Munich 2012, Part 2 (Electronics)

Arcam drDock,
Arcam FMJ A19,
Arcam rBlink,
Arcam rLink,
Arcam rPAC,
Audioaero LaSource,
Burmester 111 Music Server,
Burmester 113,
Burmester Porsche 911,
Cardas Audio Clear,
Chord Company CPA8000,
Chord Electronics Chordette QuteHD,
Creek Evolution,
Crystal Cable Arabesque,
Crystal Cable Dreamline Plus,
Densen B-475 Superleggara,
Devialet D-Premier,
Esoteric D-07X,
Esoteric K-05,
Esoteric K-07,
Manley Laboratories Chinook,
Metronome Technologie CD8,
Micromega MyDAC,
Munich Electronics Constellation Centaur,
Qualia 625,
Qualia 725,
Sennheiser IE80,
Siltech SAGA
Munich 2012, Part 2 (Electronics)

Munich High End is a hot spot of high-end electronics, but it needn’t all be high-end. Value driven British audio brand Arcam, for example, may have been showing off its new FMJ DAC, but behind the scenes it was also showing off its latest rBlink, a wireless Bluetooth converter with an anticipated price of £149 in the UK. This joins the rPAC headphone DAC, drDock iPod/iPad dock and rLink converter, for a complete set of entry-level digital products.

At the other extreme, French digital experts Audioaéro was showing its new digital music center upgrades to its upmarket LaSource player. Don’t expect much change from $35,000 for a transport-less LaSource and about $10k on top for the model with a VRDS transport. This was played too loud through a pair of CAT monos and Vivid Giya loudspeakers, but even overdriving the room, the quality was apparent. The French digital experts were out in full force; elsewhere Devialet was showing the next round of upgrades and updates to the D-Premier amp/DAC, Metronome Technologie were showing the T5 CD transport (€7,600) and C5 converter with USB (€7,590) to excellent effect (the company was also showing everything from its entry level CD8 Reference player at under €7,000 right up to the multibox Kalista Ultimate/C8 combination at beyond €65,000) and Micromega was showing its €299 MyDAC converter, the first of a new range of small, slim products.

Burmester has made the transition from CD to what comes next with effortless ease. This year’s big launches by the Berlin brand included the 111 MusicServer, a €29,000 that processes up to 32bit, 386kHz precision, and features an interface designed by ex-members of the Apple team, and the 113 D/A converter (which features apt-X Bluetooth as well as a host of wired and wireless connections, and is a development of the MMI module for the company’s high-end CD players). And it also announced the Burmester in-car system for the new Porsche 911, which many felt was the best sound of the show in many respects.

Perhaps the high point in the Munich Electronics sound was the launch of the Constellation Centaur monoblocks. Belonging to Constellation’s Performance Series – rather than the extremely expensive Reference Series – the equipment represented a level of precision and clarity that is rare to find at any show. The Constellation of great designers really does seem to make a difference.

British manufacturer Chord added a revised version of its CPA8000 flagship preamp, an as yet unnamed network music player to match the flagship line and a network player for the Chordette range, the Index. Meanwhile Creek Audio is about to release a new budget line, comprising DAC with built in CD transport and integrated amplifier the Evolution 50A series. The source component featuring the digital dream team of John Westlake and Dominic Peklo suggests the player will punch above its weight, while Creek is an expert in making budget amps. Prices on both are expected to be in the £500-£600 mark.
Streamers made by CD experts were commonplace. Some added streaming functionality to new or existing CD players.

Others made new streamers altogether. Densen went for the both options. Its new B-475 Superleggera CD player includes a digital input and its range of upgradable Oxygen streamers that can work by AirPlay, DNLA or other streaming options, all 24/192. Going through the models adds better rectification, more transformers and a better DAC or two, with prices ranging from about £1,200-£4,000.

Esoteric showed its three latest high-end models at the show. The K-07 and K-05 CD/SACD players and the D-07X digital converter. All feature 32-bit DA conversion and asynchronous USB connection, the big difference between the two players is the K-05 sports a VRDS-NEO transport mechanism while the K-07 features a VOSP transport mechanism. The D-07X is a true dual-mono design described as ‘also for music servers’. More details on these exciting new components will follow soon.

Headphones were surprisingly poorly covered at the show. Sennheiser showed its new €599 IE 800 in-ear monitors and €1,499 HDVD 800 amp (expected in the Summer and Fall respectively), while Lehmann Audio (formerly headphone amp supplier to Sennheiser) announced a new veneer on metal process to make its amps look cooler than ever. Elsewhere – on the Cardas stand – the company was playing a range of headphones and its Clear headphone cables through a Manley Stingray.

Manley was also showing its new Chinook phono stage, effectively a Steelhead without the front panel adjustments for half the price. EveAnna Manley also announced that Zia Faruqi of Tube Technology will be working closely with the Manley brand presently.

Naim Audio has been very busy on its digital streaming side lately. It’s latest versions of its NDX and UnitiServe players will sport a 2TB hard drive, while the £2,795 NaimUniti2 all-in-one sees improved analog circuits, a bigger transformer and a power increase to 75W per channel.

Qualia & Co showed its range of exceptionally well-made products, including preamp and DAC. Currently, Qualia lacks wide-spread European distribution, but the hope is these highest of high-end products will make it out of Japan soon.

At the satellite show in the nearby Marriott hotel, Jeff Rowland showed off its new 725 monoblock power amps. Based on the excellent 625, these amps were sounding good in a too quiet room, comprising dCS and Spiral Groove front-ends, Transparent Audio cables, Stillpoints isolation and Avalon loudspeakers.

Siltech and Crystal Cables naturally shared a room given the companies are run as a husband and wife team. Edwin van den Kley-Rijnveld launched the new limited edition battery-powered SAGA (Structural Amplifier Gain Architecture) amplifiers, adding the €9,000 V1 interstage amplifier and €18,000 P1 power amplifier to the existing €28,000 C1 preamp. The interstage amp acts to boost the dynamic range of preamplifiers, delivering 140dB of dynamic range from the terminals of the 300W P1. These sounded truly remarkable when playing through the Crystal Cables Arabesque Three standmount loudspeakers, fed by a dCS Puccini/U-Clock and using Crystal Cable’s new flagship Absolute Dream cables.

There was a lot more, like Tron’s beautifully made single-ended triode amplifiers and van den Hul’s new phono stage. Or like Stern’s Harmonizer. As well as many excellent products that weren’t showing new ranges or (like Dan D’Agostino audio) were hoping for the preamp to arrive… but didn’t. And then there was Bo Christensen; supposedly retired, Bo showed his new concepts for new designs to be seen later in the year. More on this soon.

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