Scott's Picks

With so many products among our reviews that merit Top Picks status, I'd like to share with you my personal favorites from 2011. Of course, all of our Top Picks are worthy of your serious consideration, but these are the ones I'd buy if I was shopping for home-theater products in the entry-level, midrange, and high-end price ranges.

FLAT PANELS

Entry Level

Panasonic TC-P50ST30
List Price:
$1,300

A great plasma at a great price, often offered for hundreds off list, with online streaming and 3D capabilities. The TC-P50S30 ($1,000, reviewed here) is essentially identical without 3D for $300 less.

Read full review here.

Midrange

Panasonic TC-P55VT30
List Price:
$2,800

Panasonic's top-of-the-line 3D plasma with online streaming, but price for reviewed screen size puts it in the Top Picks midrange. Excellent all-around performance.

Read full review here.

High End

Sharp Elite PRO-60X5FD
List Price:
$6,000

Finally, a flat panel to compete with the late, lamented Pioneer Kuro. Gorgeous in every way (except off-axis, like all LCDs).

Read full review here.

PROJECTORS

Entry Level

N/A

We haven't yet found an entry-level projector that warrants Top Picks status, but we'll keep looking.

Midrange

JVC DLA-X3
List Price:
$4,500

This 3D projector exhibits superb blacks without using a dynamic iris, which I prefer to avoid. Soon to be replaced by next generation.

Read full review here.

High End

JVC DLA-X7
List Price:
$8,000

Like the DLA-X3, this one has no dynamic iris, yet it achieves superb blacks with an even greater native contrast ratio and THX 3D certification. Soon to be replaced by next generation.

Read full review here.

FLOORSTANDING SPEAKER SYSTEMS

Entry Level

Aperion Verus Grand
List Price:
$3,095

A tough choice between this and the GoldenEar TritonCinema Two system ($3,495, reviewed here), both of which sound splendid. The GoldenEar system has no standalone subwoofer, which I prefer so it can be placed separately for optimum low-frequency performance.

Read full review here.

Midrange

MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL
List Price:
$5,290

I love the sound of MartinLogan electrostatic speakers, as long as there is enough room to place them properly. If I didn't have enough room, I'd choose the KEF Q900 system ($4,000, reviewed here).

Read full review here.

High End

Revel Ultima2
List Price:
$45,993

These are the best speakers I've ever heard, bar none.

Read full review here.

COMPACT SPEAKER PACKAGES

Entry Level

Pioneer SP-BS41-LR
List Price:
$528

These speakers offer an astounding price/performance ratio, though they are a bit bulky. The reviewed system is the SP-PK21BS 5.1 package with the larger SP-BS41-LR speakers in the front L/R positions; standard package with smaller SP-BS21-LRs is $400. Either way, I'm blown away by how much performance you get for so little money.

Read full review here.

Midrange

Boston Acoustics A 25
List Price:
$1,200

As reviewer Mark Fleischmann puts it, "Altogether, this is one of the most well-rounded sets of affordably priced speakers I've ever heard. For this price, you can't go wrong." Especially impressive is the subwoofer, which performs far better than others in its price class.

Read full review here.

High End

Klipsch Reference RB-61 II
List Price:
$3,350

Horn tweeters aren't everyone's cup of tea, but Klipsch has tamed them effectively; plus, with a center speaker, you're always "in the beam," so directionality isn't a problem, and their high efficiency lets you drive them with less power.

Read full review here.

A/V RECEIVERS

Entry Level

Pioneer VSX-1021
List Price:
$550

This is a close call with the Onkyo TX-NR609 ($599, reviewed here), which uses Audyssey 2EQ to auto-calibrate for three listening positions; Pioneer's proprietary MCACC system auto-calibrates for only one, but it EQs the subwoofer, which 2EQ does not. Also, the Pioneer's AirPlay feature is compelling.

Read full review here.

Midrange

Marantz SR7005
List Price:
$1,600

Marantz makes superb A/V electronics that easily compete with far more expensive models, and this AVR is no exception.

Read full review here.

High End

Arcam AVR600
List Price:
$4,995

This model is a bit dated by now, with no 3D passthrough, but it sounds amazing with class-G amps that deliver pseudo class-A performance. As reviewer Mark Fleischmann concluded, "The Arcam AVR600 is one of the best receivers I've heard from any brand."

Read full review here.

BLU-RAY PLAYERS

Entry Level

Panasonic DMP-BDT210
List Price:
$200

This player is actually at the bottom of the Top Picks midrange, but we have found no true entry-level Blu-ray players yet. An excellent 3D player with online streaming.

Read full review here.

Midrange

Oppo BDP-93
List Price:
$499

This one is at the high end of the Top Picks midrange, but it's definitely the player to have if you can't afford the Oppo BDP-95 or don't need its audiophile-grade analog output. 3D, online streaming, and second-to-none customer support.

Read full review here.

