Boulder 2150 Monoblock Power Amplifier and 2110 Preamplifier
$98,000 and $54,000
These two components are further demonstrations of just how good high-end electronics have now become—and of the fact that solid-state units can provide superb sound quality. They also illustrate the growing challenges of trying to describe sonic nuances that are far more matters of taste than of inherent merit. For example, at the end of a long period of comparing the Boulder and the Pass Labs units (see below), two things became clear: Each offered very different sonic subtleties that will matter to demanding audiophiles, and yet each did everything right that could possibly count—and did so in spite of having radically different circuit topologies.
Pass Laboratories Xs Preamp and Pass Xs 300 Mono Power Amplifier
$38,000 and $85,000
Simply put, these products from Pass Labs offer the absolute sound without compromise. The kind of gear most audiophiles dream about—and which only the truly lucky can afford—they redefined the perceptions of this reviewer during the time they passed through his hi-fi system. Neutral, detailed, dynamic with excellent bass and extraordinary midrange definition, the Xs Preamp is now my reference, and the XA160.8 monoblocks—more affordable siblings of the Xs 300 that share many of that more powerful and expensive unit’s qualities—my reference amps. All told, these are the two best-sounding examples of a preamp and power amp I have yet heard.
YG Acoustics Hailey 1.2 Loudspeaker
The loudspeaker used to be the weakest link in a stereo system. Today, the challenge in selecting speakers is choosing from among various forms of excellence. In this case, the YG Acoustics Hailey 1.2 offers deep bass, exceptional dynamics, and compelling musical realism. Its presentation delivers extraordinary sonic verisimilitude that comes directly from the recording, rather than from efforts to tune the upper midrange to seem more “detailed.” The Hailey 1.2 also measures so well that it is a frightening reminder to a subjective reviewer that superior technical specifications and test results not only matter, but can also actually indicate superb sound. Call it one of a growing number of speakers that make high-end auditioning a truly rewarding experience.