Thursday, 18 May 2017

Munich High End Show 2017 Part 1

Please note that there is limited time for listening at this show, so these are first impressions only.  For systems I enjoyed I went back for repeat visits where possible to get a wider appreciation of their capabilities.  I also revisited some of the systems I least liked for the same reason.  All content is IMHO, YMMV etc. etc.


CLICK ON THE PICTURES TO SEE LARGER VERSIONS
Its only as you get closer that you realise the scale of this event

Much like the gear inside, the outside's none too subtle

Red carpet - must be the press entrance ;)

Traditional welcome

Press day is the best day to go if you can get a pass - otherwise Friday is the best day. It was very difficult to move around on Saturday and many rooms were too full to get into the first time

It all seemed very smoothly organised - within 10-15 mins of opening, even on ultra busy Saturday, the initial queues were gone. Best to get a ticket in advance and print it yourself. You have to queue for a ticket and then queue again to get it checked and an armband fitted. Best to avoid at least one queue by doing stuff at home first.

ROOM 216

Kudos T-606 and T-707.  Driven by Naim NDS/555 DR, 552/555DR and NAP500. Naim SuperLumina cables. No room treatment.

Kudos are kind of launching 2 speakers at Munich.  Kind of, because the T-707 was "previewed" at Bristol in February and Chester in March in the UK. The T-707 is a smaller take on the T-808 with a single cabinet, a 2-way system with isobaric mid-bass drivers. At 14k Euros it's about 2/3 the price of the T-808.  The second launch was the smaller still T-606 - another 2-way isobaric design which is substantially smaller - being very similar to the Super 20 in size.  This was a "preview" as a higher power handling version of the mid-bass is slated for the production version.  The 606 comes in at around 9k Euros.  The tweeter in the Titan series (which is much more restrained and refined than the one in the Super series) uses the SEAS beryllium frame and motor with the soft dome from the Crescendo.


Kudos T-707 and T-606


Naim SuperLumina cables. Here you can see the option for connecting the speaker for active use with Linn Exakt, Devialet or Naim SNAXO
I had the opportunity to select tracks in this room as it was very quiet first thing on press day.  So I sat for a good 40 minutes playing music through the T-606.  Positioning in the room wasn't ideal because the T-707 stood alongside, but even so, this little floorstander put in an exemplary performance - particularly in such a big room.  It's in the same mould as the 707 - it takes everything in its stride and is musical and fun to listen to, whilst seeming to avoid the tendancy for Kudos speakers to be a little over-bright.  The 707 is more open, a little more controlled/taut and goes a little deeper.  If you can stretch to the budget required for the 606 but can't stretch to 707 or don't have room for it, best not to listen...

Looking forward to hearing these with Linn Exakt - hopefully at home - some time soon, but will have to wait for Kudos to get around to designing the crossovers.

(With thanks to Toby at Kudos for helping with charging up my camera).


I prefer them with the grilles on.

Naim NDS/555 DR, 552/555 DR, NAP500 and Fraim

ROOM E217
NAGRA, Wilson Audio, Kronos and Transparent Cables


This NAGRA and Wilson system was playing a CD when I was in the room, swiftly followed by the Kronos turntable then the NAGRA reel to reel.  Good to see that the music genre changed each time, in addition to the source.  Some jazz, then classical and female vocals.  Super detailed but not in a false or forceful way and avoiding anything too clinic.  Good sense of timing and reasonable integration into the room which had some but not excessive room treatment (visible either side of the Nagra logo).  Large orchestral works had real scale in the room, but, unlike many other larger speakers, individual instruments were not "oversized".