High End

Oppo BDP-95
List Price:
$999

If you're a true audiophile with high-end electronics, you can't beat the BDP-95; otherwise, get the BDP-93 and save $500.

Read full review here.

PREAMP/PROCESSORS

Entry Level

Marantz AV7005
List Price:
$1,600

How does Marantz make such great electronics for such low prices? Get the matching MM7055 multichannel power amp and step up to a stellar separates system that doesn't break the bank.

Read full review here.

Midrange

Integra DHC-80.3
List Price: $2,600

Just under the wire for 2011, the new DHC-80.3 from Integra boasts a boatload of features, including 4K upscaling. Plus, it sounds great! If I got this pre/pro, I'd probably get the matching DTA-70.1 9-channel power amp ($1,600).

Read full review here.

High End

Denon AVP-A1HDCI
List Price:
$7,500

This monster has been around for a while, but Denon has updated its firmware with 3D passthrough, Audyssey MultEQ XT32, Audyssey DSX, and Dolby Pro Logic IIz; mates beautifully with the POA-A1HDCI multichannel power amp.

Read full review here.

POWER AMPLIFIERS

Entry Level

Marantz MM7055
List Price:
$1,200

Perfect mate for the AV7005 pre/pro; separates performance for AVR price.

Read full review here.

Midrange

Cary Audio Model 7.125
List Price:
$4,000

Seven channels of audiophile-grade amplification for $4,000 is actually quite a bargain, especially with the Model 7.125's punchy, tight, well-controlled sound and enhanced dialog clarity.

Read full review here.

High End

Denon POA-A1HDCI
List Price:
$7,500

If you've got the scratch, pairing this behemoth with the AVP-A1HDCI gets you something really special.

Read full review here.

MEDIA STREAMERS & SERVERS

Streamer

Roku 2 XS
List Price:
$99

I chose this over the Apple TV because it provides access to a wider variety of content, including TWiT, the Internet TV station that carries my Home Theater Geeks podcast as well as many other fine tech shows.

Read full review here.

Server

Kaleidescape 1U Server & M500 Player
List Price:
$16,470

Super expensive, but superb in every way. I would add a Disc Vault to make Blu-ray playback easier from the server; M700 holds 320 discs for an extra $6,000. Hey, it's only money!

Read full review here.

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COMMENTS
aopu.mohsin's picture

Scott,

It was a very thoughtful and insightful article. Just like many of audio/video enthusiasts, I often wondered the top picks (or favorites, if you will) in various price range. This seems to cover pretty much everything. Although the picks are your personal favorites, most of us probably will agree with the picks.

Very well done. Thanks for this post.

PS. Any favorites on cables?

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I appreciate your kind words! I do not have particular favorite cables. For one thing, we don't review cables, so I can't speak from that perspective. Plus, in my personal experience, I haven't heard a dramatic difference between different high-quality cables; I use AudioQuest in my home theater and Ultralink in our testing studio, and I like both just fine.
aopu.mohsin's picture

If you define "Entry Level" for the FLOORSTANDING SPEAKER SYSTEMS under $5000.00, then my personal favorite would be GoldenEar’s TritonCinema Two 5-Channel surround system, which I believe is listed for $3499.95 in the market. Just wanted to share my favorite in that category.

Nonetheless, thanks for sharing your favorite picks.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
Actually, we define "entry level" for floorstanding speaker systems as less than $3999 for an entire surround package. I realize this is still a lot of money for many folks, but it's the boundary we have chosen on a relative basis within this particular product category. Thanks for sharing your favorite, which is also a fine choice.
David Vaughn's picture
My pick would be the Integra 80.2 (or 80.3 for this year's model) or its sibling Onkyo (5508). Then again, I own an Integra 80.2 so I'm not exactly unbiased here!
mweston's picture

You might want to test the McIntosh MC 601 monoblock amp. It seems to be popular on the audio show circuit judging from show photographs. It would be interesting to compare against its highly esteemed predecessor- MC 501. Curious minds want to know in what ways it sounds better.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
...but we don't normally review monoblocks; that's more in Stereophile's domain. I do think that monoblocks make great home theater amps, because they can be placed near each speaker, minimizing the length of speaker cables and allowing the use of balanced interconnects from the pre/pro to the amps, but that's generally a very expensive way to go.
Perrin1710's picture

Scott, what about moving the Maranz to the mid-price level en and enter the Emotiva UMC-1 as an entry level. Just a thought.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
We haven't tested the Emotiva, so I can't say. I think Rob Sabin is planning a review of the UMC-1 paired with the XPA-5 power amp, but I'm not sure when that's scheduled to appear. We've established our entry-level Top Picks threshold at $1999, and the Marantz clearly falls under that, but the UMC-1 is far less at $499. I'm especially interested to see how well the Emotiva does against the Marantz.
HDSapper's picture

I would be very interested in that comparison, especially with the recently updated firmware on the Emotiva UMC-1. I'll be watching for Rob's review.

