2013 Top Picks of the Year

Here’s a happy problem: Following the merge of Sound & Vision and Home Theater last year, selecting our 2013 Top Picks of the Year involved culling through more than 120 products that had been granted HT Top Pick or S&V Certified status—13 issues’ worth, plus dedicated online reviews. While it was still easy to pluck out the stuff that really rose to the top, the end result was more standouts than usual. You’ll find several recommendable entries equally sharing the various category honors this year. Of course, we’ve still identified a single, very special piece of gear as our ultimate Top Pick of 2013. Care to take a guess?

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Flat-Panel HDTVs

Samsung PN60F8500 Plasma HDTV
(Home Theater, Sept; S&V, June/July/Aug): The 2013 TV year was defined by this breakthrough model along with the top-tier Panasonic plasmas (see below), Samsung’s and LG’s OLEDs, and some early Ultra HDTV entries. Among them, only the OLEDs (none Top Picks) could really match the performance of the plasmas. Samsung took a leap in image quality with the PN60F8500, which achieved significantly greater brightness than any plasma we’ve seen to date.
Read the original full report here.
$3,150 (at time of review), samsung.com

Panasonic ZT60, VT60, and ST60 Series Plasma HDTVs
(S&V, Sept, Oct): The ZT60 and VT60 were virtually identical in dark-room viewing and the best TVs on the market last year, while the value-priced ST60 offered improved performance versus the prior year. Get ’em while you can, as Panasonic has announced plans to abandon plasma technology. Price varies, panasonic.com

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Front Projectors

Sony VPL-HW50ES SXRD Projector
(S&V, Feb/March; Home Theater, April): The VPL-HW50ES impressed with its great blacks, super brightness, superb color and detail, excellent 3D, and an attractive price tag that even included a spare lamp. Read the original full report here.
$3,999, sony.com

JVC DLA-X35 D-ILA Projector
(S&V, Feb/March): JVC’s entry-level projector remains ahead of its direct competition on the things that count most. Read the original full report here.
$3,500, jvc.com

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5020e LCD Projector
(S&V, Feb/March; Home Theater, June): A bright picture and a superb value. Read the original full S&V report here and the original Home Theater report here.
$3,000, epson.com

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A/V Receivers

Cambridge Audio Azur 751R
(S&V, June/July/August; Home Theater, June): What the Azur 751R lacks in whiz-bang features, it makes up for with natural, effortless sound that reviewer Mark Fleischmann deemed “worth every penny of its price.” $2,999. Read the original full report here.
cambridgeaudio.com

Marantz SR7008
(S&V, Oct): A fully loaded AVR with nine integrated amp channels, Audyssey’s top-of-the-line room EQ, and the excellent sonics Marantz is known for. Read the original full report here.
$1,999, us.marantz.com

Arcam AVR750
(SoundandVision.com): Despite a vertigo-inducing price tag, Arcam’s successor to the stellar AVR600 delivers a true audiophile experience. Read the original full report here.
$6,000, arcam.co.uk, americanaudiovideo.com

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Audio Separates

Yamaha Aventage CX-A5000 Surround Processor
(S&V, January 2014): The first dedicated preamp/processor for the premium Aventage line delivered up fabulous sound, tank-like build quality, and more features than you can shake a stick at for a quite reasonable price. Read the original full report here.
$3,000, yamaha.com/av

Marantz AV8801 Surround Processor
(Home Theater, May): Marantz’s new top-of-the-line performed so well in reviewer David Vaughn’s system, it earned a place as his new reference. Read the original full report here.
$3,599, us.marantz.com

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Speakers

SVS Ultra Speaker System
(Towers, S&V, June-July-August; bookshelf system, Home Theater, Sept): Web-direct speaker-maker SVS, long known for outstanding subwoofers, knocked it out of the park on sound and build quality with the high-value, full-range Ultra speaker line. Read the original full report here.
Tower, $999 each; bookshelf system, $3,699; svsound.com

