Inspired by a SoundStage! Audiophile Podcast episode, I posed a rhetorical question in a Simplifi feature published a few months ago: “Is Component Hi-Fi Dead?” During that podcast episode, Brent Butterworth, senior editor of SoundStage! Solo, had asked if we really need amplifiers anymore, given the growing acceptance of powered and active speakers with built-in amplification. “Amps are never going to die,” Brent opined, “but are amps kind of dead?” Dennis Burger, senior editor of SoundStage! Access, replied: “I don’t know if they’re dead. I just think they are unnecessary.”

Reviewers' ChoiceI’ve had a soft spot for Dynaudio for many years. For one thing, the Danish brand practically invented high-performance Simplifi’d hi-fi. When Dynaudio launched its Xeo range of active speakers in 2012, there were many excellent tabletop music systems on the market. But Dynaudio’s Xeo 3 standmount and Xeo 5 floorstanding speaker systems were different: they delivered real stereo from two discrete enclosures. Other than two-prong power inlets, the enclosures had no connectors of any kind. Instead, they received 16-bit/48kHz PCM audio from a companion wireless transmitter, which had mini-USB, optical (TosLink) S/PDIF, and line-level analog inputs (RCA and 3.5mm). The Xeo speaker systems made it possible to get serious stereo sound in multipurpose living spaces without cluttering them up with gear and cables.

Reviewers' ChoiceQuite often, when a manufacturer updates a popular product, the new model offers only incremental improvements over the one it replaces. But sometimes, the new product represents a major upgrade over the original; and that is the case with SVS’s Prime Wireless Pro active loudspeaker system ($899.99, all prices in USD). The Prime Wireless Pro costs 50% more than the company’s Prime Wireless active speaker system (discontinued, $599.99 when available), but it contains a host of improvements.

This year, Canada’s Totem Acoustic celebrates its 35th anniversary. Since its founding in 1987, Totem has released an impressive range of passive loudspeakers, including standmount and floorstanding models, soundbars, on-wall speakers, and in-wall and in-ceiling speakers aimed at the custom integration channel.

Life gets in the way of a lot of things, and sometimes it gets in the way of hi-fi. Audiophiles who have dedicated listening rooms are lucky in this respect; audiophiles who must set up their sound systems in multipurpose spaces can find their hobby conflicts with other activities that go on in those rooms. The speaker locations that might deliver the best tonal balance and soundstaging might be occupied by an armchair or end table. Freestanding speakers might present a tipping hazard for households with rambunctious toddlers or pets.

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

It’s almost ten years since Lenbrook Industries launched its Bluesound range of multiroom audio components. At the heart of those products is the BluOS software platform, developed in-house by the Canadian company. Lenbrook, which also owns the NAD and PSB brands, later added BluOS streaming capability to several NAD components. More recently, Lenbrook has licensed BluOS technology to several third-party brands, including Cyrus Audio, DALI, Peachtree Audio, Monitor Audio, and Roksan.

Reviewers' ChoiceNostalgia is huge in hi-fi right now. Just look at all those retro-styled speakers from brands like JBL, KLH, Klipsch, Mission, PSB, and Wharfedale. JBL, for instance, offers standmount speakers that evoke the legendary L100, which made its debut in 1970. Like the original L100, the L52 Classic ($1000/pair, all prices in USD unless noted otherwise), L82 Classic ($2750/pair), and L100 Classic ($4400/pair) all feature walnut veneer enclosures and JBL’s iconic Quadrex foam grilles.

Reviewers' ChoiceIn 2012, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, KEF introduced the LS50 two-way minimonitor ($1499.99/pair at launch, all prices in USD), which went on to become one of the landmark audio products of the 2010s. When he reviewed the LS50 on SoundStage! Hi-Fi in 2013, Doug Schneider concluded: “The LS50 is nothing short of a masterpiece of a minimonitor, priced so that anyone serious about audio can buy a pair.” The LS50 later won a 2013 SoundStage! Network Product of the Year award. Four years later, KEF launched an active speaker employing the same Uni-Q driver array as its passive cousin. The LS50 Wireless ($2499.99/system at launch) was named a SoundStage! Network Product of the Year for 2017.

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

With network entertainment now solidly in the mainstream, we’re seeing more and more products that depart from the traditional source-amp-speaker paradigm. We’ve reviewed scores of such products on Simplifi: active speaker systems with built-in network streamers such as KEF’s LS50 Wireless II and Bang & Olufsen’s Beolab 28, streaming DAC-preamps such as NAD’s C 658 and Bryston’s BR-20, and streaming integrated amplifiers such as Bluesound’s Powernode and Naim Audio’s Uniti Atom.

Q Acoustics, founded in the UK in 2006, produces loudspeakers that range from the inexpensive 3010i compact bookshelf model ($299 per pair, all prices in USD) to the Concept 500 floorstander ($6499/pair), with a plethora of choices in between. These include a myriad of home-theater options, including several subwoofers and an active soundbar.

The Italian brand Sonus Faber is known for beautifully crafted passive loudspeakers that use luxurious materials, including exotic wood finishes and front baffles with leather inserts. Earlier this year, Sonus Faber announced its Omnia Wireless Music System ($1999, all prices in USD unless noted otherwise). With flowing lines, five-layer veneered walnut top panel, sculpted base, and textured fabric grilles, the Omnia shares the design aesthetic of Sonus Faber’s passive speakers.