A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

The What Hi-Fi? Awards 2020 in association with Sevenoaks Sound and Vision are almost upon us, so we thought now would be the perfect time to look back and see where it all began.

Ahead of the big reveal on Monday 5th October, join us as we take a walk down memory lane with all the What Hi-Fi? Awards issues of yesteryear. It’s fair to say the AV tech industry has come a long way since our first celebration back in 1983…

1983

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

The first ever What Hi-Fi? Awards issue was part of the December 1983 magazine, which was yours for 85p. Not one but three turntables featured on the cover, alongside boombox-style stereo systems and valve amplifiers.

There were 14 categories in 1983, a stark contrast to the 29 product categories we’re covering this year – a sign of the broader range of products we now review, and a response to the changing way we consume music and movies (though we were strictly a hi-fi magazine back then).

1984

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

You like colours? We’ve got colours. A whopping price increase to 95p in 1984 but you did at least get this glorious technicolour sneak peek at the brands that may or may not feature inside.

It provides a neat snapshot of how times have changed. While some brands are still going strong; Denon, KEF, Meridian, Panasonic, Rega, Sony, to name a few; plenty others have vanished from our radar; Akai, Dean, Dunlop, Heybrook, Nagaoka and Sugden, for example.

And if the Awards weren’t enough, maybe the “computerised buying guide” would have caught your eye…

1985

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

The Awards take centre stage in 1986, a sign of their increasing importance… or perhaps just an experimental magazine designer.

1987

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

The ‘famous’ What Hi-Fi? tick…?

While “the best hi-fi you can buy” seems a self-explanatory tagline, it seems we were also pushing a big red tick as our seal of approval. We’re happy we focused on the five stars in later years…

For the cover price of £1.40 in 1987, you also got a look at Yamaha’s CD video player. You don’t see many of those any more.

1991

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

1991 sees the addition of a US price as What Hi-Fi? went global, while it also featured some interesting categories. We managed to deliver a best tonearms category, for those looking to upgrade their turntable (we had a category for them too, naturally).

Cassette decks were still relevant and very much on our review schedule, so they got a category, too. There was also an in-car systems category, too, proving car audio has been on our radar for some time.

1994

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

“The UK’s most important hi-fi Awards” was the cover line from 1994, as we promised to help you build a “mega music and movies system” – a sign that we were focusing on the video side of things, not just audio.

1996

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

The What Hi-Fi? Awards was becoming the behemoth it is now by the mid-90s, with over 90 Best Buys – or “must-hear products” as we called them – revealed in total.

2001

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

Spot the change? This was the first year that ‘Sound and Vision’ made an appearance on the cover as we reflected the increasing popularity of AV receivers, speaker packages, home cinema systems and TVs. “The year’s best hi-fi and home cinema kit”, was the promise. And still is…

2006

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

Over 90 winners were revealed in 2006, including “MP3” products, as we entered a new age of digital music. The iPod made it on to the cover, alongside Sky+ HD, a Denon Blu-ray player, a Sony TV and more. And, as ever, there was a new Bond – Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale – around the corner, as illustrated by the cover art…

2009

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

The influence of digital music was clear to see in 2009 with iPod docks and headphones on the agenda. There was room for turntables, too, with the record player resurgence trundling into life. The speakers category was also given room on the cover, an ever-present in What Hi-Fi? Awards history.

2013

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

As ‘tech’ went mainstream and consumer electronics became headline news, we reflected the popularity of the broader world of technology on our 2013 cover. That said, an old favourite category was welcomed back into the fold, as more people storing their songs on computers meant that DACs had became relevant again.

2016

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

4K OLED TVs, the first 4K Blu-ray player, streaming services and the continued vinyl resurgence were the big winners in our 2016 issue, which had 102 best buys across 27 categories. It was a big year for us, too, as we turned 40 and celebrated with a special 40th anniversary issue and picked our top 40 products of all time.

2017

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

The What Hi-Fi? Awards reached new heights in 2017, with no fewer than 108 Best Buys and 29 Products of the Year.

It also saw the debut of three brand new Awards including our first ever non-product Award.

The KEF LS50s were inducted into our Hall of Fame, while the Bang & Olufsen BeoSound Shape was deemed Innovation of the Year.

Finally, our Outstanding Contribution Award went to Steve Reichert of Arcam and Armour Home fame.

2018

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

2018 saw a packed Awards issue produce a total of 102 Best Buys and 25 Products of the Year.

We inducted Sony’s evergreen STR-DN1080 AV receiver into our Hall of Fame, while the excellent Monitor Audio Silver 100 standmounters took home our coveted Readers’ Award.

Sony’s Eric Kingdon was handed our Outstanding Contribution Award for his work with the brand. Eric joined the company in 1984 and has helped develop some of the best hi-fi and home cinema products we’ve heard over the years.

2019

A brief history of What Hi-Fi? Awards magazine covers

(Image credit: Future)

2019 was a bumper year, with no fewer than 111 Best Buy winners and 26 Products of the Year.

Sony stole the show, with winners across seven categories, including TV, soundbar, and home cinema amplifier. Its tremendous WH-1000XM3 headphones picked up a deserved Product of the Year gong too.

Bowers & Wilkins took the coveted stereo speakers POY with its 606 standmounters while their big brothers, the 607s, scooped our Readers’ Award.

Marantz brand ambassador Ken Ishiwata, who sadly passed away in December 2019, was honoured with an Outstanding Contribution Award.  

So, what does 2020 have in store? Be sure to head back to What Hi-Fi? on Monday 5th October when we reveal all our Best Buy Award-winners for 2020, and again on Thursday 5th November, the day we announce our Products of the Year.

MORE:

The best TVs of the 21st century

The best turntables of the 21st century