I’ve never been to Munich, or Germany for that matter. The streets are clean and safe, bicycles sit in racks on public streets without locks. The trains run on-time like clockwork and you ride on the honor system with nobody checking for tickets. I bought a three-day pass and enjoyed the convenience.
The HIGH END Munich Show is hosted by the HighEnd Society at the MOC Veranstaltungscenter München, a modern glass, multi-level convention facility.
Easily accessible from the U-bahn train system, four halls are connected by a continuous spine making for a very efficient layout. The show happens at all levels with a variety of rooms and room types. The main upper halls feel like an American-style mall, with “shops” surrounding a glass-lit, common atrium space. Around both sides of the atriums are more intimate listening rooms, where it may be less noisy, and the rooms used for demonstrations generally sound, pretty good!
Enough about the facility…
As I begin, I’m reminded of what kind of show this is – high end. That doesn’t mean the show is exclusive, but it does mean there is something for every enthusiast. However, there are many many esoteric displays and manufacturers; equipment stands, cable lifts, power conditioners, vinyl cleaning, etc, etc. All these categories seem to exist cohesively, for the common good as it were. Cables of all sizes and prices alongside beautifully crafted component stands. Wall-hung acoustic treatment varied from wood crafted enormous pieces to panelized systems. Isolation designs vary from simple ball-bearing lifts for components and shelves, to unbelievable complex cable risers.
Unlike most of the other audio shows where you can buy music in one space, this show has several locations and venders mixed within the manufacturers.
And unlike other audio shows, this one has the vibe of a thriving industry with enthusiasm and energy for the business and lifestyle that is HighEnd high-fidelity. The manufacturers, distributors, sales and marketing and ultimately the end user share a common goal, great emotionally charged sound reproduction. That’s it! In fact, I hear of how competitors actually work together, not only in sharing gear but also ideas and technology. I truly enjoyed seeing people from one company exploring other’s displays and demonstrations for the pure enjoyment. And to hear them recommend a competitor to listen to, shows the comradely of the industry.
Although this show is touted as the “High End” of the HiFi industry, there was yet plenty of modestly priced gear from known international venders. NAD, Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Definitive Technology, Anthem and Paradigm, DALI, Dual, MoFi, Vpi, music hall, Totem, Offer some extraordinarily valued components and speakers. If you want to hear or purchase special, hand-built gear costing what most people don’t spend on their homes, someone here can accommodate you.
Still, the show is vast with audio gear and speakers from all corners of the world. For every familiar name, there are ten times as many I’ve never heard of before. Most don’t export to North America.
Time to get to work.
Oh, one thing about my coverage. If you want all the specs, or a price for everything I saw, you may have to research that on your own, sorry. I just felt in the spirit of the show where the primary purpose was to listen and enjoy, and the breath and scope of the show, that I could cover more if I didn’t get bogged down with all the details. Where it’s important, I will certainly pass on some costs and specs.
I began on the main floor which where I find predominately static displays, although a few listening rooms exist behind the displays. One that caught my eye was a German company that made speakers from concrete called Concrete Audio. Beautifully formed and finished concrete that looked like cast stone. They had a full range floorstanding speaker along with a stand mounted monitor and a flat on-wall and even a subwoofer. No demo room but loved the creativity. The mini drivers for the very flat wall-mounted speaker are custom designed. If you don’t like the raw concrete, you can cover them with perfectly formed wall art screens.
Turntables everywhere of course but this one from German-made Acoustic Signature called Invictus. Well north of $100k, it’s roped off for a reason. Hundreds of components, hand-made go into this extraordinary turntable.
The familiar name in turntable had on display a prototype for what else but a reel-to-reel named the TM 1600. It lays flat referencing their TD 1600 turntables and I admit I instantly loved the look.
Equally beautiful is the Thorens TD 550; belt-drive with a 12” tonearm, carbon fiber tonearm platform and suspended chassis. Th glowing logo is seductive.
The beautiful Forte Turntable sporting the new F-Note tonearm, 12” and S-shaped designed specifically for the Forte. What may not be seen from the photo is a laser diode (beam) to aid in aligning the cartridge. Shell out $7,995.
And for fun…
The new upgrade from the SP1000 is the SP2000 digital player/DAC available in both stainless steel or copper. A hefty 15 ounces, the player supports all high res files including MQA. DSD native and DSD/128, DSD/256 and DSD/512 – maxing out at 32bit/768kHz Bit-to-Bit playback. Additionally, 512 GB of storage.
A bit more affordable, the Kann Cube with an 8 channel Dual DAC and 32bit/384kHz playback.
There are many Chinese companies here and FiiO showed this cute display with the FH7 headphones with a beryllium tweeter and the Q5S digital player that supports playback up to 32bit/768kHz and DSD512.
Exceeding even Lenbrook’s expectation is the beautifully designed and scaled NAD Master Series M10 integrated amplifier with built-in BluOS streaming. Michael Galvin is currently working on a review. Clearly meant to be placed on a counter, the M10 has a rather large touchscreen considering its smallish format. The other significant feature may be the DIRAC Live, lite-version room correction which uses a microphone to calibrate the M10. For $99 you can get the full version. I wondered why if the NAD D30-series hybrid digital DAC amps include a phono stage, that the M10 does not. Perhaps real estate within the box is at a premium, this may be something for the engineers at NAD to consider. But the M10 will give you 100 watts (8 ohms), 32bit/384kHz processing and more for about $2,500.
If you want something similar, costing less because it omits the amplifier and touchscreen, consider the NAD C658 at $1,500. Although it has a traditional component-style chassis, it still comes with a version of DIRAC room correction. And also, that phono stage.
Both will give you Bluesound connectivity with the app, but also access to your music libraries and include: MQA unpacking, high-res files, streaming services from Tidal, etc.
