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EISA Hi-Fi Awards 2019-2020

  • EISA. Prior to September 2018, it meant European Image and Sound Association. The abbreviation now reads Expert Imaging and Sound Association. As the name change-up suggests, EISA no longer operates with a strictly European purview. Its expanded scope casts it as a conglomeration of some of the world’s finest tech journalists, in the last two years adding members from Australia, Canada, India, Japan and the USA. Last month, Darko.Audio was added as a member for Germany.

    For the last 35 years, EISA has annually bestowed awards upon the best in in-car electronics, mobiles devices, home theatre, photography and – of course – hi-fi equipment. Each category is presided over by one of six Expert Groups. Darko.Audio is joining the Hi-Fi group.

    EISA Gala Dinner, Berlin 2018
    EISA Gala Dinner, Berlin 2018

    Each product undergoes individual assessment by its Expert Group members (in accordance with their in-house review processes) with many additionally and directly presented by manufacturers to their Expert Groups at EISA’s annual convention in Antwerp. Expert Group member voting is collated before final deliberations take place at EISA’s annual global meeting in June. (I’ll be in Antwerp and voting from next year onward).

    The EISA award winners for 2019-2020 are announced today (see below) with a more formal presentation taking place next month at EISA’s annual gala dinner in Berlin, the night before IFA opens its doors to the public. I’ll be there to stand at the very back of another group photo. Heck, my apartment is close enough to the venue that I could walk.

    EISA ACTIVE STEREO SPEAKER 2019-2020
    ELAC Navis ARB-51

    Part of a new, two-strong active speaker range from ELAC – there’s also the larger floorstanding ARF-51 – this bookshelf design combines custom drivers and an analogue crossover design all perfectly integrated with inbuilt amplification to give a sound of remarkable precision and clarity. By dedicating one amplifier to each driver – the tweeter and midrange are mounted concentrically for enhanced focus – ELAC ensures each is driven to the best of its capabilities. Connect the speakers to a preamplifier via RCA or XLR cables, and you have a complete, optimised system. You can even connect the speakers wirelessly using a choice of ELAC AirX2 hubs. Brilliant!

    EISA ALL-IN-ONE SYSTEM 2019-2020
    Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation

    Naim created a whole new market sector with the launch of its Mu-so: a high quality all-in-one streaming system. With the Mu-so 2nd Generation, it has taken that winning formula and reinvented it, packing in both extra features and more sound quality, utilising completely new drivers co-designed with Focal, making this even more of a one-box solution for room-filling music. The adoption of Naim’s ‘Future Platform’ brings a wider range of streaming options, including audio at up to 384kHz/32-bit and a huge number of services via Chromecast Audio. The inclusion of an HDMI-ARC input also allows the new Mu-so to enhance your TV, but the real revelation is the sound: wide-open, fast, detailed and yet reassuringly weighty, it sets the standard all other integrated systems now have to beat.

    EISA BEST BUY AMPLIFIER 2019-2020
    Rotel A11

    In a history stretching back almost 60 years, affordable amplifiers without frills but packing lots of performance have been central to the Rotel story. The A11 is the latest in this illustrious line – and it’s an absolute bargain. Built around the classic Rotel Class AB amplifier design, it’s rated at 50W per channel, and has a sensible array of inputs for the modern user. It will accommodate four line sources, there’s a moving-magnet phono for a turntable, and aptX Bluetooth for wireless streaming from portable devices. Add in the sound quality made possible by careful design and the use of custom Rotel components, and you have an extremely attractive music-first integrated amplifier.

    EISA BEST BUY TURNTABLE 2019-2020
    Pro-Ject X1

    The Pro-Ject name is synonymous with value-for-money turntables built in Europe. Since 1991 the company has arguably been leading the vinyl revival, and the X1 is its latest reinvention of the classic Pro-Ject 1 deck that started it all. Look beyond the gloss finish, using eight layers of paint and several rounds of hand-polishing – yes, on an affordable turntable – and you’ll find just about every aspect of the design has been improved, from the MDF plinth to the platter, the motor suspension and speed control, and the carbon/aluminium sandwich tonearm. Even the pre-fitted cartridge is new, being made by Ortofon and tuned by Pro-Ject. This is surely the best sub-€1000 turntable package on the market.