ROOM E220
Canary Audio, Kondo and Living Voice with room treatment

A room that would be popular with Pandas this one.  Whilst quite a few rooms used live bamboo diffusers, Living Voice pushed the boat out here.  It did work quite well actually - at least visually, and probably sonically - in terms of softening the rather functional exhibition rooms. The room had substantial corner room treatment too.  Here we had a Canary Audio CD player, Kondo amplification and the Living Voice Palladians with their matching sub-woofers.  A 7.5k Euro (in Living Voice speak, there should be an "only" in front of that price) integrated CD player feeding 440k Euros of speakers?  Does that work? Apparently, aligning the subs with the side walls is the preferred positioning.

Now, generally speaking, I'm not keen on horn speakers - they often seem coloured to me (some of this is sometimes referred to as honk, as an example), and produce a "forced" kind of sound, but Munich has taught me this doesn't have to be the case - the Living Voice system being a good example. Perhaps the horns I've heard before just weren't expensive enough!


Even though this system is only passive, its 100dB+ sensitivity means that huge sound is possible from a small number of watts (although the subwoofers are driven by their own power amp, it still feeds a passive crossover). What we have here is a system that flows with a feeling of effortlessness. In some ways the bass was a little overpowering in this room - but it wasn't boomy as such, perhaps just needed turning down a little.  This system doesn't slam, nor does it produce much of an image, but it does lots of details, great vocals and there's a sheer presence to the way it fills the room - but there's no shoutiness (and, despite their physical presence that most definitely shouts "look at me") there is no "look at me" feeling about the music. The system gets on with it and gives a warm feeling to the sound - mellifluous might be the word.  There's the sense of a story being told with all the threads being aligned towards a conclusion, if that makes any sense whatsoever.  Jazz, classical, dub worked well - but it would have been nice to hear some rock - I returned twice to this room to check my thoughts and, if they were playing rock or electronic music, I managed to miss it every time.  Worth a listen, but only if you're interested in hifi or have the wherewithal to give them serious consideration, like the recent customer who's ordered 5 pairs...
A similar, but not identical, set of speakers can be heard all day every day at Spiritland near King's Cross in London - so you can listen to them for the price of a coffee, or a beer.


ROOM F221
CH electronics and Vivid Giya G1 Spirit. Room treatment.

Vivid indeed.  This is an outstanding loudspeaker, based on looks alone.  The finish is optional of course, but the distinctive shape is all part of the Giya experience.Room treatment here can be seen just to the left behind the speaker - a set of seemingly randomly spaced vertical poles.


For me, the Vivid Giya range has always left me with a disinterested feeling - listened to a number of times with different systems in different locations, they never really engaged me in the music.  This new iteration, with CH electronics, had me listening to 3 tracks, the longest I've ever spent in their presence, so that, for me, indicates that progress has been made in a direction that appeals to me, or the CH electronics are exceptionally well suited to them, or both.  They've tended to the matter of fact in the past but now there's some of the musical feeling being revealed and its possible to be interested in what they're doing.  If you like the way they look, they might be worth an audition.  I made a note of a track playing in this room - Lyle Lovett's "Flying Shoes"

ROOM F210
WADAX source, VTL amps and Stenheim Reference Ultime Passive with some room treatment

Here are some substantial speakers, available in a number of colour ways.  They're big old boxes but the colour feature panel on the front and the inlays on the sides break up the imposing visuals to make them less intimidating.

I visited the room twice during the show, for 10 minutes each time and both times they were playing undemanding classical music at moderate volumes.  On the second visit I asked for something different to be played and the room host kindly changed the music to a different undemanding classical piece at moderate volumes - imaging was a bit vague.  It all sounded very pleasant, but difficult to draw any real conclusions.




ROOM E105
AVM top range electronics with Gauder Akustik Berlina RC8

Being a PMC user, I was interested to listen to AVM electronics which are now being distributed by PMC in the UK.  This same Gauder speaker was in use elsewhere in the show partnered with different electronics with a quite different result.  I listened to 3 different tracks on this system - whilst they were all very cleanly presented and the speakers were behaving well in the room - almost to the point of sounding rather thin - it was all rather cold and a little flat in dynamic terms.

They played some heavily compressed heavy metal in this room, which is good from a musical variety point of view, but it didn't do the system any favours.

