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High End Society e. V.

M,O,C, Munich ǀ Lilienthalallee 40
80939 Munich | Germany

3-6 (Thursday - Sunday) May, 2012

Opening hours:

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Andrzej Dziadowiec
Photographs: Wojciech Pacuła

Published: 1. July 2012, No. 98

The M,O,C, Journal

May 3rd, Thursday, 3:15
The hour is unearthly and inhuman. Certainly more suitable for bats. Yes, yes, I know – some people work at night. I did that. I used to work shifts myself, and then on a “task” basis, which meant working at night. Those experiences confirmed what I’d already known – that nights are for sleep and not work. However, wake up I had to, as at 3:30 a friend of mine was going to drive by to pick me up and take me to the airport. We’re flying to Munich, to the biggest High-End show in Europe (and perhaps even the entire world). I don’t count CES, IFA and Chinese shows, because they are general-tech and not audio-only.
However, it so happens that I’m not headed to the Balice airport in Krakow, which is 20 minutes away, but to the airport in Katowice-Pyrzowice. Although named ‘Katowice’, it is in fact a whole hour away from the capital of the Upper Silesia. I’d prefer a direct flight from Krakow, but this time a return airfare from Pyrzowice was half the price of a ticket from Balice.

The Pyrzowice airport is very nice – small, but sensibly laid out and somehow practical. The Balice airport is a tiny, ugly, nonfunctional hovel in comparison. Why can’t they build something similar in Krakow?

The Polish Airlines (LOT) flight. In the movie “What Women Want” starring Mel Gibson, amongst many other Polish posters from before the war, there’s also a LOT poster… There’re 20 people on board, so this is surely a deficit flight. But with that ‘the-later-you-buy-your-ticket-the-more-expensive-it-is’ ticket sale policy, it really is no surprise.

An empty Munich airport, good breakfast, and Starbucks coffee. The prices are the same here and in Poland. We wait for our “shuttle bus” which will take us straight to the show. There’re quite a lot of people going with us.

Last year they didn’t let me into the building before 10:00, but there was no problem entering early this time. Maybe because it’s a day for dealers, distributors and the press – I don’t know.
I enter Halle 3, the left one. The Munich show is really huge, particularly due to two halls, numbered 3 and 4. Above them is a large space called the Atrium with tables, chairs etc., where one can talk and grab something to eat and drink. Around these open spaces are transitional rooms that can be entered from the open space, or from the other side, from the hallway. There are twice as many rooms (a whole extra floor, in fact) around Atrium 4 (the one over Halle 4).
Most exhibitors are in the large halls, though. The halls are filled with little cubicles and boxes with the products laid out, and small tables for meeting and talking with the exhibitors. Some of the cubicles actually have small listening rooms next to them. Thin walls, little space etc. don’t help sound quality, but sometimes you are pleasantly surprised. So was I at the beginning, when I entered the listening room of Onda Ligera and sat down mesmerized. The components’ wooden or lacquered front panels, the unique speaker cabinets didn’t fully promise a full, warm and organic sound. I don’t know which country the company is from, but the exhibitors spoke English and German; I heard some Russian too. Or so I thought. I’ll have to check when I come back home.

The halls are navigated via a series of “alleys” named after famous musicians and composers – Via Antonio Vivaldi, Charlie Parker Allee, Ella Fitzgerald Avenue, etc.
In front of the entrance are two dramatically different companies – Pro-Ject and Antelope Audio. The former shows its Box line of great-looking components. They are bigger, better and more appealing than before. There’s also a linear preamplifier, phono preamp, power amp, network player and DAC. All of them have an RS signature.
In Antelope Audio, there’s a new impressive D/A and A/D converter and preamplifier in one – the Rubicon model. It’s integrated with an ultra-precise master clock. The beautiful enclosure was on display but the final version won’t be ready until the end of the year. As Georgi Lazarov, the company’s owner, said: only a representation of the final product was actually displayed.

Not far from the Pro-Ject display is the Swiss DMA (Daniel Mayerthaler Assembly) stall. I wrote about it last year – it specializes in music played on a computer. Daniel Mayerthaler, the owner, promised to write an article for “High Fidelity” about it. It’s an interesting project – with its experienced designer and Kurt Hecker’s support (head of the High End Society and the show’s organizer). Mr. Hecker is the DMA representative to markets outside Switzerland.

