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The best What Hi-Fi? high-end products of the past decade

Best What Hi-Fi? Temptations of the past decade
(Image credit: Dan D'Agostino)

Every issue of What Hi-Fi? magazine in recent years has featured the Temptations section, with two or three reviews of super-high-end products. Such kit is next level (read: highly luxurious and often prohibitively pricey) compared to the slate of hi-fi and AV products reviewed in the rest of the pages.

To celebrate our special High End Week, we have picked our favourite 15 Temptations products that represent the best, standout high-end kit we have reviewed between 2010 and today.

As you'll see below, some of the world's most desirable hi-fi kit, including everything from turntables to speakers to amplifiers and even earbuds appears in the section.

Clearaudio Innovation Wood/Universal tonearm/Da Vinci V2 record player (2010)

(Image credit: Future)

Tested at £12,900

"Even by the standards of stratospherically priced kit, this package is something special," we said of Clearaudio's turntable package. That sky-high price was "almost sensible" in light of its meticulous mechanical engineering and superb performance.

The Clearaudio Innovation Wood, which sits beneath the Masters Innovation and Statement, is comprised of the suspension-free Innovation Wood deck, the solid and brilliantly engineered Universal tonearm with a carbon fibre arm tube, and the DaVinci V2 cartridge, which was designed based on the company's highly regarded Goldfinger, but had an aluminium body coated with a 30-micron-thick ceramic layer to aid rigidity and resonance control.

The package's absolute transparency and skilful organisation wowed us when we reviewed it ten years ago (for years, it was our reference turntable in our hi-fi test room) and it still does to this day.

Read the full Clearaudio Innovation Wood review

Wadia S7i CD player (2011)

(Image credit: Future)

Tested at £14,000

Minnesota-based digital high-end specialist Wadia has a reputation for making the biggest, chunkiest and best-sounding CD/SACD players around, and the S7i only strengthened that.

Typically for a Wadia product, the S7i's housing comprises thick slabs of metal on every side, held together with a large number of long Allen bolts and a quartet of rounded corner posts. It weighs a hefty 25kg, about as much as a high-end power amplifier.

Yet despite its exceptional build, the S7i impressed most with its capable sound. "It doesn’t matter how complex or dynamically demanding the music gets, it’s all kept under control, with every instrumental strand in place. Only the best equipment manages to achieve this feat so convincingly," we noted in our 2011 review.

Read the full Wadia 7i review

Naim NDS/555 PS streamer (2012)

(Image credit: Naim)

Tested at £12,620

"Massive, majestic, delicate, dynamic, emotive, immense and totally addictive" is how we described the performance of this early network streamer.

At the time, it was Naim’s reference network music player, which has since come on leaps and bounds to arrive at the current – and class-leading – ND555 streamer. It combined engineering brilliance (circuitry decoupled from the casework, and a capable digital signal processor, for example) with fanatical detail and dynamic and rhythmic prowess.

Read the full Naim NDS/555 PS review

B&W 800 Diamond speakers (2012)

(Image credit: Future)

Tested at £18,000

Since the late 1970s, the 800 Series has represented Bowers & Wilkins' most desirable speaker range (it sits just below its 'ultimate' Nautilus loudspeaker). The series had reached its sixth generation (it's in its seventh now) when we reviewed the Diamond 800 in 2012. We called it not only the company's best speaker, but one of the world's best, such is its beautifully taut and controlled bass, superb detail and immense dynamic reach.

"Compare the 800’s performance with that of its rivals and you might even think that B&W has underpriced them", we said – not a bad compliment for a pair costing £18k.

According to What Hi-Fi?’s sister title Australian Hi-Fi, the newer 800 D3s, created to celebrate B&W’s 50th anniversary, have brought a significant improvement. "Audition a pair and they’ll speak to you. They’ll say: ‘We’re the best speakers you’ve ever heard!’," it reads.

