Companies featured in gallery below: Vivid Audio, Ayre Acoustics, Aurender, Ambitious Audio Design, Gruensch, Norma Audio Electronics, QAT Audio Technology, Dynaudio, Audia Flight, Anthem, Cyrus Audio, Auralic, Lehmann Audio, Audio-Technica
Companies featured in gallery below: T+A, Burmester, Amphion, B.M.C., Hegel Music Systems, Octave Audio, Sonus Faber, Cabasse, Magico, Soulution, Rosso Fiorentino, Lansche Audio, Gryphon Audio Designs, Jeff Rowland Design Group
There's no question that Munich's High End is the biggest and baddest audio show around. The problem is that the majority of the gear on display is expensive. And I mean expensive by audiophile standards. Don't get me wrong. I'm fortunate enough to see massive loudspeakers crafted from exotic materials rattling the jowls of show attendees, and amplifiers that could probably power a city block. I'm guessing these companies will never sell more than a couple dozen of these products. That's fine. But what excites me is an affordable piece of hardware that any audiophile can look at and say, "That . . . that's cool as hell." Well, all of us did a double-take when we heard about the following . . .
Affordability for the truly average audiophile isn't exactly an abundant resource at the High End show. Yes, there is the occasional amplifier or DAC with a retail price under €3000, and a raft of manufacturers from the Far East with loudspeakers for around the same price. On the latter front, we simply don't know enough about these manufacturers, as they often come and go with a blink-and-you'll-miss-them alacrity. So it is that "average" here becomes €30,000 for a pair of full-range loudspeakers, and anything less than that is a welcome surprise. Well, Paradigm of Canada and Piega of Switzerland are bucking that trend with loudspeakers that are both designed and built in their respective countries of origin.
Headphones are hot, and by all accounts, growing hotter by the year. Thanks, Beats by Dre! Expensive headphone amps always used to be the province of crusty, awkward old men -- no longer.
I adore the idea of a one-box audio solution, irrespective of the arguable sonic compromises that tend to go along with it. I've already written about several integrateds that a run-of-the-mill audiophile such as myself would be able to own, but Gryphon Audio Designs and the Jeff Rowland Design Group have brought to Munich some military-grade audio jewelry that deserves a shout-out.
Digital-to-analog conversion has come a heck of a long way in a couple of years, and while today's offerings, from affordable on up to the cutting edge, are very, very good, the performance envelope continues to be pushed. MSB Technology and dCS are two of the oldest and most respected names in the digital business, and both brought some rather interesting new products to Munich this year.
We always expect to encounter statement-level products here in Munich, especially loudspeakers. What's interesting is to see the cost of one company's efforts versus another's; some of the behemoths that we see can run well, well past the six-figure mark. The three speakers below greatly impressed for less than that figure despite wildly different approaches to their respective architectures, materials, and underlying philosophies.
I commented to Jeff Fritz while covering the show today that many European hi-fi companies just get it. They understand that every product must have a certain style or class to be taken seriously, and that performance alone won't get you very far. Every detail matters for something that owners will have to potentially look at for years and integrate into a living or work space. As important to a product's look -- especially a loudspeaker's -- are its tactile qualities.
Munich's High End show is the sandbox in the playground of some extraordinarily expensive audio gear, with €50,000+ electronics pretty common fare. Correlating price with performance is a dangerous game. It's therefore refreshing to see reasonably priced integrated solutions from companies with sterling reputations.
France's Devialet has been on quite the tear recently. From the expansion of its Expert amplifier range to the introduction of technologies such as SAM (Speaker Active Matching), and, most recently, the appearance of their exciting Phantom all-in-one loudspeaker, the rapidity of its innovation is matched seemingly only by its ambition to one day have its products be ubiquitous. At this year's High End show, the firm introduced version 8.0 of its firmware and demonstrated its impressive Phantom models. I was fortunate enough to have an hour to chat with co-founder Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel about anything I wanted, and the wide-ranging conversation was illuminating to say the least.
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