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EISA 2021-22 Best Product Award Winners
By Bes Nievera

While the world continues to spin in this unusual time, great audio gear has become more essential than ever for music lovers. And with EISA (the Expert Imaging and Sound Association) recently naming the winners of its Best Product awards in six categories, including Hi-Fi, it's comforting to know that a huge, diverse array of industry-leading gear is available at Music Direct.

A case in point is KEF's latest iteration of its much-heralded LS50 speakers. The KEF LS50 Wireless II was honored in the EISA category Wireless Standmount Loudspeakers, and the KEF LS50 Meta was honored in the category Standmount Loudspeakers.

Praising the attributes of the LS50 Wireless II, EISA's audio journalism community noted, "This is much more than just a pair of speakers. In fact, it's a complete wireless hi-fi system, able to play music from portable devices, local network storage and streaming services, all under the control of a cleverly designed app." Music Direct's recent video review echoes these sentiments: The LS50 Wireless II's all-in-one app surpassed our expectations with its ease of use, while the Metamaterial Absorption Technology yielded incredible improvements in micro and macro listening levels. In honoring the KEF LS50 Meta, EISA hailed it as "a magnificent compact speaker capable of a huge soundstage, generous bass and terrific imaging."

In the category Hi-Fi Subwoofer, we weren't the least bit surprised by the committee's selection of the KEF KC62. In speaking to members of our sales team, we were in unison on how this elegant subwoofer yields such a mighty sound in a compact box. As EISA stated, "It's tiny, at just 25cm per side, with a pair of drivers just 16.5cm in diameter, and yet this seemingly miraculous speaker delivers massive, fast and tautly controlled bass down to subterranean depths."

Adding to the subwoofer hit parade, SVS was the winner in the category Compact Subwoofer. Ohio-based SVS won honors for its 3000 Micro, which demonstrates the company's ability to satisfy customers (and dealers like us) with products that have remarkable power, with a compact footprint, that can be paired with numerous speaker types. The committee noted, "The 3000 Micro is ... for use in space-starved home theaters and living rooms, while still delivering the performance that brand fans will expect."

Among the huge selection of streamers at Music Direct — with products available to fit any budget — models from Cambridge Audio and Bluesound, in particular, have generated acclaim and positive feedback from our sales team and customers alike. Both models were honored by EISA, while a relative newcomer to us, HiFi Rose, hit the ground running, also landing an award.

Cambridge Audio's all-new EVO 150 netted its award in the category Streaming Amplifier, in part because of the company's deep commitment to creating components that are forward-thinking, long-lasting, and reasonably priced. The EVO 150's powerful 150wpc is managed through Hypex NCore Class D amplification, while the StreamMagic platform yields engaging results when playing your favorite content from some of the most popular services, like Qobuz and TIDAL. EISA's committee said, "The Cambridge Audio engineers have considered everything, from the way the EVO 150 leads you through installation to the superb StreamMagic app control, making this a system all the family can enjoy, with class-leading sound."

Bluesound's well-received makeover of its top-selling Node High-Res Music Streamer netted the brand an award in the EISA category of Digital Music Player, keeping the product top of mind for music lovers and our sales team, as a budget player that delivers sterling sound. Launched earlier this year, the new version is better than ever, with expanded features that include HDMI ARC, Apple Airplay 2, and more, all managed with its intuitive BluOS app.

Here at Music Direct, we are in complete agreement with EISA regarding the HiFi Rose RS150B Reference HiFi Network Streamer, which topped the category High-End Music Player. We were instantly smitten with the 150B, a full-size component that sports several firsts, including a 14.9-inch touch screen.

As a streamer, the 150B is fully compatible with Qobuz and TIDAL Masters, offering MQA decoding. It serves as a platform for network audio playback of your content, all the way up to DSD and PCM's high plateaus of resolution. More than that, it's one of the first players that streams video content via HDMI all the way up to 4K. As EISA opined, "This is an accomplished —and extremely flexible — player/DAC that will play everything from Bluetooth streams to hi-res content, and you can even install SSD storage to make it a complete library and player in one unit. The sound is striking, too, majoring on richness and detail that contributes to a very mature presentation. This is a decidedly impressive debut for the Korean brand."

For Cambridge Audio, the EISA honors didn't stop with the EVO 150, as the company's DacMagic 200M was honored as the best DAC. The latest iteration of the always popular DacMagic offers wickedly stunning performance, delivering the "Great British Sound" that the company prides itself on. "It lives up to the precedent of its illustrious forebears," EISA noted, "with an attractive combination of solid build, ease of use and performance, plus wide-ranging file-format compatibility, all the way up to 768kHz/24-bit and DSD512 (at least via its USB input)."

Analog fans will find the following award particularly exciting: Thorens, a legendary brand that continues to captivate collectors and turntable lovers worldwide, snagged EISA's High-End Turntable award for the revival of its TD 124 DD turntable. Badged as a direct-drive 'table, the TD 124 DD builds upon the design of its half-century-old sibling with brilliant advancements, such as a height-adjustable aluminum chassis, vibration-damping design, and ultra-precise speed control. Central to the 124's success is the TP 124 tonearm, which has an innovative anti-skating solution with a ruby bearing and an electric tonearm lift.

In the category Best Value Turntable, the winner is the Pro-Ject Debut PRO. With this affordably priced 'table, Pro-Ject's engineers have borrowed from the audiophile-grade X1 and X2 turntable designs, implementing the tried and true, one-piece, carbon-fiber-wrapped aluminum armtube. EISA hailed the turntable as "an absolute knock-out," saying, "The platter is now more heavily damped and non-magnetic, the suspension of both arm and motor have been enhanced, and a new Pick it Pro cartridge comes pre-fitted for near instant set-up and use."

Ortofon saluted the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven's birth by launching its 2M Black LVB250 moving-magnet cartridge, which topped the EISA category Phono Cartridge. An entry in the company's wildly popular 2M series, the LVB250 adds carefully engineered improvements, including an advanced suspension and a Cadenza-level cantilever and stylus profile to generate absolutely magnificent performance from an MM cartridge at this price point. EISA spotlighted the LVB250's "silky, sophisticated presentation especially well-suited to classical, jazz and acoustic music," adding that the sound "boasts rock-solid imaging, great stereo focus and depth, along with a smooth, lush view of strings and other acoustic instruments."

Marantz has emerged from a memorable era of components crafted by the late designer Ken Ishiwata to a new lineup helmed by "Sound Master" Yoshinori Ogata. Under Mr. Ogata's watch, the Marantz Model 30 Integrated Amplifier and matching SACD 30n SACD/CD Player became EISA's winner for best Stereo System — and with good reason. EISA hailed the pair as "a triumph," saying, "The amplifier plays it simple, concentrating on the purest possible sound from its all-analogue design, while the SACD/CD/network player brings a whole world of musical opportunity to the party, from discs to streaming and more."

Our evaluation of the Marantz products garners the same passion. Massive advancements in audio reproduction via HDAM-SA3 circuitry result in remarkable tonal balance and purity of sound from the Model 30 integrated amp, while the versatile 30n SACD/CD player impresses and dazzles with its onboard DAC and HEOS streaming architecture, Apple AirPlay and Bluetooth capability, and so much more.

For more on these products, as well as other current and past EISA winners, click the links, or give our team a call to place your order with the confidence that comes with Music Direct's industry-leading, 60-day guarantee.

Remember, you can keep up to date with Music Direct's products, music releases, and more by signing up for our newsletter. Also, be sure to like, tag, and follow Music Direct and @musicdirectchicago on social media.

August 20, 2021

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