A syzygy is a rare planetary alignment of at least three planets in each other's shadow. What better way to inaugurate our best-of feature than to syzygate, by allowing each 6moons reviewer so inspired to cast his or her shadow across the vast landscape of audio components and music releases and nominate up to five each that were deemed the most outstanding and noteworthy encounters of 2003. Unlike our Blue Moon Awards which require a formal review, today's feature does not require appearance in these pages to be nominated. Some of our reviewers also write for other publications. Others have only recently joined.

Hence, the rules of engagement were defined such: The respective writer had to have one-on-one personal experience with the nominees while being asked to cast his glance backward in time well past January 2003, to also give those components a chance which, in hindsight, still towered over whatever else one might have encountered in the year past.

Without further ado or any special sequence, here opens our once-a-year menu of delectable audio goodies for your reckless consumption. We take no responsibility for the health of your wallet. We only serve the pleasure of your music-loving soul to pass around the audiophile virus. Inhale deeply now.

Click to visit Thad's site
Image by Thad V'Soske
click to visit his site
From Jeff Day, we present you with Don Garber's Fi 2A3 monoblocks and Tom Evans Design Vibe preamplifier.

I have listened to literally hundreds of single ended triode amplifiers. Among all of those, there's only a handful that I would actually consider acquiring for permanent residence in my system. One of my favorites amongst that handful? The Fi 2A3 direct-coupled SET monos hand-crafted by Don Garber in Brooklyn/New York. I have heard both the stereo and monoblock versions of his Fi 2A3 amplifiers (the flat chassis ne ultra plus versions). They are among the most musical devices ever created by human hands. The Fi amplifiers are old world wonders that are masterful at combining the sonic, timing and emotive elements that bring recorded music to life in a completely immersive, engaging and realistic way. They are a bargain at $2350 and $2975, respectively. You can reach Don at 718.625.4905 or via e-mail at dgfi@earthlink.net.

When the excellent British print magazine Hi-Fi+ recently reviewed some of the world's finest preamplifiers at up to £55,000 each, three champions emerged: The Connoisseur Definition 4.0 at £27,000; the Boulder 2010 line-stage and 2008 phono-stage at £55,000; and an overachieving David among the Goliaths - the £5580/pr Tom Evans Design Vibe preamplifier and its accompanying phonostage, the Groove. Not that the David Vibe, as in the Book of Samuel, was able to knock the Goliath Connoisseur or Boulder on their keesters. Still, the Vibe was able to go toe-to-toe with them at a fraction of the cost, and that's speaking volumes. The Vibe is now available with an optional high-performance power supply that might just rewrite those results with a knockout punch.

I've now enjoyed the Vibe in my system for six months. Everything Hi-Fi+ claims about it is true - it's world class and then some. It is utterly quiet, with incredible detail, resolution and the liquidity of the best tube preamplifiers. And it plays music uncommonly well. If you're into SET amplifiers, take note: The synergy when the Vibe is combined with SETs has to be heard to be believed. While Tom Evans Design gear is almost unheard of in the US, that's about to change. The Vibe may be the highest performing real-world preamplifier money can buy. At $5200 US, that's good news for all of us - except perhaps the Goliaths. For more wicked droolology, visit Tom Evans here.

From John Potis, we present you with the Art Audio Carissa SET amplifier, McCormack's MAP-1 multichannel preamplifier and Magnepan's Magneplanar MGMC1 loudspeakers.

The Art Audio Carissa 845 SET tube amplifier received a 6moons Blue Moon Award for ''Refinement, Fun & Raw Drive" in the SET amplifier category. It's an important amplifier that forever banishes the notion that SET amplifiers are refined but wimpy, tasty but for sophisticated connoisseurs only. Not. SET amplifiers no longer are only for those who value midrange transparency and liquidity at the expense of the opposing ends of the spectrum.

Even more importantly, the Carissa has the power and drive to make it appropriate with speakers previously not considered optimum matches with a relatively low-power SET amplifier. With the Carissa, you can have it all. Or, as I said in the review proper:

"Her combination of muscular intensity and musical finesse puts her among the very best of amplifiers I've yet used in my system. Carissa has the transparency and intimacy I've come to expect from a good SET design and combines it with a spirited personality that's just plain fun to be around."

Did I mention that I since purchased her? I consider her the tube amp to own if you can only have one. Check out Art Audio's website for more information.

Thus far 6moons has yet to dive into multi-channel music, but like it or not, it's out there and it should not be ignored. McCormack's handsome MAP-1 is the company's stereo RLD-1 preamplifier replicated three times in one chassis. That makes it a stone cold bargain at $2395 USD, even if it didn't use top-shelf components and wasn't built like a tank - which it is. It also makes for one mighty fine sounding preamplifier. The MAP-1 comes with a remote control for source switching, on-the-fly system balance/set-up and volume adjustments.

Equipped with two sets of 5.1 multichannel analog inputs and another three sets for stereo, it should have enough ins and outs to accommodate most systems. An audio oriented piece, it has no facilities for video switching and due to its complete absence of nested video menus, it's as easy and straightforward to use as a stereo preamplifier.

What sets the MAP-1 apart is McCormack's proprietary analog ambience retrieval system - what they call ARM. For those desirous of creating surround from two channel sources (laser discs and VHS, for example), the ARM circuit works wonders. Of course, its McCormack RLD-1 lineage means that performance with both SACD and DVD-A is excellent.

The MAP-1 is an important product for its ability to allow a quality two-channel system to ergonomically and seamlessly coexist within a quality multichannel one - at a price that keeps sane the contemplation of a multichannel system. You can spend a whole lot more than for the MAP-1, but I doubt you can get a whole lot more. To read my HomeTheater&Sound! review, click here, to visit McCormack's website, here.

The Magneplanar MGMC1 loudspeakers ($750/pr. USD) were responsible for my complete loss of interest in reviewing speakers designed for multi-channel music and home theater. Once I discovered a speaker that looked this good, was this domestically friendly and this cheap, I was spoiled for everything else. And no, I'm not kidding. These speakers are that good.

Yes, Magnepan's larger and more expensive speakers are better, but the little MC1s are so astounding that, once coupled with a good subwoofer or two, the differences become almost insignificant. Hung off the walls, the MC1s offer performance so musical and transparent that the thought of replacing them with floor-standing boxes just doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

The MGMC1 loudspeakers are important for their incredible musicality, their remarkable unobtrusiveness in a multichannel system and their amazingly reasonable price. To read my SoundStage! review, click here, for Magnepan's website, here.