    EISA BOOKSHELF LOUDSPEAKER 2019-2020
    Monitor Audio Gold 100

    Building on decades of success in speakers both small and large, the Monitor Audio Gold 100 is a bookshelf/standmount design with a big sound that belies its compact dimensions. Featuring the latest version of the company’s C-CAM driver technology, using a composite ceramic/aluminium magnesium construction for lightness and rigidity, it sounds fast, detailed and powerful, with excellent integration between the drive units, and surprisingly deep and tuneful bass. Add in Monitor Audio’s meticulous construction and beautiful choice of finishes, and you have a truly superior compact speaker design.

    EISA COMPACT STEREO SYSTEM 2019-2020
    Marantz Melody-X (M-CR612)

    Combining style and simple operation with flexibility and striking performance, the Marantz ‘Melody’ series of compact systems has long been attracting plaudits – and the M-CR612, or ‘Melody X’, is its best yet. Available in either gloss black or classic Marantz champagne gold, it combines CD playback, network music and streaming services including Spotify, TuneIn Radio and Tidal, FM/DAB+ radio, and both analogue and digital inputs, so you can use it to boost your TV sound. It’s also compatible with HEOS, so can be used as part of a multiroom wireless audio system, and can even be voice-controlled using Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple Siri. Add in the option of running two pairs of speakers with separate volume controls, or doubling the power into one pair, and you have a remarkably flexible – and superb sounding – compact system.

    EISA DAC 2019-2020
    Chord Electronics Qutest

    Designed as a replacement for the acclaimed 2Qute, the Chord Electronics Qutest differs from the company’s other compact DACs in that it has no built-in headphone amp, but puts all its effort into delivering top digital-to-analogue quality. Based on the company’s celebrated FPGA DAC architecture from the Hugo 2, it has optical and coaxial digital inputs, plus an isolated USB-B input for computer connection. All this is wrapped in Chord’s superb-quality milled aluminium casework, with analogue outputs adjustable to suit power amps, preamps and headphone amps. If you want a big, dramatic sound from a compact DAC, this is the one.

    EISA DIGITAL SOURCE 2019-2020
    Pro-Ject CD Box RS2 T/Pre Box RS2 Digital

    Although best known for its turntables, Pro-Ject is building an enviable reputation in digital audio, too – and this two-box CD transport and DAC/preamp is its most impressive component yet. A real ground-up design, the CD Box RS2 T features a customised CD-Pro 8 transport mechanism, supported by an alloy/carbon fibre chassis and state-of-the-art disc-reading electronics. Digital connections to the hugely flexible Pre Box RS2 Digital DAC even include HDMI, with a synchronising clock. The latter also boasts Bluetooth, USB-B, coaxial and Toslink digital inputs, with a choice of solid-stage and tube-based analogue outputs. With support for MQA and no fewer than seven digital filter options too, this combination delivers CD and hi-res digital audio sound in a range of delicious flavours – this is true audiophile performance, and supreme flexibility, packed into two remarkably compact enclosures!

    EISA HEADPHONE 2019-2020
    Focal Elegia

    The Elegia is Focal’s first audiophile circumaural closed-back headphone, and brings a wide range of Focal’s own technologies together to create a model with a powerful yet precise sound. These include the company’s M-profile driver for a wider radiating surface, a frameless copper voice-coil and ultra-fine surround to keep the driver firmly under control. The easy-to-drive Elegia delivers a wide frequency range from deep bass to the subtlest ambient nuance, helped by the noise-excluding properties of that closed-back design. It’s a great listen, and comfortable to wear, whether at home or on the move.

    EISA HI-FI UPGRADE 2019-2020
    IsoAcoustics GAIA

    We all know the value of isolation when it comes to getting the best from hi-fi electronics, but until you hear IsoAcoustics’ GAIAs in action, you’ll never know how much this applies to speakers, too. Proving there’s life beyond the old faithful floor spikes, the cylindrical GAIA ‘pods’ connect into the base of your speaker, isolating the cabinet from vibration while resisting any tendency for it to move. Typically, they have the effect of lowering the noise floor, improving soundstage focus and tightening up the bass. With a machined stainless steel housing finished in dark chrome, and able to support up to 100kg, the GAIAs look superb – and what they’ll do to your music is magical.

    EISA HIGH-END AMPLIFIER 2019-2020
    Hegel H390

    At first glance, Hegel’s H390 looks like a slimmed-down, more affordable version of the Norwegian company’s mighty H590 amplifier – which is hardly surprising, because that’s just what it is. However, there’s more to the H390 than that: it offers almost all of the performance of its ‘big brother’, for about half the price! That means the ability to drive just about any speaker to stunning effect with its 250W per channel output, built-in UPnP and AirPlay 2 streaming, Roon Ready certification and MQA plus DSD decoding. Access online services, plug in digital or analogue sources, or simply send it music from your phone – this superbly flexible, yet simple-looking, amplifier will do it all.

