Please bear with me as I slide into my heat resistant, anti-thermal radiation suit — it’s going to get slightly warm in here with this list and I want to be well prepared. My favorite hi-fi accessories of 2022 will offend some of you — but I promise that you won’t find any ridiculous $1,000 audiophile ethernet cables of $2,000 power cords.
Consumers splurged on audio/video components during the COVID-19 pandemic; soundbars, wireless loudspeakers, headphones, turntables, televisions, and entry-level products sold well because people wanted to upgrade their music and movie watching experience at home when they came to the realization that they were not going back to the office so quickly.
Hi-Fi accessories also did well because consumers were looking for affordable solutions for improving what they already owned; Record cleaning machines, isolation cones/platforms, Dongle DACs, and affordable phono preamplifiers were very popular items.
Media cabinets and A/V furniture were also big sellers because consumers needed something to house all of their new electronics and soundbars; brands like West Elm, CB2, and BDI went on the offensive and introduced dozens of new options for your living room, den, or home theater room.
BDI gets a lot of attention from audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts because of the quality and flexibility of their products, but I was always slightly hesitant about that kind of expenditure.
I do love the mid-century modern aesthetic and we have more than a few pieces that fall into that style of furniture — it was just really hard to envision the children and dog not ruining it.
BDI is located in Chantilly, Virginia, and has been specializing in modern A/V furniture since 1984. When they reached out to see if we would be interested in trying out the new BDI Interval 7247 Modern Media + Storage Cabinet, I began measuring and thinking about where it would reside. Threats of iPads and video game consoles disappearing in the ocean surf down the street if there was even a scratch on the new piece convinced all 3 children and our feisty West Highland Terrier that this was one piece of “adult” furniture that would not be ruined.
Having owned more than a few high-end audio racks over the years, including one that ran over $1,000 USD back in 1998, I am more than aware that some racks and media units can have a positive impact on the sound quality of specific components — and a lot of that depends on the materials used in the construction.
BDI Interval 7247
This 66-inch modern media cabinet features an adjustable center glass shelf, a remote-friendly and acoustically transparent handcrafted flip-down door, and a variety of user-friendly features ideally suited for use as the center of any home theater setup.
A simple push effortlessly flips open the door to reveal a host of compartment storage, including a center shelf (models 7247 & 7249) that can be lowered to accommodate speakers up to 14″ / 35.5cm in height.
Our Q Acoustics 3090CI Center Channel Loudspeaker fit perfectly on the center shelf; the top shelf was actually designed for a 60″ wide soundbar without any clearance issues.
The walnut finish is superb and it took two adults to attach the steel legs and flip the unit carefully on its side.
Some of the BDI units utilize a glass shelf on the top of the cabinet and I was quite relieved to discover that the Interval 7247 does not; the natural hardwood looks better and does not vibrate in the same manner that a glass shelf would.
There is more than enough room inside the cabinet for my Roon Nucleus, two phono preamplifiers, and a CD player.
BDI’s media units are not inexpensive but you really do get what you pay for with their products; the build quality is superb and the unit is incredibly inert and easy to use.
Favorite Affordable Phono Preamps
We can’t overstate the importance of a good phono preamp. Many new integrated amplifiers include an internal MM phono stage, but not all of them sound that great. They also don’t support MC cartridges unless the manufacturer has gone the extra mile and designed one with multiple levels of gain, impedance settings, and other loading options to get the most out of your MC cartridge.
There is no shortage of great sounding phono preamps available below $900 USD in 2022. There are even 3-4 below $500 that are really worth considering. The differences in sound quality with a good cartridge can be monumental; tone, detail, bass response, and overall clarity takes a huge step forward. One of the most important vinyl accessories you can invest in.
We’ve made a list of some of our favorite affordable phono preamps here. Brands like Schiit Audio, Rega, Cambridge Audio, Moon by SimAudio, iFi Audio, Pro-Ject, and Andover Audio – they have you covered.
