As is often said – including by myself – Munich High-End has become the most important event on the audio calendar. This is not simply because of the attendance figures (even if they are continuing to rise), it’s because the show is a magnet for international business and those seeking to reach that international business. More than 500 manufacturers ply their trade in search of one or more of those dealers and distributors walking the halls in search of new products.
Except… does it really work that way?
Certainly there are hundreds of manufacturers exhibiting and there are hundreds of dealers and distributors from around the world attending, but it seems that a lot of the business done at Munich is unevenly distributed. Here’s how it works. Successful distributors have long-standing relationships with well-established companies. They attend Munich High-End to continue and extend those relationships with their existing brands, seeing the new products from those brands they will be distributing and selling. If a successful distributor has maybe 10 high-end brands, that process of meeting existing brands will take up almost all the time they have to spend at Munich High-End, and the smaller companies trying to get a foot in the door might be lucky if their potential distributors spend half a day walking around the rest of the show.
The only time this cosy relationship between the major brands and those who support them changes is when there is some sort of massive ‘falling out’ between the two parties. At which point the manufacturer goes in search of a new distributor, and the distributor goes looking for rival brands in that sector.
So, while there might be more than 500 brands on show at Munich High-End, possibly less than 100-150 of them write down any significant new business. I suspect these are the top 100-150 brands best known in the industry. I also suspect the 100-150 brands at the other end of the industry come away with a huge bill for attending and a growing sense of panic at how little business came their way.
In a way, we are all complicit in this. Dealers and distributors alike want those larger, more successful, more well-known brands because they sell. Magazines and websites gravitate toward those brands because they sell magazines and put more eyes on the website. And customers are drawn to owning and reading about products from companies they know well. An air of ‘forced positivity’ is pushed through the industry, too, because few of these small companies will admit to underperforming at Munich, as it represents being tested in the crucible of modern audio… and failing.
I don’t want to be a Cassandra in all this, but maybe we need to be a little more honest about the shape of the audio industry, and how that industry is changing. And to that end, I’ve chosen one product–from that ‘more successful’ end of the present audio world – as my Product of the Show.
With the new Leo (anticipated to be around $5,000) Constellation reset the levels. Leo is a departure for a company better known for making audio electronics that can cost up to the six-figure mark. Instead, Leo is a one-box stereo device that looks like a stealth fighter and features a three-way loudspeaker for each channel, 560W of Class D amplification, MQA-ready, 24/192-compatible, Roon-end point, as well as Chromcast, AirPlay, and Bluetooth wireless capacity. It even includes a MM/MC phono input, and can be configured as stereo speakers. The specs alone are impressive (many of these elements don’t sit entirely comfortably together, and Constellation resolves this by bringing some heavy lifting DSP to the table), but it’s backed up by some seriously impressive sounds in an otherwise drab show. In later discussions with the team, Leo forms the beachhead in a new ‘Dominion’ series of products with similar genre-bending goals. Keep watching the skies!