Hello, SECRETS readers! We are excited to let you know that we will be covering this year’s Munich High-End show for the first time since 2018. Munich High-End 2023 will take place from May 18th to 21st at Munich’s giant MOC Convention Center. This show has long been recognized as the largest and probably most important show on the audio calendar, and with over 550 exhibitors representing over 800 individual brands, it is going to be a beast to cover.
Secrets Editor-In-Chief, Carlo Lo Raso will be our man on the scene bringing you regular coverage, posted on this page and our social media channels, both during and after the show. Several brands will be using Munich High-End to announce major product launches, and we’ll be doing our very best to bring them to you! One of the fun things about Munich High-end is that, while we will certainly see familiar brands and products on display, we will no doubt be bringing coverage of some more unfamiliar, and unusual brands along with just some downright surprises that we will surely uncover. Oftentimes products that we see at this show, that don’t yet have a presence in the US market, find one after showing here. So, in that sense, Munich High-End serves as kind of a “sneak peek” at gear that might eventually find its way to us on this side of the pond.
Every year the Munich High-End Show announces a show ambassador who acts as the public media face for the event. For this year’s show (the 40th anniversary) Jazz-Fusion guitar virtuoso, Al Di Meola was announced as the show ambassador. Al will be at the show’s opening press conference and no doubt be involved in other events over the course of the show. If you are any sort of guitar fan, it’s exciting stuff indeed!
And finally, we want to mention that our Munich High-End 2023 coverage this year has been made possible through the support of our friends at Fidelity Imports. Fidelity Imports is the US distributor for several superb audio brands including Perlisten, Unison Research, Opera Loudspeakers, Goldnote, Audia Flight, Michell Audio, Soulnote, Acoustic Energy, Diptyque Audio, and more. We are grateful for their sponsorship to help us bring you the high-quality show coverage that SECRETS is known for.
So friends, keep an eye on this page along with our Instagram, and our Facebook feeds as we start filling you in on the awesomeness that is Munich High-End 2023 starting next week!
Note that all prices, unless otherwise noted, are in USD.
And so it begins! The sheer craziness of Munich High-End starts now!
First up at the show were the newly announced Linn 360 loudspeakers. The Piano Black versions are active speakers while the golden-brownish colored speakers called “Single Malt” were the passive versions. The active speakers were displayed as part of what the gracious Linn representative coined a “3-box solution” using the Linn Klimax DSM streamer and the Linn Klimax LP12 turntable as the sources. Basically forming a 150K Euro turnkey system!
Being their first new “ground-up” speaker design since 2005, Linn is justly proud of the new 360. The active versions we’re playing during my visit and the level of transparency and effortlessness was immediately apparent. A Scottish Chamber Orchestra track was playing to show off the size and detail of the imaging. Then a Stanley Clarke track revealed tight, abundant, and pitch-perfect bass.
Then, who should I run into just after the doors open but PSB’s Paul Barton and Rob Nichols. They were actually going to get a chance to walk around and explore the show instead of spending it answering questions for press yahoos like me!
Here’s a smidgen of what was going on at the big Focal/Naim display. First was the announcement of the Naim New Classic 300 system, the new limited edition Naim Nait 50 integrated amplifier, and some new custom leather finishes on the Focal Stellia Utopia EVO speakers.
The New Classic 300 series consists of:
NSS 333 streamer – $10,999 USD
NAC 332 pre-amplifier – $10,999 USD
NAP 350 monoblock power amplifier – $8,499 USD
NVC TT phono stage – $3,699 USD
NPX TT power supply – TBD
NPX 300 power supply – $8,999 USD.
Founded in 1973, the New Naim Nait 50 celebrates the company’s 50th anniversary with a limited run of 1973 units for this iconic integrated amp. With it’s classic compact size, 25 watts per channel power output, potent headphone section, and MM phono stage, the price is $3,599 and is scheduled for availability in July.
And then, there are new optional custom leather finishes as on the Focal Stellia Utopia EVO are and interior designer’s dream, but the insane looking gloss wood grain finish on the Grand Utopia EM EVO looked delicious!
Quickly doing a check-in with the folks at Perlisten, Dan Roemer and Erik Wiederholtz are all smiles as show opens up for a couple of reasons. First, Dan introduces me to the new, limited edition S7t. This special version of Perlisten’s already killer S7t has several special refinements over stock. This includes reworked, higher excursion bass drivers, an updated DPC array with a massive aluminum heatsink, upgraded crossover with tighter tolerance parts, new thicker bass plate with custom made isolation feet from IsoAcoustics, and radiused side panels with a carbon fiber finish. Each of the 50 pairs of loudspeakers will have their final crossover parts graded and hand matched by CEO Dan Roemer along with each pair being measured and verified on the company’s Klippel measuring system. Results will be included with each pair that Dan will sign and certify. Price will be finalized soon with availability in the fall.
