Munich High End 2019 Show Report

Got a million quid to spend on a Hi-Fi? Step right up…

by Ed Selley May 11, 2019 at 4:47 PM

  • There have been some challengers over the years but the High End Show in Munich is the pre-eminent event on the audio calendar. The MOC exhibition centre is unusually well adapted to the task of hosting such an event and the result is a vast collection of equipment on display and demonstration - two full days there still felt like a rush.
    As a result of this, Munich is a major launch event and plenty of new product was unveiled. As with previous years, I have my concerns around the pricing of some of it. It’s all very well being firmly ‘aspirational’ but we do need a terrestrial rung in the ladder for people to get started with. As the price of a number of products climbs steadily upward, I’m concerned that this is going to become more of a problem. Nevertheless, there was some exceedingly cool stuff on display.

    Having updated the Uniti and dedicated streamer range, Naim has turned their attention to the Mu-So. The result is the Mu-So second generation which keeps the basic aesthetic and design principles of the original but adds some new functionality that is potentially very useful. The most significant is that it follows the lead taken by the Unitis and adds an HDMI ARC connection for easier use with TVs. This is supported by Naim’s new streaming module (effectively the same as it is in the rather more expensive models) complete with Chromecast, AirPlay 2 and on board support for Tidal and Spotify. This is combined with revised speakers developed in partnership with Focal. The price has crept up to £1,299 but this looks like a seriously impressive device and one we hope to have a look at very soon.

    Following on from the SA10 and 20 integrated amps, Arcam has started to move their HDA series into new price points. The SA30 is another Class G design but raises power to a healthy 120 watts into eight ohms, not quite doubling into four. There are four analogue line inputs including a moving magnet and moving coil capable phono stage. This is then partnered with a digital section that is built around an ESS Sabre DAC and includes wired and wireless streaming (with the ability to be a Roon endpoint too), AirPlay2 and MQA support. Pricing is TBC but this looks like one to keep an eye on and a welcome addition to the ranks of ‘super integrateds'.

    Chord Electronics
    After a few years of considerable focus on digital, this year Chord Electronics was all about amplifiers. Celebrating their 30th anniversary, the company was keen to remind attendees that before the digital wizardry, they made their name in amplifiers. As a result, they announced three new mono amps that take technology - including a unique topology - from the flagship Ultima and make it (slightly) more affordable at £18,360 each for the Ultima 2 and £11,000 for the Ultima 3. The last product announced was more of a surprise though. The Huei is a moving magnet and moving coil capable phono stage in the Qutest chassis. It costs a rather more wallet friendly £990 - not a bad price for a fully balanced design.

    If you did want some interesting digital product, Auralic was a very good place to go looking. The company launched two new products, one in the G1 range and one in the G2 and they reflect the two different roles the company has in mind for them. The Altair G1 is a streaming preamp. Built around the company’s brilliant Lightning infrastructure, it has decoding on board capable of handling all flavours of DSD and PCM and it also has a bay for a 2.5” hard drive to become its own server. I’m not going to pretend that £1,900 is cheap but this looks like a lot of product for the money.

    The Sirius G2, by contrast, is a little more niche. This is an FPGA based device that is intended to take an incoming digital source and then upsample and reclock it to the ‘sweet spot’ of your DAC’s processing ability, that can be anything up to DSD 512 if you fancy. It joins the extensive selection of other G2 components and is yours for £5,499.

    It wouldn’t be Munich without some turntables but the good news is that while some of them (as we shall cover) were very spendy indeed, one of the most interesting was pretty terrestrially priced. The Vertere Dynamic Groove is the most affordable turntable that the company has ever designed and to achieve the performance in mind, it has approached a number of design aspects with a completely fresh outlook. The result is a turntable that costs £2,850 with a cartridge (by comparison, ticking all the boxes on a ‘big’ Vertere takes you well into six figures) and looks absolutely brilliant. A quick demonstration suggested that this is going to be a very important turntable indeed.

    Of course, if the Vertere feels a bit radical, SME is going to let you party like it’s 1954 because they’ve announced that they will be making the Garrard 301 again. This idler drive motor unit and platter will be supplied in a dedicated plinth and fitted with a period correct 12 inch SME tonearm. You only have to see the price that good used 301s command to realise that this isn’t a completely foolish idea and even though the price of £12,500 isn’t cheap, I suspect they will have no trouble selling them. Slightly more cutting edge is the new Model 12 which replaces the older Model 10 and uses the excellent industrial design of the Synergy. Pricing is £7,949 including a colour matched 309 arm.

