The Munich High End show is unequivocally my favorite. The four days go by in a flash. There's never enough time to "finish" the show. That said, I took two afternoons away from the show this year. On Friday I ventured out to Starnberg once again to visit Wolfgang Linhard and his fabulous My Sound store. On Saturday I visited Sefan Bock's MSM Studios, the home of immersive audio at the highest level. Both excursions were well worth it, not only because Wolfgang and Stefan are good people, but because both freely share the knowledge they've gained over decades in their respective businesses. I felt honored to be let into their worlds.
Friday May 20, 2022 - My Sound
As some members of the Audiophile Style community will remember, I visited My Sound during the previous Munich High End show, and wrote an article about how impressive it was (LINK). My visit this year was equally as impressive. Much of the store was the same as my visit three years ago. I applaud Wolfgang for that. Why fix what isn' broken? Each room underwent some minor tweaks to the acoustics, while one room that was under construction during my last visit, was completely finished.
Despite how beautiful everything in Wolfgang's store appears, the number one reason he does what he does, is sound quality. The beautiful imagery, real wood tiles, and creative acoustic panel layouts are all form following function. Every room in My Sound is meticulously measured to find the problematic frequencies. With objective information at hand, Wolfgang's team crafts the correct acoustic solution.
In the newly finished room, a beautiful photograph of a lion, on acoustically transparent fabric, hides lighting, speakers, and acoustic products on the ceiling. The feeling one gets walking into this room, is unlike that evoked by any audio store I've ever visited. Relaxation, suspension of reality, and pure enjoyment of the audio / video are three items still very present in my mind, ten days after my visit.
A visit to My Sound in Starnberg, wouldn't be the same without a visit to the corner cafe down the street, while waiting for a taxi. Starnberg isn't exactly the center of a metropolis. It's a serene little town without any Uber drivers on the map and or a taxi closer than 30 minutes away. Just like last time, Maier Shadi of The Audio Salon in Santa Monica, and I went to our favorite little corner cafe, now called MeGa Cafe.
The new owner was a gracious host obliged every one of our somewhat American requests. What started as a couple pastries and beverages, turned into a mini-lunch, with the owner Me-mo bringing out more and more tasty items as we struck up a conversation with him. A simple request for some cheese turned into an off-menu caprese salad with basil, salt, and olive oil. We all enjoyed each other's company, until it got even better.
"Anyone here for a taxi to Munich?" Our taxi driver arrived with that announcement through the front door. We weren't close to being finished with our unscheduled mini-lunch, so we invited him to join us. Soon our driver was enjoying a mouthwatering tiramisu and espresso, right there with us. He was Lebanese and enjoyed telling us about the wonderful food from his country, almost as much as I enjoyed absorbing the conversation.
Life is all about people and relationships. Wolfgang and Me-mo, we will definitely see you guys next year. Thanks for sharing so much with us.
P.S. It was a very hot day in Munich. On the way back from Starnberg I loved seeing all the people along the banks of the Eisbach river, enjoying the water and soaking up the sun. Very cool.
Saturday May 21, 2022 - MSM Studio
On Saturday my excursion started by jumping in a taxi with Stefan Bock and someone I hadn't talked to since the last Munich show, John Reichbach! There's a reason why Stefan and John were together. Both have been working with immersive audio for quite some time, and I wouldn't be surprised if they have a project in the works.
Stefan has been at the forefront of immersive audio creation for over a decade. As I walked into his studio and saw all the disc covers on the walls, I started to feel very comfortable. It was the feeling one gets in the presence of someone who really knows their stuff. After searching Internet forums for immersive audio answers for several months, I was now in the center of the action and in the presence of someone who isn't an armchair engineer, but rather a real immersive mixing engineer.
Sefan's studio for mixing Atmos is so good, that major record labels often bring people there for demonstrations, as does Dolby, the inventor of Atmos. During the pandemic, one specific artist was there to listen to his album for the first time in Atmos, and started to cry when the music started. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. This isn't that uncommon according to Stefan.
As I sat in the "driver's seat" at Stefan's mixing desk, he explained some of the more difficult Atmos concepts to me and answered all my immersive audio questions. One thing that was very evident as Stefan explained the process of creating an Atmos mix to me, was that there's no substitute for experience. Stefan talked about knowing the limitations of the Dolby software and even some bug-like "features" and how to work around them and even use them to one's advantage. He said that people who are new to this often think a mix is done by just panning instruments into spaces, but they couldn't be more incorrect. There is quite a bit that goes into a great immersive mix.
As evidence of this, Stefan played several tracks for me, that he mixed in the same studio in which we were sitting. The experience was stunning and only served to reinforce my decision to get heavily involved in immersive playback at the highest level. Stefan played John Williams Live in Vienna with the Wiener Philharmoniker. The track titled The Imperial March from Star Wars was one that Williams wasn't going to play because it's quite difficult, but the musicians insisted. From the moment Stefan pressed play and the audio went out through his Trinnov processor, I was placed right in the audience for this concert. The ability of properly mixed immersive audio to set the soundstage perfectly is uncanny. I could pinpoint each instrument in space, not only from the direct sound but also the reverb coming from the concert hall. It was truly magical.
This is where a unique problem arises. One thing I hadn't even considered, because I'm an audio only guy and prefer theater of the mind, was how video would work with immersive audio. The first thing I noticed was that directors of photography will have to up their game tremendously. This has nothing to do with picture quality. It has to do with catching up to the perfection of immersive sound at placing the listening at a specific point in the concert hall and having the video be similar to that. Without this, the picture is disorienting.
For example, when listening to the entire Philharmoniker and having a solid audible image of all the players in the orchestra, it's strange to see a closeup view of just the trumpeters. This is because the audio is so accurate that the trumpeters are placed in the correct space audibly, but not visually. It's disorienting. Stefan insists that directors of photography are aware of this and even long for the tools that are the equivalent of immersive audio, but for video.
Another album Stefan played for me was from the band Yello. Stefan created the Atmos mix for its album named Point. He was on his own creating the mix because band member Boris Blank had broken his leg and couldn’t make the trip. Needless to say, what Stefan created was loved by both the band and immersive audio fans around the world. After listening in his studio, it's easy to understand why. It's am amazing album with an amazing Atmos mix, using every channel in a way that sucks the listening into the music. It's an experience to say the least. I can only imagine what Pink Floyd would have done creating Dark Side of the Moon, if they'd have had Dolby Atmos mixing as a tool to deliver their sonic ideas.
I so enjoyed my time at MSM Studios that I brought Maier Shadi to meet Stefan and hear the demo on Monday night, the day after the show ended. I'm so sold on immersive audio and I know more people need to experience it to also get the full picture. I'm still as into two channel reproduction as much as I've ever been, but immersive is now something additional to increase our enjoyment of this wonderful hobby. What could be better!