See elsewhere in the report for another system using these speakers which gave a very different result.


4 big monoblock amps from AVM

The AVM electronics are beautifully built using good quality materials and what look like decent components.  Its great to see exhibits like this that allow you to see inside the boxes, so thanks for that AVM.
There was a chance to hear more AVM electronics on the second day which gave a good result.





ROOM E103
Vincent CD player and valve amps and Vienna Acoustics Baby Beethoven Grand



I'm very familiar with these speakers, in a Cyrus system where they add a sense of calmness, finesse and substance to the otherwise sometimes exuberant Cyrus electronics - they balance each other very well.  Here, with the Vincent gear, perhaps there was too much of the same thing across the whole system - very smooth, lacking a little in dynamics but still very sweet with that rather excellent tweeter.


ROOM E102
MBL

I've heard an all MBL system before, using these speakers, and it was OK.  I'm not a fan of the all-round sound effect as I prefer good imaging, but understand the appeal.  Here, they were a disappointment - I visited twice to make sure.  Hard, harsh, no music.  Possibly too loud.  On one visit, I was stood next to a very well known UK Hifi Magazine critic, who simply rolled his eyes, shook his head and turned to leave the room.  Sums it up well on this occasion.


There is more hifi to come, after this scenic interlude

Cambridge Audio played the "British" flag

Bier at the hotel.  Overpriced burgers option not taken

ROOM E215
Trafomatic Luna / Lara / Elysium electronics into Tune Audio speakers.  Skogrand Cables.

Here, I'm back in the land of the horn speakers that don't work for me. Disjointed frequency spectrum, strange lack of coherent timing, boomy. Not for me.  The power amps look fantastic though, and I doubt you'd need a heater in your room.


ROOM E223
CH electronics, Wilson Benesch speakers, WA cables, Art Novation room treatment

Here they played some Dead Can Dance, which was, in that rather miserable way that they can play, rather a nice change from too much simple jazz in other rooms.  I generally like WB speakers, but hadn't heard these floorstanders before.  Visually, I'm not sure - the pair of reverse mounted woofers just below the middle of the baffle are unattractive - fitting the grilles helps, but they're not a visual feast either.  Musically there was plenty of detail and the music flowed well - tunes being easy to follow and interpret.  Surprising lack of bass and distinctly indistinct imaging. I was hoping for a bit more really.  Perhaps the room treatment was a little over done?



I like this colour impregnated carbon

With the grilles: better, but still not beautiful



ROOM E213
Melco, Magnum Dynalab, Harbeth Monitor 40.2 Anniversary


Here the sound was kinda smudged together and lacking in any energy.  Uninteresting.



ROOM E224
Luxman electronics, Xavian Epica speakers, Sonilus acoustic panels.

Nice, simple but well constructed products here - at least in the system.  The room acoustic treatment was extensive, and hardly shy and retiring.  I expect other colours are available.


I've heard better from Luxman.  Here the D-08u CD player, C-900u pre-amp and M-990u amplifier were playing.  It was quiet, restrained, kind of inoffensive.  I'm not familiar with the recording in use, but the piano didn't sound very pianlo-like.


ROOM E211
Auralic electronics into Ryan speakers, Acoustica room treatment panels


Auralic have re-vamped their streaming range and taken it a step up market, at least in pricing. In the G2 series there is a streaming transporter, a streaming DAC, a high precision clock and there will be some amps.  Here, the Aries G2 streaming transport was playing into the streaming DAC and on to a pair of Merak power amps.  The transport and streaming DAC (you don't need the transport to stream to the streaming DAC, so I'm not sure why it was demonstrated this way) are connected by an HDMI cable - using Auralic's own connection protocol.  The high precision clock was not included in this system.


Coupled to the Ryan Tempus III speakers, this system produced a pleasingly clean sound.  It was dynamic and enjoyable, belying the size of the equipment and the simplicity of the system.  There was still a touch of boom in the room, but it was not severe.  This system showed a clean pair of heels to some far more expensive stuff at Munich.