Read the full B&W Diamond 800 review

Audio Research Reference 75 power amplifier (2013)

Audios Research's next-generation Reference 75SE

Audios Research's next-generation Reference 75SE (Image credit: Audio Research)

Tested at £8495

Audio Research is one of the most revered brands in high-end amplification, so it's perhaps not surprising that you have to drop almost five figures to get its baby, 75W per-channel power amplifier. 

The Reference 75, which since this review has progressed into a special edition 'SE' version (pictured), demonstrates exactly how the US company has garnered its illustrious reputation – "a landmark product of its type", we concluded. It delivers a wonderfully transparent and compelling performance comfortable with pretty much all types of music. 

Its two maintenance-minded valve meters for showing power output and bias current, as well as its solid, chunky casework, sealed its fate as a highly talented, highly desirable machine.

Read the full Audio Research Reference 75 review

Burmester 808 Mk5 preamplifier (2013)

(Image credit: Burmester)

Tested at £22,242

A preamp for those that live and breathe hi-fi, Burmester's near-flagship 808 Mk5 is a technical feat. For one, it's fully specified with several balanced/unbalanced and customisable connectivity options, with each interchangeable input and output module equipped with separate gain controls for left and right channels. 

It's also distinctly, beautifully and immaculately designed, looking and feeling special and engineered to last decades.

"This is hi-fi to be enjoyed for a lifetime. As far as stereo preamps go, we’d be happy to stop here," says our review.

Read the full Burmester 808 Mk5 review

Dan D’Agostino Momentum integrated amplifier (2015)

(Image credit: Future)

Tested at £44,000

We kicked off our review of the integrated amplifier in Dan D'Agostino's near-top-tier Momentum range by praising its volume control. You can hardly blame us, just look at it. But while that's the first thing you'll notice in the exquisitely built Momentum's presence, what makes the longer lasting impression is its performance.

The fact it's a truly extraordinary performer was evident to us from the off: the Momentum lays bare its hugely subtle, dynamically expressive self. Fluid, rhythmically adept, scrupulously precise and with an impressive sense of scale, it is among the best amplifiers we've tested.

Read the full Dan D'Agostino Momentum Integrated Amplifier review

Linn LP12 Klimax record player (2017)

(Image credit: Future)

Tested at £18,670

Our 'best ever Linn products', 'best turntables in What Hi-Fi?'s lifetime' and 'What Hi-Fi? Hall of Fame' lists have all featured the Linn LP12, so it's hardly surprising the legendary deck has a place on this list too. Since 1972, the Glasgow-based hi-fi company has revised its turntable time and time again to maintain its world-class status. Earlier – even original – variants can still be brought up to date today.

By the ’80s the LP12 had become the dominant premium record player on the UK market and it is still considered one of the most capable decks around today. 

In 2017, we heralded the flagship LP12 package (the LP12 Sondek, Ekos SE tonearm, Kandid moving-coil cartridge, Urika phono stage, Radikal power supply and Keel sub-chassis) one of the finest turntables around. The old-timer still has it, indeed.

Read the full Linn LP12 Klimax review

JBL K2 S9900 speakers (2017)

(Image credit: Future)

Tested at £39,990

What makes these JBL superstars so good? It's a combination of engineering and tuning decisions that have turned these monsters into one of the best pair of floorstanders we’ve heard. 

The seamless integration between their 38cm bass driver, horn-loaded 10cm magnesium compression driver and horn-loaded 25mm beryllium compression supertweeter is impressive, and despite their size and 500W power handling figure, they're pretty easy to position and drive.

We found their endlessly informative yet super-fun character quite addictive. "We can’t get enough of them," we said at the time – so you can imagine the heartfelt goodbye when they left our test rooms.

Read the full JBL K2 S9900 review

Focal Utopia over-ear headphones (2017)

(Image credit: Focal)

Tested at £3250

The first pair of headphones on this list aren't just any old headphones, they are some of the finest headphones on the planet.

