The 2016 Munich High End Show has arguably become the most important high-performance audio show in the world. It continues to grow, boasting more than 500 exhibitors, 316 of which hail from other countries. Whereas companies used to time their new product launches for introduction at the Consumer Electronics Show, an increasing number are premiering their new creations in Munich or presenting their European debuts at the show.
Although the Munich Show is great for seeing a lot of terrific new gear, the sound is typically not very good. With the MOC’s external shell made largely of glass in a 28,361-square-meter space, it’s akin to trying to get great sound in a room at an airport terminal. That said, several companies were able to overcome this impediment and produce good, if not great, sound.
Not surprisingly, two of best sounds I heard in Munich were systems demo’d at off-site locations. At local dealer MySound, the Wilson Audio Alexx loudspeakers, Pass Labs electronics, and MIT cables and articulation consoles sounded terrific. At the Hifi Deluxe Show at the Munich Marriott, I also enjoyed a more affordable system featuring a Brinkmann Bardo turntable/’arm with Pi cartridge, with the Zesto Audio Leto, Bia, and Andros 1.2 electronics (on an Audiophilar rack), driving Joseph Audio Profile speakers using Cardas Clear Beyond speaker cables and Clear interconnects and power cables.
The cable and power products category may not be the sexiest, but many manufacturers demonstrated how even modestly priced cables can help draw out better performance from one’s system. It’s no surprise that the best-sounding systems in Munich also sported high-quality cables, power products, and accessories.
Five Most Significant Cable and Power Products
Music Interface Technologies (MIT) Articulation Control Consoles
MIT’s new 169, 206, and 268 Articulation Control Consoles sport three controls over three sections of the bandwidth that allow the listener to optimize the performance in challenging rooms and across different equipment. These products will undoubtedly raise some eyebrows due to their considerable prices, but based on what I heard in Munich, they do bring one closer to the sound of a live performance. Mated to MIT’s Oracle SHD cables, they helped produce some of the best sounds in Munich, both at the MOC in a system with Magico’s S5 Mk II loudspeakers, Constellation electronics, and a Dr. Feickert turntable/’arm with a Lyra Etna cartridge, as well as at local dealer MySound where, as referenced earlier, the new Wilson Alexx speakers were driven by Pass Labs XA 160.8 monoblocks and XS preamplifier. MIT’s Kent Loughlin said this new technology “pushes the energy forward,” much like what you feel during a live performance. There was an aliveness and naturalness in both of these systems, and I could feel the air pressure on my chest, like I do at a live concert. Robert Harley will be putting the 268 Articulation Control Console through its paces in an upcoming review.
Shunyata Research Hydra “Denali” Series Power Conditioners
Shunyata’s new Hydra Denali series (called the Eiger series in Europe) of power conditioners utilizes new filters developed for the manufacturer’s power products for the medical imaging field. This technology appears to be quite a breakthrough since it significantly reduces noise and increases resolution. I was amazed at the difference in clarity on heart scan images using Shunyata’s “medical” filters, and assume it will offer similar benefits to audio enthusiasts. The flagship 6000T offers two high-current outlets and four source/preamp outlets with the new “medical” filters and a 30-amp electromagnetic breaker. The 6000S ($3995) is similar, but is a shelf unit with a 20-amp breaker. Both should be shipping within the next month. While the Denali units were on passive display, Shunyata cabling and power products contributed to the outstanding sound (on Day 3) of the MartinLogan Neolith loudspeakers driven by Constellation electronics and its Continuum Obsidian turntable with Viper ’arm. Resolution was superb.
Nordost Reference Internal Tonearm Wire
One might think that the internal wire of a tonearm wouldn’t make a major sonic difference as long as the ’arm was wired with high-quality cable, but you’d be wrong! In a unique demo using a VPI Avenger ’table with two VPI 3D tonearms and cartridges that were identical save for the internal tonearm wire, I was able to hear the difference first-hand. With the Nordost Reference internal wire in the tonearm, the sound was significantly more transparent and detailed, and had better bass definition than in the stock ’arm with its Discovery cable. Of course, when the tonearm cables themselves were upgraded from Nordost Heimdall 2 to Valhalla 2, the sound became much more holographic and three-dimensional, with noticeable gains in resolution and transparency. Who said cables don’t make a difference? Although these cables debuted at CES, Nordost was among the several manufacturers introducing new digital cables to the European market, introducing its Blue Heaven and Heimdall 2 Ethernet cables, and TYR 2 digital interconnects (both SPDIF and AES/EBU), as well as Blue Heaven headphone cables featuring Nordost’s micro mono-filament technology and at least nine different termination options! If you have a high-performance headphone, Nordost appears to have a cable solution that will fit your needs.
