Over the years, Munich has become the most important audio event on the hi-fi calendar in the West, arguably even surpassing CES as the prime place to show off the latest audio devices. And this year saw the show put on numbers, with more German and international visitors, more foreign distributors and assorted walking the halls, rooms and atria of a packed show.
The Eurozone crisis did make its mark, though. The number of rooms taken by companies was down yet again. Down enough that a whole corridor that was packed with audio brands last year was empty. And also, this year – with a few notable exceptions – the show was less full of crazy brands no-one’s ever heard of making faintly lunatic products that no-one in their right mind would ever buy. The fabulous, the fantastic and the frankly insane products have not entirely gone away, but they are reduced in number this year.
Although from a position of pointing and laughing loudly, the lack of such products is something of a shame, their non-appearance suggests the start of a return to a more sensible phase in audio. Of course, while the ‘nutcase’ products were conspicuous by their absence, the number of prices that registered on the Richter Scale were not. But even here, perhaps there are signs of some sanity creeping into the ultra-high end, because the number of new products costing six or more figures seemed to be in decline. Nevertheless, judging by Munich, the audio world is still obsessed by shiny, big expensive things.
Despite the world of hi-fi being known as a ‘dentist’s market’, walking the halls with a grumbling wisdom tooth trying to remind you it’s finally time for extraction does make it hard to be objective about sound quality. So, for many of the new products on show, the new and important part is uppermost and the sound quality isn’t, for that reason.
The big story for many at the show was Devialet. The formerly one-product company performed some significant changes to its original D-Premier (now called Devialet 240) – including a new darker chrome finish, USB and Ethernet connections, at the expense of HDMI, for €12,900. This can be partnered with a cut-down second 240 chassis, to make the €22,900 Devialet 500. Devialet also announced to smaller versions of the Devialet concept – the €6,990, 170 watt Devialet 170 and the stripped back 110 watt Devialet 110, for €4,990. All feature the v5 design ‘Class ADH’ circuit board and radically upgraded versions of software and a universal streamer. The 110 and 170 amps have optional wi-fi, but Devialet is waiving the €1,000 upgrade cost for early adopters.
PMC is on a bit of a roll of late. Its Twenty series has quietly become one of the most popular non-budget loudspeakers in the UK and around the world. But the new Fact 12 floorstander is designed to sit above that range – and even what’s left of the i-series (such is the success of the new brands, the many of the old i-series models have been dropped in the domestic market). The new £12,000 three-way also marks one of the first designs to be a product of PMC’s previously undisclosed work with the UK’s National Physical Laboratory. It’s in final tuning stage before it goes on sale later in the year, but – judging by the regular flow of people in the room – looks like another hit for the UK brand.
Simaudio announced at Munich that its entry range of Moon electronics is to be replaced with the new Moon Neo line. This allows me to say “more ‘Evolution’ than revolution” without the risk of cliché, because the new Neo line owes much of its design cues from the brand’s top Moon Evolution line. The increased chassis solidity – and the opportunity to re-shape a few circuits in the design stage – is claimed to improve performance. First new Neo products out of the Canadian factory in the summer will be two integrated amplifiers, a preamp, stereo and mono amps and a DAC. A CD player will follow soon after. Prices are said to be within 15% of the original line.
Primo German audio brand Burmester was celebrating a number of successes at Munich. Not only was it demonstrating its new 101 integrated amplifier – at €5,500, it represents something of an entry-point for the brand – it was also highlighting a radical upcoming loudspeaker design range for the company and was proudly showing off the increased interest in Burmester brand audio electronics fitted into luxury German cars. Dieter Burmester was proudly playing the latest Porsche Cayenne at the sort of sound pressure levels that would blow the doors off lesser vehicles, while the brand had also highlighted its systems will also be fitted in the next S-Class Mercedes Benz. Other in-car entertainment extravaganza included Dynaudio’s VW Toureg system and an ornate Sonus faber system fitted inside the latest Pagani supercar.
Several off-piste shows also took place away from the MOC expo centre, including a fairly significant group of exhibitors at a Marriott Hotel midway between the MOC and the city. Of these exhibits, perhaps Lindemann’s upcoming Musicbook four-strong range of Streamer-CD player, two DACs (one also with CD replay) and Class D amplification was the most exciting. The new range looks like a radical departure for the innovative German brand and although in late stages of development, the products look promising too and the prices look set to be in the €1,500-€4,000 price rang
Keeping up the British end of things, Kevin and Lynn Scott of Definitive Audio demonstrated his remarkable Living Voice Vox Olympian horn loaded loudspeakers alongside a fabulous Kondo/CEC system driven by Living Voice’s own hooked to the mains battery opt-out of the electricity grid. This was a system of superlatives, whether it was the several tonne load shipped from Derby to Munich, the outstanding array of marquetry on show on the loudspeakers or the €450,000 price tag for the speakers alone, this was high-end writ large… and horny!
