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High End 2010, Munich

Place: M.O.C.
Lilienthalle 40
80939 Munich

Organizer: High End Society

Time: 6-9 may 2010

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

The first question I usually hear from my friends, but also from distributors, sellers, etc, with whom I talk after returning from the show in Munich is as follows: “Was there anything interesting you heard there?” I will try to answer that question in a moment, and you will have a better view of everything after looking at the pictures below, but first I want to let you know, why I am always confounded and embarrassed with such questions. Because there is no good answer to them. Coming back from a show of this kind, big, interesting, full with events and interesting people, I am mostly tired. And in addition I do not remember exactly what I saw, what I heard, and whom did I talk to.

It is much easier to remember what I ate and drunk. And this year I ate and drank a lot, because I had one full day to visit the town. I could not forgo of such an opportunity, and I could not resists places with the Paulaner logo on them – this is one of my favorite beers, and it comes from this city. And in addition the food Bavarians serve, especially the pork, is best available in Europe (vegetarians – please forgive me!). Like one of my acquaintances said: “it is a sin not to sin”. Anyway, after returning from High End 2010 I needed a few days to return to normal state. And it did not even involve physical rehabilitation, I can move fairly well, but rebooting my psyche. During this short trip I listened to about a hundred different systems, I attended over twenty demonstrations, and talked to a hundred people. More or less. This is something you cannot embrace sane. My practice of sorting my impressions, notes, etc, is that I start with the photos. This allows me to remember the sound, the places, the people. I have a similar thing with the tests – I do not remember exactly how things sounded, as I wrote it down, I need to look at the pictures, read a part of the test and then it returns – completely, including emotions, including my attitude, conclusions and rating. And with time, the latter tend to become sharper. Because at first I could have some doubts, related to lacks in my education, to possible errors in the testing methodology, and many other things, that could influence my opinions. But with time those elements get weaker, as if they would fall apart, leaving behind only the core. This is maybe not so good, but I think, that this is how selection and memory cleaning work.

Anyway, I learn what I saw and heard after returning home, when I start looking at the pictures. And looking at them, and at the intensity I photographed something, I know, what was more, and what less, interesting. This year I made surprisingly many pictures – more than 550, three memory cards full, each 4GB (RAW picture format). I was surprised, because at first glance, I thought that this edition of the show was quieter than usual. Because on Thursday, the day open for press and “branch” people, there were less people than in the former years. But the Polish distributor of Reimyo, among others, Mr. Krzysztof Owczarek (Moje Audio), told me, that on Friday and Saturday it was completely different – lots and lots of people, and one could not go anywhere, talk to anyone, etc. Probably this was cause by a slightly different calendar of the show – usually it was organized on prolonged weekend – made less journalists, less distributors come during the week. Maybe also volcanic ashes had some influence – I do not know. But there was something to it. But because there were less people, there were no long queues to the listening sessions, for me it was the best edition of the show I witnessed. Even including the Frankfurt era. Yes, I remember what I am writing each year, but I cannot help it – every year it gets better. Not everybody has the same opinion, I can quote Mr. Roger Adamek, who thinks, that after leaving Frankfurt the show is not High End any longer. I respect this opinion, actually this view is not a solitary one, because other manufacturers have similar ideas, and Mr. Thomas Hoehne, the owner of Sovereign and Aaron does not even attend the show, because he sees it, as an error in approach to high end. This is true, to some extent, because the so called “high end”, the best what man can get in audio, requires lengthy setup, composition of rooms and devices, etc. And high quality power supply (clean current). This cannot be done in a hotel, or a exhibition room like the M.O.C., where the show is organized now. This is a point taken from the people I am talking about. I respect that, and I concur partially with that.

But only partially, and this uncertainty makes me think, that, in my opinion, the High End Society makes a perfect job, and is probably the biggest promoter (of course not for free) of high quality audio. Munich hosted this, biggest in Europe, show for the seventh time, and all the exhibitors, who rent rooms there, were able to get used to them to such extent, that I did not notice any major give-away. Even small ones – the medium level of the presentations was really very good. Of course as for a show. Some were splendid. This relates to the sound, but about that in a moment. And getting to know the room and the power supply shortcomings is the key to success in my opinion. In addition comes the extra care of some of the companies to provide good acoustics, but also aesthetics, through room adaptation, corrective elements – for years the company Ascendo was a master for me in this area, which employed a digital corrector, that made wonders happen in the Frankfurt Kempinsky hotel, and later at the MOC. But even if a classic system was well configured, if everything went well, then even simple, analog systems sounded just brilliant. And although the DSP correction closed the abilities in a way, as it offered a good solution, that could not really be improved anymore, then the simple coherence resulted in almost unlimited abilities.

Again I am back at the sound and at the best – caution! – in my, and only my opinion, backed up with only a short listen at the show – presentations during this year’s edition of the High End. I will not delay it any longer, and I will try to describe the rest of my remarks talking about the systems.

A. German Physiks PQS-100 Plus and Vitus Audio electronics –CD player SCD-010 and integrated amplifier SS-010.

This system combined a few solutions, and moves, that seem to promote presentations based on them. First the loudspeakers. To date I was not a follower of those – let’s admit – somewhat awkward speakers. German Physiks uses a patented solution called DDD – this is a driver in the shape of a flipped cone, which radiates in all directions. This idea, proposed by Peter Dick, was patented with the help of Holger Mueller, and is a variation of the Walsh Driver, invented by the American engineer, Lincoln Walsh. To honor Peter it is called Dicks Dipole Driver. In the loudspeakers PQS-100 Plus it is made from carbon fiber. In fact, those are small loudspeakers. This is actually a stand mount speaker integrated with the stand. Something worth noticing – finally the exhibitors found out, that smaller loudspeaker is easier to compose in a room, because you do not have problems with lower bass, which is nonexistent in small constructions. You have to have courage, to display something so insignificantly looking, but – as you can see – such a uncompromising approach can be profitable.

