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Coverage
Exhibition, coverage
High End 2011 – thirtieth anniversary of the show!!!

Place:
M.O.C., Munich
Lilienthalallee 40
80939 Munich, Germany

Time:
19-22 May (19 May – press day – only for the press and dealers)

Organized by:
High End Society e. V.

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Photographs: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

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The High End 2011, which ended not so long ago, had a special significance – this year we celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of its first edition. I say “we”, because although the organizer is the German company High End Society, in fact the show is made by all the people – the organizer, the exhibitors, the visitors and the press. And only when all those elements fit together we get something special. And because this was a special occasion, this reportage will have a different character than usual – I would like to devote a part of it to a brief history of the High End show, using the article 30 Years of HIGH END prepared by the managing director Mr. Branko Glisovic. Of course I will not forget about a short summary of these year’s trends and finally I will try to show the best, the most interesting presentations.

THE HISTORY IN A FEW EASY STEPS

Like I say, the show has this year its 30th anniversary. Its beginning reaches the unexpectedly snowy winter of 1981, when thirteen small companies met in Alzenau, Spessart-Germany to discuss the plans of how to promote the audio branch best. The impulse for that meeting came from Mr. Klaus Renner, a young engineer and journalist, with an extensive knowledge of the branch and many international contacts. It was in the time, when Klaus thought about his own audio magazine, which was to carry the title “Das Ohr” (“The Ear”). What was unusual, that the magazine should have no advertisements at all, and be founded only by money raised from its sales. I’ll remind you, that today only one magazine in the world works along this principle (I mean a printed magazine), namely the British “HiFiCritic” - expensive one, and available only in subscription. Klaus had in mind talks about that magazine, but also about the situation in the branch.
According to Branko Glisovic, at that time two shows were the leaders: the Berlin show Electronics Trade Fair IFA (Internationale Funkausstellung), which was the place for household appliances and HiFi Düsseldorf, devoted to audio. This second one had the plans, to expand to video. In 1982 it converted to Hifi-Video-Düsseldorf, what closed its portals for many small, specialist companies, who could not bear the costs to buy exhibition space. Some other resigned from participation due to the change of character of the show. That were problems that the group in Alzenau had to face. And they quickly decided, that they will organize their own show for the manufacturers and distributors of high quality audio. This show was to be called HiFi-Video 1982 and take place on two floors of the Interconti Hotel in Düsseldorf (now called the Scandic Crown). But because High End sounds better than Hi-Fi, the name was quickly changed to High End 1982. Twenty exhibitors took part in the show.

One year later, the organizers moved the event to Frankfurt, because, they say, they wanted to depart from the competitive show in Düsseldorf. This decision was helped also by the fact, that Frankfurt was at that time – more or less – the geographical middle of the German Federal Republic, and the British head of the hotel Kempinsky, Mr. Avernell, was a splendid partner. The problem was to stand against the machine of IFA, which had a subsequent edition in 1983 (let me remind you, that until the XXI century, IFA was held every two years). Branko Glisovic says, that despite those problems, the show was a success – the number of visitors doubled, and the response from the world was overwhelming. Even before the second edition, the organizers founded an entity called High End Syndicate for High-Quality Music Playback. Its goal was to represent small companies on the show. To help them, the number of rooms per exhibitor was limited, to not allow the large companies to dominate the show. From the show also the DIY community was excluded, as only companies were allowed to exhibit, which produce their products in at least a few units, and those products are freely available. After two more years, the rooms in the Kempinsky hotel were regularly booked out long before the show. Even the press started to accept this new show, even the titles, that had earlier a reserve against it, or even clearly disliked it. After the cancellation of the competitive event Hifi-Video-Düsseldorf – due to lack of interest and disagreements between its organizers – many large companies finally went to the High End.

