From reading TAS, you already know Munich is a different sort of audio show. Perhaps you have seen that it is bigger than anything in the U.S., and that different manufacturers attend. If you thought about it, you may even have realized that demos and side events are conducted in German. As a Munich newbie, I looked forward to experiencing these distinctions first hand. What I discovered, though, was that the dissimilarities I had anticipated, while all there, missed the two essential ways in which Munich is different: its radical physical format, and the culture in which it exists.
The first of these is the easiest to describe. If you’re used to U.S. audio events, Munich is a revelation. The show takes place not in a hotel but in a sprawling convention center. In the rest of the world, the closest equivalent to Munich is not an audio show at all—it’s an auto show. In both cases, companies display their wares in large exhibit halls, encouraging attendees to inspect and handle it. In these vast halls, you can’t drive/listen to the products, but knowledgeable reps are plentiful and stand ready to answer questions. Want to talk specs or compare models within a line? In Munich, it’s no problem.
Compare this with a typical U.S. show. Sound systems reside in their own space at the front of a hotel room, as if on stage. And like stage performers, they exude a don’t-touch-me aura. While it is possible to get a closer look—by clawing through crowds and annoying those trying to listen—the physical arrangement discourages anything more intimate than taking a photo. Meanwhile, manufacturers are busy with crowd control and playing requests. Lingering to ask questions seems inconsiderate to both the rep and those awaiting a turn in the room. Munich’s exhibition-space arrangement neatly sidesteps all these problems.
Ah, you say, but what about actual listening? Isn’t that the main point—to actually hear how this stuff sounds? Well, yes it is, and Munich has that solved as well. The organizers have hit on a simple but amazingly effective tactic: separate looking from listening. In the hall, you can ask the Raidho rep about the specs of the latest D2 speaker. Want to hear it? Head up to the associated listening room on the 2nd and 3rd floors. There you will find something more akin to other audio shows.
Even here, though, there are differences. The listening rooms in Munich are not hotel rooms; rather, they are conference rooms. This is both good and bad. In general, Munich’s facilities are more spacious than a typical hotel room. That allows more chairs and therefore the ability to accommodate more people without stress. The bad news is that these rooms were designed for meetings, not for a good night’s sleep. Consequently, wall thickness is meager and so is the acoustic isolation between rooms. Pretty much every manufacturer prefaced musical examples with an apology for sound intruding from the next room. Still, surprisingly, by raising levels enough to overcome the (substantial) ambient noise, good sound was not only attainable but commonplace.