2022 has been an amazing year for new hifi audio products, with a number of great releases. From headphones and digital audio players to desktop amps, there are almost too many great products to choose from. While this list is far from exhaustive, we wanted to highlight some of our favorite products from this busy year.
Meze 109 Pro - $799
The Meze 109 Pro is the long-awaited follow-up to the 99 Classics, and ups the detail, clarity, and resolution from the 99 Series, while maintaining the signature lush presentation for a nearly perfect warm-neutral sound at $799. It also delivers on Meze’s reputation for a high level of build quality, visual design, and comfort.
In our review we said, "109 Pro is a clear stepping stone between the 99 Classics and Empyrean. It improves on the detail and technical performance of the 99 Classics, while maintaining Meze’s core identity in the design, craftsmanship and sound. If you’ve been asking for a follow-up to the 99 Classics that improves on it in every way, Meze listened, and 109 Pro is exactly that headphone."
Dan Clark Audio Expanse
Expanse is Dan Clark Audio’s latest flagship headphone, and the best open-back headphone that the brand has created yet. Where Meze 109 Pro impresses with its emotionally evocative warmth, Expanse wows with soundstage, imaging, and all-around technical wizardry at a flagship $3999 price.
In our review we said, "The flagship space is getting pretty crowded these days, with an ever increasing number of headphones in the $4000+ range looking to be your endgame. Expanse breaks into this space by giving you a highly accessible tuning mixed with incredible performance. And Expanse isn’t just about its huge soundstage, it walks the tightrope over that massive space it created to deliver a sound that’s both technical and engaging."
The IEM space has had even more great releases than headphones with a number of new flagships and limited edition IEMs hitting the shelves. The two – non-limited, universal production models – that really topped our list were the Pathfinder and Viking Ragnar, and we also wanted to give a shout-out to the Kinera Hodur for the level of quality it delivers for the price.
Limited Edition IEMs
Limited edition IEMs also made a strong showing, and while you might not be able to buy them any more, the Empire Ears x Astell&Kern Odyssey, 64 Audio Fourté Blanc, and Campfire Trifecta all left a lasting impression. While Fourté Blanc was a special edition version of the long running Tía Fourté, Trifecta and Odyssey were totally new designs. We have our fingers crossed that Campfire Audio and Empire Ears have bigger runs cooking for wider availability versions of Trifecta and Odyssey.
For more info check out our coverage of these limited edition IEMs on YouTube
Astell&Kern x Campfire Audio Pathfinder
While many IEMs came through Bloom Audio this year, none called us back to it as much as the Astell&Kern x Campfire Audio Pathfinder. Pathfinder is quite possibly a perfect hybrid IEM, with a balanced, detailed sound and incredible lifelike imaging.
In our review we said, "Pathfinder has some similarities to Campfire Audio’s longtime flagship Solaris and last year’s Solaris X, but this is something different. There’s an extra layer of refinement, both in the physical design and in the tuning. In the end, Campfire Audio’s engineering and design combined with a little Astell&Kern magic has delivered a truly special IEM, and one of the best new IEMs of 2022."
Noble Viking Ragnar
If we were going to name an IEM king for the year – excluding limited run and special edition items – it has to be the Noble Viking Ragnar. Viking Ragnar has it all, with a unique design that displays strong craftsmanship, and an excellent reference tuning with incredible detail, a wide soundstage, and precise imaging that bring it all together in for the total package.
In our review we said, "As you watch the evolution of Noble Audio’s recent flagship IEMs – from Khan to Sultan to Viking Ragnar – you see not just an improvement in the technical capabilities of the IEMs, but also in the refinement of the sound. Viking Ragnar is at the peak of that refinement with an IEM that carefully balances each aspect of design – visual, technical, and musical – to create Noble’s best IEM yet, and one of the best IEMs on the market today."
This isn’t all about multi-kilobuck top of the line products though, Kinera Audio made an excellent showing with their $299 tribrid Hodur IEM. Hodur delivers a fun sound, with a mild bass emphasis and surprising resolution. It also comes in an exceptional package for the price, including a leather case and a modular cable with 3.5mm, 2.5mm, and 4.4mm terminations.
Portable DACs have come a long way since the release of the original AudioQuest DragonFly, and the ultra-portable space had a number of great entries, but we wanted to highlight two in particular: iFi Audio GO bar and Questyle M15. Both have the same idea: a high resolution, ultra-portable “dongle” DAC that can connect directly to your phone, laptop, or tablet with both 3.5mm and 4.4mm balanced outputs.
M15 has a highly detailed reference sound signature, and for controls it goes the simpler route, with the only configurable option on the device being the high/low gain switch. GO bar captures the signature iFi warmth along with more options, like XBass, XSpace, and IEMatch. Both are excellent options for listening on the go without sacrificing sound quality.