In this case it was handled by putting emphasis on purity and simplicity, and taking care of acoustics. It was achieved by vertical panels made from wooden elements, placed along the side walls. Do I need to add, that beside helping acoustics, those panels also looked great? Because I was alone in the room, I could spend some time and talk to the manager of GP, Mr. Robert Kelly. I was a bit worried, if the room is not too big (about 40m2) for such small speakers. Mr. Kelly responded: “The PQS-100 Plus can sound in an even way even in a 90 meter room, and that without a subwoofer”. And it was true – the sound was overwhelming. Just plain natural. At first it seemed that there is no treble and no bass there. But that was until instruments entered, that produced sound in that frequency areas. We started from jazz of the 50-ties, from Sarah Vaughn, from the additional material, which was placed on the disc, recorded together with a conversation the artist had with the sound engineer – my God! This is how it sounds in reality! The sound was not localized in front of me, because this was not a “hi-fi” sound stage. There was a different room in front of me. Without cutting out instruments, but with a presentation that happens in reality, I mean localization happens based on the interactions with other instruments, with the fluid of air between them. The second part of the puzzle was the electronics. Vitus Audio is a Danish manufacturer of very expensive electronics. A CD player and an amplifier, which I listened to, are the cheapest components from that company. And despite that, they sounded just great. It is hard to talk about any “character”, because it sounded just like in a recording studio. Without the tube and solid state split. Splendid!

B. Loudspeaker Kiso Acoustic HB1, powered by Abbingdon Music Research (CD-777 player, AM-777 amplifier, AM-77 gramophone preamplifier), with the turntable Woodpecker Dr. Feickert Analogue as a source.

When I first saw those loudspeakers on the cover of the Summer (No. 171) issue of the magazine “Stereo Sound” they seemed to be quite large. And in fact they are very small. The accompanying electronics dominated them visually. But how did this sound! Jeff Buckley Grace played from LP at the moment I entered the room. The sound, that left the speakers, was big and mature. The medium bass was slightly boosted, but the loudspeakers played in a not so big room, on the longer wall, what could have such an effect on the lower frequencies. But it had no influence on the overall picture, the sound was juicy, palpable and mature. It was also clear, that this is the sound coming from the electronics.

C. Loudspeakers Magico Q.

Now is time for large speakers. Again, a system with those American loudspeakers enchanted me with a combination of characteristics, that might have seemed to be distant: density and resolution, superimposed with splendid dynamics. The loudspeakers seem to have no limits in the last area, as well as in terms of frequency response. Those elements just disappear from the equation – it is just like in reality. So other elements surface, like delicateness. Yes, this is true, those monsters do not sound brute, but exactly as I wrote – delicate. They approach the sound in a delicate way, and they reproduce it delicately. Super. I did not write it before, but a part of the system was electronics from Spectral Audio – preamplifier DMC-30SL Reference and monoblocks DMA-360 Reference. There were two sound sources – one was the integrated SACD player EMM Labs XDS1, the other a file player from Silverstone Technology. And the second one was mostly used. Because Munich was the witness of a crawling revolution – this year, almost all the sources were replaced by file players. And although I signaled this change three years ago, two years ago and last year, it is now, that the “servers”, as they are (wrongly) called, reigned in a large part of the systems. From the last two nominations to the sound of the show award you can see, that the CD and vinyl still have something to say, but the new technologies are now at the top.

D. Electronics by ASR (Emitter II x 2), loudspeakers from YG Acoustics (Anat Reference II), turntable manufactured by Bergmann Audio (Sleipner).

The YG Acoustics loudspeakers are regarded as “the best loudspeakers in the world” by their manufacturer. This is of course nonsense, but it sounds well as a catchphrase. This judgment is also based on solid background – measurements can suggest such an attitude. But when listened to, they made the impression of being cold and dry. But visibly it is a problem of the electronics. With the brilliant Emitter II, which I tested some time ago, and the new Bergmann turntable it sounded great – big stage, powerful dynamics and a true new world between the loudspeakers.

E. Soulution Audio electronics (preamplifier ‘721’, four monoblocks ‘700’), Magico M 5 loudspeakers and the turntable Dr Feickert Analogue Blackbird. All connected with Kubala-Sosna cables.

Audio Soulution is a quick rising star of extreme hi-end. A Swiss company, mostly engineering oriented, what means good measurements first, and then good sound can be achieved based on that. They have gifted hands. I talked to the company manager, Mr. Christoph Schurmann, who said, that: “there is no other possibility to advance”. For him, the basis is a solid project, and that mean engineering. Only then, such a device is ready for “tuning”, but this tuning should not change the base parameters too much. And although I heard similar stories from representatives from different companies, this is the first time, I hear somebody, who knows what he says. The system virtually disappeared from the room, helped by the splendid Magico M5. Mighty electronics, mighty loudspeakers, and I was sitting like in a theatre, in front of a stage, where things were happening.

F. Octave electronics from the Jubilee series and Isophon Tofana loudspeakers.

Ceramic loudspeakers with grace and openness? Now it is possible. Big, open sound, slightly warm, but in a good direction. The price huge, but the result likewise. Even at low sound levels it sounded well, and with higher levels it grew and filled the room, without making noise and clamor.

That’s it. There were many more interesting, intriguing and inspiring presentations, but those above (the order is random – just following the path I took on the show) impressed me most. Maybe with other material, or at another hour, I could be enchanted elsewhere. But those are the rules of a show, that we collect emotions, impressions, volatile details, which have to fit right in one place and in one time. Hence the choices I made. See you next year!!!

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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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