Sony SS-NA5ES
(S&V, November): Sony made a serious effort in 2013 to return to its audio roots, evident in the stellar (and very pricey) SS-NA5ES bookshelf system. Read the original full report here.
NA5ES, $6,000/pair; 5.1 system, $19,000; sony.com

Revel Performa3
(Bookshelf system, S&V, September; tower system, S&V, January 2014): With the long-awaited Performa3 series, Revel once again proved it can engineer a near-perfect loudspeaker with open, unvarnished sound. Read the original full report here.
Performa3 F208 tower, $5,000/pair; 5.1 system $13,300; revelspeakers.com

Legacy Audio Classic HD
(Home Theater, July/August): “A hit of sonic crystal meth administered directly onto my tympanic membranes,” said reviewer Darryl Wilkinson. Read the original full report here.
Classic HD, $4,950/pair; 5.1 system, $10,785; legacyaudio.com

B&W CM10
(SoundandVision.com, December 2013): Reviewer Brent Butterworth praised B&W’s latest tower for its highly natural sonics, calling it “one of the best sub-$5,000 speakers you can buy.&rdquo.
Read the original full report here.
$3,999/pair, bowers-wilkins.com

MartinLogan Motion 40
(SoundandVision.com, February 2013): MartinLogan tapped folded-ribbon, magnetic planar tweeters to deliver electrostatic-like sonics in affordable, passive loudspeakers.
Read the original full report here.
Motion 40, $950 each; 5.1 system, $4,345; martinlogan.com

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Subwoofers

PowerSound Audio XV15
(S&V, September): In our face-off of sub-$800 subs, the Power Sound XV15 delivered a serious punch to the listening panel and all competitors. Read the original full report here.
$799, powersoundaudio.com

SVS PC12-NSD
(S&V, September): The PC12-NSD’s tall, cylindrical profile yields a ton of tight, deep bass in a relatively small footprint. Read the original full report here.
$749, svsound.com

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Value

GoldenEar Technology Triton Seven Speaker System
(Towers, S&V, September; 5.1 system, S&V, November): An extraordinarily transparent and revealing compact tower speaker that won’t shirk from (and even blossoms with) the highest-quality electronics and source material, the Triton Seven represents one of the great steals in audio today. Read the original full report here.
Triton Seven, $699 each; 5.1 system, $3,594; goldenear.com

Klipsch Quintet Speaker System
(Home Theater, July/Aug): With new high-rigidity cabinets and other improvements, the latest iteration of this Klipsch classic became one of the best budget sub/sat systems we’ve heard. Read the original full report here.
$1,050, klipsch.com

Monitor Audio MASS 5.1 Speaker System
(S&V, September; SoundandVision.com, December 2013): The MASS system brings much of the characteristic sound of Monitor’s more expensive lines to a high-value, living-room-friendly package.
Read the original full report here.
$1,298, monitoraudiousa.com

Vizio S4221-wC4 2.1-Channel / S4251w-B4 5.1-Channel Soundbars
(S&V, December 2013, SoundandVision.com, December 2013, respectively): Vizio surprised A/V critics across the board last year with the performance, feature content, and value of these very, very budget soundbar systems. Read the original full report for the S4221-wc4 here and the report for the S4251w-B4 here.
S42210-wC4, $249; S4251w-B4, $330; vizio.com

Sony STR-DN1040 A/V Receiver
(SoundandVision.com, September 2013): Sony’s bang-for-the-buck successor to the STR-DN1030 came in with improved sonics and features that included built-in Apple AirPlay, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth connectivity. Read the original full report here.
$599, sony.com

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Extras

NAD D3020 DAC/Integrated Amplifier
(S&V, October): Harkening to its classic 3020 integrated amp that inspired thousands of budding audiophiles in the 1980s, NAD came up with an aptX Bluetooth-connected, high-quality digital DAC/amp hybrid at a price today’s college kid can afford. Read the original full report here.
$499, nadelectronics.com

Meridian Direct DAC
(S&V, December 2013): A compact USB DAC that took reviewer Mark Fleischmann’s high-rez audio files to a new level of clarity and transparency. Read the original full report here.
$699, meridian-audio.com