Erik has been working with the folks at Storm Audio and DIRAC on what promises to be an amazing HT theater demonstration that I will get to experience tomorrow. A fully kitted-out Perlisten home theater system utilizing DIRAC’s new ART system courtesy of Storm Audio’s AV processors. Now that should be something!
Here is a video of my interview with Dan Roemer discussing the new Limited Edition Speakers.
DALI is celebrating its 40th Anniversary and it did it at Munich High-End with tremendous style! First the company premiered the Epikore 11 loudspeakers (40K Euros). With much of the technology of the flagship DALI Kore speaker trickling down to this new model which will be about half the size and price of the Kore and adding in a new tier above DALI’s Epicon series. Having heard the KORE speakers personally, the new Epikore 11 sound very much in the same vein as their kin. Powerful, musical, and dynamic. Especially as they were hooked up to the new NAD Masters M66 preamp and two M23 power amps being run in mono.
DALI’s Head of Product Management, Krestian Pedersen, gives us a walk-through of the new DALI Epikore 11.
A word on the M66. This preamp is something I personally, along with a few other people I know, have been eagerly waiting for. A 2-channel preamp with room correction, bass management and correction for up to 4 subs (courtesy of DIRAC), and most importantly utilizing some of the highest quality parts in the signal chain. If it performs as well as I think it could, it will be a complete game-changer leapfrogging over anything else that is comparable.
To kick off the anniversary celebrations DALI CEO Lars Warre and founder Peter Lyngdorf spoke candidly and emotionally about DALI’s founding, it’s history, and it’s future. It was pretty inspiring to listen to the both of them and how obviously passionate they were about the company.
And finally the new DALI iO-12, DALI’s latest ANC headphones. The company is positioning these against the likes of the Mark Levinson No.5909 and the Focal Bathys. Plus, like the the 5909, these were are designed to sound like a superb pair of passive headphones when the power is completely off. Initial impressions are that DALI isn’t fooling around and the iO-12 are serious competitors both in the sound and comfort department. Price is TBD and availability will be in the fall.
Once again, Krestian Pedersen does his thing and gives us the full lowdown on the DALI iO-12.
Al Di Meola Listening Session
High-End 2023 Ambassador, Al Di Meola, his wife, and guests got a chance to listen to tracks from the recently released “Saturday Night in San Francisco” on this over the top VPI, Wilson, D’Agostino, DCS system. Fellow New Jersey dude, Mat Weisfeld worked the room as Ad hoc announcer and general ball of positive energy! Al seemed pleased with the results!
TAD was sounding exceptionally good at High-End Munich 2023 with the CE-1TX loudspeakers winning ears over with their trademark sound quality. They legitimately qualify as some of the best stand-mounted loudspeakers I have ever heard.
But the company was also premiering a brand new Evolution Series Preamplifier called the TAD-C1000. The new preamp is a true Dual Mono design from input to output, it also has twin transformers, a highly accurate and ball-bearing-smooth volume control, and uses a new complimentary FET first stage. It’s made to match the rest of the 1000-series Evolution line which includes the D1000TX disc player, the DA1000TX DAC, and the M1000 power amplifier. Price is TBD. Visiting the room also gave me the pleasure to catch up with TAD CEO Shinji Tarutani and Kazuto Ohkura which is always a treat.
Moon by Simaudio has just launched their new North collection of components and while they had static examples of each of the series gear on display, in use were the 791 Network Player/Preamp and the 761 Power amplifier, driving a pair of Dynaudio Confidence 60 loudspeakers. Tremendous looking and sounding room! The volume control remote alone was a work of art. I almost felt naughty using it!
Magnetar is looking to make a serious play for those of us committed to get the best out of our physical media, in all it’s forms. Premiering at High-End this year is the new UDP900 4K UHD Universal player. Priced at $2,999 USD, it plays both stereo and multichannel SACD and DVD-As along with various audio and video files from network or connected drives. Dolby Vision, HDR 10, and HDR10+ are supported. The build quality looks excellent and if you want a reference two-channel audio player, the UDP900 uses two ESS ES9038PRO DACS for the left and right analog outputs (XLR and RCA) and a ES9028PRO for the 7.1 channel analog outputs. Separate power supplies are specced for the analog and digital sections and there is a USB digital input to use the player’s DAC section with other components. We are very excited to get one in our hands and put it through it’s paces. If it performs as promised, it could very well be “the one ring to rule them all!”
