(Note: Part one of my Munich show coverage is all in words. Part two will be photos and videos.)
The 2016 Munich High End show, or as I call it, the Super Bowl of HiFi, is in the books. It was the best audio show I've ever attended, by a long shot. The venue was fabulous, the number of exhibitors was enormous, the sound quality in a number of rooms was great, and the vibe at the show was delightful. I ran into people from all over the world and was so pleased by everyone's upbeat and enthusiastic demeanor. I even shared an Uber ride with a couple of vinyl / CD spinning folks with whom I pleasantly debated the pros and cons of physical formats versus computer based listening. Speaking of Uber, I had two other great experiences with the service in Munich. I was picked up at the airport by an Uber driver named Dmitri. In a scene that Hollywood couldn't have scripted better, he turned on the radio and I heard the DJ speaking in German. The only thing I understood was the name David Hasselhoff. Once the music started Demitri cranked the volume and we were off, my trip had started with a bang. On the way back to the airport after several days in Munich, I was picked up by an Uber driver named Serhat in his impeccably clean Mercedes. Once we hit the road, he said that the speed limit signs with a circle and slash through them indicated that there was no speed limit. He then hit the gas, driving me to Terminal 1B at 200 km/h. What a great city. What a great show. What a great time.
Certainly some of the biggest news at the show came from MQA and its content and hardware partners. The announcement that Warner Music Group and MQA entered into a long term licensing deal was very welcomed. Warner includes labels such as Asylum, Atlantic, Big Beat, Canvasback, East West, Elektra, Erato, FFRR, Fueled by Ramen, Nonesuch, Parlophone, Reprise, Rhino, Roadrunner, Sire, Warner Bros., Warner Classics, and Warner Music Nashville, as well as Warner/Chappell Music. On the hardware side, Bluesound announced that June 1, 2016 it's devices will receive updates enabling MQA decoding/playback.
Possibly the best sound I heard all show was the MQA / Brinkmann / Vandersteen / AudioQuest demonstration. Brinkmann introduced its new Nyquist DAC, the company's first DAC since it produced one in 1986. The Nyqvist has been designed over the last three years. In that time digital audio has changed quite a bit. Thus, being a company known for longevity, Brinkmann made the DAC module field replaceable by removing two small screws. When new interfaces and formats are made available, that require new hardware, it should be fairly easy to swap out only the digital module and keep the rest (most expensive part) of the DAC. One interesting note Brinkmann learned over the course of designing the Nyquist was that the power supply to the USB receiver chip in the DAC is one of the most critical components to the final sound quality. The Nyquist will support PCM up through 32/384 and DSD64/128 via DoP. Higher rates are possible but still in testing at Brinkmann. The Ethernet interface will enable the Nyquist to be a RoonReady endpoint. Brinkmann is considering other endpoint options and may even make them available in different modules customers can select. if you look closely at the photos you can see the vacuum tube holes on the side of the chassis. The company selected tubes because of the instantaneous response to voltage changes.
Listening to Eric Clapton & B.B. King sing Three O'Clock Blues was one of my sonic highlights of the show. The vocals and guitars sounded so natural and focussed, this system put other rooms to shame. I thought I heard good sound in some other rooms, but after hearing this I had to hit the virtual reset button to reset the audio bar.
The Brinkmann Nyquist should be available in the fourth quarter of 2016 for 12000€.
I attended the Auralic press conference and learned many things about what the company is doing and where it is headed. Auralic has a completely new player built inside its ecosystem. The previous player was a heavily modified version of MPD, but the new redesigned player is capable of multi-room DSD256 without synchronization issues and many forthcoming DSP features. One of the new changes coming to Auralic's ecosystem is the Auralic account. users setting up new devices will create an Auralic account to register their devices and make end user support simpler for both the customer and Auralic. At first blush this may seem like the company is just trying to grab information about its customers. Sure this will be a benefit to the company, but it's not the main thrust behind this initiative. The Auralic account will be able to save playlists, settings, etc... in the cloud, enabling the user to replace an iOS device and simply sign in to restore all kinds of information. One of the coolest features of the new Auralic account is its integration with Tidal. Purchasers of the Aries products receive a certain amount of free Tidal "time" with the hardware purchase. When creating a Auralic account, the Auralic software (Lightning DS) can simply pass your username and password directly to Tidal to create a Tidal account as part of the Auralic setup process. i saw this in the live demo and it worked brilliantly. It's seemingly small things like this that will help move HiFi into the mainstream because Sonos customers are used to these types of features.
Altair is an Aries and Vega packed together, but with a few sonic compromises to keep the cost down. For example the femto clock is in the Altair, but it's not the same level as the Vega DAC. One other difference is there's no Class A output stage in the Altair. The Altair internal storage can fit a full size 2.5 inch hard drive (up to 12.5mm) where as the Aries Mini can only fit 9.5mm drives.
Altair integrated amplifier is coming this summer / fall. Roughly 150 watts per channel, and will have analog inputs as well as digital. The analog input does convert the signal into digital however. The box will be a little larger than the Altair.
This year a new Aries, higher end more expensive version, will be available. Electronic isolation and signal reclocking, and a metal chassis will be included.