    EISA HIGH-END LOUDSPEAKER 2019-2020
    KEF R11

    KEF has been making great speakers for almost 60 years, but it’s hit a new high in style, performance and value with the new R Series. The R11 brings together all the elements of that success, from the latest generation coaxial Uni-Q driver for superb imaging and focus, anodised to match the choice of premium cabinet finishes, through to the clever microperforated grilles, which solve the old ‘on or off’ problem. The result is a slender speaker capable of a big, rich, room-filling sound packed with detail and delivering superb musical involvement, and with the style to ensure it looks every bit as impressive as it sounds.

    EISA LOUDSPEAKER 2019-2020
    Bowers & Wilkins 603

    The Bowers & Wilkins 600 Series has set the standard in affordable speakers for decades, and this latest version is its best yet. That’s especially true of the floorstanding 603, which offers a striking combination of performance and value for money, thanks to technology trickled down from the flagship 800 Series Diamond speakers and a range that’s rationalised down to just the essentials. The ‘Decoupled Double Dome’ tweeter and ‘Continuum Cone’ midrange give the speaker detail, focus and presence, while twin bass drivers with ‘Flowport’ tuning ensure the sound is always rich and dramatic. This is a surprisingly advanced speaker design for the money.

    EISA SMART AMPLIFIER 2019-2020
    NAD M10

    It took a while for NAD to enter the world of all-in-one network music solutions, but the M10 was worth every moment of the wait, for this sensational little amplifier is also a complete ‘just add speakers’ music system. The dramatic full-width touchscreen display sets the tone, allowing you to access the full range of the M10’s capabilities. These include streaming music services, with BluOS allowing multiroom playback with Bluesound products, Bluetooth and AirPlay 2, plus digital and analogue inputs, an HDMI-ARC connection for TV sound, and even Dirac Live room correction to optimise the sound. Finally, with NAD’s HybridDigital amplification on board, the M10 will drive virtually any partnering speaker – it is a true master of modern music playback.

    EISA STEREO SYSTEM 2019-2020
    Primare CD35/I35 Prisma

    Recipient of a previous EISA Award, Primare continues its winning ways with this I35 amplifier and CD35 Prisma CD/network player. The amplifier is a simple, but fabulous-sounding, all-analogue design that delivers plenty of power using the company’s UFPD 2 amplification. Its modular design means you can add Primare’s DAC stage, and the Prisma network/multiroom module, when required. The CD35 Prisma CD player is also fully networked, offering wired and wireless connectivity for AirPlay, Bluetooth and Spotify Connect, as well as Chromecast built-in to access thousands of streaming services. This is so much more than a simple CD player/amp system: it’s the future of hi-resolution home hi-fi.

    EISA STREAMING DAC 2019-2020
    Mytek Brooklyn Bridge

    As the name suggests this latest Mytek product is designed to form the bridge between network audio and a hi-fi system – but it goes much further than that. Based on the technology of the company’s DAC+, the Brooklyn Bridge combines network player, DAC and preamp in one compact unit, complete with digital, analogue and phono inputs, and RCA, XLR and headphone outputs. Controlled by a smartphone app, it will play from network sources, Roon, online streaming including Qobuz and Tidal, a computer via USB, and even USB storage devices. It may be compact, but this is a remarkably flexible – and superb-sounding – network streaming player.

    EISA TURNTABLE 2019-2020
    MoFi UltraDeck+M

    From the same company that brought you Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab vinyl pressings, the UltraDeck+M is not just an excellent turntable, but also a complete ‘plug and go’ solution to play your records. It comes complete with a pre-fitted high-quality MoFi MasterTracker moving-magnet cartridge, meaning you can have it up and running in minutes, and is superbly engineered throughout for precision and quality, drawing on the expertise of some leading names in vinyl replay. That means it delivers rock-solid pitch stability, while that metal-bodied cartridge really gets ‘under the skin’ of the music you choose to play, emphasising the value and engineering on offer here.

    EISA WIRELESS STEREO SPEAKER 2019-2020
    KEF LSX

    KEF created quite a stir when it launched the wireless version of its EISA Award-winning LS50 speaker, transforming an already hugely impressive design into a complete ‘hi-fi system in a speaker’ solution. The LSX makes that concept both more compact and more affordable, combining the company’s expertise in driver, amplifier and wireless streaming technologies with a stylish design available in a range of eye-catching colours. With Apple AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth built-in, plus access to Spotify and Tidal, all controlled from a neat app on your smartphone, this could be all the hi-fi system many users will need.