Perlisten Audio, StormAudio and DIRAC
Perlisten Audio, StormAudio and DIRAC had teamed up to put together a statement home theater demo that would show off the capabilities of DIRAC’s new ART (Acoustic Room Treatment) in the best way possible. Using 11.7.6 channels of Perlisten speakers and subwoofers (including three S7t speakers across the front, the new in-walls along the sides and back and S4b surround speakers for the height channels), the StormAudio ISP Elite Mk 3 processor, scads of StormAudio amplification, and the latest DIRAC ART software, we were treated to several cuts of music and movie samples to experience.
The two things that stuck out to me was the cohesiveness and balance of the sound, and how things seemed to naturally move in the sound-field. I purposely snuck into two demos and sat on either side of the room to see if I could notice a difference, or if anything seemed off balance. I found no such issues. The music clip featuring Sting and his son performing together seemed natural from my perspective. Vocals were focused on Sting’s son, wherever he appeared on the screen. The sense of envelopment of the concert venue was quite successful. I felt like I was in the crowd, especially with that huge screen. The Top Gun Maverick sequence where Tom Cruise demonstrates that the mission is indeed possible, was without a doubt the best I have heard it. Objects and the effect of the F-18 navigating through the course was smooth with bass impacts and explosions being completely palpable. It was an outstanding experience on every single level.
After the second demo I was able to meet with StormAudio’s Olivier Thumerel to present him with our 2022 ”Thumb’s Up” award for their ISP Core 16 processor. The demo only confirmed to me that the award was well deserved. Bravo!
Popping in to visit Gold Note, I was informed that they had three new products that they were premiering at the Munich show. First was the beautiful Mediterranio X turntable with those touch sensitive digital speed and torque controls, voluptuous Italian walnut base with aluminum plinth, and ceramic bearing tonearm with titanium wand (10,900 Euros). Next was the new IS-10 Streaming Integrated Amplifier (2,890 Euros) with 90-watts per channel into 8 ohms, built-in headphone amp and compatible with Roon, Tidal, Spotify, and Qobuz. And finally there was the new DS-1000 EVO Line Streaming DAC and preamp (8,500 Euros) with a fully balanced design. I’ll be looking forward to taking a closer look at these products and more when I visit Gold Note as part of a press junket next week.
Our friends at Technics came loaded for bear at Munich High-End, bringing a little bit of everything to the show. Probably the newest item of note would be the SU-GX70 Network streaming amplifier with 40-watts per channel into 8-ohms ($1,999. 95). Essentially it is a slimmed down version of the SU-R1000 that I reviewed earlier this year but with a lower power output and the addition of HDMI ARC. Perfect for someone who wants performance in a smaller living space.
Paid a visit to the Acoustic Energy display where Martin Harding and Mat Spandi were previewing a static display of their upcoming flagship loudspeaker the Corinium. Martin and Mat explained that the Corinium was a three year development project which started with the AE520 loudspeaker as the benchmark. This 3-way design features new carbon fiber cones for the mid and bass drivers, a brand new soft dome tweeter design using a material called Tetoron and a new curved, heavily braced cabinet with an aluminum faceplate. Handsomely finished in a British Racing Green color, the price is TBD, with the goal of having working samples by Capital Audio Fest this fall.
PEAK Consult/Audionet Room
I’d never heard of Denmark’s Peak Loudspeaker before, but here were these impressive looking and sounding 500 lbs (each!) 3-way behemoth Peak Dragon Legacy loudspeakers attached to massive Heisenberg monoblack amplifiers, and a Stern preamplifier from AudioNet. The equally Danish Bergmann Galder Signature air bearing turntable with twin Odin linear tracking arms was another impressive musical construct. The sound was suitably massive with impressive imaging for the room. It was also one of the coolest looking systems I came across.
Audia Flight and Alare Labs
Italian manufacturers Audia Flight and Alare Labs were sharing an absolutely lovely sounding room, demonstrating some great synergy with their gear. Holding court were the Alare Remiga 1 transmission line loudspeakers with a gorgeous wood grain finish. These were powered by a pair of Audia Flight Strumento No. 8 Monoblock power amplifiers, each rated at 500 watts into 8-ohms (doubling again into 4 and 2 ohms). Control was courtesy of the Strumento No. 1 preamp, and sourcing was from an Audia Flight FLS 20 SACD player and an FL CD 3 S CD player. Also on static display were some of the company’s integrated amps with clear top panels to show off the high quality, well-ordered internals. The sound quality from the Remiga 1/Strumento combination was especially enjoyable here, extremely musical and engaging. And while I could have spent a lot longer in this room, I will be spending some time visiting Audia Flight’s facilities in person in Italy, after the Munich show. So keep an eye out from my report coming soon!
