Top Picks of the Top Picks...and a Few Runners-Up

A look back at our product of the year picks for the past three years, and a few 2016 runners-up that deserve special mention.

Our Top Picks of the Year roundup is our annual opportunity to look back on the work we accomplished through the year and ruminate on which products really stood out. We start by querying individual reviewers for their nominees, asking them to pick strictly from among those products they tested themselves and which were already granted Top Pick status. There are usually a few among the list that jump out. If you’ve been lucky as an enthusiast, you may recall components in your system that you connected with emotionally and which just gave you, well, satisfaction. These are the hardest ones to part with when you find they no longer serve your needs or have become outdated. For our reviewers, a look at that list of completed reviews might even bring back a tinge of sadness they felt when the day came to pack a particular something up and send it off for measurement or back to the manufacturer.

Among the obviously strong contenders, though, one product needs to be selected as the Top Pick of the Year. We usually choose that product with an eye toward the bigger picture. Of course, it has to be technologically advanced and high performing. But, in the best case, it should also have some significance for our hobby; something that broke new ground and was also highly recommendable.

Most often, that’s an expensive state-of-the-art piece. For my first few years as editor of Home Theater and now Sound & Vision, it was always a top-of-the-line TV; a Pioneer plasma or, later, a Panasonic plasma. They just kept making the picture better and better. Then, in 2014, plasma exited the market and we named LG’s new $3,500, 55-inch OLED, the 55EC9300, our Top Pick of the Year.

In 2015, the UHDTVs were all works-in-progress, with HDR less than fully realized, and we selected the Marantz AV8802 surround processor as Top Pick of the Year, a stellar piece of kit we knew we could hang our collective hat on.

And this year, we’re back to a video product, but not a TV. The Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player was indeed groundbreaking, high performing, and, unusually, dirt cheap by Top Pick of the Year standards. We make our case for it here.

But there was a lot of very impressive gear in contention for that top honor, and I think it’s worth highlighting a few of the runners-up that we might have also considered had the Samsung not seemed like such a slam-dunk. Among them were two stand-out televisions: The LG OLED65E6P OLED, a stunning example of technology and industrial design delivered at an arguably modest premium over most top LCD models, and the Sony XBR-65Z9D, which ushered in an impressive new LED backlight technology that I hope we see more of (at lower prices). The impressive Seymour Screen Excellence Ambient Visionaire Black 1.2 light-rejecting screen was also a genuine revelation.

On the audio side, the Definitive Technology BP9080x, a revision of the bipolar towers in the new 9000 series was brilliantly executed and keeps alive a nearly abandoned approach to speaker design. The Yamaha YSP-5600 high-end Atmos soundbar was a technological tour de force. And the year-end release of the advanced SVS SB16-Ultra and PB16-Ultra subwoofers represented a best-ever product development effort by a company whose real roots are anchored down below 20 hertz.

These are all great products anyone could be proud to own, and all stuff we live to try out and bring to you, our readers. And we plan to keep doing it in 2017.

javanp's picture

"Top Picks of the Top Picks of the Top Picks"? Your "2016 Top Picks of the Year" didn't include all of the "Top Picks" for 2016. So I feel in the name of journalistic accuracy you guys should re-title ;)

dmineard's picture

As a reader since issue #1, I always use the Top Picks to recommend to friends and the Top Pick of the Year...well that is such an easy recommendation. With the new lower pricing of the Samsung Ultra Blu-ray player it's a Best Buy of the year....ouch, pun intended.