For the third year running Josh and I have spent 4 days in the beer-crazed German City for what can only be the world’s biggest and best HiFi show. It is an event that can certainly be overwhelming for newcomers due to its sheer size and if you want to touch every corner doing it in one day just isn’t a possibility. After year one we were in awe at how it turned our perception of audio shows right on its head but after this year we were a little more underwhelmed.
I think it is a bit more of an “it’s not you, it’s me” situation and how we have adapted to this industry over the last three years. We are undeniably more within the portable audio sector but still have a big love for the daunting two channel expansion. The boom in portable audio at this show is perhaps the most apparent trend. The ground floor “Halles” are now littered by headphones and DAPs and even in the atriums and on the upper floors, rooms often had a speaker set up and then some sort of amp/headphone display, even if just because their DAC or integrated amp featured a headphone output. Here are a few examples of just that….
Tube based electronic manufacturer Octave Audio was showing off their new V16 integrated amp (€8500) which had both 8 watts per channel speaker outputs and a 4 pin XLR balanced headphone output. Demoed with Denon’s latest flagship the £549 D7200 (smart due to its closed back design) we were stunned by an intense sub-bass experience.
Clearaudio’s huge and visually sublime turntable exhibition demoed its record players solely through headphones, including some suspect Ultrasone’s and some rather nuts Jecklin Float reincarnations from Ergo Headphones (£205) that were a good laugh to try as they are essentially speakers floating next to your head with no seal.
You then had Focal with a massive listening station for their range of headphones and a rather attractive display showing off their €100,000 Utopia by Tournaire. There was a genuine balance in their huge display room between their stellar cans and new speaker launches.
It was even a great surprise to see Headamp their for the first time with what is in my eyes one of the best sounding electrostatic systems in the world, Stax’s SR-007 (we prefer this rig although the SR-009 was also available to listen) along with their Blue Hawaii amplification ($5799+).
RHA had a bigger exhibit than ever to mainly promote their new wireless versions of the MA650 (£99.95) and MA750 (£149.95). We had a listen to the latter and was surprised with how close it sounded to the wired version and really liked the comfort of the banded cable design. It is great that the circuitry is all pushed farther back into the cable so that the actual earpieces are small and ergonomic and with people loving wireless when working out, RHA have made sure this is IP rated and sweat resistant.
I should lastly mention these Crosszone CZ-1 headphones. This was the first I have seen of them and their idea was to use two beryllium drivers (one bigger than the other) in each cup to create a crossed like effect. Similar to Lear with their NSS earphones. These headphones were bulky and sounded terrible. While I don’t have an exact figure I know the price point is very elevated which does not help their case.
While it is indeed great that there has been an influx in the headphone arena, the main bulk of the show is still centred around full stereo systems and it is in this department things are a little stale for us. Companies are located in the same space, a lot of the time demoing the same speakers with the same electronics. Obviously, it is a much slower paced industry than the fast moving personal market but it still lacked some flare, even more so when you get to the slightly depressing choice of demo tracks. Room after room had a Munich 2017 playlist which mostly consisted of one instrument playing or even worse, a series of plinks being thrown around the room. Seriously there was a real lack of MUSIC! I am not saying play badly recorded stuff but it is hardly like there is a lack of slightly more complicated music that is still expertly mastered. If you don’t trust your half a million pound set up with actual music then I think you ought to call it a day with this industry. I think my worst experience was in the Auris room where the was actually no music playing and after sitting down the rep walked out… we were speechless. A few companies did know what was going on such as Bryston who were serving some of the tastiest coffee, a big reason we often found ourselves going back. Above their booth though was this sign and I couldn’t agree more!
Turn the page to see which companies we thought sounded good… good enough to get their picture taken!