Fischer & Fischer
In another installment of “Gear I’d Never Heard of Before,” the unusually modular Fischer & Fischer SN1000.1 loudspeakers from Germany were imposing things indeed. The first interesting detail is that the modular “building block” design allows an owner to start off with a smaller speaker and eventually build up to what we see here. The other interesting thing is that the speaker cabinets are completely made from nature slate, making them very heavy but very inert. The elegant, but equally imposing, electronics were supplied by German manufacturer Accustic Arts along with a turntable from Transrotor. I wasn’t quite sure what sort of sound I was expecting from such formidable looking gear, but what I got was a very dynamic and detailed presentation from top to bottom, with bass that had an almost sledgehammer-like delivery yet highs that were almost silky and not fatiguing in any way. Superior image depth was also noted. A slightly insane but very enjoyable setup!
Gryphon Audio Designs
Gryphon Audio Designs was showing a working prototype of their new Diablo 333 Dual Mono integrated amplifier and it appears to be an absolute beast of a component! Rated at 333 watts at 8-ohms, 666 into 4-ohms and 1100 watts into 2-ohms. It can be ordered (or later upgraded) with an optional DAC board and a MM/MC board. The DAC section sports an ESS ES9038PRO chip with all the “fix-ins” while the phono stage board will have 2 gains choices and adjustable impedance settings. A working sample was mated to an also newly launched pair of Gryphon EOS-2 loudspeakers. It’s an attractive 2-way, mid-size tower design suitable for up to a medium sized room. Sporting a 1.34” Beryllium tweeter and a 7.5” carbon-fiber mid-woofer, the EOS-2/Diablo 333 combination lit up the room nicely with both the classical and contemporary tracks that were played. Nice big soundstage with great detail overall. The Diablo 333 will be priced at $24,900 in standard guise. The DAC module is a $7K option while the phono stage is a $5.6K option. Current projections are for a fall arrival. The EOS-2 will retail for $20K/pair and are slated for an August release.
Checked in with Vince Bruzzese of Totem Acoustic while at Munich this year. Both Vince and his son Nico were making the point that good sound need not only be the dominion of large and expensive loudspeakers. In particular they were showing off what Totem’s Bison line of more affordable tower and bookshelf speakers could do in a very simple setup. It was literally quite eye and ear opening!
The Fink Team had their gently tweaked and tweezed Borg 2 loudspeakers hooked up to the always fantastic looking and sounding Soulntote electronics from Japan along with a Yukiseimitsu AP-01 turntable, also from Japan. The new Borg 2 has slightly updated driver details and a commensurately tweaked crossover, otherwise the speakers look pretty much identical to the first generation. Which is good because I always thought the previous gen speakers were some of the best sounding passive speakers around. The Borg 2 continues that by sounding outstanding here with the Soulnote gear. A superb sounding pairing!
There were a number of audio companies celebrating milestone anniversaries at Munich High-End and Canton was among them. Last year was their 50th anniversary and Canton is marking the occasion with the launch of their updated Reference line of loudspeakers. The one that caught my attention in the display was the limited edition (only 50 pairs) of the Canton Reference GS. The GS towers dwarf the already substantial Reference 1’s seen right next to them. Featuring all new ceramic/tungsten bass and midrange drivers and a new diamond coated tweeter design. The cabinet wings are not only aesthetic but also help duct the bass. MSRP is expected to be $50K for a pair. A quick listen the Reference GS mated to a imposing stack of AVM equipment (the Cambridge equipment was hooked up to the Reference 1) gave me a big smile. There seemed to be no obvious weaknesses in what I was hearing and as a statement piece, it certainly sounded compelling. I would love an extended listen to the GS in a more familiar environment!
Thorens is in the process of celebrating it’s 140th anniversary this year so they had three very interesting top-shelf products on hand at Munich to mark the occasion.
First was the TD124 DD Anniversary Edition turntable (11,900 Euros). As far as we know only 140 examples will be produced and it has the following added embellishments over the standard TD124 DD:
– A new two-layer copper/aluminum platter.
– The tonearm has been rewired with hi-quality silver wire.
– An updated Ortolan SPU 124 cartridge with high-quality silver coil wire windings and a Bakelite shell.
– Hand-rubbed high-gloss real wood finish. Next we have the new Thorens SoundWall HP 600 open-baffle loudspeakers. These are evolutions of similar SoundWall speakers that Thorens made in the 70s – 80s. The HP 600 uses Twelve 6-inch drivers to handle bass while the midrange area is two front-firing midrange drivers and both a front and rear-firing tweeter per speaker. The rear tweeter’s output can be adjusted depending on speaker placement. Definitely a fun listen during the demo. Bass seemed solid down to about 40 Hz. Augmenting a pair of these speakers with one or two subwoofers could make for a very compelling system. Price is 22K Euros for the pair.