    Wilson Benesch
    Needless to say, not all turntables only cost as much as a Ford Fiesta. The Wilson Benesch GMT One arrived with no fanfare and quite a bit of fine detail (like how much it will cost) is currently unavailable. We do know a few things though. It uses a contactless electro magnetic drive system called Omega Drive that looks like the inner workings of the Large Hadron Collider. It has a servo driven self levelling assembly to ensure that the platter is always where it should be. It comes with a selection of armtubes to fit and suit different cartridges and it will offer remote adjustable VTA adjustment to a tolerance of 2 microns (the thickness of a red blood cell). We can probably infer from this that the final cost will be ‘a lot.’

    For the most part, Munich focusses on stereo but PMC were sufficiently pleased with how their room at Bristol had gone that they had enhanced the concept even further and were doing some truly sensational Atmos music demonstrations. There was new product too in the form of the fact.8 Signature and fact.12 Signature. These are completely revised versions of the original fact models and take technology and accrued experience from the fenestria flagship. This includes crossovers on boards originally developed for military applications and all the latest refinements to the company’s transmission line system. The fact.8 Signature is a two way design for £6,995 while the larger, three way fact.12 is £14,995.

    At a rather more terrestrial price point, more details about the Mission ZX Series were available. The range will go from roughly £500 to £2,000 and AV fans will be pleased to note the presence of dedicated surround and centre speakers. The range has a strong family resemblance to the QX Series but uses an all new mid bass driver made from an aluminium matrix and a matching ring dome tweeter. These are mounted in a new cabinet with revised driver bracing and further improved crossovers. Given that the LX and QX ranges have been hugely impressive at their price points, these should be ones to hear when they launch.

    Neither was this the limit of IAGs activities. Having been on static display at Bristol. The Wharfedale Elysian was now in running form. At a cost of ‘only’ around £5,000, this was one of the cheapest speakers playing on the top floor so it’s a measure of how impressive it sounded that it held its own. The two models have been designed with a view to restoring the reputation of Wharfedale as a maker of serious speakers and it seems clear that a huge amount of care and attention has gone into their design and construction. I am very much looking forward to trying a pair when they go on sale later this year.

    Back in the realms of reality, DALI showed off the new Katch One soundbar. As the name suggests, this is an evolution of the excellent Katch wireless speaker which has been extended into a more TV friendly shape and now boasts an HDMI ARC input (optical is also supported) together with aptX Bluetooth and an analogue connection. It has no less than ten drivers, powered by four internal amps and like the Katch, it looks like a nice piece of industrial design and features things like an innovative ‘hanging mount’ that should look neat under a wall mounted TV. It will cost £649 and be available in the summer.

    What happens if you’ve bought a really big and very expensive TV though? Normal soundbars just aren’t going to cut it. Enter Hamburg based Lyravox who have developed the magnificent (and enormous) StereoMaster SM2-200. Technically, an ‘on wall Hi-Fi’, it nonetheless is going to give anything you fancy with the necessary oomph. As well it should as it costs somewhere north of $30,000.

    After a busy few years, Technics was treating 2019 as a time for a spot of fine tuning. The C30 Wireless speaker joins the existing C50 and C70 models to give you a good selection of Technics products that can be used to form the basis of a whole house wireless system. Features include wireless streaming, support for Tidal and Spotify and Chromecast support. Pricing for the smallest model will be revealed nearer the launch in autumn. The other announcement didn’t concern a new product as such but instead marked the release of a black finish for many of the existing range which will help with aesthetic matching to other components.

    Down in the halls though, Yamaha was being a little more ambitious. This was one of the first showings of a complete 5000 Series system, comprising the C-5000 preamp, M-5000 power amp, GT-5000 turntable (‘GT’ in this instance genuinely standing for ‘Gigantic and Tremendous’), all running into the NS-5000 speakers. Trapped in a small demo room, playing music that was pleasant but a trifle safe, it wasn’t possible to make a truly educated call on how it sounds but all the basics are there and I suspect that it might well be truly great when given a bit more room.

    Martin Logan/ Pass Labs
    This wasn’t the most expensive system at the show and neither was it the largest, most complex or even the largest red speaker on show but it generated the sound I liked the most. The Martin Logan Neolith is the flagship design of the hybrid electrostatic speaker from the company and it was doing a fine turn on the end of a system from fellow US high end denizens, Pass Labs. It had truly incredible reserves of scale and combined this with speed, tonal realism and sheer musicality that isn’t always present with systems at the MOC. Sadly, they don’t fit into an overhead locker, so I had to leave them there.

    In reality, you don’t really need to know what the Stromtank is (it’s a mains conditioner and regenerator) or how much it costs (€9.000). You should simply all want one because;
      -It is enormous
      -It has got a giant mechanical dial on the front
      -It is called a Stromtank.

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