Munich's High End 2005 proved another exciting exhibition that featured the best of the best from all over the globe. When you're 6' 3" and traveling on cross-Atlantic 8-hour flight in such cramped quarters as coach, you better be going someplace well worth the travel. And Munich Germany was certainly that. This year co-conspirator Key Kim and I decided to stay downtown Munich rooming at the Anna Hotel. What a difference that made compared to the more northern suburban quarters I booked last year much closer to the Show. I got the rare opportunity to see the hustle and bustle that occurs in Munich and came away liking it quite a bit.
There was much to look forward to as this years show returned back to the M.O.C, a huge virtually all-glass building equivalent to the Jacob Javits here in New York or any large convention center. Though it was nicely spaced, with accommodating seating located throughout, when the crowds arrived. My hunch is more than three-thousand show goers arrived on Thursday and Friday. Many more arrived on Saturday and few on Sunday.
The demo rooms on the 2nd and 3rd atriums were all but splendidly put together but were no match for mob of audiophiles. Strictly in terms of size, these have to be the best rooms going, even when compared to CES. Some show attendees complained the building wasn't cozy as the Frankfurt Showrooms where all but two of these shows were held but readily admitted this new site brings forth a new sense of life to this huge event.
Unfortunately, every show has its casualties and this year was no exception. The newer rooms on the main exhibit floor suffered from makeshift 10' by 10' box-like enclosures that attempted to serve as listening rooms. I won't say it was disappointing for everyone there because amazingly some rooms sounded delightful. Others did not. It was obvious to see that most large speakers didn't make it in these small and hollow sounding demo rooms. Sadly, one of this year's setups included electronics that got my Best at Show last year.
That room was...Behold!
Don't get me wrong, the sound was not horrible but it wasn't nearly the mouthwatering setup heard the year before in a much bigger and better room. This room was hardly ready for the caliber of electronics it served. And believe me, I had this room penned as am must see since they were pairing up for the first time with the folks from Ascendo...
Lo and Behold, here was some of the best sounding electronics these ears have heard strapped to a pair of my favorite loudspeakers in the Ascendo System M. Again, the sound wasn't as nearly as disappointing as the room was. You could hear the room literally breathing as music played. The walls were mere boards nailed together. All I got from this room was potential and heartache.
Well, things became increasingly more upbeat as Acoustic Systems designer Franck Tchang stepped into the room with his briefcase of miracle whip. His arsenal of Acoustic Resonators did the trick in such a dramatic and mind-boggling fashion that Ralf Ballman, the genius designer behind Behold had to do second, third and triple-takes. Ballman, and his entire crew could not believe the demonstration that Tchang put on demonstrating back and forth how easy (for him at least) it is to manipulate the sonic signature of virtually any room. Upon tweaking the room to its limits, we all sat, listened and were very surprised by the noticeable improvements. Especially to the overall harmonics and bass articulation. Needless to say, Ballman met a new friend in Tchang at this years show.
Another loudspeaker with great potential that was obviously too big for these makeshift rooms was the ATE Transar loudspeaker. All I found was folks boasting super dynamic SPLs while the room began flexing from all the low-end drivers moving in and out. There was one point in the demo that I thought either the room was going to collapse or nails were going to start flying. Congrats to you Transar designers for creating a slew of woofers that can actually move that much air. But I'm certain they didn't want the room to move along with it.
German reps Living Sound introduced another Lumen White loudspeaker in the Silver Flame ($30,000). Built very much like other Lumen Whites, this 5-way is designed to go both lower and higher in the frequency extremes. Well, it had both Key and I feeling quite warm being driven with the wonderfully synergistic Ayon 52B monos. Noteworthy mention has to go the new and relatively inexpensive turntable from Vyger called the Baltic M. Digital was by way of North Star's CDT transport and 24/192 Extremo DAC. The recreation of the stage was very impressive and sounded even better than last year. We're hoping to have a review sample of the North Star products available in the coming months. Stay tuned.
In another one of those 10' by 10' boxes Sun Union Audio loudspeakers partnered with Bladelius electronics and produced a wonderful sound considering room limitations. Their Gondul CD/DVD/SACD multi-format player/preamplifier (photo below) really impressed me with its versatile performance.
Want to get me excited? Design a loudspeaker using separate enclosures for each driver and employ a ribbon tweeter. Not any ribbon tweeter but the very one used in the Sun Audio Dragon Prince loudspeaker. Here's a loudspeaker, made in China no less, that boasts the best parts available says its team of designers. The tweeter is the 16-cm True Alian Benard tweeter from France while internal parts: capacitors and inductors are made from Jantzen Audio.
Another loudspeaker that looked like it could move the walls but did not was the Acoustic Plan Veena loudspeaker. The tall, open baffled and uniquely built cabinet, using a single 5 1/4" broadband driver with four 10" woofers, boasts a 95 dB sensitivity and a 8-Ohm load. This level sensitivity makes it possible to mate this tall line source with just about any SET. However, Acoustic Plan is popularly known for their hybrid line of electronics and wasted no time demonstrating why (photo right: Santor power amplifier). I found myself circling this room whenever there was a seat available. I simply loved the open, and textured sound of this room. More interesting was how well and delicately the system handled this room.
