Good old-fashioned American chauvinism notwithstanding, Munich is by consensus the world’s most important high-end audio show, replacing CES as the place to do business—that is, if doing business in Europe and the Far East are on your agenda. However, it isn’t commerce or the large number of exhibitors that you don’t find at other shows that makes Munich so special (and so endearing) to me.
We in the press are always talking about how important it is to find a means of sharing our hobby with younger people—to pass the high-end torch to music lovers who aren’t graying Boomers like us. Munich is the only audio trade show I’ve attended where you can actually see this happening. In München entire families turn out to look and listen. Droves of them. Oh, of course, there are the usual seamed faces and sagging bellies, as well. But in my life I’ve never seen so many dads, moms, and kids at a hi-fi show. It’s enough to raise an old man’s spirits.
I’m sure this changing of the guard is in no small part due to cultural differences—to the way music (particularly classical music) is valued in Germany and throughout much of Europe and Asia. It is also due to the way the show is promoted. I was thunderstruck to see professional advertisements for Munich High End posted in subway cars (and everywhere else throughout the city). In this town, a high-end stereo system apparently isn’t the sole property of some old geezer (like me) sitting alone in his room, listening to the same cuts over and over again while he moves his speakers half-an-inch at a time to optimize imaging. In this town, listening to music is a family affair. You add this greening of the high end to the great food, the wonderful live music played daily and nightly in the city itself and in nearby towns (like Salzburg or Vienna), and the many beautiful cultural sites, and you have, I think, a recipe for turning our industry into something young and hopeful again.
Having said this, I have to quickly add that on Day One (the press day before the show opens to the public on the weekend) the sound in München was anything but gemütlich. Of course, exhibitors were still fiddling with their setups, trying to find the last-minute magic formula for making their systems sing in those awful MOC “rooms” (which aren’t really rooms but long glass-walled corridors that have been sub-sectioned, via thin dividers, into individual exhibition spaces). The MOC Convention Center may be vast and rather beautiful in an Bauhaus/industrial sense, but it is not and never will be the best place for listening—especially, as was so often the case, if the guy “next-door” to you is blasting the U-571 soundtrack through a home-theater system or otherwise intent on showing off his brace of eighteen-inch subwoofers.
Unhappily for Yoav Geva, Dick Diamond, and YG Acoustics, it was their room that I happened upon first. I really liked YG’s new $100k+ flagship Sonja speakers at CES, where they were driven by D’Agostino Momentum electronics. Here, driven by Qualia electronics and a Kronos ’table, not so much (at least on hour one of Day One). Keb Mo’s voice sounded a little hoarser and more opaque than it usually does, although the timbre of his guitars was attractively rich. Part of the problem was that the top end was a little rolled off, making transients somewhat sluggish and robbing the system of sparkle and life. On Chad Kassem’s new reissue of The Reiner Sound, the Ravel Rapsodie espagnole was dark and lovely, though there was some clipping on tuttis and the bass, while quite respectably good, was not particularly deep (and this is a recording with deep bass). I think the Qualia electronics needed some settling in, because the system sounded quite a bit better (as did everything I heard on Day One) later in the show. By Day Two, for instance, the bass had tightened up with much better definition and impact and tremendous weight and body on big band. Quite an improvement!