On Via Antonio Vivaldi, at number A10, there is a surprise waiting for me – a new audio magazine. “Fidelity” is a new German magazine which just released its first issue. It’s rather similar to “Image Hi-Fi”. It’s an unexpected move, because the trend is usually the opposite, with magazines going digital online. I spoke to the editor-in-chief, Mr. Cay Brockman, who promised to have some kind of an interview with me later. I also received the third issue of the magazine with an autograph.

On my way out, I stumble upon the Rogue Audio room. Inside I meet Mr. Mark O’Brien, the owner. It’s our first meeting and yet we talk as if we’d known each other for years – he’s an extraordinarily genuine and unpretentious person. And we have many things to talk about – Rogue Audio has two new class D amplifiers – the Hydra and the Medusa. Mr. O’Brien is very proud of what he’s been able to achieve and promises to send one of the amplifiers for a review.

Before I left for Munich, I’d prepared a few covers of “High Fidelity” in high resolution and quality, hoping to sign them and give them to the owners of the companies featured on the covers. It seems like nothing, but it turned out to make a great impression on people and many really appreciated the gift. For example, Mr. Frank Hayama, the managing director of Furutech immediately suggested that he’d pose for a photo with the cover. It’s a good idea – I’ll ask all the other companies’ heads and designers for something similar. Now I’m headed for Hall 4.

Immediately past the passage from Hall 3, on the right side is the stall of the Japanese Oyaide, where my friends Yoshi Hontai and his son, Elia Hontai are waiting for me. Last year I accidentally stumbled upon them in Munich, because I didn’t know they’d be in Germany. However, this time we had an appointment. It is thanks to these people that brands such as Acrolink, Oyaide, Acoustic Revive, Leben, Musica and many others are actually known worldwide. They are doing a great job! I have a cover of the Japanese edition of “High Fidelity” with a dedication for them.
I go up to the stall, and hug Yoshi (which is horrifying for any Japanese person, showing in turn how forgiving and great-hearted he is) and soon after that I am dragged away to another Japanese man who is present at the stall. I bow to Mr. Satoru Murayama, the owned and main designer of Oyaide Elec. Co., Ltd. What an experience! Even better – Mr. Murayama is accompanied by Mr. Hayato Ishiguro, the managing director of the company, who will soon show me the company’s newest USB cable. We take a photo together, I congratulate their great work and I’m off again, but not before having them promise me an interview. .

Nearby is Harbeth’s stall with Mr. Alan Show, the current owner and designer. This man is responsible for designing my beloved Monitor 40.1. I see, though, that he is talking to Alan Sircom, the chief editor of “Hi-Fi+”. I’d asked Alan for an interview several times, but he never responded. I don’t want to disturb – I’ll come back later.

I go back to Lenny Kravitz Drive in Halle 4 to meet Alan Show. He’s free now, so I quickly slip in and introduce myself, and thank him for the heart he put into creating the M40.1. I hear that heart pulsate every day, the driving motor of my system… Mr. Shaw knows my reviews, which makes talking to him much easier. However, the first question he asks me has nothing to do with audio: “Tell me, please, what did you do to the Lithuanians, what’s up with that?” Seeing my baffled face he explained that he was just talking to some distributor or dealer from Lithuania, who seemed rather hostile at the mention of Poland.
And how should one answer such a question? How does one explain, briefly, the relationship between our countries? Will he understand the weight of such events such as the coronation of Wladyslaw, a Lithuanian, as the King of Poland, which began one of the most powerful Polish and even European dynasties, the Jagiellonians? Will he appreciate the union between the two countries which worked so well for many centuries? The union that was called up with mutual consent and for mutual benefit? On the other hand, how does one explain the polonization of Lithuania, when speaking Lithuanian was considered wrong? And what about General Zeligowski’s raid on Vilnius due to (or thanks to?) which the capital of Lithuania found itself within Polish territory? He won’t comprehend the fact that in Lithuania the town names aren’t bilingual, which the European Union’s law does force upon its members… No, it can’t be explained that easily. I come out with a few explanations – all in all, I didn’t take part in it. I was born here and now. But maybe he understood? Maybe an Englishman, surrounded by the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish could understand this complex and messed up history?
At the end I ask Alan for a picture but I miss the moment in which Alan makes a funny face. He doesn’t want to repeat it unfortunately. Maybe next time I’ll be quick enough. I go upstairs, but diagonally, to the Atrium 4.1 OG.

