Walking through the melting pot of ultra high-end audio at Munich High End 2016 could easily fry your brain. We should be able to separate the "ultra high-end" for the sake of being ultra high-end, and what I consider to be the "practical" ultra high-end. These are the products that, while they might be out of reach of most people, can actually perform as promised, minus all the audio voodoo.
In this, the first of three daily diaries to come from the show, here are my picks for the top-five audio gear and innovations showcased at the event, which takes place from May 5 to 8 in Munich, Germany.
No amount of gear can perform well without a strong audio source. I'm not referring to the front-end (playback) units, but the recording itself. While sometimes hidden from plain view, many vendors showcase their audio system by utilizing an MQA audio source. MQA stands for Master Quality Authenticated; a seal of approval standardized by Meridian, which translates that the music you are listening to (if it is MQA-approved) will be as close as possible to the master recording. Meridian partnered with 7Digital for MQA-approved content, which you can get not only from a single hi-res store, but from various stores like Technics Tracks, Tidal, Pure and HMV Digital. With so many hardware companies embracing MQA as their track-source, be prepared for MQA to take over the industry as it makes obtaining HiRes files to be that much easier, and in a much smaller file sizes than the regular FLAC/ALAC lossless files.
2.Totem Element Fire
After showcasing the Element Metal last year, Canada's Totem Acoustics demonstrated the Element Fire at the 2016 event. Just like the rest of the Element series, the Fire is unique in its architectural design and geometric conception. Its multi-angled enclosure displays no apparent parallel lines, perceptually defying the laws of perspective. The speakers use seven-inch Torrent hand-assembled drivers, and bi-wireable platinum WBT connectors with no cross-over part in the woofer section in order to obtain the most faithful audio reproduction. Also, the design fits perfectly for smaller homes common in the European region, condos and even studio monitors where the distance between the back of the speakers to the wall tend to be around a foot or less. At the projected price of $6,000, these speakers will fit into most audiophiles' budgets.
3.Genelec 1234 SAM System
Known originally as the active-studio-monitors for the high-end recording industry, Genelec introduced the 1234 SAM System. A behemoth at 161 lbs. each with a reasonable price tag (for an audiophile-class recording studio) of approximately $150,000 per pair, these speakers are easily the absolute most accurate speakers at the show, though they aren't the nicest looking. They incorporate Genelec's AutoCal acoustic calibration system, which measures the listening area and applies relevant compensation to minimize the room's acoustic influence; and a Smart Active Monitoring system to eliminate guesswork in system configuration in order to create a (near) perfect listening environment. With their Directivity Control Waveguide, listeners don't necessarily need to listen at the perfect sweet-spot to enjoy the perfect studio-quality sound.
4.Mo'Sound Augarten Wien
These ball-shaped speakers are a relative newcomer from Vienna, with every single component also made in that city. The cones are constructed of bamboo with copper phase-cap, while the enclosures are made of fine porcelain from Augarten, the oldest porcelain manufacturer in Vienna. The stereo imaging of these $5,000 pair of balls (their words, not mine) is utterly fantastic; and the reproduction is uber honest too. Listening to my own recording, recorded about a decade ago in my studio, I could hear every fault. The bass is rather lacking; the speakers can only go down to 90Hz. But every nuance above 90Hz was reproduced perfectly, warts and all.
5.Metaxas and Sins - Solitaire
From the legendary Kostas Metaxas, an award-winning artist and audio designer, electrical and recording engineer, comes the Solitaire integrated amplifier (price TBA). This out-of-this-world-looking unit is individually five-axis CNC'd from a block of solid metal. The process creates a very solid, inert, non-resonant structure. Further, the all-metal construction acts as a Faraday Cage (an RFI shield) to protect the delicate electronic signal paths. As a result of this low-noise shielding, the amplifier can easily achieve the breathtaking musical three-dimensional depth, transparency and realism. Whatever comes in is amplified without adding or subtracting anything to the musical signal.
And then, to cap off the day perfectly, there was that giant Dynaudio speaker made entirely of Lego. See it in all its gloriousness below.
Read more in David's Day Two report from the show.
All photos by David Susilo