IsoAcoustics zaZen Isolation Platform ($199 & $229)
The zaZen is a new isolation platform designed for turntables, tube amps, and other sensitive audio equipment. The combination of the platform mass and the integrated IsoAcoustics isolation technology allows audio gear to reveal greater acoustic clarity and detail. The zaZen will be available in two sizes: zaZen I with a weight capacity of 25lbs (11.3kg) and the zaZen II with a weight capacity of 40lbs (18.1kg). The zaZen features an elegant medium gloss black finish over a dense fiber construction.
Isolation products come in many different shapes and sizes and while they certainly have an impact on the sound – the results are not always what you expected. Improvements in one area of sound reproduction are offset by a negative change elsewhere.
We took delivery of a zaZen II platform and experimented with three turntables; a Thorens TD-145, NAD C 588, and Thorens TD-160 Super. The NAD C 588 weighs substantially less than either one of my restored Thorens tables and benefitted the most from the zaZen which lowered its noise floor, tightened up the bass response, and improved the overall transparency of the sound. The presentation moved slightly forward with the zaZen installed which was a benefit with the Q Acoustics 3050i loudspeakers in my system.
Placed underneath both a Croft RIAA phono pre-amplifier and Naim Uniti Atom network amplifier (see review) had a very positive impact on the sound; the Croft which suffers from a tiny degree of hum was quieter than usual (I’ve always suspected that its thin metal chassis was the cause), and the Naim’s midrange was more transparent sounding.
Is the zaZen more effective underneath lighter equipment that is more susceptible to vibration or footfalls (in the case of a turntable)? Unquestionably so.
Where to buy: $199 / $229 at Amazon
IsoAcoustics Aperta Isolation Stands ($199)
Vibration is the enemy; both in the recording studio and in your home when it comes to sound quality. Put your hand on your loudspeaker while listening to music and you’ll immediately feel how the energy produced by the drivers causes the cabinet to resonate. That level of resonance affects how your loudspeaker sounds. External vibration from your room, equipment stand, or loudspeaker stands impacts how your loudspeakers sound as well.
The Aperta with an overall size of (W x D x H) 6.1” x 7.5” x 3” or 15.5 cm x 19 cm x 7 cm isn’t just one size fits all either. Specifically designed for use with bookshelf, desktop or floor standing speakers, they are available in different models to fit specific sizes and weights of medium-sized speakers. Sculpted from aluminum frames, the Aperta creates a parallelogram structure with isolators in the top and bottom sections to provide a high level of separation of sound. Build quality on the Aperta is superb.
The Aperta offer a range of tilt which makes it extremely useful if you place your loudspeakers on a bookshelf or desktop and want to angle the tweeter at your ears and not at your chest. The impact on the sound is not subtle; the clarity of the sound improves dramatically, bass tightens up, and everything sounds more focused.
One thing I did notice with warmer sounding bookshelf loudspeakers like the Q Acoustics 3030i, and Wharfedale Diamond 10.1s was a reduction in midrange coloration that some might find takes away from the impact of the presentation. Bass tightened up significantly but also lost some of its visceral impact. Vocals were rock solid in the soundstage and the presentation took a step forward as well.
For more information: IsoAcoustics Aperta Isolation Stands
Where to buy: $199 at Amazon
Helm Audio Bolt ($99)
Streaming your favorite jazz recordings via Tidal or Qobuz has never been easier with the Helm Audio Bolt USB DAC that plugs directly into your smartphone or laptop. You can read our review here.
The Helm Bolt is a DAC for your high-res FLAC or WAV files, and it will improve audio quality while streaming Qobuz, Tidal, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, and others. This tiny DAC supports playback of PCM files with sampling rates up to 384kHz, or DSD files with sampling frequencies up to 5.6MHz.
Where to buy: $99 at Amazon
iFi Go bar ($329)
The iFi Go bar earns an honorable mention in the category because it offers so much flexibility, a wide range of connectivity options, and excellent format support. Bassheads might select the iFi Go bar for its xBass boost and xSpace setting that increases the spaciousness of the sound, but the $329 price is a rather significant premium over the M15 which offers the same level of sonic performance.
