Here are my picks for the best-sounding audio products of 2009, in no particular order.
Pioneer VSX-1019AH Receiver
The VSX-1019AH has just about every gotta-have feature and its stellar performance makes it the go-to choice for sound-quality-conscious midprice receiver buyers.
Onkyo HT-RC180 Receiver
Sure, the HT-RC180 goes for around double the Pioneer's price, but its power and dynamic slam put it over the top.
Onkyo HT-S9100THX Home Theater in a Box
The HT-S9100THX is not only the best sounding HTIB on the planet, you can easily upgrade its performance by adding better speakers or subwoofer. Few HTIBs offer owners that capability.
Monster Turbine Pro (Gold) in-ear headphones
I'm a big fan of the original and still-available Monster Turbine in-ear headphones, but now that I've gotten to spend time with the Pro I can tell you this: it's simply the best $300 in-ear I've heard.
Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference Strada Speaker
The double-balled Reference Strada ($995 each) measures a lifestyle-friendly 6.5 inches tall by 12.5 inches wide by 5.5 inches long, but the compact speaker makes a huge, room-filling sound. The Strada is jam-packed with unique technology.
Krell Modulari Duo Reference Speaker
The Modulari Duo Reference is the best new speaker I've heard this year. Price? If you have to ask...
Hifiman HE-5 Full-Size Headphones
I've heard just about every contender for the world's best full-size headphone, but the HE-5 is the one I keep coming back to. Oh, it's also the least expensive of the group.
Zvox Z-Base575 TV Speaker
I'm not crazy about sound bar speakers in general, but the Z-Base575 has a huge advantage over most sound bars, and that is: it's huge. Not in width or height, but its depth is many times deeper than any sound bar out there. No wonder it sounds so good.
VPI Classic Turntable
Depending on how you look at it, the Classic is either really expensive or a best-buy high-end turntable. I'm thinking it's most definitely in the second category; the $2,500 Classic is almost too good to be true.
The Audioengine P4 Speaker
A tiny stereo speaker, with a surprisingly transparent midrange. Audioengine's baby amplifier is coming soon, and I can't wait to hear it with the P4.
Sony XDR-F1HD HD Radio
OK, the XDR-F1HD came out late last year, but it's so good and so cheap I can't resist referring to it again. If you think Internet radio sounds good, check this thing out.
The worst of 2009
"Neil Young Archives, Vol. 1: 1963-1972"
Selling for $210 on Amazon, the Blu-ray box is still way too expensive. That's more than most folks want to pay for a Blu-ray player! Big as the 10 disc set is, it doesn't have enough truly rare or previously unreleased material to justify its hefty price. I'm not claiming it doesn't sound good, but I'd bet the new Young vinyl, played over the VPI turntable, blows the Blu-rays away.