices now, but be sure to pair them with speakers that do not have high power requirements.

 


 

Separate components for stereo

If you want the most power and best performance for stereo, get separates, meaning a separate preamplifier and power amplifier. This is pretty specialized so if you want to go this route you may want to email me and we will talk about your needs and find a good setup for you.

The preamplifier chooses the source, adjusts volume and balance/tone, while the amplifier is just a box with an on button.  The preamplifier sends the signal to the amplifier, which powers the speakers. What is nice about this kind of setup is the flexibility it offers. If you buy a good amplifier it will never go out of style or become obsolete. I have amplifiers that are almost 30 years old and they still do a flawless job driving my speakers. You can just change the preamplifier to add the features that you need. If you need more power you can keep your preamplifier and change out the power amplifier. So, long-term, this solution delivers the most value.

Emotiva and Outlaw Audio sell excellent amplifiers at affordable prices.  I also like the Parasound New Classic and Halo line.  The Cambridge Audio line, specifically the 851E preamp paired with 851W amplifier with XD technology is outstanding, though a bit pricey at around $4,000 for the set.

If you want to spend more than $4,000 on an amplifier and preamplifier you need a really good reason, as you are really getting into diminishing returns after that. As I said before, email me if you have questions or want to explore a system based on separates.


Home theater audio/video receivers and amplifiers


 

If you want the best performance, again, separates are recommended.  Pairing the Outlaw Audio 975 AV preamp/processor with a 5-channel or 7-channel amplifier from Outlaw Audio or Emotiva will yield much better performance than even very expensive receivers, and prices for the pair start around $1,000.

 

CD Players

You can use any DVD player or Blu-ray player to play CDs, and that may be your easiest, least expensive option.  I have listed a few here if you are looking for a dedicated CD player.

Turntables

Like speakers, a turntable system is a place where spending more yields big sonic dividends.

A turntable should be looked at as a system… turntable, tonearm, cartridge, then phono preamp.  Putting an expensive cartridge on a cheap turntable won’t get you great sound.  In fact, it will probably be the opposite.  It’s like putting racing tires on an economy car that can’t get the performance out of them. It is better to buy an expensive turntable with an inexpensive cartridge, then upgrade the cartridge later.

Avoid cheap plastic turntables with ceramic cartridges. The entry level for quality sound is the Audio-Technica AT-LP60, linked below.

Building a turntable system is a bit of an art and if you want specific advice or are looking for a high-end rig, feel free to email me.  The turntables below are great choices at their respective price points.

In addition to those listed below, be sure to check out turntables from AVID, Rega, Pro-ject and VPI.  I have many turntables but use an AVID in my main system, and am very fond of it.


 

Phono cartridges

Phono cartridges should be matched to the specific turntable and tonearm.  These designs work well with almost any turntable, though if your turntable has a steel platter you should not use a moving coil cartridge. Low output moving coil cartridges require a phono preamp with an MC setting. High output moving coil cartridges can be used with any MM phono input.

Some of my favorites are the Grado Statement and Reference wood-bodied cartridges, which you can see here.




Phono preamps

My favorite phono preamp is the Musical Surroundings Phonomena II, which sells for $749. If you have a high-end turntable rig it is well worth the investment, and will last you for decades. It is a beautiful design with premium circuitry, and has an extremely wide range of load and gain adjustments to ensure a perfect match with any phono cartridge.


Blu-ray players

I usually recommend you buy a Blu-ray player from the same brand as your television.  Almost all Blu-ray players have excellent picture quality, and by matching the brand your remotes will be compatible without programming any codes. You can get a great player for under $100 and I recommend you buy one with WiFi.  WiFi will make it easy to stream movies and music and do firmware updates.

If you want something spectacular, I recommend the Oppo Blu-ray players with Darbee Visual Presence.  They are built like tanks and have the best audio and video performance you can buy. Though they cost more than other players when you open the box you will immediately know you got your money’s worth.  The BDP-103D is all most people will need, but if you have a high-end sound system with multichannel analog inputs and analog direct mode you can take advantage of the 105D’s state-of-the-art audio. When you set the Darbee Visual Presence I recommend setting it to HD mode and 35%.

The Sony Playstation 3 makes a wonderful Blu-ray players as well, but you must buy Sony’s Blu-ray remote to get full functionality.  If you just want to play movies you can use the included controller.


Televisions and projectors

Recommendations coming soon

Connecting cables and speaker wire

Recommendations coming soon

Don’t waste your money on expensive cables and speaker wire! I have a special page devoted to this, specifically HDMI.

If you want something fancy that is reasonably priced, check out SoundPath from SVS.

 Audio and video accessories

Recommendations coming soon

Compact cameras

Recommendations coming soon

Interchangeable lens cameras

Recommendations coming soon

Lenses

Recommendations coming soon

Action cameras

Recommendations coming soon

Photography accessories

Recommendations coming soon