Oh, nice list by the way!

Oruki's picture

I really enjoy this post. I know the top picks designate the best in every class, but I enjoy seeing the personal favorites that stand out above all others as well. So thank you! Something I would really enjoy seeing is a 2011 gear of the year poll like your sister site stereophile.com does. I think it is awesome that each reviewer votes for a product in each category that they think was the best and then tally them up and show the winners. I know I would really enjoy seeing something like this for hometheater since it's something I look forward to seeing on the Stereophile site. But it's only a suggestion and I appreciate all that hometheater does for us hometheater geeks. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all reviewers!

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I'll look into doing as you suggest...happy holidays to you as well!
K.Reid's picture

Scott, we will have to part company on the reasoning behind your choice of Aperion vs. Golden Ear Technology. I would favor the G.E.T. because you get two powered subwoofers which, in my understanding, could potentially help smooth out bass response in troublesome rooms vs. one subwoofer - particularly with the assistance of an Audyssey equipped A/V Receiver. Aperion's subwoofer was not even reviewed with the system. The markedly superior HSU VTF-15H was used in review.

Other than that, nice choices.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
You're right that two subs have the potential for smoothing out bass response, but only if they are placed properly, which is not a foregone conclusion if they are integrated within the main towers. That's why I chose the Aperions, but the GoldenEars are a fine choice as well.
K.Reid's picture

Thanks for the reply, Scott. Good point about sub placement. Two standalone subs would be good - room permitting. I also like Sandy Gross' implementation of the Heil tweeter as well.

I have a general question that's a little off-topic. At the end of most recent theatrical films, I have been noticing a surround format that I do not recognize called Datasat Digital Sound. I no longer see DTS anymore. Is this a new name for DTS or is it a new surround sound format aside from the usual suspects (Dolby Digital, SDDS).

Jarod's picture

Great list Scott! I'm interested in the Klipsch Reference RB-61 II speaker system. In what other ways did you enjoy the sound? I'm curious how the center sounds off-axis? Thanks Scott.

TheJoBoo's picture

Someone has rapidly diminishing high frequency hearing! :> Sound like ice picks to the eardrums, the both of them.

buckchester's picture

I would also be very interested to see how well any of the emotiva power amps perform in one of your reviews.

MarkJ's picture

Hi Scott, do you have a recommendation for 50"+ TV that does not include 3D? Just the flat out best picture for under $1300? Would you actually get more TV for less $ or do you think the Panasonic TC-P50ST30 is just the best deal period?

Scott Wilkinson's picture
The Panasonic TC-P50S30 is essentially identical to the TC-P50ST30 without 3D, so if you don't want 3D, that's the one I'd get in the entry-level budget range. It lists for $1000, and it can often be found for hundreds less.
MarkJ's picture

You were right! You da man ;)

chinito's picture

Hi Scott which speakers do you think is better the Paradigm S8 or the Focal 1028 be?

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I haven't heard either one myself, but both got outstanding reviews. The Paradigm review is much older (2004) while the Focals were reviewed in 2011. Also, the Focals are over $21,000 for a 5.1 system, and the Paradigms top out at $15,000. I'm sure you can't go wrong either way.
Kpump's picture

Please help, want to upgrade my atlantic technology system 350 but confused. Looking at the goldenear, verus, q900? My room is 14wx20lx10h, using pioneer sc-35 for power. I have svs pb12-nsd sub. And can use the system 350 sub as well. What would be my best option, and would i notice a upgrade from the system 350. Thanks so much for any help.

MrJapan's picture

Hy Scott,

First to say, wonderful article. I am a big movie and music lover and I want max AV quality for my money like all of you. From some time now I am looking to slowly upgrade my system:

Flat screen Sony KDL-40S4000 LCD Bravia engine 2
Onkyo 605 AVR
Klipsch Synergy F1 speakers 5.0 (no woofer for now)
I have a home-made HTPC and PS3 as content players on HDMI.

I do really need a bigger display 55+ (You have a crush on Panasonic?). No 3D needed. Cut the Bu*&*%%. No Face recognition, Online Apps, etc. Just a wonderful big display; LCD, Plasma, LED, OLED? So many now, harder to choose.
I thing Pioneer VSX-1021 will do for the new AVR. Although I love Marantz products but AV7005 is to expensive for me. What do you think?
A new Subwoofer for sure (max 500 euro). I had a Magnat Supreme 301A (100W) but I didnt like it.
And maybe some speakers change (all or some of them).

I have a long livingroom. The distance to TV is about 6,5 feet. (TV and front speakers on one long wall and chairs on the other long wall)
My budget is for upper entry level and affordable midrange level products.
What products do you recommend and in what order to make the upgrades this year. I can't make all of them at once! (money-wife problem).

Thank you, Thank you, and greetings from Romania!

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