Away from the throng of the show, David Wilson announced a new version of the company’s entry-level loudspeaker, the Duette. Seven years after the launch of the original model, the new Duette 2 is a more gently backswept design, with a new tweeter, an exceptionally inert cabinet and dramatically reworked crossover network. The redesign comes at the expense of some of the original Duette’s flexibility (it’s now a boundary only, vertically aligned only design, where the only options are stands and colour scheme), but this was a deliberate refocus of the brand based on feedback from users and dealers. It’s claimed the Duette 2 brings typical Wilson high-end values to those city-dwellers where real estate is at too high a premium to afford free space designs.
As a part of Audiovector’s continuing program of upgrades to its smart range of loudspeakers, the company has announced a clever aptX-based Bluetooth wireless active module set, which makes the loudspeaker deliver potentially excellent sound from any mobile device, as well as a wireless base station for those of us with ‘legacy’ products. The active modules added €5,000 to the €8,000 cost of a pair of Si3 Avantgarde Arretes, which is probably less than the cost of electronics most Audiovectors are traditionally connected to.
Audio Research – part of the Fine Sounds team – put on an excellent display. Nothing was playing – the McIntosh PA system took care of that – but the new Reference 10 Phono and VSi75 integrated amp meant more than a quick demonstration could show. The first is a two-box $30,000 take no prisoners phono stage to match the Reference 10 preamplifier. It has a wide range of cartridge loading options, equalisation curves, remote control and all the functionality expected from ARC’s top line. The VSi75 on the other hand, manages to shoe-horn most of the performance from the exceptional Reference 75 power amp and one of ARC’s fine preamps into one $8,000 box.
Naim and Focal demonstrated together and both companies launched several products at the event. Focal announced the new Scala V-2, which features an improved crossover and revised bass driver, a new generation trio of Chorus loudspeakers at the other end of the spectrum, a new lossless wireless system called Easya as well as a new set of headphones in the Spirit range. Meanwhile, Naim announced a new UnitiQute 2, with additional DAB+ tuner, upgrade support and a completely redesigned digital section, at the same price as its predecessor. The company also announced its own internet radio station – Naim Radio – a firmware upgrade to allow a FLAC ripping option to its server-side products and a multiroom party mode. For all this wonder, we couldn’t resist taking a picture of a Focal Diablo, finished in real gold leaf. Our hidden depths are very, very shallow!
Streamers were all the rage at Munich, but perhaps the best of them was the €4,000 Marantz NA-11S1. It certainly made one of the most convincing arguments for DSD streaming at the show, judging by the number of people attending Marantz Brand Ambassador Ken Ishiwata’s demonstrations. “”It’s been a long time coming,” he admitted, “but we found along the way the secret is keeping the noise from the PC out of the rest of the system.” When asked about the rest of the technology, the normally vocal Ken went gnomic; “it’s not Delta-Sigma!” was all he was heard to utter. Regardless, he’s very impressed by the heavy NA-11S1, “the last time I was this proud of one of my products, it was the CD-63 KI Signature” High praise indeed.
We don’t get enough nudity on the webpages of Hi-Fi Plus, but it’s worth having an unclothed shot of the new Soulution Serie 7 integrated amplifier shows just how serious this company is about engineering excellence. The amplifier has now removed most of its internal wiring, replacing it instead with large buss bars, and sports the sort of PCBs you could dig a trench with. And – wait for it – one whole Farad of reservoir capacitance. That’s roughly equivalent to the capacitance of a fairly large asteroid. We are not sure how long that takes to saturate and discharge, but you can’t help but be impressed. The price tag could probably fund a mission to that asteroid.
Neat Acoustics popular Motive range has undergone a SX change. The new Motive SX models feature a new tweeter, which not only improved high-frequency performance but the crossover reworking has led to improved bass performance, and the drivers are now in separate internal chambers. The trio of new Motive SX models – the SX3 standmount, the SX2 and SX1 floorstanders – are also more back-tilted thanks to a new MDF plinth. They don’t normally come in shocking pink! Prices are to be confirmed.
One of the highlights of the show for many, Raidho is adding its diamond bass drivers to yet more of the products in its line up. The latest model is the D3, which takes the basic €30,000 C3 model and gives it the diamond bass-driver treatment, creating a radically improved €50,000 loudspeaker. This was played through a dCS Puccini and Jeff Rowland combination. I managed to hear this on the last day when my teething troubles were receding and it was one of my high-points of the show.
Vitus equipment is not cheap. Vitus Masterpiece products are really not cheap, and as a consequence they don’t come out at shows that often. So, it was something of a surprise to see a ‘pair’ of Masterpiece Mono amps. These MP-M201, four chassis amps (each side has one box as fully regulated PSU and the other as output stage only) were delivering 100W in Class A to the tweeter and 500W in Class AB to the woofer of a pair Estelon X-Diamond loudspeakers. The rest of the system was all Masterpiece products as well, save for a lot of Stillpoints and Purist Audio Design cables. The cost? €120,000. Oh wait, that’s just for the power amps. As Hans-Ole Vitus said… “Crazy Mothers!” Vitus son – maker of the Alluxity brand – is producing a more down-to-earth 200W Class AB power amp ar €8,400 and a matching preamp for €6,100.