Listening in the Harman Group room, the big surprise seems to be the affection everyone has for the JBL L100, not only because it’s simply an outstanding sounding speaker ($4,000 per pair) in its own right, but also the retro-look and nostalgia of the previous namesake model from the 1970s. It looks and feels very retro in a good way. The 3-way design includes: 12” woofer, 5.25” midrange and 1” titanium tweeter with front-controlled MF and HF level attenuation.
The anchor for the room seems to be the new No.5101 SACD player – side note, if CD’s are dead, why are there so many new players at this show? The 5101 is priced around $5,500 if my notes are correct. Additionally, in the room was the Mark Levinson gear that includes: The No.515 turntable that Jim Clements just reviewed, the No.5805 integrated amplifier and No.519 audio player.
It will be odd to say this, but at this show, the Harman room has some very economical gear that include the 3-way Performa F228Be with the 1” beryllium tweeter at $10,000 for the pair.
I’d had the pleasure of hearing the innovative Lexicon SL-1 wireless speaker system in the past but as a project in development, I believe this is the final version. Loaded with various speaker sizes including passive drivers, 63 to be exact, the control offers an immersive experience despite it being just two-channel. Its main feature is the ability to actively adjust in real-time the sweet spot using what they refer to as Soundsteer technology. By system, it includes not just the speakers but the amplifiers, preamplifiers and even wires, just plug them in. It’s operated by an app that pinpoints or even widens the sweet spot. Further, placement within the room isn’t critical at all, in fact it can focus the sound behind the speakers because of the 360-degree array design. Regardless of the technology, the sound is superb.
Although the speaker cover is off, the blue LED lights show the direction of the sound beam, continuous means unfocused and open.
Italian-made Sonus Faber showed their new modestly-sized Minima Amator II Monitor speaker. Still beautifully crafted, (Hey it’s Italian of course!) the 2-way speaker includes a 28mm tweeter with Damped Apex Dome technology and a 6” midrange woofer. A pair will set you back 4000 Euros.
Beautiful Carrera marble stand.
Nearby I wanted to have a look at the new Audio Research Reference 160S (REF 160S) stereo amplifier. What a beauty, unfortunately it was near the floor so forgive the photos. On the heels of the monaural 160M, the 160S is of course one chassis. The vacuum tube stereo amplifier has dual transparent meters that “float” in front of the power tubes. A small loan might be necessary at $20,000, I’d venture to say a worthy long-term investment. Better yet for you patriots – American designed, engineered and assembled in Maple Grove, Minnesota. You betcha!
Brief interlude…racks are beautiful! Top shelf detail of a Bassocontinuo rack.
All hail the rack!
Came across the enthusiastic driving force of the “new” M&K audio speaker company, the charming Lars Johansen, President who resurrected the brand from its Miller & Kreisel days. The history is ripe with high profile studio engineers who prefer the M&K sound for their authenticity and accuracy. People like George Lucas insisted their mixing studios were outfitted with M&K monitors.
I heard their in-wall version of the S150 speakers in one of the few surround demonstrations here in Munich which was gloriously clean and rich. The larger S300 is being shown here too.
I was a little annoyed that the Scottish-based Linn Audio demonstration was by appointment only, I signed up for it and returned an hour later. I then knew why as it was an excellent presentation of their Selekt DSM. For your troubles, you’re served excellent scotch and a native chocolate candy bar that I happily scarfed and washed down with the ounce of smooth scotch. All is forgiven. They had my attention.
Playing several snippets of the same track, they clearly demonstrated the benefits of their DAC, whether in their integrated amplifier or with their outboard amplifier, (or anyone else’s for that matter). The DAC comes with the ability to use their free (just buy their DAC) room correction space optimization technology.
Linn boasts that their core philosophy is to design everything modular including their classic epic Sondek LP 12 turntable. Any future upgrades are designed to work with their existing pieces meaning you never have to totally replace the component.
A room that really impressed me was the Auralic room, can’t say I’m surprised as they make some of the best streaming audio players and DACs anywhere. The new Altair G1 Digital Audio player and Sirius G2 Upsampling Processor.
Using Spendor speakers and Nagra amplifiers, this sounded like an ideal combination, detailed, relaxed and dynamic.
The G2 will output DSD 512 and PCM up to 384 kHz up to 32 Bits. Options include a 20-band eq and speaker placement compensation. $5,999 US.
Think of the G1 as your preamp, your DAC and streamer all in one, Tidal and roon ready and most any high-resolution audio formats. A bargain at $2,499 US.
The Martin Logan Neolith continues to impress, a rarity in my opinion that the sound it produces is great in any room, at any show. Smooth, rich and authoritative, using the Pass labs amps just blew me away. I don’t care what they cost or what the frequency response is, I love it.
Stepping away from the Neolith, the classic ML ESL 9 is suddenly, very modest.
Fun event I attended was with British-based ifi audio off-site where they introduced a very unusual table-top speaker system called Aurora. The name was inspired by the Aurora Borealis in its analogy of “electrifying your music” and “filling the sky with light”.
Offhand as that may sound, there is some serious design and technology going on here. The design by Julien Haziza is inspired by the pyramid entrance at the Louvre in Paris and the bamboo wood from Japanese architecture, the WiFi Aurora plays Spotify and Tidal, internet radio, Bluetooth connectivity and connect several together for a multi-room system.
Better yet, the Aurora is a hybrid design with a tube in the preamp section and solid state for amplification. Down-firing bass radiators aid in augmenting the bass performance and the most interesting feature of the Aurora are the rear and side-mounted microphones (6 in total) that automatically adjust the speaker to its placement next to walls, called ART or Automatic Room Tailoring calibration.
The Aurora is available this coming July for $1,299.