I’m not making excuses for the sound at the Munich High-End show. It was uniformly awful, with a few exceptions. This actually works in our favour because we can concentrate on products of interest rather than ones that happened to sound good. Here is a short list of some of the finest:
Most promising new products/New Brands
Shown in early prototype form in the Marantz room, the wide, €65,000 WM-4 designed by Karl-Heinz Fink and his team sported BMR midrange units and 380mm paper cone bass drivers to deliver a tight, rhythmic, and yet deep presentation when played through Octave amplification and an Ideon Audio Ayzaki DAC. The performance was reminiscent of classic ‘pace, rhythm, and timing’ designs like the Naim DBL and the Linn Isobarik, so perhaps it was no surprise you could almost feel waves of air pressure from all the nodding heads and tapping feet.
Focal Scala and Maestro Utopia III Evo
Two main models in Focal’s high-end Utopia range – the €32,000 Scala and €50,000 Maestro – have been refined and updated this year. Both will sport Focal’s new Tuned Mass Damper suspension system, claimed to deliver greater linearity and lower distortion in the 1kHz-4kHz region, and the company’s Neutral Inductance Circuit, designed to lower harmonic and intermodulation distortion across the frequency range. The redesigned crossovers in both speakers are housed in their own internal chamber and bi-wiring is back, this time designed for bi-amping use. There are also three new finishes, including this excellent metallic blue finish. There are presently no plans to incorporate the Evo upgrades to other models in the Utopia range.
Magico S3 Mk II
First shown – but not demonstrated – at CES, the $28,000 per pair Magico S3 Mk II was being played for the first time to European audiences through a predominantly Spectral system. The S3 Mk II is a true trickle-down design, featuring the diamond-coated beryllium-diaphragm tweeter, and the graphene carbon midrange and bass drivers are derived from the units developed for the M-Project, which are filtering through the whole M-Series product line. The all-aluminium curved enclosure draws from developments in the line too, with a revised outrigger base, convex top plate, and chambered sub-enclosures for mid and top. The sealed box loudspeaker pulled in big crowds, in part because it was one of the least-compromised sounding rooms delivering surprisingly deep bass from a relatively small loudspeaker.
Art Deco Acoustics Sound + Design
Coming out of nowhere, Art Deco Acoustics trio of products are designed to work together as a system. The system is formed of the M15 two-way passive loudspeaker, which rolls off at 125Hz. As a consequence, it is designed to work with the huge B16 bass loudspeaker, which delivers the goods down to around 28Hz in room. The E17 integrated amplifier, a matching ultralinear, no feedback design sporting a pair of KT150s at the show to deliver 40W per channel, completes the system. The company chose to demonstrate in one of the exhibition hall booths, so proper evaluation was impossible, but the c€135,000 system showed some promise!
Stenheim’s new €184.5k Ultime, is a large, exceptionally heavy CNC milled aluminium floorstanding enclosure, featuring a four-way, eight-driver D’Appolito driver array. It uses an impressive four 32cm woofers, and two 17cm midranges, as well as a neodymium tweeter and a ribbon supertweeter. Driven by a combination of Kuzma and Wadax front-ends, VTL electronics and Fono Acustica cables, this was one of the rare systems that managed to transcend the limitations of the room, delivering excellent stereo imaging and great detail.