Crystal Cable Next
According to Crystal Cable’s Gabi Rijnveld, high-quality cables may make an even bigger difference in personal audio than they do in stereo systems. Crystal Cable’s Next earphone cables ($899) use a combination of proprietary silver-gold conductors and mono-crystal copper. They are quite flexible and lightweight, and are designed to survive rough use without snapping or breaking. Here are high-performance earphone cables that sound great and make you feel like you’re hardly wearing them. I half expected them to float in air! Crystal Cable Next is available exclusively through Astell&Kern.
AudioQuest Niagara 7000 and 1000 Power/Noise Dissipation Systems
Designer Garth Powell demonstrated these new power products in active systems for their European debuts. The Niagara 7000 ($7995) is the flagship in the AudioQuest line with “dielectric-biased AC isolation transformers” to reduce non-linear distortions. It also offers transient power correction, as well as a patented ground-noise-dissipation system. Inserting the Niagara 7000 ($7995) into the demo system resulted in clearer highs, more dynamic impact, broader and deeper soundstaging, and less muddy bass. With six outlets in its sleek chassis, the Niagara 1000 ($995) offered much of that performance increase (reported to be 80 to 85 percent) at a much lower price. Although it lacks the isolation transformers and transient power correction technology of its bigger brother, it does utilize AudioQuest’s noise dissipation technology. With its one high-current outlet and five outlets for sources and/or preamps, the Niagara 1000 is a great way to go for smaller systems.
Purist Audio 30th Anniversary USB and AC Power Cables
To help commemorate its 30 years of crafting audio cables (I still own a set of the “Texas Water Cables”), Purist Audio has added a new USB ($1500) and AC power cable ($15,000) to its line. Purist isolates the data signal from the power in its USB cable to help open up the cable musically, and employs a tuned ferrite to block interference. It is designed for optimal performance up to 5 meters. Purist’s 30th Anniversary Power Cord is said to significantly improve upon the performance of the company’s 25th Anniversary Power Cord and is comprised of a custom wire bundle of single crystal silver conductors, with Contego material for improved dampening and shielding, as well as improved AC power conditioning circuitry. This 8-gauge power cord is terminated with Furutech’s Nano Crystal2 Formula (NCF) connectors. These 30th Anniversary Purist Audio cables helped produce a very natural yet detailed sound in the demo system.
Cardas Clear Network (CAT 7) Cable
Besides showing its humongous Special Edition connectors for nuclear power plants, Cardas also debuted its new Clear Network (CAT 7) ($400) Ethernet cable utilizing eight 24 AWG Cardas solid-core conductors, arranged in shielded pairs, with each pair having its own drain wire. It also employs premium Telegartner RJ45 connectors. As highlighted earlier, Cardas Clear Beyond speaker cables and Clear interconnects paired with Zesto electronics, and Joseph Audio Profile speakers produced a very natural sound with very good transparency and focus at the Hifi Deluxe Show.
Skogrand Beethoven Series Cables
Skogrand expanded its flagship Beethoven line with all new digital cables (USB 2.0, 75-ohm, and AES/EBU), as well as a new AC power cord, to complement its Beethoven speaker cables and interconnects. The Beethoven’s feature “ultra pure” solid-core copper with a 100-percent air dielectric (so the cables “float in air”) and utilize three layers of shielding. In a system with Lampizator electronics, a Kronos Sparta turntable, and Emme “Galileo” speakers, the sound was very detailed with lightning-fast transients without any smearing across a broad and deep soundstage. The system had great dynamic punch although the bass was a bit boomy because of the room.
These extremely lightweight cables were on passive display. They use an advanced air-dielectric design to eliminate micro discharge interface distortion (MDI), thereby helping to produce a more natural sound field in the listening room. No synthetic polymers are used as dielectrics, and the cables use solid-core conductors produced from a copper alloy via a specialized process called continuous casting to avoid tensions, discontinuities, and micro-gaps in the molecular crystal lattice. They are distributed in the U.S. by Audioarts.
Best Sound (Cost No Object)
At perhaps the best dealer showroom I’ve ever visited, MySound, the Wilson Alexx was paired with Pass Labs electronics, a Sound Devices 744T recorder into a Meitner DAC, and MIT cables and interconnects, including MIT’s new ACC 268 articulation consoles. On a wonderful recording by Peter McGrath of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata, the piano sounded very natural and realistic, with concussive impact, great focus, and beautiful timbre. This demonstration in an optimized room showed how good this speaker can be.
Best Sound (For the Money)
HiFiMan’s new SuperMini hi-res portable player ($399) is a bargain and is so small it fits in your pocket. It weighs only 2.4 ounces and maintains its battery charge for approximately twenty-two hours.
Most Significant Product Introduction
MIT’s Articulation Consoles bring one closer to the sound of a live performance.
Most Significant Trend
Analog front-ends—there seemed to be more turntables in Munich than I’ve seen there before (or at any other show), and more exhibitors were using reel-to-reel tape sources, too.
Most Coveted Product
FM Acoustics 123 phono preamp (€13k) filters out the pops and ticks on your beaten-up records in real time without any dulling of the sound where the scratches were. Amazing!