Munich High End 19 – The Good Stuff

The festival of audiophile excess that is the Munich High End show is a blast. There are so many products of all shapes and sizes that you quickly get snow blind and only see the most extreme examples. It is not a place to try and assess a manufacturer’s ability to build an entertaining audio system unless your own listening space is made of glass and full of people, of course if you have a lot of parties then maybe it is. A few of the more practised exhibitors create a calm environment in which to demonstrate their wares and then have the unenviable challenge of finding music to play that sounds good but isn’t well worn hi-fi staple (a hurdle that few manage to cross). But there is a lot of bling to enjoy and some good sounds can be heard if you are lucky.

Naim unveiled Muso 2, a 95% new revision of the larger of the two wireless systems, according to designer Simon Matthews it represents a new standard for what a wireless speaker can do”.The basic size and shape remain the same albeit the box is a bit deeper, but everything including the gun metal finish and halo effect ring controller has been redone. Muso 2 is based on the Uniti streaming engine complete with multiroom, Airplay 2 and Chromecast features, it has HDMI input and can now be voice controlled with third party devices. A lot of work has gone into improving sound quality, the processor is 13x more powerful, it can cope with bit rates up to 32/384 natively and the volume control is software driven so that it optimises the balance to suit the playback level. Which means that it adjusts tonal balance so that the six power amps don’t run out of steam when the volume is pushed hard. Focal has had input into the speakers which are heavily revised but remain actively driven and both power supplies and amplifiers have been upgraded.

 ATC demonstrated the mighty SCM100SE speakers that I reviewed recently, they sounded better at home but did a decent job on the end of an SCA2 preamplifier connected to a CDA2 CD player and DAC which was being fed music files by a Roon Nucleus+. 

I didn’t see anyone from Chord Co at the show but they had a nice display of cables with their distributor and the new Signature XL speaker cable with XLPE (cross linked polyethylene) dielectric was being used in the Melco room. Melco had two things to show, one being black finishes for all their servers the other quite a radical change to the software that provides SongKong metadata correction to your music library that’s particularly useful for classical titles, and the other being the inclusion of Minim Server for a better browsing experience. Both features are due in a firmware update planned for August.

 It was nice to see a dps 3 Plattenspieler (turntable) on display at the show, maker Willi Bauer was probably there as well and could have told me about any modifications had he been near it. From what I can tell from the sign it has a unipivot arm, three phase motor and synchronous motor, but that’s as far as my pigeon German gets me.

One of the most radical and desirable products at the show was this extraordinary diffusion panel from Acoustic Manufacture of Poland. It’s huge at 1.8m (six foot) square and up to 27cm thick and made from laser cut from MDF to create an effect that looks like extreme pixilation in a photo but which constantly varies in depth across its surface (look through the window on the right to get an idea).

I bumped into Roy and Simon from Rega but their distributor didn’t have anything new to show, he did have an Image Hi-Fi Award for the Planar 8 and deservedly so, that is the giant slayer to rule them all. Just don’t mention this to high end turntable mongers.

Vertere on the other hand have finished the DG-1 which is the nearest thing that Touraj will be making to an entry level turntable. It’s very nice in shiny black and clear acrylic with colour coded lighting to indicate speed, it comes with a very unusual tonearm that uses nylon threads where others have bearings. This provides a very low friction bearing with no stiction, there is no initial resistance to movement as there is with most bearings, and given that a cartridge is constantly changing direction that has to be a good thing. The arm is one piece from headshell to  counterweight and made of an aluminium and polymer sandwich. The platter is machined aluminium with a bonded mat and multi material damping on the underside. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into what Touraj is calling a ‘plug and play’ turntable that’s available with or without cartridge and should be on sale in June. He played a few tracks through Kudos Titan 505 speakers and I have to say it was one of the most musical sounds heard at the show.

Focal is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a slew of special products, these include the Symphonie 40th collector’s case (above) which contains a pair of Utopia open back headphones with an Arche DAC/amplifier and a pair of Stellia closed back models for life on the move complete with Questyle QPM portable player. They have created two speakers to mark the anniversary, the Spectral 40th is a 3-way floorstander with beryllium tweeter and ‘neo retro style’ while Scala 40th is a very limited (four pairs!) edition Scala Utopia Evo in a special black silver finish.

Focal have also given into demand for wood finishes on their top models by launching light and dark oak finishes for Sopra models and natural and dark walnut for the Utopia range, an example of the latter on a Grande Utopia dominated the display area with a ‘sold’ sign.

Neat had a static display in one of the big ground floor halls but neither Bob nor Doug were to be seen until later that day in a taxi into town, presumably they hadn’t been in a bierkeller all day!

Patrick from Sugden didn’t have any new product at Munich so he had made up a sample case with four different anodised fascias that was attracting attention. I preferred the illustrated frames, tea cups and Yorkshire terrier adorning the stand that could perhaps have been influenced by Tim’s work on the Tom Tom site.

One of the most attractive speakers seen at High End was Harbeth’s C7ES-3 Anniversary model in Japanese Tamo ash, this was on a stand shared by Eva-Maria who makes the TonTräger solid wood stands specifically for Harbeth speakers.

Should you win the lottery and have a big hole in your listening room you could fill it with the Tech Das Air Force Zero turntable. This top model in the Japanese brand’s range has a three phase signal generator, torque switching and air bearings in the motor and platter. The latter is made up of five pieces and weighs 100kg alone, add this to the 722mm maximum width of the beast and you have a black hole of a record player. But at $450,000 you’d want something substantial.

The Focal room at Munich Hi-fi show

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