ReQuest Audio of Switzerland has taken the concept of audio streaming to a fairly bold high-end extreme. Using a two terabyte hard drive, the highest grade components and a lot of technology from digital superstars MSB, it was relatively hard to garner much information out of the brand (my Swiss-German is about as good as their English) save for it’s Linux based, has some very sophisticated clock systems for low jitter, it can both rip discs and store high-res files from the internet, it has two boxes, a screen, weighs a ton, costs a fortune (€36,000) and is called (of course) The Beast…
Perhaps the prettiest product launch at the show, Sonus faber’s new trio of Olympica models were clever too. The three model range all combine a lyre and lute ‘duck tail’ hybrid shape, with a side-firing cabinet-length reflex port that manages to give a large surface area (less chuffing) and a lower reflex frequency. That the port is finished with a chromed, hole-filled plate that looks truly gorgeous in the flesh only serves to accent the elegant wood and leather finish, and the arrow-point DAD (Damped Apex Dome) tweeter derives from the top Aida model. Prices are not set yet, but should start at less than €4,000 for the Prima standmount up to about €8,500 for the Terza floorstander.
Nordost's new Valhalla 2 range of cables is said not to replace the existing Valhalla, but represents the current acme of design principles that went into upgrading the Norse 2 range, together with the addition of the new Holo:Plug technology that allows a full 360° termination of the cable. Prices of the cables are not fixed as yet, but it won’t come cheap… expect something close to a 50% price increase over the existing Valhalla.
Following the success of Crystal Cable’s Absolute Dream high-end cables (allegedly, more than two kilometres of the cost-no-object AD has been sold since its launch last year), the company has announced Dreamline Plus. Using much of the same technology as AD, but with a twisted pair instead of a twisted quad set of cables, and Neutrik and WBT connectors in place of Furutech, this new cable is claimed to give near AD performance at a far lower price. OK, ‘far lower price’ still means more than €5,000 for an interconnect and €3,000 for a power cord…
British power experts IsoTek announced its Mosaic range of power conditioning and mains regeneration products, designed for bringing most of the brand’s Ultimate line performance of products like the SuperTitan to a wider audience. The three models in the range are designed to work together and are the Mosaic Titan power conditioner, the Mosaic Genesis regenerator and the Mosaic Centuri voltage stabiliser. Prices are to be confirmed, but are said to be significantly less than the brand’s top products.
The British-based brands still have a good line in lower budget devices. Cambridge Audio announced a slew of new products (we visited Cambridge’s design centre after the show, and the new range will be featured on the site separately), and Creek launched its latest models in its Evolution range. Designed by ex-Cyrus engineer Dave Gamble (and reputedly with digital design input from John Westlake) and sporting Class D amplifiers, the normally mild-mannered Mike Creek was ecstatic that seconds after first playing his new amps, he’d received complaints from nearby stands because of the volumes its capable of producing. Prices are still to be confirmed.
It wouldn’t be Munich without some legitimate craziness, and theVarios range of loudspeakers certainly fits that bill. It’s not that the speakers were particularly odd – the designs were intrinsically sensible and made some pretty good sounds. It was just the look. Every single model in the range looked like one-eyed cartoon birds, or penguins sitting on birds or Mr and Mrs Potatohead. And every one of them looked like they were in fairly heavy therapy for that crushing disappointment they all looked like they were feeling. Weird. Just weird.
And finally… no Munich show is complete without a touch of the extreme, and this time it came from Italy in the shape of the Opera Only amplifier, pictured here with Only Creative's designer Andrea Pivetta. The 2x 60kW (or 6x 20kW) Class A amplifier has a hydraulic system to open out to its full 2.5m height, but closes down to a ‘mere’ 1.9m tall. Looking at the Opera Only in the flesh, it’s hard not to think of the TARDIS or the cyborg-making supercomputer in the dire Superman III movie, and I’d wonder where the cat had gone every time I switched it off. Then again, as I don’t have the 800Amp, 160kW power line to feed the thing, the kind of floors that can support 1,500kg and I don’t have a cool €1,500,000 knocking about, I think I’ll pass this one up!
Any round-up of the Munich High-End Show only scratches the surface. We could spend the next year writing up the event in detail, but we'd need a team of 50 to cover every room, hall and stand. And it would run to thousands of pages. There are many things we missed (excellent products from Elac and T+A and Constellation Audio and EMT, big Tannoy horns and tiny Jeff Rowland ams and a whole lot more) and many more we didn't even get a chance to see. It's an exhausting event, even before all the beer and the pork and the toothache.