N.A.F.  Really?!?  I don't have any notes on this room, so I don't think I went in.


ROOM E225
EAR Yoshino electronics, Rockport Atria speakers, room treatment

Had a brief listen to this system which produced a delicate, fast but rather lightweight sound.  Imaging rather vague.  Loving the reel to reel though - quite a few of these at this show this year.



ROOM E226
CEC, Amplifon, Absolue Creations, Silberstatic


This system sounded thin, harsh, unpleasant.  Revisted on the second day to the same effect.


ROOM E227
Nagra CD, Aavik electronic, Raidho, room treatment by Ansuz



Lots of mysterious black boxes on the rack here, and lots of isolation devices underneath each component.  I've heard some Raidho floorstanders before (not this model) and the more common standmounts (with their controlled wobbliness) and now these.  There's something about the Raidho sound that doesn't work for me.  Its not a hardness nor a harshness, but it feels like the drivers don't move enough, or are overly controlled which leads to a sense of the music not flowing - stuff just seems a bit too abrupt and flat in dynamic terms.  Also, the bigger boxes don't seem to do any more bass than the smaller ones.  Much the same here today.


ROOM E228
Genelec

A very complex set of components crammed into each of these little metal enclosures - such as dual oval bass drives in additon to the concentric ones whcih are partially visible.  To me, they sounded boxy and rather like that box is made from plastic.  They probably measure well, but that doesn't always seem to mean a great deal.



ROOM E105 (Probably, PMC were in 3 rooms)
Launch of the cor integrated amp


Possibly something aimed at the Playstation generation.  PMC have, for many years, distributed Bryston amplification in the UK (possibly across Europe?) and have recently taken on the distribution of AVM electronics.  So this is a bit of a surprise from the British loudspeaker company - a 5k Euros integrated amplifier.  It features retro slider tone controls and a far more prosaic rear panel.  PMC were emphasising how this is an "entirely analogue" design, as if that was something very special.  Not sure why that is seen as being special, some would say its just old fashioned.  Will be nice to hear one sometime in comparison to similar solutions (with and without DACs) from the competition.




ROOM E119
Mark Levinson electronics and JBL 4367 speakers

Apolgies for the poor picture.
This system blurred everything together into an amorphous mass, it was shouty, you could hear the tweeter as a separate driver from the woofer, the bass was woolly and ploddy and vocals had a "false" or "processed" feel to it.  No sign of nuances or subtlety.




ROOM F116
Aurender Streamer, Spectra CD player, EMM Labs DA2 DAC, Spectra pre+power amps, Triton Hydra and Magico S3 Mark 2 which features "wonder material" Graphene coating on the mid and bass drivers.


At last, my first chance to hear a set of the much lauded Magicos.  Its been a long time coming and here it's the brand new S3 Mark 2.  The Magico's look great - substantial presence in the room, but not imposing - they're also beautifully built.  I visited this room 3 times to make sure of my thoughts.  This system has very very impressive clarity - particularly in the mid and top end, with bass being a little boomy in this setting.  Imaging is good and instruments are sensibly size even with large orchestral material which fills the room well.  So I was impressed, right?  Well no.  This performance is technically very accomplished but something is missing in this combination - the music and emotion.  There's just no feeling coming out of this system.  Expectation was high, but the dreaded expection bias didn't pan out this time.

Annoyingly, the host here didn't allow tracks to finish - they were faded out part way through - I suppose this is understandable to give more musical flavours in a short period of time, but it feels like something is being hidden. Another room in which I made a note of one of the tracks played - "Walking on the Moon" by Yuri Honing.