My first contact with the show happened in the year 2000, so it was not so long ago. But I still managed to see the show in Frankfurt – already then, the show was enormous, and it was clear, that some changes have to happen. As it turned out, the organizers thought about that for some time – in 2004 the even was transferred not only to a new location, but to a new city – since then it is located in the M.O.C in Munich (Munich Operating Center) – a large exhibition center.
The first reactions of the companies exhibiting, the press, etc, were negative. Because you have to look at that from the perspective of a certain tradition, being alive in the USA, UK and even in Poland (look at the Audio Show). The audio shows, especially high-end shows, are since their birth bound with hotel rooms, which were to imitate the rooms of the visitors and give the impression of comfort and luxury.
I do not have to remind, how much was written about the bad acoustics of the hotel rooms, the crowds, the lack of fresh air, etc. from the perspective of the last seven years, it can be seen, that the localization of audio shows in a hotel is only a traditional one, and does not have much in common with good sound. But again, the first year of the High End in Munich was not received well. The sound was very bad, the people could not get used to the new setup, and small manufacturers complained, that they feel like in a shopping mall in those big halls... But already in 2005 it could be seen, that many problems were coming from the fact, that the exhibitors did not adapt to the new conditions and tried to work as if they would still be in the hotel – this was not only about acoustics, but also the setup of their products, contacts with the press, etc. In 2006 everything got back in place. It turned out, that the vast space is an asset, because not only the gear could be placed at will, with no limits to their amounts, there was room for meetings with dealers, press, etc – something, that never was before.

ROKTHE YEAR 2011

A quick jump forward – AD 2011 and the 30th anniversary of the show. Anyone who has been to Munich knows, that the large areas of the M.O.C. are not so big anymore. The amount of visitors is overwhelming, and sometimes it is really hard to pass through. And those are really big halls! It was the first time, that I heard from a few important manufacturers from USA, that Munich is a much better place to meet the distributors from over the world, than CES in Las Vegas, and that this was the first year, that they placed their conventions in Europe. Because High End became not only an exhibition place, but also a place for business talks, getting new contacts, etc. It shows, that the organizers of the show had a good hunch, and were right. Today I cannot think of having this show in a hotel.
This year the show was visited by 14079 visitors, and 337 exhibitors from 29 countries occupied over 20 000m2. Compared to previous year, the amount of exhibitors increased by 30% (17% from Germany). In this pool the amount of exhibitors from outside of Germany increased most – this time it reached an equilibrium for the first time – 50/50 – Germany/rest of the world. At the same time the show was visited by 4398 people from the “branch”, manufacturers, distributors, dealers and press. This is a drop of 5.2% compared to last year, but still an impressive figure. There were 437 journalists more, what is an incredible result.

And what were the main topics of this year’s show? Like I said, the shows clearly exhibit the current trends on the market, the expectations, the fears, etc. They focus everything like a lens – there are almost all (because there are a few manufacturers that do not visit any show) people, who count, and they are gathered on a small area, disputing, sharing opinions. Nobody talked about the crisis. And this year it could not be seen anywhere. I would say even more – if I wold have to make a diagnosis based on the amount of new manufacturers, or those, who went beyond garage manufacturing stage, I would say, that it has never been so good before. This is still a field diagnosis, but backed up by statistics.

There was also a clear view on the clash of two counteracting tendencies when we are talking about audio in general. I am of course talking about the – lets say – generational exchange of disc players to file players. The latter, in the form of computers and USB DACs, were present in almost every room, and anyone, who wants to be respected, offers one, or will offer one soon. This resembles a bit the attack of the CD format, but it is much quicker. Although the introduction of the CD on the market translated into its sales only in 1985, three years after its premiere, the files stormed the market instantly. It was noticed, that the end client is not forced to use any single format. Because we can play files from any source, with any available resolution and sampling frequency – of course within the common consensus. It is usually 24 bits and 192kHz, but there are talks about 32 bits and 384kHz, like Antelope Audio, who prepared an USB DAC with such input parameters. Where did that come from? Well, from the archiving DXD standard, that is used by some companies. But I am just showing, that we do not have to buy a new device now and then, to be able to reproduce newer, better formats.
And regardless of what people say, files are the tomorrow of the audio happening today, and there is no way around that. This was nicely shown by the presentations. Although many rooms featured some CD players, then usually they had only a supportive role, and the music was played from a laptop of a file player.