And the Thorens anniversary piece-de-resistance is the utterly insane Thorens New Reference turntable. This truly magnum opus turntable was designed by Helmut Thiele, who proudly walked me through the finer points of his creation. This beast can be configured with up to 3 tonearms, features a revolutionary active dampening system using piezoelectric acceleration sensors, and a highly sophisticated bearing system with precision quartz oscillators to effectively eliminate any speed variations. It is the kind of turntable you’d want to have if you lived near an earthquake zone! Obscenely cool and over the top!
Vivid Audio/Mola Mola
Always fun to run into Laurence Dickie from Vivid Audio and the gang from Mola Mola. Innovative audio technology and design doesn’t get much better than this!
There has been a lot of digital ink spilled lately on the current state of affairs and impending future of Audio Research. Brand Ambassador Dave Gordon and German distributor Gabriel Zunner chatted with me at Munich High-End and to make a long story short, they both seemed pretty upbeat and “glass half-full” about the situation and the company’s future prospects with the new ownership under Acora Acoustics. Time will tell but I for one hope to see the company succeed and flourish. Fingers crossed gents!
Meridian unveiled their new DSP9 fully active speakers painted in what seemed like a McLaren automotive orange paint scheme. Visually, they were certainly eye-grabbing. Your $80K per pair investment gets you a speaker set that essentially does it all, just connect a digital or analog source of your choice and you are literally off to the races. It even includes Meridian’s own spin on room correction built-in, called Free-Q. A separate white pair was set up for us to listen to and, whatever you may think about active loudspeakers, when done well there are no denying the results. The sound quality that came out of the DSP9 could literally wipe the floor with much of what was at this show. Transparency in spades, a balanced sounding midrange and a bass impact that was almost murderous. They are, quite literally, the whole package.
It seems the only time I ever run into Burmester gear is whenever I’ve been at the Munich show which is oddly fitting, maybe I need to run with a better circle of friends? In all seriousness though, it’s an enjoyable experience when I encounter the brand, and it’s always, inevitably a bit of a spectacle. This was no different. This year the main products in question were the Burmester 232 integrated amplifier, the 217 turntable, and the new B38 loudspeakers. While not as ostentatious as some of their other gear, it was obvious that the speakers, turntable, and integrated were put together and finished with an almost obscene attention to detail. Thats part of what you pay for at this level. But I can also say that, in the demo, Rachmaninoff and Boss Skaggs never sounded so good!
Audio Reference Room
Being in this room sponsored by distributor Audio Reference was like being a veritable kid in a candy store. Three separate Wilson speaker systems, with Krell and VTL amplification, VPI Avenger turntables, dcs digital front ends, and D’Agostino equipment thrown in for good measure! There was also a full Meridian digital system in here, Perlisten (who I already mentioned) was partially hanging out here along with a Velodyne display featuring a original DD 1812 Signature Edition subwoofer. Beyond the odd demo this area seemed primarily set up as a showroom and boy, was it!
These three Lenbrook brands were sharing a room chock full of all sorts of good stuff. The main gear of note being the new NAD C3050 regular production integrated amplifier, the Bluesound Node X music streamer, and the PSB Alpha iQ active bookshelf loudspeakers.
The C3050, despite it’s nod to retro good looks, is a decidedly modern component with HDMI ARC input and subwoofer output. The Node X is now based on an ESS DAC chipset and also features an HDMI ARC input and a built-in THX-AAA headphone amp section to bolster its streaming chops.
The PSB Alpha iQ will pretty much do it all. Simply add a source, be it analog or digital, and you are off to the races.
Beyond having several static examples of their pro monitoring-based loudspeakers, PMC was introducing a new, approachable line of home speakers called the Prodigy series. On display were two models, the Prodigy 1 bookshelf (1,250 Euro/pair) and the Prodigy 5 compact tower speaker (1,995 Euro/pair), both continue PMC’s commitment to transmission-line design. Both speakers are two-way designs featuring a 1” tweeter and a 5.25” long-throw mid-woofer driver. Listening to the Prodigy 5 tower mated to some excellent AVM gear when I stopped by the display, I heard an excellent sense of imaging and spaciousness from this modestly sized tower. An overall much bigger sound than I was expecting with great detail to boot.
In T+A’s room, we had the Solitare S line array loudspeakers hooked up to a pair of M 40 HV Anniversary Edition amplifiers which were being fed by a PDT 3100 HV streaming player and a PSD 3100 HV set up in DAC mode. A matching G 2000 R turntable was also there to round out the gear. T+A gear always looks and feels like it is put together with all the quality and care of a fine heirloom product, and the results consistently speak for themselves. It was an excellent sounding room that I could have easily spent the day in.