French brand Focal is renowned for its wide-ranging and talented speakers, which often feature Beryllium drive units in its high-end tweeters – and the material’s combination of low weight, rigidity and damping works equally well here. Superlative resolution and transparency are present in a wonderfully open soundstage (they have an open-backed design) with plenty of finesse and dynamic fluidity.

Perhaps not an easy task for any pair of high-end headphones, the Utopias even look their asking price too.

Read the full Focal Utopia review

Nagra Classic pre/power amplifiers (2018)

(Image credit: Future)

Tested at £25,500

With its trademark signal level meter, stylised volume control and compact casework, the Classic preamp (above) may look similar to Nagra's first domestic product in 1997, but it is very much built for today's performance standards.

The preamp is a valve-powered, line-level-only unit with RCA and XLR connections, and the 100W per-channel Class A power amp simply uses two MOSFET transistors in the output stage to reduce variability such a minimalist configuration brings.

Every sound and note fits together seamlessly, forming a wonderfully cohesive and musical whole that sweeps you away. As our review concluded, "once in full flow, it leaves the music to take centre stage and does its work quietly from behind the curtain."

Read the full Nagra Classic Preamp/Classic AMP review

dCS Rossini DAC/Master clock (2018)

(Image credit: Future)

Tested at £22,610

Cambridge-based high-end digital hi-fi brand dCS describes its Rossini DAC as an 'Upsampling Network DAC'. It packs a UPnP music streamer, and has a proprietary and innovative digital-to-analogue conversion that feeds all the typical digital connections.

More than just a DAC, this unit is also a digital hub for a system. Add the Master Clock and performance goes up a level or two – together, the resolution on offer is astonishing. No matter what you throw at it, the dCS pairing manages to delight, excite and entertain. Which, let's face it, is the whole purpose of hi-fi.

Read our full dCS Rossini DAC/ Rossini Master Clock review

ATC SCM50 speakers (2019)

(Image credit: ATC)

Tested at £9820

The ATC SCM50s have been our reference speakers for more than a decade, which is as big a compliment as we could give them.

Over that time, they have been connected to just about every piece of electronics that has passed through our test rooms and they never let us down. They're honest and faithful – important attributes when reviewing connected electronics – and they are also unfussy about musical genre.

In the past decade, we have come across rival speakers – usually of higher cost – that better these ATCs in some respect, yet we haven’t managed to find something that’s as satisfying an all-rounder. Long live the SCM50s!

Read the full ATC SCM50 review

Shure KSE 1200 in-ear headphones (2019)

(Image credit: Shure)

Tested at £1796

It's difficult for a pair of earbuds to justify a four-figure price, but these Shure electrostatic in-ears and their accompanying analogue-only amplifier (which handles the buds' electrical requirements) certainly look the part. 

Most crucially, they sound it too. As noted in our review, "we can’t think of another pair of headphones (apart from the closely related KSE1500s) that sound as clear and detailed as these... if you’re the kind of person who wants to hear every tiny speck of detail, these are the headphones for you." 

Dropping the price of a decent second-hand car on a pair of earbuds may seem extreme, but for true music lovers, not a penny of it will be wasted.

Read our full Shure KSE 1200 review

Ayre KX-R/VX-R pre/power amplifier (2020)

(Image credit: Ayre Acoustics)

(Image credit: Ayre Acoustics)

Tested at £29,000

Despite limited testing time (What Hi-Fi?'s offices have been closed since March), we managed to find a component worthy of this coveted list in 2020. This pre-power combination from the Colorado-based high-end audio brand is the most transparent and honest amplifier we’ve tested in years.

The build and finish quality of the two boxes (both are fully balanced dual-mono electronic designs) meets the high expectations the price point demands. And the level of transparency allows it to simply present the music as intended. That 200W per channel rating for the power amp may seem modest at this price, but the Ayre’s level of composure, scale and authority are outstanding. It's an all-round sonic marvel.

Read the full Ayre Acoustics KX-R Twenty / VX-R Twenty review