Best Affordable Platter Mats and Cleaning Wipes
Analog Restorations ($26 to $62)
The Garden State definitely loves its live music, rock stars, and record stores. We gave the world Bruce, Bon Jovi, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Lauryn Hill, Donald Fagen, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter and Count Basie. It’s also the home of VPI turntables and Analog Restorations.
Have you ever wondered where people on Instagram are getting those fantastic custom cork platter mats?
There’s a company in New Jersey that makes them and we’re huge fans.
The cork platter mats start at $26 and you can have it customized. The record cleaning wipes are more expensive but they work really well on dirty records that you might pick up at a used record store.
For more information: 10 Questions for Analog Restorations
Best Affordable Vacuum Record Cleaner
Record Doctor VI Record Cleaning Machine ($330)
The resurgence of vinyl was not only a boon for turntable and cartridge manufacturers but for the vinyl accessories market as well. Record cleaning machines never really vanished with brands like VPI and Nitty Gritty keeping the market well supplied but the rebirth of the record created an opening for other brands already in the analog playback space to offer their own cleaning machines.
Consumers can spend anywhere from $80 to $6,000 for a record cleaning machine and there is some merit to the expense if your record collection continues to grow and you really care about preserving your collection and the lifespan of your cartridge.
Clean records sound better and that means more playback hours for your cartridge if you take the time to clean and store your vinyl properly. The VPI HW 16.5 has to be considered the go-to unit if you have a large record collection and want something that will last a very long time. It’s loud and not the prettiest piece of industrial design but it does the job well every single time.
We know people who still use 20 year-old units on a daily basis and will buy nothing else. The issue for most people getting into vinyl is the cost of a record cleaning machine; the VPI HW 16.5 ($950 at Audio Advice) which is more than most listeners have spent on their table/cartridge set-up. If you have a budget under $1000, the VPI is the model to buy. For vinyl lovers with a maximum budget of $330, the Record Doctor VI is an excellent alternative.
The Record Doctor VI utilizes a high-performance vacuum motor to remove all of the cleaning fluid and dirt from the surface of your records while you manually turn the record with the included injection-molded turner that also covers the entire record label to prevent damage.
The unit comes with a deep-cleaning applicator brush which you use to scrub clean the grooves with a record cleaning solution; the manufacturer sells their own cleaning solution, but we had good success with both VPI and Mobile Fidelity cleaning solutions as well.
For $330, the Record Doctor VI does the job and without a lot of fuss. Like any record cleaning machine with a vacuum, there is a noise factor to contend with and this unit is only slightly quieter than other units that we have used.
For more information: Record Doctor VI
Where to buy: $329.95 at Crutchfield
Portable audio gear has gone up significantly in price over the past 5 years so it definitely makes sense to invest in a proper case. Cases can be expensive but if you want to protect your DACs or portable headphone amplifiers from dings and bumps that come from taking your audio on the road with you, it’s a worthwhile investment. Accidents are a part of life and equipment gets knocked off tables, dumped out of bags, and often dropped. If you spend any amount of time commuting, you are painfully aware that people are often buried in their phones and not paying attention to their surroundings.
Three manufacturers come to mind when looking for DAP cases; Dignis, Miter, and DDHifi.
Dignis and Miter offer a full range of cases and are often bundled with premium DAPs (Cayin and Astell & Kern both offer Dignis cases).
Miter cases are offered through Moon Audio who also offer a superb range of headphones, DAPs, and portable audio accessories.
Dignis has its own webstore with a wide range of cases that work with headphones and DAPs. If you use the Apple AirPods Max, they even make a rather attractive carrying pouch for them for $70.
Miter tends to be more affordable but doesn’t offer the same range of products that Dignis does at this point.
Once in awhile you need more than just an adapter for a headphone or earphone to work properly due to an impedance mismatch. iFi Audio make some of the best portable headphone amplifiers and DACs and they also offer a number of impedance matching devices called the iEMatch and Ear Buddy.