I came across the larger Lansche No. 5.2 loudspeakers at this year’s Florida show and was very taken with what I heard. The smaller No. 3.2 Mk II model they had here at Munich was no different. This model is a three-way design with the 0.3” Corona plasma tweeter up top and a 8” mid-woofer just below it. An internally mounted 9” bass driver fires out of the bottom. The sound was very sweet and melodic, with an effortless and airy top end. It was quite addictive!
Stenheim is a speaker company that is new to me but there was no denying that I liked what I was hearing when I happened by this room. The Alumine Two. Five loudspeaker had a clear, transparent presentation that was appealing to my ears. The darTZeel integrated amp and DAC looked very cool and no doubt played a role in what I was hearing. The cabling by Way cables looked about as unconventional and obsessively put together as any other cable I have ever seen. Visually it was over the top and quite striking.
I don’t think I have ever come across a Marten speaker I didn’t like, and these Marten Mingus Septet with the MSB gear, DS Audio phono cartridge and stages, and the TechDAS Air Force III turntable were no exception. Not only did it look drop-dead gorgeous (it had better for the cost) but the whole system had a synergy and command of the music that was superb on every level.
Finally got to hear the MoFi SourcePoint 8 loudspeakers at Munich and they were very much as I expected. They sound very much in the same vein as the bigger 10s but don’t quite drop down as low. Even though Andrew Jones MoFi creations have only ever been demonstrated for stereo listening, I submit that three of the the SourcePoint 8 across the front channels, or if you can swing it, five of them teamed with a good subwoofer or two and you’ll have the makings of a killer home theater/multi-channel music system. Also part of the demo were the MasterPhono phonostage ($5K) and MasterDeck turntables ($6K) which electronics designer Peter Madnick had more than just a passing hand in developing. And both Peter and Andrew are two of the nicest people to run into at a show. Always nice to catch up with them!
This was one of those “You’ve got to be kidding me” rooms. Silbatone Electronics is a South Korean maker of high quality tube gear and the owner/CEO of the company brought a selection of large vintage horn speakers to the show. to demo with his electronics. When I visited the room, the giant 1926 Western Electric 12B horns were playing with a total of 6-watts coming from a Silbatone amp sporting a pair of original 1918 VT2 tubes.
Now, I know there are folks who are devotees of these giant vintage speakers that were the mainstay of movie theaters throughout the first half of the 20th century. I always had a tough time wrapping my head around the idea that there was anything remotely “high fidelity” about these kinds of speakers. But now, having heard them for the first time in this sort of application, I have to admit that I think I finally get it. The sheer efficiency and “lung capacity” that these sorts of speakers have make for a really pleasing and dynamic listening experience. And there is a definite “Wow” factor when you hear them work at this sort of scale.
HARMAN Luxury Audio
HARMAN Luxury Audio had a significant presence at Munich High-End, with the JBL brand getting a fair share of the attention. I was looking forward to listening in on a demo of the JBL 4329P active monitors and I have to say, they did not disappoint in the least. A very balanced and dynamic presentation with a surprising level of bass reach. They sounded good, I mean really good! All you need to do is hook up some kind of source and you are ready to go. Mate and dial them in with a pair of capable subs and you should have a 2.2 channel system that will demolish several full-range speaker out there.
Lyngdorf was premiering a new high-performance “Lifestyle” speaker called the Cue-100 ($22K/pair). Designed to be extremely “interior decorator friendly” with a variety of finish and fabric options to choose from. These are the speakers you get if you want to be high on style, modest with space, and not sacrifice sonic performance. The Cue-100 use a customized AMT tweeter, along with a 6.5” Purifi mid-woofer and a pair of 6.5” Purifi passive radiators. The demo paired the speakers with a Lyngdorf TDAI-3400 integrated amplifier ($6K) using the company’s proprietary RoomPerfect room correction system. This all made for a very stylish and impressive sounding system. The sound was balanced and room filling. Much bigger sounding that the two speakers I was looking at had any right to sound. But the quality itself was of a caliber that I would associate with a traditional high-end multi-component system. Rather outstanding I’d say!
The flagship Audiovector R8 Arreté speakers were in two different rooms at Munich. The first pair had an unusual finish that resembled a treated cement. These were paired with all Brinkman electronics (Marconi preamp, Nyquist DAC, Edison phono stage) and a pair of Audiovector R Sub Arreté subwoofers.
The second pair were in a gloss burl walnut finish. These also were set up with a pair of Audiovector R Sub Arreté subwoofers and mated to a Gryphon Audio Commander preamp and Apex power amp. Brinkman provided the turntable once again along with one of their Edison phono stages. Streaming resources were courtesy of Naim Audio. Needless to say that both installations sounded very good indeed!