I finally had a chance to go through the full 3D audio demonstration with Princeton physics professor, and founder of the 3D Audio and Applied Acoustics (3D3A) Laboratory, Edgar Choueiri. I previously sat through this demo at CES, but wasn't able to have my auricle / pinna measured at that time. In Munich I had the full experience, inclusive of the pinna measurement. I'll include the entire video in another post, as soon as I can edit all the footage form the show, where Edgar Choueiri explains everything that his DSP is doing to cancel crosstalk etc... The sound I heard was unlike anything else at the show. It's incredibly immersive, just as 3D video is immersive. The cool thing about this is that the recordings played through the Bacch DSP component do't have to be binaural or audiophile recordings. I heard Led Zeppelin and it sounded awesome in 3D. I'd love to have the Bacch processor in my system, but its current cost is $54,000. I highly recommend anyone going to a future, show where Edgar will be demonstrating this system, check it out.
Some further thoughts: I believe the largest gains to improving sound quality in this hobby will come from projects like this and others using Digital Signal Processing. Pairing 3D audio with an Oculus Rift will enable the most amazing in house experiences of live concerts like we've never seen nor heard. More "traditional" room correction DSP was also on display in Munich and I was very impressed by the demonstrations I heard (Illusonic being one demo). I think audiophiles, myself included, need to get over our disdain for new things and try this stuff out sooner rather than later. The possibilities are endless, but we'll never know if any of this improves our listening experiences unless we give it a try.
Check out Radio Paradise. I heard about this from the Bluesound guys and it seems pretty cool.
The new Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty looks to be a very solid digital hub. It will be a RoonRead endpoint and retail for about $8950. Digital volume control will save several thousand dollars on the retail price yet provide great sound quality. Remember, it all comes down to implementation. The QX-5 has the ability to support a WiFi dongle is the customer really wants it, but Ayre has always shied away from WiFi, especially built-in WiFi.
I had a good conversation with the people from Mutec. The company is just getting its feet wet with consumer audio and I can see many good things to come in the future from these guys. At the show I saw a preproduction version of the new Mutec Ref10 10 MHz external clock. This is very different from most 10MHz clocks in that is uses a high end oscillator and contains no rubidium or cesium.
Simaudio finally released its Android app for MiND products.
Roon was everywhere. Expect more RoonReady endpoints than you can even imagine.
I picked up an AudioQuest DragonFly Red and DragonFly Black v1.5 from AQ's Steve Silberman. Can't wait to give these a spin.
I talked to the people at Aurender for a while. The A10 is coming along nicely. Look for the company to produce more all-in-one units with music storage and analog output.
I sat through a lengthy demonstration of the Sound Galleries Music Server at BMW World Friday evening. The server was resampling all audio to DSD512 for output to a T+A DAC8 DSD. I was very impressed by what I heard from this system. So much so, that I must have spent an hour talking about it with CA reader joelha when I ran into him in the lobby of the hotel at which we were both staying. I kept thinking to myself, how can we get something from nothing (Redbook CD at 44.1 -> Octuple-rate DSD at 22.5792 MHz). Fortunately I spent some time with another well respected engineer in the industry on Saturday and asked him about the whole concept and what I heard the previous night. He said it's a very valid concept, but should be looked at a bit differently than simply resampling to DSD. The DSD really isn't what makes the difference. He said it's more filtering outside the DAC and the fact that one can bypass much of the chip in the DAC that makes the difference. I'm sure I butchered his explanation, but I did my best. It's one of those things that I understand better than I can explain :~)
I plan to get the T+A DAC 8 DSD in for review and to spend time with it resampling audio to DSD512. I want to really spend time testing what many members of the CA Community have been saying for years, that resampling to DSD 128/256/512 can be a huge sonic benefit. I can't wait to dig in, much more than my previous cursory listening sessions at home.
Last but not least, at the airport in Munich (before heading home) I realized I packed my JH Audio earphones in my checked luggage. For an audiophile this was a nightmare come true. I went to the little trinket store near my gate and found a few different options. There was no way I could get myself to purchase the $10 earphones even though I wanted to because I was only going to use them on the way home! I ended up purchasing a pair of Beyerdynamic earphones for $112. I threw away the box at the airport so I have no idea what model I purchased. It was the best I could find. What an audiophile / first-world dilemma. On the flight home I successfully streamed the new Radiohead album via Tidal (at 38,000 feet), while at the same time off-lining the album. In-flight Internet access is usually very poor, but I was very impressed this time.
If any CA readers are thinking about going to an audio show, they must consider the Munich High End show. It's better than all US shows by a mile. Plus, Munich is a great city with great people. I hope to see more members of the CA Community there next year May 18-21, 2017!
A couple show notes:
Exhibition Space - 28,610 square meters
Exhibitors - 518
Exhibitor Badges - 2,945
Accredited Journalists - 516
Trade Visitors - 7,053
Visitors - 12,436
To give you a sense of how large this show is, here is a basic map of the venue. The areas in red are full of HiFi!
From the show's official final report (this dispels a huge rumor and is great news):
"Confusion was caused by a rumor that has been spread again and again since 2015, claiming that the HIGH END will be changing venue, or that the MOC building is, apparently, to be torn down. During the press conference on the Thursday, managing director Mr Branko Glisovic issued another, official and unequivocal declaration stating that not only will the MOC building will be left untouched, but that the HIGH END trade fair has also secured its place in the MOC for years to come and any rumors to this effect are clearly fabricated. They have obviously been fueled by the purchase of a property in the immediate vicinity by a well-known Bayerische Motoren Werk company."