Audio: Listen to this article.
High End Munich is officially in the books for 2023. As many manufacturers, distributors, and friends are disassembling and packing up audio gear, I'm back at my hotel processing what I've heard over the last four days. I have a few dozen photos and some rough iPhone recordings of the events, but I have no notes about what I experienced. I like to do things differently. I didn't methodically walk the show floor in a linear fashion and I don't remember many of the specifications and technologies manufacturers talk about. Over four days I looked for opportunities to listen to music, not through the lens of a forensic technician, but as a human being with emotions and vulnerability that can be tapped into by musical masterpieces played on the world's best audio systems.
Selecting my three favorite rooms for this year's High End Munich wrap up was really easy. These three rooms spoke to me in a way that none of the others did, and it wasn't even a close contest. Keep in mind however, that I was in several rooms with fantastic hardware, but I often couldn't get into the music because it was so unfamiliar to me or was like listening to sound effects and test tones. That's not anyone fault, some of us just have different expectations when listening to music. In one case, a manufacturer enabled me to select my own music, but as soon aa play was pushed, the room next door decide that thumping techno beats at 110 dB was what everyone on the entire floor needed to hear. Timing is everything in life.
Best of Show
My award for best of show easily goes to the Ibex Audio room featuring APL HiFi, Kroma Atelier, VAC, Artesania Audio, and Ikigai Audio. This room created had emotional musical impact than any other room I can ever remember at any audio show. The sound wasn't just good for an audio show, it was unequivocally fantastic, no matter the venue. As soon as I hit play on Lady Blackbird's Five Feet Tall, I immediately felt the emotion in her singing and in my chest. It was like this system created an emotional human connection between the music and the listener.
Eric Clapton's Bell Bottom Blues from The Lady in the Balcony album was presented so well on this system that I, and the person sitting next to me, felt like we were sitting in the Cowdry House English estate where the album as recorded. The music was presented as a complete picture into the venue, without a single element standing out from the cohesive whole.
As I played Shostakovich Symphony No. 1 or Mussorgsky A Nigh on the Bare Mountain, the entire symphony orchestra washed over me at times and at other times lone string sections tugged at my heart strings as part of the emotional rollercoaster of the orchestra pieces. It's rare to experience pieces of music like this and to feel the emotional impact of them at an audio show. Usually something gets between the listener and the music. Not in this case, there was no boundary or anything to separate me from the music. I could feel it emotionally as much as I could hear it audibly.
Finishing my listening session in this room, I really went for it. I played a track that can only be played at the very end of a listening session. Similar to how bands never wanted Rage Against The Machine as their opening, it's tough to follow The Raconteurs' title track from the Consoler of the Lonely album. Especially when I have control of the volume.
I cranked it up and let the kick drum hit me in the chest. Jack White's dirty guitar sounded like it was coming straight from his amp, rather than through a high end audio system. It was in my face, just as it should be! My feet were tapping and my head was bobbing during this track, and I could see some others in the room were also getting into it in their own way. This isn't a typical audiophile standard at audio shows, but I think even the traditionalists enjoyed it.
A big tip of the cap to everyone involved in this room. Yes, the manufacturers whose components were used played a large role, but rooms like this don't come together without a team effort by many unnamed folks. Well done.
A Most Honerable Mention
The two other rooms that deserve honorable mention also had great sound in their own ways. On Friday morning I stopped into the Constellation room for a fresh listen. I was underwhelmed by the system when I visited on Thursday, but Id heard some minor adjustments were made and the speakers now had more than 10 hours on them. This was a system so similar to my own, that I felt right at home. Constellation, dCS, Transparent, and Wilson Audio were all in this room and are all in my room. The acoustic environment was much more difficult at the show than in my tightly controlled listening space, but I still loved the sound. My familiarity with every part of this system from source to speakers certainly helped, as did Constellation's willingness to play a couple requests. After a couple Lady Blackbird tracks from her Black Acid Soul album, I was right at home. I could hear through any slight room issues or outside crowd noise, and connect right with the performance. The only minor "distraction" was Constellation's new Statement amplifier on static display behind the listening position. I wanted to look more at that amp and I wanted to put it into the system! I eagerly await the first public demonstration of the Statement.
I've never, or at least that I can remember, given an honorable mention to a cable company. It doesn't make any sense why I wouldn't give this credit where credit is due, or why I even remember such a thing, but to my knowledge, I've never done it. This year is different. AudioQuest totally nailed it at High End Munich 2023. AQ cabling and power delivery combined with the debut of the Rockport Orion speakers was a magical combination. I must also mention a splendid system setup and light but properly done room acoustics package were absolutely key.
I listened in this room for a couple tracks, then asked the gentleman if I could request a song. He politely demurred by asking what type of music I'd like to hear. When I asked for Lady Blackbird, his eyes lit up, he gave me a fist bump, and started in with a great story about recently seeing her in concert. I knew he and I were about to at least enjoy some music together, and possibly be wowed by the sound quality.
Right from the open notes of the Blackbird's track Fix It, I was sucked into the music. I don't now if the room emptied behind my front row position, or if people also enjoyed it as much as me, because I was all-in. This is what I came to the show to experience. Sound as pure as the driven snow, with spatial cues and texture, combined with an emotional performance and spectacular soundstage, captivated me. The sound of this system was amazingly pure, with a three dimensional floating soundstage. If the show would've ended on Friday, I believe this room would've been my best off show winner.
That wraps my High End Munich show experience for 2023, but certainly does't wrap what I experienced outside the halls Munich's MOC event center. On Friday evening I received the world's first demonstration of lossless high resolution immersive streaming. That's a HUGE deal and deserved of its own forthcoming article. In addition, tomorrow morning I'm headed to the town of Herford, Germany to see the T+A factory to visit with the wonderful people and see how the terrific products are made. I only hope I can fit all the goodness into one article :~)
Last but never least, I must thank several members of the Audiophile Style community for stopping me to say hello. The pleasure was all mine. Visiting with you guys was my real highlight of the High End Munich show for 2023. Without you guys this site wouldn't exist. I'm inspired by your passion for our wonderful hobby, your willingness to give your time to help others, and your unmatched kindness when we meet in person. I'm already looking forward to 2024.
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