Munich 2012, Part 1 (Vinyl)

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Munich 2012, Part 1 (Vinyl)

Despite being more subdued than most years, High End at the Munich M.O.C is still the high point in the audiophile show calendar. Two exhibition halls, two atria and four corridors of the latest in audio make it the most important event of the year in the West. And yet, this year there were some major omissions, perhaps most notably Clearaudio, which normally takes a huge display in the centre of one of the main halls.

As ever, Munich is divided into two large, open halls, above each of which are a pair of atria with large rooms and open spaces for Dynaudio’s Volkswagen Passat and Burmester’s new 911 in car systems (the Burmester one was particularly impressive) as well as room to talk, eat, sleep, eat, relax, eat and eat. Oh and drink. Along the length of Atrium 4 are corridors of smaller rooms on two floors, allowing companies or groups of companies to demonstrate their systems in more intimate space. While 2012 was a whole corridor down on the year before, there were still hundreds of people to see, mostly demonstrating mid and top-end equipment. Any report of such a show is a mere snapshot of what went on.

Starting with the main halls, one of the first stalls you encountered was a combination of Acoustic Signature turntables from Germany and Soundsmith and VTL from the US, reflecting the true international feel about the event. While not playing, Soundsmith showed off its Hyperion cartridge, which is actually four cartridges in one. The Hyperion comes in both CL (nude contact) OCL (optimised countour line) form, with both versions in regular and LT form (uniquely designed specifically for a Linear Tracking turntable… which means a dual compliance suspension that is lower in the horizontal than the vertical, and as such ideal for the passive movement of a linear tracking arm). All at $7.5k US, which includes a 10 year warrantee which includes retipping (to the original owner). A lot of this is thanks to the cactus spine cantilever, which naturally sports stacked columnar cells, tapered to a point. This is half the mass of other super-hard materials used in other cantilevers, and suggests God is a vinyl lover, after all. On the same stand, Acoustic Signature was showcasing its range of tables, from the mid-priced Barzetti up to the full-blown 176lb Ascona, while Luke Manley of VTL was showing off an open-topped full TL-5.5 Series II and one of a pair of MB-185 Series II monos.

Next door was Kuzma, showcasing its new Stabi M turntable (which was also playing in the Nagra/Marten room). Shown in prototype form last year, the new deck is visually drastically improved over last year’s design. Being made from solid aluminium means it tops the scales at just over 60kg/132lb, uses a DC motor with an external trimming power supply, elastic damping feet, a clever lid arrangement and a motor housing made from brass. It’s designed to accommodate 12” tonearms with ease (sadly, it doesn’t come with a free 4Point tonearm). Price of the deck is still to be finalized, but EU price is expected to be in the middle teens. 

Pro-Ject continued to demonstrate its firm commitment to vinyl. Not only did the company display a whole raised floor of more than 20 different designs, it also chose Munich to launch the company’s new Phono Box RS, a remarkable €800 Euro phono stage that includes per-channel cartridge loading, adjustable impedance from the front panel and the option of a Decca curve alongside the standard RIAA. A key part of Pro-Ject’s Reference Series, this should rattle a lot of feathers in vinyl circles.

Roy Hall’s Music Hall turntables don’t get the coverage they deserve in the UK press, for the simple reason that Music Hall turntables aren’t in the UK yet. However, decks like the new €3,999 MMF-11 should change that. With its four-layer chassis, high mass acrylic platter, inverted bearing and carbon fiber arm, it looks set to take on all comers.

On the cartridge front, Ortofon has finally promised supplies of its €5,950 MC Anna Heritage cartridge sometime this year. Before that, however, the company has shaken up its popular 2M line of moving magnet cartridges, including for the first time a 2M mono model.

Holborne is a comparatively new Swiss name. The company has hitherto concentrated on electronics, but recently launched a turnkey Analog 2 turntable package, complete with external power supply, mag-tape driven platter, ‘dualpivot’ arm and Benz-sourced MC cartridge. The package is said to cost around €5000.

One of the best rooms in the show was playing a lot of vinyl as a matter of course. The decks of choice in many rooms this year were Spiral Groove and Dr Feickert, but one of the more exciting sounding examples was the Scheu turntable and arm package playing through ASR electronics, Westforest and Thixar isolation systems, Organic Audio cables and YG loudspeakers. This was a system so good, it would be hard not to recognise it as star of the show.

Even record cleaning machines had more presence than usual, Okki Nokki had a whole stand devoted to the cleaner, but the most talked about record cleaner on display was the Audio Desk Systeme Record Cleaner, a slow, expensive, methodical and ultrasonic cleaner that is currently making a big noise in making vinyl a lot quieter.

Of course Munich wouldn’t be the same without a spot of extravagance, and that came in the shape of the Uranie by French amp experts Jadis. Costing something close to €90,000 the huge subchassis and stand are made out of granite, by an expert who spends six months of the year working outdoors. So he builds turntables in the winter and you’d better get your order in before September!

Perhaps the most epic vinyl room was the Swissnor room. The company was making some pretty fine tube amps and a very good sound, but it was also showing off and selling off some excellent refurbished classic Thorens decks, and even had a couple of one-off prototypes on show. Sadly, the glorious blue TD 124 had been snapped up long before I arrived, but I couldn’t help love the looks of a classic autochanger.

Last, but not least, the Munich show has far more record sellers than almost any show this side of Milan. The album traders take up a whole side of the show, selling new audiophile vinyl and classic well recorded albums alike.

Vinyl will never die if the Munich set have anything to say on the matter!

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