The only exceptions were the SACD players. This is surprising, that this format was thrown into trash by its creator, the company Sony (lack of support fro studios and small audiophile companies – I talked to the people from Mobile Fidelity and Linn, who confirmed that) and yet it survived, and even shows a slight increase. It seems, that Super Audio CD found a niche – especially in the environment related to jazz and classical music.
A reflection of this situation was the presence of many SACD players on the Munich show. Among them reigned the machines from dCS and EMMLabs. It is also worth to notice the activity of the company Audio Aero with the La Source and a new product – La Fontaine. It is also worth to notice a newcomer on the international market, the Swiss company CH Precission, whose split player D1 + C1 was found in a few good systems.
And now a question: what connects all those devices? Yes, Mr. Tomasz was the first one: all use the VRDS Neo multiformat drives from the company TEAC, usually the UMK-5 model. But there is a company, that uses an even better drive, also a VRDS from TEAC, in the best possible version – this is of course Esoteric, a sub-brand (like Lexus and Toyota) of the Japanese TEAC. This year that company had its own box, where they showed a new product, the K-1 player. It uses the best drive, the VMK-3.5-20S and has an asynchronous USB input, which works with signals up to 24/192. Next to it there was a new SACD player from TEAC, the model CD-1620, also with an USB input, but using a lesser drive. And we cannot forget about the new, and probably the cheapest, SACD player from Luxman, the model D-03.
A separate, but incredibly big category related to SACD players are the multiformat players – nominally those are Blu-ray players, but aimed at the audiophiles, having an SACD path. I am talking about players from Denon and Marantz, but also about cheaper propositions, like the Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD player.
All this makes the SACD format staying alive, and finding its place aside the file player and turntable. This format is not placed in opposition to anything; usually it is shown as an addition to other formats.
As it seems, Esoteric thought in a similar way, because this company issues a series of classical music ...arcydzieło... from the archives from Sony, EMI, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon. It uses the original master tapes, usually analog ones, and masters them in the DSD domain, using their own devices, including ultra-precise clock, and issues hybrid discs. Interestingly, the first issue of that series was the disc prepared for the 20th anniversary of Esoteric, Overtures Ludwig van Beethoven, conducted by Sir Colin Davies, which was recorded digitally, in PCM. Those discs are issued in limited series of 300 pcs. The first three discs were also issued on 200g vinyl and were cut in Esoteric studios.

I am not mentioning the black disc by coincidence. This ties between the SACD and LP, but also files, are very strong. In most rooms, where there was a turntable, there was also a file (or SACD) player. And usually it was so, that the turntable was just rotating, but the signal came from the other player. And this is understandable for me – setting up a turntable is very difficult, especially in such environment, and in such a short time, like on a show. A SACD player is then a splendid solution.
And there were many turntables. The most interesting were the renovated Thorens TD 124 – prepared by Mr. Jurgen Schopper (thorens-td124.ch), of course from Switzerland. It is incredible how well those machines sound, how much music is inside them! Bringing together the oldest commercial sound carrier – the Long Play – with the newest one – the file players – is very symptomatic. It can seem that the world is departing from the digital. And that it already happened. But on the other hand, although on a much smaller scale, the world is returning to something called “anachrophilia” in Stereophile, where the turntable is the main representative of that trend. This is why it will become more and more common to see a Thorens TD 124 and a laptop with an USB DAC on the same table.

BEST SOUND 2011

As you can see, I just flew over the show talking only about the sound sources. I do not have time for more. And interesting was also the overwhelming amount of tube loudspeakers, tube amplifiers, etc on the show. This is also a part of the picture.
I would like to continue with the second part of my description, the awards. This is of course my own, subjective choice, depending only on me, but also on the time spent on listening, the choice of recordings, and the overall situation. This is why I am not writing about bad presentations, because everything can depend on so many variables, that it is impossible to blame any flaw of that device. But on the other hand, when something sounded well in those conditions, then we should praise it for sure.

Most interesting devices::
  • Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold+Votikus – DAC/headphone amplifier
  • Thorens TD124 – turntables renovated by Schopper AG
  • Neutral Audio X-DREI – analog buffer
  • Ayon Audio S-3 – file player
  • Devialet D-Premier – digital amplifier
  • M2Tech – DACs
  • Thixar – active anti-vibration platforms
  • KEF Blade – floor standing loudspeakers
  • Ancient Audio SD Player – SD card player
  • Klutz Design – supports for headphones
  • April Music/Aura Note Premier – CD Aura Neo and amplifier Aura Groove
  • Thrax Audio Spartacus – power amplifier

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"High Fidelity OnLine" is an internet magazine, published since may 2004, devoted to high quality reproduction of sound and picture. It is a monthly magazine, but the articles are uploaded twice a month - in the beginning of the month and in the middle. The news column is updated on on-going basis, if possible. The main sections are: "Tests", "Events" (interviews, reportages, and similar), "Hyde Park" (user tests, opinions) and "Who asks..." (readers questions and HFOL answers). Articles from earlier issues can be read in the "Archive". Have a nice read!
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