Hi-Fi in the Time of Covid | High End 2022







I wasn’t supposed to go to High End 2022 in Munich this year. Originally, I had plans to go. Many of us did. After going to High End 2019, I said to myself “Wow, I’m going to do this every year. But next time I’m going to take a few more days to explore Europe. Hop on a train. Have adventures. Come back with stories.” None of this, of course, went the way any of us planned. Hi-fi in the time of Covid-19 is a tricky thing.

High End 2022, on the surface, looked like any other Munich show. Only about 10% of the attendees wore masks, and rooms were crowded. I took precautions, especially with rumors of new variants coursing through Europe, but for the most part Munich looked functional, almost normal, even more so than AXPONA in Chicago last month.

In the subways of Munich, however, everyone wore a mask. No one had to be reminded.

Hi-fi in the time of Covid, however, can ruin the best of plans. While I was annoyed by minor inconveniences such as getting a Covid test on Sunday so that I could return to the US on Monday, my trip ended successfully. I got the job done without getting the virus, and I came home in one piece. There were times I felt like Matt Damon in The Martian–I just kept solving problems until I got to come home.

But I’ll provide another tale about hi-fi in the time of Covid, one where everything didn’t work out in the end. Not yet, anyway.

I finally changed my mind about going to High End 2022 when Doug White of The Voice That Is gave me a call just a few weeks before the show. In fact, this was right around the time of AXPONA, and I thought I’d take most of the summer to relax before the Pacific Audio Fest in Seattle. Doug wanted me to cover one of the biggest events in high-end audio in recent years–the debut of TIDAL for Bugatti.

What’s TIDAL for Bugatti? It’s far more than simply putting a badge on an existing product. In fact, TIDAL for Bugatti is almost the opposite of that. Jorn Janczak had been working on these designs for seven years before Bugatti approached him.

Hi-fi in the time of Covid has delayed the public unveiling of these stunning new masterpieces, so while it seems like a long time since Jorn Janczak of TIDAL Audio first announced this project, High End 2022 was going to be the big event where TIDAL for Bugatti could be seen and, more importantly, heard for the first time. And I was going to be there, snapping photos, acting like I was part of the whole concept from the beginning. Of course I wanted to go to Munich.

Shortly before High End 2022, something unfortunate happened. The entire TIDAL Audio factory near Cologne, a few hours drive from Munich, tested positive for Covid. Everyone, in fact, but Jorn Janczak, who was somewhere else at the time. Since the factory was temporarily shut down, TIDAL Audio could not prepare for the show. The decision was made quickly. The planned room was shuttered. Just like that, one of the biggest events of the show was cancelled.

Doug White and Jorn Janczak came up with a plan, since all the travel arrangements had been made. Doug, of course, called it “making lemonade.” The three of us met at the hotel where Doug and I were staying, and we came up with a plan to talk about TIDAL for Bugatti anyway–not as if nothing happened, but to show how Covid is still affecting the high-end industry in troubling ways.

At AXPONA 2022 in April, many of us discussed hi-fi in the time of Covid. The consensus, unexpectedly, was that the high-end audio was doing well…great, in fact. Sure, getting the high-end audio shows off and running again was trickier than we thought, with last minute show cancellations and lighter than expected crowds, but business is booming. People are staying home and listening to music, instead of going out to clubs to see live performances. It’s not optimal, but it’s safer.

But how many high-end manufacturers, most of them fairly small businesses, could take the hit that TIDAL Audio did and survive? It’s easy to think of TIDAL, purveyor of some of the finest high-end audio speakers and amplifiers and digital sources, as making huge profits from their very expensive products. But it’s a scalable problem–most manufacturers of luxury goods aren’t filling their warehouses full of inventory. When you buy a TIDAL Audio loudspeaker, they make it for you fresh.

What’s the point of talking about all of this, all this gorgeous hi-fi in the time of Covid? It should suffice to say that Covid is real, and it’s still affecting the world in a very powerful way. We can’t take any of this for granted. I’m still surprised at some of the negative comments I’ve received for merely bringing up the subject of Covid during show reports. Many of these people, I imagine, aren’t even attending shows. They have no idea what’s going on, and how it continues to impact the industry on a daily basis.

Here’s something that’s real. Hi-fi in the time of Covid is getting even more expensive. Prices are going up, way up. MSRPs on some of the big ticket items are jumping ahead by thousands of dollars at a clip. Supply chains are floundering all over the world. It seems insensitive and overly pragmatic to stress the financial difficulties worldwide and not the loss of life, but some people may finally notice that we’re doing okay, but we’re not doing enough.

I really enjoyed going to AXPONA in April, and Munich in May. I want to go to Seattle in August, and Capital Audio Fest in November.

As for TIDAL for Bugatti? We’re going to try to do it again next year. Hopefully I can go to the factory and see these incredible products being made. Hopefully I can sit in a big room at the MOC and see/hear Jorn Janczak’s creations and wax poetic. I’m crossing my fingers.

If you would like to hear even more coverage from HIGH END 2022, check out our recap report and highlights from our audiophile-oriented show The Occasional Podcast. You can stream the episode direct from the embed below, or from your favorite podcast platform including iTunesAndroidGoogle, Deezer, SpotifyiHeartRadio and more.