I enter the EMT room. Classic tonearms, cartridges and turntables. The head says that he just had an appointment with a new Polish distributor. It’s meant to be Audio Classics, the Miyajima distributor. EMT is real class – great class!
Leaving the room, I notice a familiar face – yes, it’s Steven R. Rochlin, the chief editor of the online magazine “Enjoy the”. I introduce myself, and he seems to recall me from somewhere. We talk for a while and when we touch the interviews that have been published in “High Fidelity” since January, and when I mention the contempt with which editors of print magazines talk about online publishing, I notice him smiling. He says, “Wojtek, in the interview I’ll tell you what I think about it. I can guarantee that it will be a completely different interview to the previous ones. You won’t be disappointed!” He pulls a few funny faces in front of the camera and we both go off to do our business.

On the opposite side of the Atrium, in a side corridor, I first enter the Audio Physic room, and then to the Aesthetix room. I think of them very similarly, because they both present an almost identical system – Audio Physic Virgo 25plus speakers and Aesthetix electronics. In both rooms the sound was simply dumbfounding. It was the first time I heard Audio Physic speakers that sounded that great! And, what’s interesting, in both rooms the loudspeakers were set up in a different way. In the AP room their designer, Mr. Manfred Dietrich, set them up according to his own concept (far apart and close to the audience). In the Aesthetix room, Mr. Jim White, the owner and constructor of the company set them up classically. I must say that the second set up was slightly better. I asked Mr. White about how he achieved that, and he smiled, saying that Manfred asked him the same thing… But he soon showed me what it was – a micro-tuning. He moved the speakers centimeter by centimeter until the sound “clicked”. That’s it. In both rooms it was The Sound of the Show. Just then I notice Mr. Dietrich as he enters the Aesthetix room and listens to some music, interested. It’s a good sign – a designer who can learn, who can gain some knowledge from others is more than just a laborer.

I run upstairs, to the Atrium 4.2 OG. At first I go into a room where something sounds so well it’s difficult to leave. I can see the X Diamond speakers from Estelon.

They look like vases, but in a good way. They sound really, really great. The speakers are driven by the newest Ole Vitus’s electronics from Vitus Audio. The cables are from Kubala Sosna and the mains conditioner from Running Springs. The whole system sounds excellent – in a deep, saturated way, but with a lot of detail.

However, then I notice the source – it’s the LOIT Passeri player which I once reviewed, and which featured on one of our covers. I took a closer look around and noticed the guy who could tell me something about the player – whether it’s a new version, etc. I looked at his plaque, and he looked at mine, and although we didn’t break into a bear hug (maybe next time) we shook our hands enthusiastically.
It turns out that the head of LOIT, Mr. Kam Lup Yong came to High End straight from Singapore. What a surprise! Somehow, when I was still in Poland I had a hunch and took the cover featuring this particular player. It was perfect.
We managed to talk for a while since the LOIT head wanted to ask me about a few things, for example what I think about the Passeri’s digital input (USB or S/PDIF etc.) I said that I preferred the normal S/PDIF input – and if it were USB, it would have to be updatable. For now the 24/192 signal is absolutely sufficient, but soon each USB port will need to handle 32/384 and the DSD signal with double the sampling frequency. I found out, though, that the new versions of the player are even more precisely made on CNC machines, and that the disc cover works even smoother, etc. – and that a separate DAC will be made.

The Colotube room. It’s a Swiss company with a very interesting amplifier designed by a married couple – Pia and Gino Colombo. The monoblocks based on the 20B tube driving the Emission Labs 300B, drove the speakers from another Swiss manufacturer, Boenicke. They sounded really good. The designer wasn’t in the room, but I talked to his wife. Maybe a review could be arranged somehow? There were two sound sources – the D1 SACD player made by the Swiss company CH Precission and a laptop. The latter fed the M2TECH Young DAC. And on the side stood a conditioner from the Polish Gigawatt Now that’s what I call being in a good company! I actually see the Gigawatt in two or three other rooms later on. Soon after, I find out that there’s a large chance that CH Precision will be available in Poland through the RCM distributor in Katowice that will also distribute speakers from Estelon.

I enter a room with electronics from Cyprus – Aries Cerat. The sources were mother tapes and first generation copies. It turned out that Master Tape Sound Lab was responsible, with Mr. Todor Dimitrov as the leader. Somehow, he was able to get mother tapes from Kostas Metaxas which were recorded on a battery-powered Stellavox SM8 with a license to copy and sell them. The tapes were played on the beautiful Studer A80 reel to reel custom modified by Mr. Todorov. It’s a proposition for selected listeners, but I have no doubts it’s the only way to go around various format limitations – any formats! And that shiver of excitement when the tape lands on the player and the huge aluminum reels start spinning! It looks and sounds beautiful. When Mr. Todorov hears who I am, he promises to send me a few tapes to playback. I don’t have a reel to reel player, but I still have friends at the Juliusz Slowacki Theater in Krakow, where I used to work – and I know that they have an old Studer for archive work (now music is played back from a computer). And, if all else fails, Roger from RCM also has a reel to reeler – I’ll ask him about it, maybe it will turn into a KTS meeting?