In the desktop arena, there were some excellent releases across the board, but none stood out quite as much as the new DAC/Amp combos from Burson and Questyle.
Burson Conductor 3X GT
In 2022, Burson Audio added two new products to its ultra high powered GT line: Conductor 3 GT and Conductor 3X GT. Both use an updated version of Burson’s favored dual ESS DAC architecture, and provide a maximum of 10W of headphone power. The 3X GT gives you a fully balanced design, with XLR being the focus, but also with 6.3mm and RCA for maximum compatibility. The 3 GT is fully single-ended, giving you some of the absolute best single-ended power on the market.
In our review we said, "Following in the footsteps of the Soloist 3X GT, the Conductor 3X GT delivers next level, flagship performance. The sound quality, power, and features are all a step up from the Reference series. If you’re looking for a DAC/Amp combo under $5000 that can easily drive the most power-hungry headphones and deliver top of the line sound to top of the line headphones, Conductor 3X GT should put it at the top of your list."
Questyle CMA Fifteen
Questyle CMA Fifteen is less about the raw power and more about the delivery of a highly detailed, yet still musical, sound. CMA Fifteen opts for a smoother, more liquidy treble than Burson’s more energetic sound, and delivers a rich, slightly warm bass that delivers a more relaxed, euphonic sound than Burson’s bold, brash power.
In our review we said, "The CMA Fifteen is the total package for a DAC/Amp combo. It has the flexibility to function as a standalone DAC or amp, along with Bluetooth connectivity and a wide array of other features. It delivers a clear upgrade to the CMA Twelve, and is strongly competitive in its price range. Altogether, the CMA Fifteen is a clear winner that should position Questyle as one of the brands to beat at this level."
Digital Audio Players
Probably the toughest category to pick from for 2022 is digital audio players. There were several excellent players released this year, but three in particular stand out at three different price points.
For something that’s both powerful and wallet-friendly, iBasso DX170 is a DAP with world-class sound and a simple, fast Android interface. Beyond its excellent sound quality for the price, DX170 gives you solid power and useful features like Bluetooth DAC mode that enhance its value even further. For an all-in-one HiFi solution solution, DX170 is the best there is under $500.
In our review we said, "With new features like Bluetooth DAC and all around improvements to the sound, DX170 is a clear evolution of iBasso’s DX100 series in both sound and performance. As an all-in-one portable device that can drive a surprising range of headphones well, and provide capabilities ranging from a wireless streamer to a S/PDIF transport or a next level iPod, DX170 carries on DX160’s legacy as an incredible little DAP that doesn’t cost a whole lot of money."
iBasso strikes again with the $1599 DX320, which matches the UI performance of TOTL smartphones while providing the detailed, spacious, refined sound that matches up with the best in personal audio. DX320 delivers the best in usability and portability for your headphones and IEMs, without sacrificing sound quality.
In our review we said, "DX320 isn’t a huge step forward for iBasso, but it’s the perfect iterative replacement for the DX300. It’s a well-tuned device with a relaxed yet still engaging sound, and very strong sonic characteristics overall. Of course, there are a number of players that can give you an engaging sound and a great three-dimensional image, but what really sets DX320 apart is the user experience that goes along with it. We don’t usually make superlative statements about products in our reviews, but if you want flagship level audiophile sound and a user experience on par with flagship smartphones, DX320 is the best there is under $2,000."
At the very top of the game, there can be only one. The Astell&Kern SP3000 doesn’t just deliver jaw dropping sound quality, but it also provides the best system performance of any Astell&Kern DAP yet, and sports a much improved UI. The usability improvements and unbelievably lifelike sound don’t just make SP3000 Astell&Kern’s best DAP to date, they make SP3000 the absolute best digital audio player we’ve ever used period.
In our review we said, "Even as aspects of its UI and performance aged, three years after its release, the Astell&Kern SP2000 remained among the very best sounding DAPs in the world. SP3000 exceeds SP2000’s performance in every way, offering an upgrade in the device performance, UI, features, and the overall sound quality. If you’ve been hesitant to buy a new flagship DAP until you see one that demonstrates a clear leap forward in technology and performance, the SP3000 is the leap forward that you’ve been waiting for."
The Bottom Line
While this was hardly an exhaustive list of audiophile gear released this year, hopefully this list will be helpful as you search for the right equipment to complete your sound. Whether you’re looking to keep the price down and create a mobile setup with something like the Kinera Hodur and Questyle M15, or want to achieve endgame sound with Expanse and Conductor 3X GT, 2022 has provided us with a ton of amazing personal HiFi products.