This weekend’s Munich High-End show was, once again, a hugely successful event. More than 800 exhibitors across three halls, two atriums and dozens of rooms make this the most important event on the current audio calendar, and it’s also become the place where businesses speak to one another, and where a lot of truly international deals are done. It has all but replaced CES in these respects.
No one person can visit all these rooms, and any show report is doomed to omit more than it finds. So, while we are still ploughing through the press kits, brochures and hundreds upon hundreds of photos and business cards, here’s a quick guide to what we thought were the best in show. Naturally, this is always going to be little more than a personal snapshot through what is good (anything marked ‘best’ may as well read ‘my best’), but there were some highs, and some low, that were outstanding:
Best Sound (that didn’t cost a fortune)
PMC had a surprisingly simple demonstration; just dark curtains, some posters, a (mostly) hidden system, and a pair of the new PMC Twenty.26 that were first seen at the Bristol Sound & Vision Show in February. The PMC team were playing all kinds of music (always a good sign), were friendly and light-hearted, and the loudspeakers were making good, unpretentious sounds.
Maybe it’s a UK thing, but the combination of new KEF Reference loudspeakers and new Arcam pre/power amplifier combination was also sounding extremely good; ‘affordable’ is a relative term, but in show where excess is the norm, this combination was the right side of €20,000.
Best sound (that did cost a fortune)
Generally, my take on the matter is a simple one: if it quacks like a duck, and isn’t a duck, it’s a horn loudspeaker. Not a fan. However, two of the best sounding systems I heard from the cost-no-object end of things at Munich were paradoxically both horns. If you could get in (and weren’t subject to one of the 45-minute silent demonstrations because the bass from the room was swamping its neighbours) Magico’s Ultimate III lived up to the name in every respect. Standing pro-basketball player tall, weighing a healthy 363kg per side (excluding subwoofers), this $600,000 loudspeaker had a combination of big-horn effortless, and the typical Magico tight, deep bass.
The other big hitter was the Living Voice Vox Olympian, a £340,000 exercise in high-grade steampunk-fi with a sound that meant the room was constantly filled to bursting. For good reason; it sounded sensational, especially with the vast Vox Elysian matching subs on the end of some top-notch Kondo amplification.
Other ‘mentioned in dispatches’ fine sounding systems included the €390,000/pair Marten Coltrane Supreme 2 loudspeakers driven by DarTZeel amplification, and the new MartinLogan Neolith loudspeakers. These new flagship designs were still in the final stages of tweaking, and the models presented were allegedly not run in, but they sounded outstanding fresh out of the box. Price is to be decided, but they didn’t look cheap!
Best Sounding 'trickle down' product
Constellation Audio is living up to the trickle down. The brand’s cost-no-object Reference range helped create its Performance range, and now the concepts that went into these models are going into the Inspiration range, which takes prices even lower. The new $9,000 Preamp 1.0 and $20,000/pr Mono 1.0 power amplifiers were playing through Wilson Alexias and retained the Performance sound so well, few noticed the change when moving between the two lines.