The 13th annual Munich High End Show kicked off on the 18th May and has cemented its position as the most important event in Europe and in terms of audio, very possibly the most important in the world.
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Four open plan halls, two atriums and dozens of rooms allow for a truly biblical range of products to be accommodated. What is significant about this is that while a lot of this product is staggeringly expensive- at least two systems on display would have been knocking on seven figures, the show has also become a release point for many much more affordable ranges of products- many of which we will be getting a proper look at in the coming months.
Exhibiting with their newly acquired Roksan partners, Monitor Audio were showing off the new Silver Series of speakers. The sixth generation of Silver speakers are best viewed as evolutionary rather than revolutionary but given there wasn’t a huge amount wrong with the outgoing range, this isn’t too surprising. The nine strong line-up might be best seen as two slightly different sub ranges in one grouping. The Silver 50 and 200 models are slimline models built around a 5.25 inch C-CAM driver while the Silver 100, 300 and 500 make use of a larger driver- up to eight inches in size. Crucially for AV fans, there are two centre speakers to choose from, a dedicated AV surround speaker and a subwoofer. The range should be on sale from July/August.
Meanwhile, KEF concentrated on their most affordable range of speakers with a new Q Series. The new range retains a number of key KEF design points- not least the Uni-Q driver- but this now benefits from a damped tweeter loading tube. The crossover has also been tweaked to better adapt the Uni-Q to any other drivers used in the speakers. These other drivers have improved surrounds and larger ‘spiders’ (the mount that holds the whole thing together). The standmounts have moved to a rear ported design and the aesthetics of the range has been improved and brought into line with the latest thinking from the company. AV fans might be disappointed to hear that dedicated surrounds have been dropped for the new range but it still includes a centre speaker.
Rather than a complete range, Dynaudio took the opportunity to give themselves a 40th Birthday present in the form of a single speaker. The Special Forty is to some extent a technology demonstrator which takes some of the key design aspects of the brand and beefs them up for their best performance. The tweeter and woofer are all new and have been designed to work together, making use of an unusually low 1kHz crossover point between the two. This has been achieved with a minimalist crossover- in other words, the drivers can achieve this naturally without having to be boosted via the crossover to achieve it. One of the nicest features of the unit is the finish. Both colours are birch wood but use different stains for a radically different finish. The grey one might be one of the nicest I saw at the show.
As one of the UK’s leading speaker brands, you might have expected that PMC would have joined in this cavalcade of new speakers… but you’d be wrong. Instead the company unveiled the brand new Cor integrated amplifier (it’s Latin for heart and also refers to the soul and the mind should you be wondering). The Cor is a completely analogue amplifier. It has no digital circuity and has been designed with a view to imparting no sonic character at all. It balances this with a view to not being a piece of hair shirt minimalism either. It is fully remote controlled and this extends to the ability to remote control the mixing desk derived faders that control bass and treble adjustment. The 95 watt power output might not sound especially high but the demonstrator didn’t seem to be struggling with a hefty pair of XB2s. The price of the Cor is £5,000 and production rates are going to be relatively limited in order to devote the required attention on all of them.
Avid’s atrium room was a demonstration that this might be one of the busiest companies in audio right now. Still best known as a manufacturer of turntables, one of the loveliest things in the room was the Ingenium SP- a beefed up version of the Ingenium but this was joined by a new pre and power amp combination to sit below the Reference level equipment. This in turn will be turned into an integrated amplifier called the Sigsum later in the year. Not content with this, there are three all new tonearms- the flagship of which has an armtube of 3D printed titanium. Phono cartridges are also in development. Effectively, the company will shortly have all the parts in place to offer the complete analogue replay chain to a customer- one of a tiny number of brands able to do so.
Over on their hall stand- one where they had assembled a complete listening booth- Leema Acoustics was busy blurring the lines between an integrated amplifier and an all-in-one system. Having delivered the deeply impressive Quasar- which was also on demonstration- the company was also showing the Pulse integrated amplifier. This £2,295 unit has a truly biblical selection of inputs- five analogue line, one phono stage (with moving coil support) and eight digital inputs- including USB-B and Bluetooth. This is mated to a Class A/B amplifier with 80 watts on tap. We are going to have to wait until Autumn to get our hands on one but this has all the makings of a seriously talented product.
Historically, Munich has not been a particularly important date for AV announcements but that seems to be changing. ATC took the opportunity to launch a selection of on wall speakers designed specifically for AV use. The HTS (Home Theatre Series) of models are shallow cabinet models that are intended to wall mount and allow access to the company’s legendary drivers in spaces that simply aren’t suitable for a conventional box speaker. The models come in three sizes and are then additionally offered in variants that allow for them to be mounted horizontally or vertically- ie if you want to use them as a centre. All the speakers are sold individually and range in price from £475 to £1,950 with sales starting in July.
Of course, if you aren’t interested in hiding your AV equipment away, you might be interested in the latest subwoofer from Ascendo. You’re going to need a bit of room though because it’s big. Really, really big. It features a 50 inch- not a typo, I do mean five zero- driver and a chassis that is the size of a small bathroom. Power output is unspecified but said to be healthy. As you might imagine, the bulk of visitors seemed keen to stand in front of it and have their own private Back to the Future moment. The price if you have to ask, is circa €50,000. Regrettably it wasn’t running but this did give Ascendo and Storm Audio a chance to demonstrate their marginally more conventional offerings in an AV setting and the results were deeply impressive.
A huge amount of subjectivity is going to be apparent when talking about the best sounding speaker at the show but, for me and fair few other people I spoke to at the show- that title went to the FinkTeam WM-4. This is the productionised version of a speaker that has been in existence for some time, principally in use as a test bed. FinkTeam is not a household name but Karl Heinz Fink who heads it up can justifiably claim to be the most influential person in audio you probably haven’t heard of. The development of the WM-4 has in part taken place at the same time as the Q Acoustics Concept 500- something largely handled by Fink- and some of the ideas you can see in that speaker have been taken to their logical conclusion here. There’s no hiding from the facts that this is a 135kg speaker that costs €65,000 but the sound it makes is utterly and continuously fabulous and across a wide variety of material, it delivered an absolutely staggering performance.
Of course, €65,000 is paddling in the shallow end of Munich pricing. Making their annual pilgrimage to Bavaria was Living Voice, a British company who produces horn loudspeaker designs that can lay claim to being the finest of their type and some of the best speakers in existence. Two years ago the system on demonstration was the flagship Vox Olympian with matching Vox Elysium bass horns but this time, owner Kevin Scott elected to bring the newer and more affordable Vox Palladian which uses a simplified horn assembly and slightly less ornate cabinet to bring the price down a little while still delivering a performance that is still some way beyond the operating envelope of most speaker designs on the market. Of course, I am afraid that ‘affordable’ is a relative term with designs of this nature and the Palladian is yours for £252,000 with the matching Basso costing another £198,000.
Munich would not be Munich without something so wonderously peculiar you struggle to imagine how it came to be. This year, candidates for the thing that makes you go ‘huh?’ were in abundance and included a £24,000 tonearm (yes really) that features styling cues from the starship Enterprise and speakers that use a ball of ionized plasma to function as a tweeter. In this instance though for the sheer slickness of it, the prize goes to German company Hannl who make record cleaning machines. Having looked at the world of smart connectivity, Hannl has decided that what people buying their machines need is app control. As such, via an iPad, you can control speed, rotation, cleaning fluid application amongst others before playing a format that has absolutely no smart connectivity whatsoever. Welcome to the future- twinned very closely with the past.
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