Below, in the Atrium 4.1 OG I meet Ken Kessler, one of the world's most respected audio editors, writing for “Hi-Fi News& Record Review”, the author of several books, and now my friend. Last month, I conducted an interview with him during which he promised to send me his first book on QUAD, with his dedication, as well as his latest book on KEF. Also with his dedication. It quickly became clear, however, that he would be in Munich from Thursday to Sunday and so we could meet later and I’d get the books.
I knew Ken from photos; he didn’t really know me. We move in different orbits. But it is my ambition to change it someday. In any case, I went up, introduced myself and was immediately greeted with a warm smile and attentive eyes. These two things go together with Kessler. And a strong handshake. I was a little apprehensive of our meeting after Ken’s harsh words about online magazines in an interview that he gave me some time ago. As it turns out – unnecessarily.
After a few words, I realized that I actually walked into the middle of a conversation. The author of McIntosh: “...for the love of music...” was talking to a nice lady about my mum’s age of and a handsome guy about my age. Since I did not know them, I apologized and Ken asked me to go with them to the KEF stand where he’d sign the book for me.

Before that happened, he began to talk to a couple that came with me, showing them in both his books how they’d been prepared and how they’re connected with an ‘anniversary’ product of the given brand, and about the need for family photos, memories, conversations, etc. When he called his interlocutor ‘Marguerite’ the second time and he mentioned that a modulometer on the cover would look just perfect, a little door opened in my brain and I looked at what was just taking place in my presence from another perspective: my new acquaintance was actually talking with Ms. Marguerite Kudelski, head of Kudelski Group, and with its head of marketing, Mr. Matthieu Latour about a new book – this time a book on Nagra.
They probably noticed my silly face, because Ms. Marguerite said in Polish “please” and smiled with all her features. “My grandmother talked to me only in Polish – she said – and even now as I enter a Polish shop, I understand what they talk about. I can also say a few words, but I have a deep sentiment for the language.” And everything became clear. But why am I so dumb? Why did I not take a picture with Ms. Marguerite? Nor did I ask her for an autograph or something? I do not really know, apparently my stupidity knows no bounds.

I am back in the Atrium 4.1 OG, to the room F112. I've been there before, but I had no time to stay longer. Now I do. The room is occupied by the Korean company Silbatone Acoustics. This is a company specializing in restoring and manufacturing horn speaker designs, from the 30s and upwards, mainly Western Electric. It uses drivers from the Japanese G.I.P. At the show you could listen to some of their horn speakers, driven by tube amplifiers of their own design. It was the kind of sound that’s impossible to obtain with today’s speakers because of its sheer scale and near-live presentation with no limits. The idea is rather difficult to implement because of the speakers’ size, but I admire the people who went for it. And what a fun for the visitors! The exhibitors were apparently after a few glasses. Located to the side, the stand was surrounded by LPs, bottles, glasses. Yes, that’s exactly what fun with sound should look like. And they had a reason to enjoy – having prepared something the vast majority of modern audio aspires to, and from which it bounces back as if from a glass ceiling. Later on I learned that a Polish audiophile ordered some of the largest cabinet enclosures from this company. Where is he going to fit them?

I am back in Halle 4, to browse through LPs. There are a few stands this year, not really large, but better to have this kind of diversity than a single behemoth. The prices are unfortunately high, oh so high! I do not buy anything, as I already carry the two books from Ken Kessler. I’m hanging around for some time, take some more pictures and leave.

If I had four days for the show I would have used them. But since I only have one, I planned in advance where to go, with whom to talk. There is also a margin for the unexpected. With such planning, I am able to have it all cinched. And to get my head around it…

May 4th, Friday, 6:30
Back at the airport. Good coffee, small souvenirs for my family. They will like a globe with water and glitter specks that, shaken, fall down on the Munich cathedral. Kitsch, but cheers you up. And that’s what matters.

Back home. Jest as I thought the globe rules.


