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2011 was another intensely musical year and I would like to start by linking my modest annual audio reviewing crusade to my 2011 favorite performers. I thus will consider two fine pieces of audio gear and two exceptional women. I definitely believe that our equipment recommendation are chiefly influenced by our artistic sensibilities although in and of itself a perfect machine or transducer should be able to reproduce whatever kind of musical genre it is presented with. But perfection is neither common place nor does it stand in a hifi dealer's back room. A JBL addict might listen to rather different music than what an Audio Note fan stores in his or her CD library. That explains why this market remains so fragmented.

Turning to my 2011 favorites, I will express part of my artistic sensibility's duality - an immoderate interest in virtuoso performers mainly focused on strings; and a passion for beautiful uncanny female vocals. The two pieces of gear which won over this duality both work in the digital domain. I shall first nominate the splendid and ultra-sophisticated Audioaéro La Source. This device achieves a kind of perfection in the reproduction of dynamics, three-dimensional soundstaging and tonal neutrality. It felt like a fantastic sport car able to recreate the most complex atmospheres without ever losing its involving nature. Beyond what it offered as a superlative SACD player and DAC, the La Source also belongs to the category of ultimate preamplifiers.

In a very personal sense this made the La Source an ideal partner for Valentina Lisitsa. On her personal website she declares "an imperious sweep with aristocratic poise and sensitivity". La Source fully joined and adopted Valentina's motto. Valentina is one of the brightest figures of the young pianist's generation. The clarity of ideas and musicality of this amazing performer are simply outstanding. The Ukrainian-born and American citizen seems to never lose control and energy. She always seems to have unsuspected resources to find new ways to reveal the score.

She has fun, takes risks and is able to provide the right insight into the most difficult and virtuoso passages. Her recently released duet with Hilary Hahn—Charles Ives: Four Sonatas on DG—is highly commendable.

Now to the other side of my addiction. I have always been attracted by the emotion produced by singular female voices. From Maria Callas to Rachelle Ferrell, the ability to touch the audience is maybe one of performing humanity's most prized moments.

A young South-Korean lady has recently demonstrated to be part of the most talented of jazz singers. But Youn Sun Nah is more than that. To me she is a true mermaid. She has the power to move me to tears. If her last outings were rousing and delightful, her live performances are a blaze of glory. Her extended vocal register, her ability to express the most subtle shadings and variations, her highly relevant sensibility and energy all make her live performance a stunning emotional experience of true intimacy.

The completely discrete R/2R Totaldac conveys a similar kind of intimacy and delivers an incredible analogue sound without sacrificing dynamics and resolution. It has taken place in my personal system and completely freed me from any remaining digital glaze that would turn me away from the siren song of Youn Sun Nah and her last release—Same Girl, ACT—which highlights her extended abilities as a jazz and pop singer.

I wish a very happy 2012 to our readers and these two ladies. Bravo!