This was an over-the-top system in every aspect. The Wadax electronics with Magico M6 loudspeakers and three D’Agostino Master Audio devices (I have honestly no idea what they are) make this room a steampunk fan’s fantasy come to life. It’s the stereo system Dr. Eldon Tyrell from Blade Runner would own. I mean look at the iris door that opens to load a disk on the SACD play! “Squeeeeee!” I want buy this thing just so I can see that iris open and close all day long! The equipment looks like it was hewn by the hands of God….or H.R. Geiger, I can’t decide which. Oh, yeah… the sound? When I eventually got over myself and sat down to listen, it was pretty damned fine! If you can afford this system, more power to you…and I want to be your friend!
The Rockport Technologies Orion speakers ($143K/pair as shown) sounded fantastic in this room combined with the striking leather bound Absolare electronics running them. It just amazes me how Rockport makes these loudspeakers by starting with a cast aluminum sub skeleton, bonding it to a carbon fiber external shell and then flooding the channel gaps between those layers with a visco-elastic damping material. It’s essentially the ultimate sandwich construction I’ve ever seen used for a loudspeaker. And it sure sounds like it works!
I’ve seen and heard various iterations of this Aries Cerat Aurora horn speaker system and it’s associated electronics. It certainly looks and sounds like nothing else out there. And while I clearly could never afford such a setup, I am glad there are companies out there with just the right combination of genius and madness to create something like this. The world would be a far more boring place without the likes of Aries Cerat!
I fondly call this, the “Giant Purple People Eater” system. Wilson Benesche is another brand looks and sounds like nothing else.
Kroma Atelier is another speaker brand whose products look distinctive and have a sound that’s always memorable. These are the Kroma Atelier Mercedes and they sounded truly outstanding in this room, with sound power that could fill a stadium. The supporting VAC Master series electronics, and TechDas turntable were also in fine form. I could have stayed here a good long time!
So what does one do when one walks into a room full of Luxman audio gear hooked up to a pair of Focal Utopia speakers? Why, you pull up a seat and listen… for a good long time!
Got a chance to stop in to the Atohm display and meet chief designer Thierry Comte. Thierry took time to walk me through the new RS 700 GT digital amplifier (Price TBD). While the amp can be used to run any loudspeakers, it is specifically designed to be used with any of Atohm’s GT-HD series loudspeakers as it is preprogrammed with the ideal operating parameters for each model in the line. You simply select the particular Atohm GT-HD speakers you are using and it loads up correct profile. This amp puts out 350-watts stereo into 8-ohms and power output doubles into 4-ohms. It has special protection features to minimize clipping and avoid driver over-excursion. The RS 700 GT amplifier also allows for a certain margin of bass tuning depending on the Atohm speaker connected. It’s an interesting take on optimizing amplifier-to-speaker performance. Listening to the Atohm GT3-HD loudspeakers connected to the RS 700 GT amplifier made for an excellent synergy. Excellent sound from top to bottom with this pairing.
YG Acoustics looked like they brought just about every product they made to Munich, there were so many speakers in their room. I got a chance to listen to the YG Ascent speakers from their new Peaks line. This was a bigger room than they were in at AXPONA and they handled it more than just a little well. They were indeed excellent sounding in this space. I only regret not making it back around to hear any of the other speakers when they were being rotated for listening.
The Tannoy Sterling III LZ Special Edition speakers and the Unison Simply 845 integrated amplifier both looked and sounded like they were made for each other! Absolutely gorgeous sounding.
After only being able to hear the small Aretai Contra 100s speakers at the various North American shows that they’ve attended, coming to Munich afforded me the chance to finally listen to the big Contra 350F loudspeakers. All I can say is Wow!!! Revealing and musical as all get out! And with fantastic bass reach to boot!
Our friends at SVS looked to be having a busy display in Munich this year! I could hear home theater demos demos constantly running each time I passed by.
I’ve always understood Amphion loudspeakers to have a great reputation when it came to sound, so I was delighted when I had a chance to listen to their flagship Krypton 3X loudspeakers. Even amid the open show floor these speakers had a balance and transparency to their sound that was wonderful to listen to. I also expect that in a proper room their bass reach should be impressive too. I hope to get a pair to review someday.
Amphion also had a set of their active studio monitors set up to demo as well. These stout horizontal monitors had very much the same sound signature as the big Kryptons, and are built like tanks! And these little guys put out some admirable bass punch when called upon!
The Diptyque DP140 mk II are the third loudspeaker design that I have heard from this venerable French company (the DP107 and the Reference being the others) and they may very well be the “just right, Goldilocks” version for my ears. That lovely wide airy soundstage and surprisingly solid bass response for the panel size. This Diptyque could be the sweet spot for a lot of panel speaker fans out there.
