Munich 2012, Part 3 (Loudspeakers)

ADAM T ensor MkII,
ADAM Tensor II Gamma,
Kaiser Acoustics Chiaras,
Kaiser Acoustics Thrax,
KEF Uni-Q,
MAD England Audio Duke Limited edition,
Magico S5,
Marten Django XL,
Marten Design Heritage Getz,
Vertex AQ TDF 100 ,
Zellaton Emotion
Munich 2012, Part 3 (Loudspeakers)

Munich is always a fine venue for loudspeakers, especially loudspeakers on the far side of sanity. We live in a world where the majority of music now gets played on ear-buds the size of a chili bean, but that doesn’t stop the German audiophile from loving horn loudspeakers as big as a wardrobe. And while the truly crazy one-off designs were thin on the ground this year, brands like Avantgarde were still making their big, bold statements (albeit this time without the full Basshorn rig) and Cessaro (this time with the full Basshorn along with the Gamma I loudspeaker, sounding wonderful in a room with Tron tube electronics and TW Acustic turntable). And there were many more.

Both Adam and Backes & Müller are well-known brands in Germany, specializing in active loudspeakers. While distinctly pro-based, Adam has launched a range of more affordable passive speakers (with active models to follow) for home users. The three-strong Tensor Mk 2 series stretched from the €8,000 Gamma to the €20,000 Alpha. Also in the atriums, B&M had both a booth and one of the biggest domestic speakers ever. B&M is still best known in Germany, although with its vast range (from the budget Prime 3 two-way to the towering chrome €500,000 BM Line 100) and forward thinking outlook, the company is looking further afield.

One of the high-points at Munich is the Silbertone room, in part because it uses vast blast-from-the-past loudspeakers. This year, though, the horns came from Japanese brand GIP Laboratories with its fascinating range of field-coil loudspeakers in large horn systems. With a bewildering array of driver and enclosure options on offer, discussing models and prices are almost pointless, but every speaker is hugely efficient, harking back to a world before Sputnik and a sticker price close to the astronomical.

KEF surprised the audio world with its LS50 loudspeaker. Announced with an eye to the past, looking back to the LS3/5a, the new speaker is as a clean sheet small bookshelf monitor… but that’s probably where the similarities end. With a Blade-derived Uni-Q drive unit, a cabinet using constrained layer damping, and a lot of technology behind the design (including a lot of finite element analysis for the cabinet and computational fluid dynamics techniques in the port construction). The net result was a loudspeaker that sounded outstanding; not just outstanding for the money, just outstanding. And that means this £800/€1,000/$1,500 speaker had most people trying to justify not buying a set, that’s how good they are!

Kaiser Acoustics announced its new Chira loudspeaker. This standmount speaker features an integral stand designed in partnership with Vertex AQ, making the stand essentially a Vertex AQ labyrinth laid on its side, while the room was filled with Leading Edge racks and acoustic treatment, Thrax tube amps and a Spiral Groove turntable, as well as a Vertex converter, power and cable systems. The resulting sound was highly controlled, detailed and seemed to dial past the problems inherent to the Munich rooms.

KingSound is best known for its excellent, large and enthusiastically priced loudspeakers. To break with tradition, however, the Hong Kong based company showed the loudspeaker equivalent of the concept car – a hybrid speaker with an electrostatic mid/tweeter coupled to a dynamic bass driver, set into what looks exactly like an acoustic guitar, right down to the tuning pegs. Played on the end on a brace of AMR electronics, it sounded pretty good (albeit it was in the main hall) and perhaps it won’t stay only a concept for long.

MAD England Audio is really living up to the name, with a loudspeaker that’s as Mad as it is English. The Duke Limited Edition is a short floorstander with a union flag inlay built into the veneer of the loudspeaker. It was only on passive display at the show, but a part of the company’s Noble series, is this the ultimate loudspeaker in this Bumper British Year for the anglophile? Time will tell.

Marten was highlighting its new Django XL. Priced under €10,000, the entry point to its Heritage Series, the full-range three-way floorstanding design features three 8” SEAS bass units and a ceramic mid and tweeter from Accuton. This was making some lovely sounds in a room shared with Nagra, which was itself showing off its new €12,000 Jazz preamplifier, a complete rethink for the brand.

Ocean Way is perhaps best known as a studio in Burbank and Nashville. It also makes loudspeakers. Big, horn-loaded, studio inspired monitors that mostly sell to other studios and well-heeled audiophiles half a world away. The loudspeakers sounded jaw-dropping in almost every respect; dynamic, detailed and surprisingly accurate monitors, that start at around $50,000 and keep going until you add a zero to that sum. Per channel. Trouble is, the AS-1 and HR-3 speakers played at Munich made you think that would be money well spent.

With all the noise about the KEF LS50, Tannoy’s more restrained room could go unnoticed, but the company was offering advance previews of two of its new ranges; the middle-range Precision series (comprising two floorstanders and a stand-mount) and a new one-driver floorstander in the Definition series that will use Alnico magnets (in the style of classic Tannoy horns of old). These products are expected later in the year.

I made a rookie error at in the YG room. The sound of the ANAT Reference loudspeakers was awesome; deep, controlled, powerful room filling sound. Except it was the sound of the Carmel loudspeakers! Of course, when the two were changed over, you could easily hear that extra depth, range and control. However, the consistency of the sound between the two and the grace of those Carmels was truly outstanding. And I wasn’t alone in thinking this. I spoke to a number of people who attended the show and many agreed; this was a highly praised room by almost everyone who visited.

Zellaton by Podszus is a new/old company. The original patents for the metal dome loudspeaker drivers date back to the 1930s, but the company disappeared in the mists of time. Then, a few years ago, the grandson of the original Zellaton patent holder began making loudspeakers again, using the distinctive hand-made metal loudspeakers. Products start from the Emotion floorstanding loudspeaker at €17,000 right up to the as-yet-undecided Reference model. Having now heard the Grand and the Classic in shows around the world, this three-strong team will make a big splash.

Finally, there were big launches I missed, because there’s only so many rooms it’s possible to do in a few days. But those who visited these launches said I missed out on something truly special. At the entry-point end of things, Boston Acoustics is leveraging the golden ears of the brand ambassador of Ken Ishiwata of Marantz for its new m-series loudspeakers. Ishiwata – who also announced a new up-market stereo range of €3,000 streamer, €4,000 CD/SACD player and €4,000 amplifier range – had the €2,750/pr flagship speakers in a wide, toed-in arrangement to make one of what was said to be one of the best sounds from the atrium rooms. Meanwhile, in a nearby dealer, Magico showcased its new $28,00 S5 floorstander available in a range of finishes (a first for the brand) and capable of both taking and giving out the punishment (a 1.2kW limit on amplification and a 118dB loudness ceiling). Once again, those who heard the three-way, four driver design were deeply impressed.

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