May 6th, Sunday, 18:30
I had to have a look at the photos taken in Munich, to recall all the events, to try somehow get my head round it all. I quickly browsed through websites with live reports of the show. As usual, it turned out that I missed a number of places, although I was trying to drop in at least for a moment to every room, to take pictures everywhere. However, it’s my another High End show where I did not manage to do it. On the other hand I see that in turn I was able to notice things others didn’t, or which – I think – didn’t understand. Clearly, there has to be some balance.
Looking at what was shown in Munich, what was being said, I would venture a few generalizations and a short summary. Although, I have to admit, this time it is harder than ever before. The audio industry is in fact much diversified and several, often contradictory, trends can be identified.

One is about going back to the roots. Although anachrophilia (a term ‘invented’ by Ken Kessler and promoted by Art Dudley) was present in audio since the 80s, it was a marginal trend. In Munich, renovated Garrards, Thorens, speakers based on ideas from the 30s, reel to reel tape recorders, etc. ruled. What's more – they offered a very good, sometimes brilliant sound.
Where does it come from? I think it’s a reaction to something else – a technological diarrhea (sorry for that). Until now, technical innovations, new designs, products related to computers passed by audio industry and only bounced back off it. You could easily keep pace with the changes. With the revolution in the sources, the growing dominance of network players, files, computers as audio sources, with the new converters, audio system complexity has increased to such an extent that it began to dominate the pleasure of listening, the means became the end.
And anachrophilia was just a reaction to that – a return to a simple setup, to obvious solutions, to simple (in the sense of ‘purist’) situations. From the standpoint of psychology it seems clear. And that while at that we rediscover something that was lost somewhere in the 70s and 80s? All the better for us…

The other thing is related to the source itself. Although I’ve seen it all before and have written about it, this year it became something completely normal – turntables, CD players and network players or computers worked side by side, on an equal footing. Regardless of whether they were modern systems with Class D amplifiers, or ultra-purist SET amps and horn speakers. Interestingly, SACD players were almost gone. Instead, many rooms sported reel to reel players, with first generation copies.
Another piece of the puzzle, fitting well with the previous ones, is an authentic boom in headphone systems and small DACs, usually integrated with headphone amplifiers. This is an evident result of the growing popularity of computers in the role of sources, but also the entrance of the computer world into the world of audio; the real, not fake, audio (I mean users). I think many computer geeks finally understood the difference between a sound card and a DAC, and came to appreciate the advantages of an external, high-quality headphone amplifier. And once we have a good headphone amp, we need good headphones, right? The companies that have not yet recognized or understood that are at a disadvantage. If we add in a certain percentage of users of iPods and other portable players who are curious about the capabilities of these devices, it appears that it may become a driving force for the entire audio market. The only thing I missed this time was the CanCans – the headphone stand from Klutz Design. There was less beauty because of that.

May 7th, Monday, 19:00
Let me go back for a while to Ken Kessler. I find it really hard to understand why the audio industry has so few good books that would describe it, showing its roots, history, trends, etc. And yet in the West there has been an uninterrupted hi-fi tradition, lots of materials, audio magazines with several dozen years in printing, and a number of audio manufacturers.
All the more respect to Ken for what is doing!

I’ve pulled images out of RAW files. As usual, they could have been better, and as usual I wonder if I shouldn’t use flash next year. I have always been taking pictures at audio shows at ambient light without a tripod, at high ISO. The grain is horrible, the colors so so, but there is authenticity. I don’t know, maybe I’ll leave it as it is.

It's probably a good time for a few words about the Sound of the Exhibition. The sound quality at the show is a result of a multitude of factors. Hence we need to be appreciative of these brief moments when the sound of an audio system suddenly engages us; when we suddenly stop with a dropped jaw and just listen. It happened to me several times this year. So much greater respect for all those who managed to achieve it.

May 9th, Wednesday, 12:00
Renate Paxe, in charge of contacts with the press, has sent a summary of the show. A bullet list looks as follows:

  • more visitors – total number of 14,671 people;
  • 4,427 people from the audio industry from all around the world;
  • a huge number of journalists;
  • exhibitors were very pleased with the high class people from the industry;
  • international character of the show;
  • a number of innovative products.

Year201020112012+/- in relation to 2011
Exhibitors258337366+ 8,6%
Exhibition area 18 373 m²20 000 m²20 000 m²-
Accredited journalists446437483+ 10,5%
People from the industry384943984427+ 0,7%
Sold tickets11 020968110 244+ 5,8%
Total number of visitors14 86914 07914 671+ 4,2%