Another great sounding setup was the AcuHorn/KR Audio demo room. Now here's what I can only describe as simply a mouthwateringly sweet sounding setup. I wasn't alone in my assessment either because the more show-goers I ran into the more I heard of this particular room...in another makeshift room no less. But one look at the photo above and again, the less the lethal doses of amplification needed for this application then you can see where things make sense. First off, these AcuHorn Grand Biancore 155 poses as tall and slender dipoles in elegantly made enclosures. Their narrow footprint offsets the amazingly wide and full-bodied sound that was recreated in this room. Driven by KR Audio's humongous 22-watt 1610 tubes (photo right) employed in their Kronzilla SET amplifier this was certainly one of the better sounds at the show.
Lindemann Audio showed their entire new line of electronics that featured amplifiers as well as loudspeakers. Quite impressive considering how they were known for their digital wares. The overall sound was exquisite and well focused amid a huge soundstage with very palpable images. While many of the components did not have much info associated with them hopefully, this info will appear in the not too distant future.
Esoteric displayed in quite wonderful fashion, I should add, their complete arsenal of sonic weapontry. Most impressive was the equipment rack that housed each and every component in a way that spells C.L.A.S.S. There was too much to list here when attempting to comprise all the features each of these components offers. But one of the honorable mentions has to go out to their new power amplifiers (photo left). For further information visit their website athttp://www.teac.com/esoteric/
Speaking of beautiful works of art, Copulare's Gerhard Brandl (photo above) designs the most attractive equipment racks these eyes have seen. So much in fact that I often forget the ingeniously disguised multi-layers of resonance/vibration control that goes into each one of Brandl's creations. Employing different grades of sand and leadshot for the external steel frame as well as each platform - in addition to a sophisticated inlay of multi-layered birch plywood - insures resonance control on the vertical as well as horizontal planes. Last year, Copulare displayed their wares with Transrotor, who themselves possess a very high WOW factor. There's something eye catching about Copulare's color schemes. And if you're into aesthetics as much as this designer is then you really should look into Copulare's extensive product line athttp://www.copulare.de/800/index.htm.
Upstairs in what many would consider a world class setup, let alone the sound, the Ascendo/CAT room was out of this world. This was better than a very well done demo that featured in 'Vegas back in January. Of course, the room here was much bigger than 'Vegas, the Behold setup downstairs, and any other real-world listening room I've been in (Ralph Glasgal's humongous listening room and the setup in Jean Yves' France expanse doesn't count).
Notwithstanding the huge attendance at this years event, it was standing room only in many showrooms and the Ascendo/CAT was no exception. This years setup included the newer and more advanced CAT JL3 MkII signature amplifiers that produced a sound that was fabulously open, extended and ultra musical.
The newly released Audio Aero Capitole SACD player looked as serious a player as it sounded. The liquid midrange it spilled forth was among the best I've heard under showroom conditions. Of course, you can't leave out the rest of the setup and the very intimate and involving Ascendo System M loudspeakers wired via Virtual Dynamic cabling among others. All in all, this was among the best at the show.
Clearaudio put on a demo that looked like I was back at the Louvre. The setting was dark with a lot of accent lighting used to great results showing their extensive product line.
The many different styles, types and levels of turntables would have made most vinyl lovers think they died and went to LP heaven. In the back of the room was a setup that used Clearaudio's own new line of amplifiers that were quite impressive I might add. To put this room together took quite a bit of staff support. So when the day began to wind down, it wasn't unusual to catch them all jamming with hordes of LPs. A wonderful display by a great group of people.
Dr. Roland Gauder of Isophon hit the proverbial home run in this, possibly his best, loudspeaker in the Isophon Cassiano ($10,000). Moreover, he paired it with a Thorens TEM 3200 amplifier. That's right, Thorens, a company more known for turntables. Rated at 200 watts per chassis into 8-Ohms, this $15,000 mono design uses a single extremely powerful N-channel MOSFET in each signal path to avoid the notorious hazards of matching issues. Aside from all sorts of other inventive features that you can see at their website (www.thorens.com) you should know this was perhaps one of the most impressive sounds I heard at the show. Last year, Gauder paired with Behold in what I considered easily the best sound at the show. This was not as big, bad, or as expensive a demo room. But it was nearly as impressive believe it or not! The clarity, openness, the sense of space and the smoothness in transients was simply excellent. There's a lot to like in these loudspeakers as well as these exciting new amplifiers coming from Thorens.
This little odd looking pro mini-monitor (left) is called Aucos Q-2b from former Audio Physic designer Joachim Gerhard. Though odd, it sounded quite impressive considering its out-of-this world design concept. I should add that the sound of this particular transducer was so impressive in fact, that I was summoned on more than one occasion to this room. Not only to hear this loudspeaker but to also meet its designer Gerhard himself. A very modest gentleman, who I thanked immensely because of my affection for the Audio Physic loudspeakers, the Caldera particular, when I was first bitten by the audio bug.
It was at this moment Gerhard reached into his briefcase and showed me what was up his sleeve with respect to his new company. His new line of reference caliber loudspeaker is called the Sonics Line Passion-S loudspeaker. More information is available from their website athttp://www.sonicsonline.de/German/Ger_Passion.htm
German distributor Highendwerk showed some serious electronics from Brinkmann Audio that featured their new Capra loudspeakers. The only thing I know about this loudspeaker is its use of "Air Motion Transformer" type ribbon drivers. Their website doesn't mention these wonderful looking drivers so I am to assume they're brand spanking new. Mr. Brinkmann himself (photo left) did say that these loudspeakers have officially entered the market. You know if the Capra becomes available here in the States, I'll be one of the first to put my bid in. It sounded that impressive the short time spent listening. At a price of around $23,000, I don't think it's priced too extravagantly either.
At the end of the day nothing could quite compare with the sound of a real instrument. Nothing.