Munich High End 2010 - Day Two

Tubed preamplifiers,
Integrated amplifiers,
Disc players,
Digital-to-analog converters,
Audioaero LaSource,
Eclipse TD712z Mk2,
Micromega AS-400
Munich High End 2010 - Day Two

 Munich, Germany: The MOC exhibition center is extremely large, and High-End 2010 fills two whole levels of two of its cavernous halls. It’s broadly divided into Show & Tell; showing your product through live demonstrations in the mezzanine rooms, and telling prospective customers about new products in open-plan displays and booths in the larger ground floor. In that spirit, here are some of Friday’s highlights from upstairs, down.

Rooms were definitely sounding better than the first day, and some of the highlights for day two were at the extremes. Audioaéro’s new LaSource combination disc player, DAC and tube preamp was feeding into a CAT power amp and a pair of Avantgarde Duo hybrid horn speakers and the whole system was sounding particularly fine. The very solid looking player sports the top Esoteric VMK5 transport for disc-playing, and asynchronous sample rate conversion up to an astronomic 32bit, 384kHz for any prospective digital source. The price was an equally astronomic 27,000€. 

Avantgarde was making some very nice sounds in its own room, too, with its huge matching subwoofer wall. Normally Avantgarde has the biggest speaker in any expo, but even that was dwarfed by the remarkable ‘Wide Range’ Western Electric L-9 horns played by Silbatone. With an Artemis Labs/Schröder vinyl front end (with dCS as digital back-up) and a brace of fine Silbatone electronics, these wardrobe-sized horns from 1948 had an unforced grace and effortless musicality that makes you wonder whether we’ve actually progressed audio performance in the last 62 years. These have been shown before (at CES, a few years ago) but never in Germany, and the chance to sit in front of a system of such scale and vibrancy is never one to turn down. It left me almost spoiled for the rest of the day’s listening.

At the other extreme, but just as musically communicative, Eclipse was showing off its new TD712z MkII speaker in gloss black finish. This distinctive, single-driver loudspeaker (looking all the world like a small jet engine cowling) is the antithesis of full-range, multi-driver hi-fi sound, but without need for a crossover network and acting as a point-source, the Eclipse pods are the answer to that age-old question in audio – why do so few musicians buy good audio? The precision of the Eclipse sound heard here, coupled with a temporal accuracy few conventional loudspeakers attain, goes some way to explaining why Eclipse has a strong following in the music biz. This didn’t need big and impressive electronics, either; at the show, the TD712z MkII was being driven by a modified Sony SACD player into a LFD integrated amp, although a Scheu turntable, Lehmann phono stage, Linn digital streamer and Esoteric CD player were also in the loop.

Another demonstration that proved highly entertaining was from Paradigm. This combination audio and home theater demonstration was designed to showcase the company’s Signature series speakers (including the S8 towers), playing through Anthem AV electronics. The highlight (for home theater fans) was the new Signature Sub 2, which is capable of delivering whole-hall shaking bass without a problem, yet also seems subtle enough not to overawe music. The inevitable Terminator Salvation and Thundercats The Movie (Avatar) clips followed the music, but the system was in impressive control throughout. Sadly, a black loudspeaker on a black background in a darkened room might sound great, but is photographically unsound.

Another product categorically not to be photographed was the new chassis for the next generation of Micromega products. This is a shame, because the product’s rolled-edged case and slightly taller front panel makes it look extremely impressive. What we can reveal is the three new models in this new series addition; the IA400 is a 2x400W class D-powered integrated amplifier, the AS400 is a similar integrated design with built in AirStream music streaming and the exciting MP100. This is said to combine CD player, tuner, AirStream streamer, MM/MC phono input and 2x100W amplifier in one, sub 2,000€ package. Watch this space. 

Turntables are a common feature in a German audio show. Big local names like Transrotor, Acoustic Solid, Scheu and Clearaudio naturally dominate (more on that tomorrow), but there are some hidden gems if you dig deeper. One of the more potentially exciting vinyl-based products on display was the new Simplex, from Well-Tempered. A scaled-down version of the Amadeus design, the new turntable might be priced at half that of the original version. The words ‘potentially’ and ‘might’ are not good reporter words, but the German distributor of the decks seems to re-define the word ‘laconic’ and the small amount of information I got about this interesting deck was extracted through the medium of shrug. 

Acoustic Energy took a booth to announce a return to its roots, of sorts. The company has recently put its name to iPod music systems and more, but the loudspeaker brand – best known for small, quality standmount monitors – has just signed off the design for the new Reference Two design. Featuring a pair of aluminum mid-bass cones and a ring-radiator tweeter, the veneer was still drying on this one, so not much more information is available yet. We hope to hear more soon…

A quick update on the Audio Research 40th Anniversary preamp, announced yesterday. Think of it as two Reference 5 preamps, one per channel, with the power supply broken out into a second box. Everything from the power cord on is dual-mono, even the two umbilical power cables connecting the preamp sections to the power supplies. The circuit is not entirely a Reference 5; it’s been revised and enhanced, with new transformers and even more capacitors; a brace of pure Teflon 10µF custom made caps, each one weighing a kilogramme and thicker than your wrist. Made from April to April to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the company, the preamp costs $24,995.

Finally for Friday, amp designer Jeff Rowland announced two new models. The Corus is a line only preamp, essentially a Criterion without the battery power supply. With four balanced and two single ended inputs and an external PSU and remote receiver eye, the $12,200 preamp looks to retain all the elegance and sophistication of the company’s top pre. It’s joined by the Model 625, a 300W stereo class AB power amplifier built into a billet of aluminum. The 625 uses a switch mode power supply and features transformer-coupled XLR inputs, a common feature for Jeff Rowland designs. The $13,500 power amp will also be joined by a four chassis mono Model 924 power amp soon.

Yet more to follow…

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