So what did I learn during my first trip to High End 2019 in Munich, which also happened to be the first time I set foot in Europe? Let’s go through the list:
- Go to Germany for the wurst, not the burgers. I found a food truck outside the MOC at High End 2019 touting burgers made from 100% Angus beef, and I was hungry and it sounded like a pretty good idea. It wasn’t. The bun was stale and dried out, cheese was not an option, and the patty reminded me of a taco truck I used to frequent back in LA, the one that was shut down by the health department because the meat was “of questionable origin.” All of the sausages I had in Munich, and there were many, were completely amazing, as was the sauerkraut. But I had to travel 4500 miles to eat the worst burger of my life.
- Go ahead, raid the hotel fridge. When I first checked into my room at the Hyperion, I opened the fridge. It was packed with sparkling water, still water, soda, juices, beer and wine. And chocolate. I said, “Oh no, German mini bar, you aren’t going to trick me with your exorbitant prices.” But I couldn’t find a price list anywhere, which was suspicious. I did finally drink a couple of the waters and eat one jar of the fancy nuts in the drawer above the fridge, telling myself that it couldn’t be that expensive of a midnight snack. When I checked out, however, there were no incidental charges. I checked on my credit card a week later, and still no incidental charges. I could have plundered that refrigerator every night, and I didn’t?
- Dress light. Outside, Germany in early May was just like Rochester in early May–rainy, breezy and mostly in the 50s. Inside the MOC at High End 2019, it was like Florida in August. Humid. Swampy. Sweaty. Stagnant. We Americans, as you know from Raiders of the Lost Ark, are always overdressing for the wrong occasions. No more sweaters, no more fleeces.
- Learn a little German before High End 2020. Honestly, I toyed with the idea of learning some German before I headed to High End 2019. Of course I ran out of time. I was told not to worry since most Germans speak English. What I didn’t anticipate was my Uber drivers not speaking a word of English because they were from other countries and had probably just learned German. That was unfortunate because they were still a lot of fun and supplied me with more than one crazy adventure. It would have been more fun, however, if we had been able to communicate during those adventures.
- Drink less beer. The beer in Germany was good. Too good. I’m not a big drinker, but I was at High End 2019. I came home ten pounds heavier–not because of the schnitzel or the sausage or that crappy burger, but because of all those unfiltered brown ales. There’s a photo someone took of me during the show, just after a night of heavy beering. I look much heavier than I did in a photograph taken just the day before. Bloated, bloodshot eyes. It’s out there. You’ll probably see it.
Now that I’m done reflecting on my wonderful week in Germany, and it was amazing, it’s time to discuss the best sound at the show. My choices have already been leaked by Brian Hunter in The Occasional Podcast, but I’ll stick to those choice even a couple of weeks later.
- Von Schweikert and VAC. The rooms at the MOC are legendary for their mediocre sound, but VSA and VAC were the clear winners when it came to taking those sonic obstacles completely out of the equation. Despite the fact that this was a smaller show system than usual from the Audio Kings of the Mountain, the sound was still clearly spectacular in every way.
- Zesto Audio, Purist Audio and Verity Audio. During a particularly vexing Saturday at High End 2019, when I seemed to be putting out fires all day long, this room was an oasis–great music, great sound and a relaxed and beautiful presentation. Plus, Jim Aud and George & Carolyn Counnas are wonderful and gracious company.
- Audio Note Kondo. Allegedly one of the biggest collections of Kondo equipment in a single location outside of the factory, this High End 2019 room lived up to expectations by providing one of the clearest and purist presentations I’ve ever heard. Unobtainium, for sure, but I’m grateful for getting the chance to listen.
- Living Voice and Kondo. The new entry-level Living Voice Avatar A25 Anniversary loudspeakers (5000 euros/pair) take the Outstanding Value Award at High End 2019. These small 2.5 way floorstanders completely energized the rather large room and wowed everyone who listened. These I want to review, STAT.
- Joseph Audio, Purist Audio and Alluxity. My favorite “sane” loudspeakers, the Joseph Audio Perspectives ($15,000/pair), are now in their second generation with new SEAS graphene drivers that prompted a redesign from beginning to end. As Jeff Joseph said at High End 2019, the Perspective 2s are now more resolving but at the same time more relaxed. Wow.
There are so many other things I enjoyed at High End 2019, little details that feel through the cracks. I signed up for coverage of the Miyajima room, because I’m currently using Scot Hull’s Miyajima Saboten L and the Miyajima step-up transformer for my reviews on the Feickert Firebird and Technics SL-1200G turntables that will appear in the summer issue of The Occasional, but these cartridges were only represented underneath a small glass counter in a corner of one room. I also loved seeing a full line of Dual turntables on display, and I wonder if they’ll make it to the states. I also loved seeing my friend Knut Skogrand at High End 2019–I’ll always remember him sticking his face against the glass of his room as I walked by. He makes the most beautiful cables in the world, and it’s always a blast to hang with him and drink single-malt in his room. Not this time, but hopefully next time.