    EISA AV ACCESSORY 2019-2020 (combined with HTA and HTV EGs)
    IsoTek SMART Delta

    Every AV system needs power – and lots of it – but only clean power will let all of your components, audio and video, deliver their very best performance. IsoTek’s SMART Power range takes things even further, for as well as cleaning the power line, removing extraneous noise, and protecting against power surges and spikes, it offers fully programmable system power-up and shutdown. Using control over LAN or Wi-Fi, you can sequence the order of power on/off, assign names to each of the unit’s outlets, and even set it all up and ‘drive’ it from an app on your phone. They don’t call it ‘SMART’ for nothing – and its effect on your system’s performance will be just as impressive.

    Five additional thoughts from yours truly:

    1. The six loudspeaker awards are split evenly between passive (KEF, B&W, Monitor Audio) and active designs (KEF, ELAC, Naim).
    2. All four loudspeaker amplifiers are single-box solutions (Hegel, Rotel, NAD, Primare, Marantz) that integrate D/A conversion and streaming.
    3. Of the three digital pre-amplifiers, only one (Chord) is what we might call a ‘purist’ design with a single purpose feature set. The other two (Pro-Ject, Mytek) load in streaming, phono pre-amplification and/or headphone drive.
    4. With only a pair of turntables (Pro-Ject, MoFi) on the awards list, streaming products outnumber vinyl with three capable of spinning CDs (Primare, Marantz, Pro-Ject)!
    5. Two awards lend credibility to the oft-scoffed-at deleterious effects of vibration (IsoAcoustics) and dirty power (IsoTek).

    Further information: EISA


    The EISA 2019-2020 awards for the other Expert Groups run as follows:

    HOME THEATRE AUDIO EXPERT GROUP

    EISA AV RECEIVER 2019-2020
    Denon AVR-X2600H

    EISA BEST BUY HOME THEATRE SPEAKER SYSTEM 2019-2020
    DALI OBERON Series

    EISA HOME THEATRE HIGH-END 2019-2020
    Focal Astral 16

    EISA HOME THEATRE SPEAKER SYSTEM 2019-2020
    Arendal Sound 1723 Monitor S THX 5.1

    EISA HOME THEATRE SUBWOOFER 2019-2020
    SVS SB-3000

    EISA PREMIUM HOME THEATRE RECEIVER 2019-2020
    NAD T 758 V3

    EISA PREMIUM SOUNDBAR 2019-2020
    Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar

    EISA SOUNDBAR 2019-2020
    LG SL8
    in some markets LG SL8Y, LG SL8YG

    EISA TV SOUND SYSTEM 2019-2020
    DALI KATCH ONE

    COMBINED WITH HI-FI/HT VIDEO&DISPLAY EXPERT GROUP

    EISA AV ACCESSORY 2019-2020
    IsoTek SMART Delta

    COMBINED WITH HT VIDEO&DISPLAY EXPERT GROUP
    EISA UNIVERSAL PLAYER 2019-2020
    Pioneer UDP-LX500


    HOME THEATRE VIDEO&DISPLAY EXPERT GROUP

    EISA 8K TV 2019-2020
    Samsung QE82Q950R

    EISA BEST BUY OLED TV 2019-2020
    Philips 55OLED804

    EISA BEST BUY PROJECTOR 2019-2020
    BenQ CinePrime W2700

    EISA HOME THEATRE PROJECTOR 2019-2020
    BenQ CinePrime W5700

    EISA HOME THEATRE TV 2019-2020
    Philips 65OLED984

    EISA BEST PREMIUM OLED TV 2019-2020
    LG OLED65E9
    in some markets (LG OLED65E9PLA, LG OLED65E97LA, LG OLED65E9PUA)

    EISA SMART HOME TV 2019-2020
    LG 65SM9010
    in some markets (LG 65SM9000, LG 65SM9000PLA, LG 65SM9010PLA, LG 65SM90107LA)