ROOM F115
EMM Labs CD & DAC, PASS amplification, Martin Logan ESL13A


I tend to like certain aspects of ML speakers - they feel very natural sounding, open, spacious, good on delicate details and such.  They usually integrate the panel with the woofer very well.  Unusually the integration between the drive units weren't so good here, and the naturalness I expected wasn't there either - this presentation was kind of "technical" in flavour.  The Donald Fagen track that was played didn't flow - it sounded, without being harsh or hard, like something was being overdriven in the system - "forced" for want of a better term.  They did play Donald Fagen and Alan Parsons, which was nice for a change, so good to get a variety of music.


ROOM F114
Moon, Wilson, Hydra Denali

I looked forward to hearing this combination - both manufacturers here have a great reputation but I've never heard them together before.  To that aim, I visited this room 3 times - on every occasion they were playing twinky-twonky light weight girl and piano type jazz.  So all I can say is that female vocals are nicely executed, but that's as much as I can say.




When that iPhone gets charged up, its gonna be the best sounding iPhone ever!

ROOM F113
Unknown Turntable, Linn Ekos arm, Soulution electronics, Audiodata speakers



This system was generally OK to listen to with little to note other than a hint of nasalness to vocals.  However, when the music got loud and complex, it kind of fell apart somewhat.

An unusual home for an Ekos SE

ROOM F106
KEF Muon, Arcam FMJ electronics



I've seen the Muons before, at Indulgence in London, but they weren't plugged in, so finding them up and running here was good news.  Apparently these are the Mark 2 versions with a new concentric treble / mid driver.  Here they are fed by an Apple MAC and Arcam FMJ electonics - lots of very substantial if prosaic looking boxes. Despite a good deal of room treatment there was a bit of boom in the room, imaging was poor, sound was cluttered and disappointingly ordinary.  I was hoping for so much more.


In the Main Halls, each row of booths took on the name of a famous artist.

ROOM E206
Jo Sound Bamboo single driver speakers, Electron Research electronics, PC source

Yet another underwhelming single driver speaker.  They don't seem to work for me - thin sound, not much detail, not very musical.  I think it was a step up from the transistor radio I had as a kid.



ROOM E208
Alluxity digital player, Vitus Audio electronics. Goebel Epoque Fine speakers



Something distinctively different here - a medium height floorstander that looks like it has a large iPad style screen at the top of a column of woofers.  The screen element is actually what Goebel refer to as a bending wave driver, claimed to give a very accurate soundstage and speed of response.




I found this system to be great at producing very fine details and great to listen to when the music was dynamically undemanding.  Surprisingly, given the claims, the imaging was vague and not very stable.  Bass was very fast and tight but not very deep and the whole thing hardened up in louder passages.



ROOM F223
Albedo

I don't have any notes on this room.  Apologies.


ROOM 231b
Thomas Mayer valve amps, Total DAC x2, Azzolina Audio

Azzolina Audio "for those who can hear the difference".  Well, I can hear the difference and it didn't appeal.  I've noted elsewhere in these notes that I don't normally get on with horn speakers and these were the perfect example of that. I found this system hard, shouty, disjointed and lacking in any depth.  Not for me.


ROOM F227
Clearaudio Statement TT with parallel tracking arm,
dCS digital front end from MAC
Kharma amps and speakers
Mossy room treatment


"Live" room treatment panels with real moss


I rather enjoyed the system in this room, which was playing from the Clearaudio TT when I visited the room. Piano was stunningly good - very realistic in tone, weight and dynamics, if a little large in the image. Double bass produced a little boom in the room, but it was pretty clear that it was a room interaction issue.  There was a good feeling of consistent timing and tunefulness. Cymbals were very believable and details but not over bright.  Surprising amount of cone excursion generated by the turntable though.




In a room with a banner that said something like "creating Dutch masterpieces"

ROOM F226
Alluxity digital, Vitus Audio including a Class A amp, Diablo Signature XE speakers, Tri-Planar ToneArm


I knew I'd find some somewhere


With the digital source there was a nice fluidity and continuity to the sound, if a touch boomy. Piano and cymbals were very clear.  There wasn't much of a central image but the overall sound and musicality was very engaging.  With the turntable the sound was bright and splashy and didn't go very low with The Expert by Yello.