The headphone listening and demo area at Munich looks quite substantial. Lots of stuff to see and try out!
Astell&Kern and Meze headphones had a significant presence at the show. As busy as both places were, I was able to find a spot to listen to the new A&Ultima SP3000 DAP with the Meze 109PRO headphones. Now I’ve had a chance to review each of these items separately and loved them both, but together they gelled especially well. Kind of like chocolate and peanut butter for your ears! This is a portable listening rig that has got it all.
The Lotoo Mjölnir. I can’t begin to describe how much I love the obtuseness of this thing! It is the craziest DAP I think I’ve ever come across, but it’s built and styled to look like an old-school analog field recorder with its included leather carry case. It’s got every conceivable headphone, digital, and analog output. It is slated to be Roon Certified so it will work as an endpoint, and it uses dual flagship AKM 4499EX DACs. It sounded more than just a little good on the Dan Clark Audio Stealth headphones I was using with it. The Lotoo Mjölnir is completely impractical and absurd and I love it to bits. I want one!
iFi introduced their iCan Phantom headphone amplifier at Munich High-End. And in typical iFi fashion, it is a product that is much more than meets the eye. This amplifier doesn’t just work with single ended and balanced headphones but it also has provision to power electrostatic headphones (like STAX) and others as well! This makes it the first all-in-one headphone amp at least that I have ever encountered. It also can operate as a standard stereo preamp, and you can choose either a tube or solid buffer stage to listen to as well. And, as if that well enough, the unit comes with a set of SD cards that are each programmed with the electrical parameters of a specific electrostatic headphone. So you can load one up to match your particular headphone so that you will have a matched electrostatic amp. Brilliant!
After all these years I finally got a chance to listen to the Sennheiser Orpheus electrostatic headphones and tube amp without having to sign up for an appointment! Bliss!!!!
Our friends at Spirit Torino were very busy at Munich High-End with a constant stream of listeners at their booth. I was able to snag a few quiet moments with a production-ready version of the new Centauri planar open-back headphones (2,800 Euro). Running through some of my familiar test tracks, I think the sound signature of these headphones is going to be appealing to a lot of people. I need to brush up on my Italian and ask for a review pair!
The HIFIMAN booth also looked to be a popular place at the show. I was able to slowly wedge my way in and listen to the new Audivina Closed-back headphones and the EF600 Headphone amplifier/DAC. This pairing looks to be a popular listening combo judging from the reactions and impressions I was seeing from others. They sounded very promising to me as well so we have a set coming in for review which will a more thorough evaluation.
If you are into high-performance, audiophile streaming and networking devices, Silent Angel looks to have you covered. They had several such devices and some new prototype case designs to get attendee feedback on.
These fantastic tube headphone amps from Italian manufacturer Viva are outstanding! Both visually and sonically. Currently I have the Egoista STX version in for review and my STAX headphones have never sounded better!
Another Italian amplifier manufacturer, Rivera Labs, had these great single and dual chassis headphone amps that felt like they could drive even the most difficult cans. Their sound and build quality were sublime!
And now for something completely different! Digital amplification company Hypex had a booth at the show where they were displaying and discussing all their options that are geared for the professional speaker builder and DIY community. You could easily get up close and personal with any of their plate amp and DSP solutions and staff was very knowledgeable with answering questions. They also were featured a new DIY kit line that had both mono and stereo amplifiers and a configurable preamplifier, each with a nice black aluminum chassis. I’m not a huge DIY’er myself but my mind start going a dozen different places with the possibilities available at the Hypex booth!
AV Room Service Ltd.
Meet Norman Varney. Norm’s specialty is finding ways to reduce noise, improve isolation, sort out room acoustics and generally better the quality of your listening space through products and services via his AV Room Service Ltd business. I was first introduced to Norm a few months ago as I was beginning my upcoming review of the ATC SCM100 ASLT active loudspeakers. The speaker distributor recommended I connect with Norm to try out his EVP isolation products as suspension feet between these heavy loudspeakers and my laminate wood flooring. Norm turned out to be practically my neighbor in the next town over in central Ohio and he come over personally with a supply of EVPs for me to try out and explain how they work. While I won’t get into all the details and results here, I will say that they made a definite improvement in my listening experience. Particularly in the way bass from these huge ATC speakers transmitted to the upper floors of my house. While walking the show I could see that a number of exhibitors were using Norm’s EVPs under their bigger speakers and some heavy components.
And finally, to wrap up our Munich High-End 2023 coverage, I got the distinct pleasure of having Event Ambassador, Al DiMeola autograph the first CD of his music that I ever heard and purchased back in 1991. It was an absolute blast and the perfect capper to one hell of a show!