    COMBINED WITH HI-FI/HT AUDIO EXPERT GROUP
    EISA AV ACCESSORY 2019-2020
    IsoTek SMART Delta

    COMBINED WITH HT AUDIO EXPERT GROUP
    EISA UNIVERSAL PLAYER 2019-2020
    Pioneer UDP-LX500

    COMBINED WITH PHOTOGRAPHY EXPERT GROUP
    EISA PHOTO/VIDEO CAMERA 2019-2020
    Sony α6400


    PHOTOGRAPHY EXPERT GROUP

    EISA ADVANCED CAMERA 2019-2020
    Fujifilm X-T3

    EISA ADVANCED FULL-FRAME CAMERA 2019-2020
    Panasonic LUMIX DC-S1R

    EISA BEST BUY FULL-FRAME CAMERA 2019-2020
    Canon EOS RP

    EISA BEST BUY ZOOM LENS 2019-2020
    Tamron 35-150mm F2.8-4 Di VC OSD

    EISA CAMERA INNOVATION 2019-2020
    Fujifilm GFX100

    EISA CAMERA OF THE YEAR 2019-2020
    Nikon Z 6

    EISA COMPACT CAMERA 2019-2020
    Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI

    EISA LENS INNOVATION 2019-2020
    Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM

    EISA PHOTO INNOVATION 2019-2020
    Sony Real-time Eye AF

    EISA PHOTO SOFTWARE 2019-2020
    Skylum Luminar

    EISA PORTRAIT PRIME LENS 2019-2020
    Sony FE 135mm F1.8 GM

    EISA PROFESSIONAL STANDARD ZOOM LENS 2019-2020
    Nikon NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S

    EISA PROFESSIONAL TELEPHOTO ZOOM LENS 2019-2020
    SIGMA 70-200mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | Sports

    EISA STANDARD PRIME LENS 2019-2020
    Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM

    EISA STANDARD ZOOM LENS 2019-2020
    Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM

    EISA SUPER-TELEPHOTO PRIME LENS 2019-2020
    Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM

    EISA TELEPHOTO PRIME LENS 2019-2020
    Sony FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS

    EISA TELEPHOTO ZOOM LENS 2019-2020
    SIGMA 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports

    EISA WIDEANGLE PRIME LENS 2019-2020
    Sony FE 24mm F1.4 GM

    EISA WIDEANGLE ZOOM LENS 2019-2020
    Tamron 17-28mm F2.8 Di III RXD

    COMBINED AWARDS WITH MOBILE DEVICES EXPERT GROUP
    EISA BEST SMARTPHONE 2019-2020
    Huawei P30 Pro

    COMBINED WITH HT VIDEO&DISPLAY EXPERT GROUP
    EISA PHOTO/VIDEO CAMERA 2019-2020
    Sony α6400


    MOBILE DEVICES EXPERT GROUP
    EISA ADVANCED SMARTPHONE 2019-2020
    OnePlus 7 Pro

    EISA BEST BUY SMARTPHONE 2019-2020
    Xiaomi Redmi Note 7

    EISA BEST EARBUDS 2019-2020
    JBL Reflect Flow

    EISA BEST NOISE-CANCELLING HEADPHONES 2019-2020
    Sony WH-1000XM3

    EISA CONSUMER NOISE-CANCELLING HEADPHONES 2019-2020
    JBL LIVE 650BTNC

    EISA ELECTRIC VEHICLE 2019-2020
    Xiaomi Mi Scooter Pro

    EISA LIFESTYLE SMARTPHONE 2019-2020
    Honor 20 Pro

    EISA MOBILE SPEAKER 2019-2020
    LG XBOOM Go PK7
    in some markets (LG XBOOM Go PK7W, LG PK7, LG PK7W)

    EISA PARTY SPEAKER 2019-2020
    JBL PartyBox 100

    EISA WIRELESS IN-EAR HEADPHONES 2019-2020
    OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2

    COMBINED AWARDS WITH PHOTOGRAPHY EXPERT GROUP
    EISA BEST SMARTPHONE 2019-2020
    Huawei P30 Pro


    IN-CAR ELECTRONICS EXPERT GROUP

    EISA IN-CAR HEAD UNIT 2019-2020
    KENWOOD DMX8019DABS

    EISA IN-CAR SOUND PROCESSOR 2019-2020
    Brax DSP

    EISA IN-CAR AMPLIFIER 2019-2020
    ESX QE1200.4

    EISA IN-CAR SPEAKER SYSTEM 2019-2020
    Morel Elate Carbon 603

    EISA IN-CAR SUBWOOFER 2019-2020
    Ground Zero GZPW 10SQ

    EISA IN-CAR SMART UPGRADE 2019-2020
    Alpine PWD-X5

    EISA IN-CAR DASHCAM 2019-2020
    Alpine DVR-F800PRO

    EISA IN-CAR HIGH-END COMPONENT 2019-2020
    Eton Core S3

    EISA IN-CAR INNOVATION 2019-2020
    Zapco HDSP-Z16V

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Twitter

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