ROOM F227
Atoll electronics into ATHOHM GT3-HD speakers and Subs


A room going for "impressive".  At the lower end of the price scale for Munich (in other words, expensive, rather than hyper-expensive), this room was set up for kick-ass dynamics at high volume.  And, to be fair, the system did the massively powerful drum-kit demo track very well indeed.  Impressive is the word from this mid-sized floorstander and 6x active subs.  I wish it had been possible to have a chat about the sub set up as it looks interesting - not sure if they were cancelling each other out or if the arrangement is to build some kind of band-pass arrangement between the boxes or just the way they fitted into the room available.  "The Wall" at concert volume levels was dynamic and exciting to listen to.  I'm not sure what relevance this has at home, how long it would be possible to listen at this kind of volume without being worn down and it gave no clue as to the subtlety or finesse of the system with vocals, for example.  So great fun, but demonstrated for demo purposes I feel, and the side was a little let down when one of the floorstander bass drivers momentarily bottomed out as the demo just pushed too hard for a few moments.


ROOM F206
Accustic Arts electronics with Totem speakers



Two systems in this room - the larger one using the floorstanders below (Element Metal) was boomy, confused, bass lines blurring together, the tweeter being distinct from the other drive units.  However, don't go away...



On the other hand, the smaller, less complex system with the tiny new floorstanders, which look like a partner product to the Sky standmounts, were something else completely.  These are stunning performers - superbly tuneful, fun to listen to, full of life, with a remarkable turn of finesse, wide soundstage and deep notes seemingly as odds with their cabinet size.  Great stuff!


ROOM F209
dCS, d'Agostino, Wilson and some cable proper-uppers



I've heard dCS, d'Agostino and Wilson previously at the UK National Audio Show and gave it a "best of show" tag on that occasion, so I was looking forward to this one.  At NAS, there was a very full stack of dCS components where here, as can be seen below, the system was much simpler.  London Grammar was nicely resolved and clear but somehow missing that haunting side to the vocals / atmosphere.

dCS were launching their first all-in-one source/pre-amp product which wasn't playing when I was in the room.  Its available in gloss black, gloss white or the more normal silver.  They were also showing a gold plated version.  Somehow, these glossy boxes lack the sophistication and quality engineering look of the more normal satin silver.



ROOM F210
Lindemann Musicbook (and some active speakers I didn't make a note of!)


A very unassuming system this one. A simple streamer and pre-amp in one very compact (but very well constructed) little box.  Feeding some prototype speakers which weren't Lindemann's own but which were using Lindemann amplification modules.  This system was so goo - great performance - tunes, imaging, vocals, clarity etc. were all there and it was very engaging.  The only negative was the occasional bit of upper bass bloom, but it was minor compared to what else was going on here.  Good stuff.

The rather lovely yet oh so simple Bauer turntable which, unfortunately, I didn't get to hear on this occasion

Active speaker prototypes using Lindemann amps
ROOM Studio E/F
Focal and Naim


Looks like Utopia claims another victim!
The Naim / Focal room contained a large selection of stuff on static display or hooked up to headphones.  On this visit I just looked around as the 2 partitioned off dem areas were silent - but they were playing on my second visit which you can find in Part 2 of this report.  Here there were many Uniti products playing through headphones, a static display Naim Statement amplifier set, some Mu-sos and the Focal headphones.  Had a listen to the top end Focal headphones and they were nice enough but still had a touch of "processed" sound at the top end.  OK, but the price is quite significant.  Focal were launching their new Utopia III Evo models which look familiar enough.  The 3 pictures here showing some of the finishes with the British Racing Green looking particularly good. Listening impressions in Part 2.


ROOM E221
MSB electronics with Ryan speakers

Sorry, no notes on this room.





PART 2 OF THE REPORT HERE


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