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Munich High End (& A Future For Hi-Fi)

26 June 2014 1:53:40 PM AEST

A SIGNIFICANT INCREASE in exhibitors and exhibition space ensured this year’s annual HIGH END in Munich was the biggest show of its kind. With more than 900 brands represented by 452 exhibitors, the exhibition was met with unanimous enthusiasm by the many visitors this writer spoke to — and no doubt the overall 18,000 that attended from around the globe.

One of the main topics of discussion surrounding these events is identifying the best rooms and products of the show. As always, this raises great conjecture and debate, which demonstrates our varied personal opinions and why choice can be critical — even though sometimes confusing without professional help and expertise to guide at hand.

With current product and new releases from renowned CE and audiophile manufacturers, and bold start-ups with visionary ideas, there was something for everyone’s taste and budget, with a great many highlights of the show being represented in Australia by Entertaining Environments’ partners, our members and many others that very soon will be.

Munich HIGH END certainly showcases the pinnacle of the hi-fi industry, and loudspeaker companies get more than their share of attention. Speakers in excess of $100,000 are commonplace, with many topping $250,000 and even higher… A gorgeous pair of ultra-expensive Salon dipoles by Wolf von Lunga caught my eye, as did Living Voices’ speaker-sub combo with an asking price of $1,000,000.

While you do, generally, get what you pay for, price is not necessarily a guide at the pointy end. The most talkedabout products from the loudspeaker manufacturers included Raidho Acoustics’ D5 (at $240,000) and D3 ($65,000), which utilise diamond-encrusted cones to raise the resonant frequency beyond the range of human hearing. Raidho’s new MB range starts from a jaw-droppingly reasonable $2500 with carbon woofers and PMD tweeter, due to debut in Australia in August.

A range-topping Twenty Six ($12,000) complemented PMC’s highly awarded Twenty Series, adding a dome midrange built specifically for the Twenty Six and reminiscent of those legendary midrange domes seen in PMC’s studio monitors, as used by musical artists, sound and movie producers the world over.

There were also the classics that, while their internals may have changed over time, their distinct aesthetic and improvement in their proprietary technologies continue to draw a crowd. The Tannoy Prestige GR keeps its timeless looks but adds new models for the contemporary consumer (DC10A, $40,000), while Avantgarde Acoustic, famous for its unmistakable horn loudspeakers, enter the modern living room with the exceptional Zero One, which uses DSP and active amplification to deliver the massive sound experience of horns in a more compact package.

I will admit being drawn to loudspeakers more than any other glaringly visible AV or hi-fi product. They can make or break the interior design of the room (and with that, potentially, your marriage!). Amplifiers and source equipment can be hidden if the home owner desires, still maintaining the system’s high-grade performance provided they’re installed correctly on appropriate stands. Products that integrate beautifully yet perform to my desires will always be atop my list.

And they don’t need to be more expensive than your home to satisfy! Indeed that’s what I took away as my overall perception of the show. As I enthusiastically — even gleefully — went from room to room around the show, it became clear that hi-fi has never left us. HIGH END and the hi-fi there on show was certainly more popular than it had been for a long time and was clearly only going to get stronger — and I have never seen so many happy faces at a show. Of course there was the usual mixed bag of exhibitors, and consumers and shows are hard work for them, but you sensed something good was happening here.

With an entire generation having little idea what a true hi-fi system sounds like, here was an assembly of manufacturers building and demonstrating fabulous products at a fraction of the price of their cost-no-object flagship model, brand patriarchs that remind me of my early days enjoying music from my parent’s honestly performing hi-fi system that served us so well. We could do a lot worse today, but if music is treated with the respect shown at HIGH END this year, we can look forward to a new generation of hi-fi enthusiasts in the years to come.