Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

May 18-21, 2017

All prices in euros (€) or US dollars ($) unless indicated otherwise

Hi-Fi Down Under -- Introducing "SoundStage! Australia"

When we come to cover High End, we mostly focus on product debuts, as we do at every show. Never have we had something to debut ourselves. Until now.

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High End 2017: Desktop and Compact Systems, Part 2

Here’s my second round of cool desktop and compact systems from the 2017 version of Munich’s High End. Note that the Constellation Audio Leo, a high-end all-in-one product, isn’t included here because we’ve already written about it elsewhere. Prices in euros or USD as specified.

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High End 2017: Racks and Stands

Every time I told someone that I was covering racks and stands at Munich’s High End, they laughed. Why doesn’t this category get more respect? After all, every one of us audio enthusiasts uses these things, and they can improve the performance of a system as much as they improve the look. I picked out a few of the coolest racks and stands from High End 2017 to share with you here, with prices in euros or USD as specified.

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High End 2017: Headphones, Part 2

Here’s the second part of my coverage of over-ear and on-ear headphones from Munich’s High End show -- starting off with what were in many ways the most impressive headphones of the show for me. Prices in euros or USD as indicated.

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High End 2017: Portable Audio

Many headphone enthusiasts prefer to run their cans off an optimized portable rig rather than a big stay-at-home amp. These days, they have all sorts of options, including products that can compete with the best of the large home components. In fact, some of these products are good enough that audiophiles use them in their home systems, too.

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Elac's Aggressive Expansion

Let’s talk Elac. Since famed loudspeaker designer Andrew Jones -- previously of KEF, TAD, and Pioneer -- joined the German firm a few years ago, the company’s been on a tear. Speaker line after speaker line have emerged from its labs, from the super-affordable Debut line to the upscale Uni-Fi and now the innovative Adante line. Not only that, Elac has begun dabbling in active loudspeakers, and it now offers a range of electronic components. The company also recently acquired United States-based Audio Alchemy, and has begun folding that company’s pint-sized electronics into its own catalog of SKUs. In an industry so often defined by its complacency and adherence to rigid paradigms, Elac seems to be looking and moving forward with serious alacrity.

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Affordable Access: DAC-Integrated Amplifiers from Hegel, Music Hall, and YBA

Nothing gets me amped up more than a budget-oriented integrated amplifier with a built-in DAC -- I’m a simple guy. I spent the bulk of my morning on the third day of the High End show on the prowl for just that, and came up with a few cool new products that most anyone could afford.

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High End 2017: BACCH Is Back (and Even Better!)

In last year’s High End report, I raved about Princeton University professor Edgar Choueiri’s great demo of his BACCH-SP system, which uses in-ear microphones to measure the way your ears perceive the sound from your system, then uses digital signal processing to cancel crosstalk between the left and right speakers and produce an incredibly realistic stereo soundstage. Great as the demo was, though, the $54,000 processor seemed more like an awesome science project than a real product.

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High End 2017: Desktop and Compact Systems, Part 1

Sure, Munich’s High End is mostly about component audio, but many of the companies now offering component audio gear see how much more popular today’s simpler, compact all-in-one systems are, and many are moving to get in on the act. Here’s my first of two reports on desktop and compact music systems from the 2017 High End show. Prices in euros or USD as indicated.

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The British Are Coming! Affordable Loudspeakers from KEF and Monitor Audio

It really is a terrific time to be an audiophile on a budget. Terms like low-fi and mid-fi are, to my mind, pretty condescending to an integrated amplifier or floorstanding loudspeaker that happens to cost less than $2000 -- and possibly far less! -- but may punch far beyond its weight class. Thanks to the rapid advances in Chinese production and quality control, once-boring vinyl-clad, folded-box loudspeakers have flourished into surprisingly handsome and grown-up furniture. I am continually surprised when, every few years, the heavy hitters of audio update a range of speakers and, for a modest increase in price, offer a disproportionately large jump in material and build quality, to say nothing of aesthetics. Such is the case this year with KEF having updated its Q series, and Monitor Audio its Silver series of loudspeakers, with both storied English brands having airdropped their wares a thousand kilometers due east of Normandy.

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High End 2017: Headphone Amps

Much of the action in headphone amps has shifted over to portable music players and amplifiers, but there are still plenty of people who want to plug their headphones into a high-quality amp, sit at home in a nice, quiet environment, and listen to their music in peace. The High End show has plenty of new headphone amps on display. Here are my favorites I’ve seen so far, with prices in euros or USD as indicated.

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Pushing the Envelope: Loudspeakers from EgglestonWorks, Estelon, and Wilson Benesch

Every High End show seems to bring with it a raft of monstrous new loudspeakers from boutique brands with retail prices comfortably in six-figure territory. Most are tall, heavy, and a bit gaudy to behold, and they nearly always sport off-the-shelf drivers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. As one unnamed manufacturer mentioned to me today, “You could sell anything to somebody at this show.” I don’t doubt it. But I’d much, much prefer to dedicate my time to loudspeakers that aren’t just drivers in a big ol’ box. For less than €50,000/pair you could own any of the loudspeakers below and be secure in the knowledge that you couldn’t do much better -- if at all.

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High End 2017: Earphones

In Europe, where transportation by train, bus, or plain old feet is more common than in North America, it’s hard to get through the day without a good set of earphones. So I wasn’t surprised to see several new models on display when I began walking the halls of Munich’s High End 2017. As with the headphones, High End showcases a wide range of product, from fairly mass-market stuff to the finest products currently made.

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Scan-Speak's Ellipticor: These Are the Drivers for Many of Next Year’s Speakers

Scan-Speak, based in Denmark, has a prominent nest in the High End, as its Illuminator and Revelator drive-unit families feature prominently in some of the world’s most highly regarded loudspeakers. While many top brands source and design their own cabinets and crossovers, it seems to be more often than not that firms turn to Scan-Speak to meet their driver requirements. It’s significant, then, when the industrious Danes excitedly announced a press event at the Pullman Hotel Munich, not far up the road from the Munich Order Center, where the High End show is hosted, to share the details of their new flagship line of drivers: Ellipticor.

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High End 2017: Headphones, Part 1

When it comes to headphones, Munich’s High End audio show has a few things that are tough to find in North American consumer audio shows. First, it has not only higher-end, enthusiast-type headphones and earphones, but also some more mass-market products. Second, it showcases some products that have either a lower profile in the North American market or that aren’t available at all in North America.

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