Roku 3 Streaming Media Player
(Home Theater, July/August): Roku proved once again why it dominates the streamer market with a huge offering of channels, excellent video and audio, dual-band Wi-Fi, and a wireless remote with its own headphone jack. Read the original full report here.
$100, roku.com

Shure SE846 In-Ear Headphones
(SoundandVision.com, December 2013): Four years in development, Shure’s new three-way, four-driver high-end phones quickly rose to the top in reviewer Steve Guttenberg’s comparative listening tests. Read the original full report here.
$1,250, shure.com

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Soundbars

B&W Panorama 2 System
(Home Theater, September): With its thrilling delivery of both movies and music, the Panorama 2 proved itself an audiophile soundbar. Read the original full report here.
Panorama 2, $2,200; PV1D subwoofer, $1,700; bowers-wilkins.com

Sony HT-ST7
(SoundandVision.com, December 2013): To reviewer Mark Fleischman’s ear, Sony’s high-end soundbar shared some sonic DNA with the company’s high-end speakers. Read the original full report here.
$1,299, sony.com

Sonos Playbar System
(Home Theater, September): Even without its tight, powerful, matching SUB subwoofer, the Playbar delivers a rich movie and music experience plus the multiroom functionality Sonos is famous for. Read the original full report here.
Playbar, $699; SUB, $699; sonos.com

Pioneer SP-SB23W
(S&V, December 2013): Renowned speaker designer Andrew Jones set a high standard for the low-budget soundbar in this musically inclined entry. Read the original full report here.
$399, pioneerelectronics.com

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Top Pick of the Year

Panasonic TC-P65ZT60 Plasma HDTV
(S&V, October): Panasonic has announced its imminent departure from the plasma TV market (see this issue’s “Track One”), but the company is going out with a bang. After a four-year cycle of evolutionary improvements, the ZT was the first HDTV to deliver performance essentially equal to or better than the beloved and long-defunct Pioneer Kuro in all key areas of image quality. The new OLEDs will eclipse it, but not for a long while at this attainable price. And so, despite its fleeting presence, we proudly honor the Panasonic ZT60 plasma as our 2013 product of the year. Read the original full report here.
$3,800, panasonic.com

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COMMENTS
kent harrison's picture

Too bad they are not going to make them anymore.

aopu.mohsin's picture

Undeniably and absolutely the "Top Pick" list. Thanks Rob Sabin (does anyone ever call you "Robin", in short?), for hitting the "bulls-eye" and sharing the list with everyone.

It wouldn't be a bad idea to list Power Conditioner to the "Extra" list perhaps. Just a thought!

mzaborow's picture

Amen!

I bought a VT50 in December of 2012 and thought that I had something special. Then the ZT line was introduced in 2013.

I put my marriage at risk and bought a 60-inch ZT60 in October 2013 and I'm glad I did.

This TV is nothing short of amazing!

It handles broadcast HD channels with aplomb and consistently produces a lifelike, natural-looking picture.

Fed a Blu-ray 1080p signal (from an OPPO BDP-103), it's just stunning!

I just hope Panasonic has a lot of spare parts.

K.Reid's picture

Long live the Panasonic ZT60. Panasonic saved the best for last. Glad to see the GoldenEar Technology Triton 7 received a nod. It is phenomenal speaker.

savage's picture

We bought a VT60 in December and are very happy. Everybody seems so excited about 4K, but I think the VT60, along with a very good Blu-Ray player, is going to be pleasing until well after the market chooses 4K or OLED, and their content becomes widely available.

habittel's picture

FYI - Panasonic is not really honoring their warranty in the sense you would think on their plasmas. I bought a 65" Panasonic ZT60 a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it had a screen defect and a broken optical output. After several Support calls and a technician visit I was told they could not repair it or provide a replacement panel. They are only offering a refund, which is an option under their warranty. Now I've been left scouring the internet and calling around the country trying to find a replacement panel that isn't marked up. Hope nobody else that bought one has my experience. They are definitely done supporting them. It's been a disaster and it looks like I'm going to be out of luck.

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