Not just for the equipment. Okay, maybe the main reason is finding tons of equipment playing in dozens of rooms on the upper floors of the MOC, the convention center where the show is held each year. As far as numbers go, this show was a success despite the fantastic weather that usually keeps locals away from the premises. The final report talks about 518 exhibitors from 42 countries, close to 20.000 visitors and some 500 accredited journalists. As we speak no other show comes close to these numbers. More importantly the exhibitors usually show up with their best offering, which usually translates into the most expensive speakers, electronics, cables and racks, not to mention their deepest effort to make in this particular show an impeccable appearance as they realize that by the end of day four all major magazines, blogs, facebook groups, you name it will be speaking about who demoed in spades and who flopped.
About the “flopped” part, we (as the press) tend to report it less. Main reason is that there are countless reasons for a room to go south. Despite this being the biggest event you would be surprised to know that many rooms and equipment combinations only play together for the first time the day before the show opens doors (sometimes even the day after..). Speakers may arrive just hours after being assembled with nothing but a handful of hours on the drivers, same goes for electronics. Things get damaged on their way to Munich, not so rare as equipment arrive from all corners of the globe. Partnership deals brake up only days prior to the event, synergies don’t go as expected, acoustics are a nightmare for certain speaker designs, you get the idea. Combos that have worked the year before for magical, elusive reasons fail to repeat the year after. A simple cable swap might make or break a demo. I’m terribly sorry ladies and gentleman but you won’t be reading of the major busts, the high end extravaganza amps that went caput, the uber priced speakers than burned a tweeter or the guys who never showed up and left their partners waiting and trying to come up with a turntable to fill in the gap.
The other, as important of a reason as the gear is, and a huge incentive to do this trip up in Munich is to catch up with friends. If you like this hobby you must have some sympathies, if not friendships with the people working or simply enjoying high fidelity. Over the last few years I came to know better and better designers, reviewers, importers and retailers along with good old audiophile aficionados from around the globe and it sure is a pleasure to see them once per year, gathered all together in the MOC area or even better in Munich’s beer houses. Small talk, audiophile stories and gossip is in the daily order and it sure is funnier than what you read on Part Time Audiophile. Unfortunately a huge part gets omitted as it is “spicy” for me or anyone else to officially report. What I can offer is a small selection of my personal pics in black and white, portraits of friends in their natural habitat, the Munich High End show (and the beer houses). Feel free to scroll through the gallery below.
Back to the gear and going for best of show, the single most impressive room for this year was the Raidho one with the new and highly improved D4.1 speaker paired with the inhouse designed and built Aavik pre and power amps, a Nagra CD player and Thales turntable with EMT cartridge. There is more than one reason I picked this room. First of all Raidho’s designer Michael Borresen managed to improve on the sound of an already fantastic product by addressing the one, major issue the D line had, a tendency to create some turbulence / congestion when playing the bottom octave. The newly designed vent ports do take care of it and the bass is now cleaner, faster and punchier. Other traits changed too, high frequencies blend better with the mids while the entire line is now more sensitive, meaning less demanding on raw amp power. One last thing about this room, there was the D5.1 also on display but I feel like giving BOS award to the 4.1. Despite a tendency for gargantuesque speakers and electronics the D4.1 clearly demonstrated that a well designed, almost affordable speaker (@100.K whatevers) can provide top experience. Now if your room is more than the 70square meters of the MOC’s upper floor’s ones and you have the moolah, then go for the D5.1 and live happily ever after. For the average Doe who can afford only the 100K D4.1, this will be more speaker than he will ever need.
Whatevers (₩)is my personally minted currency. The USD to EUR exchange rates are close and if you care to know if a speaker costs 100 or 300 thousand ₩, then you probably cannot afford it. If it makes no difference for you whether the price tag is in euros, dollars or whatevers, then you might even buy the thing.
At least three other rooms deserve a special mention. The first is the Kondo Kaiser system which provided some of the silkiest sounds of the entire show with special emphasis on voices and jazz ensembles thanks to the always impressive Ginga turntable and the new GM-10 phono stage. The other one was the minimalistic Estelon YB system with an obscure integrated amplifier and DAC hidden under a black drape. I am confident Alfred Vassilkov has something quite interesting coming up but for 2016 we could not but admire the elegance of the new YB speakers. The last of my special mentions goes to the Tune Audio – Trafomatic – Rockna tubes, horns and ladder DAC room which impressed many, many visitors including Scot and yours truly. If the Tune Audio Anima horn speakers were a well-known successful design this year the impressive Trafomatic Elyseum monos proved to be an excellent match with the end result being dynamic, detailed and natural sounding.
The single most impressive/ coveted/ destined to make a huge impact on the market new product is without doubt the B&W 800 D3. The amount of technology that went through the design of the new British flagship is mesmerizing and despite the cost being a cool 30.000 euros let me tell you that it really seemed like a bargain. Hopefully the new US based owners of this legendary firm will keep paying the same attention to detail and sound quality as it has been for decades.
Design wise nothing, and I mean nothing could stand a chance against Kostas Metaxas new line of amplifiers. Paired with Apertura speakers they gave a fantastic show, cannot imagine what they will do with my ATCs 😉
I have no doubt on the best affordable product either. The new PMC series twenty5 sounded unexpectedly fast and detailed in the lower octaves, something more unique than rare for a transmission line design. Priced from 2.500 to 8.000 euros these are a real audiophile bargain.
Feel free to add in the comments section your personal best (and worst) rooms, this was all from me. See you all next year!