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The 2024 Munich High-End Show: Robert Harley on Loudspeakers

munich 2024

The Munich show is traditionally the coming out party for many new speaker models, and this year didn’t disappoint. As is typical of Munich, most of the speaker introductions were of the upper-end variety, but there were some promising lower-priced models as well.

RH-1 Marten

The first speaker I heard was a newly upgraded version of the Marten Coltrane called the Coltrane Quintet. It is the Swedish company’s first overhaul of its flagship in six years. Priced at 170,000 euros, the Quintet features a new enclosure, upgraded drivers, and top-of-the-line internal wire from Marten’s sister company, Jorma. Driven by Halcro(!) electronics and the new MSB Cascade DAC, the sound was smooth yet highly detailed from the 4” diamond upper-midrange unit, domed carbon-fiber lower midrange, and diamond tweeter. The show was off to a good start.

Stenheim showed two upgraded versions of its excellent Alumine 5 SE (well-reviewed by Jonathan Valin) called the Alumine 5 SX and Alumine 5 LE (Limited Edition). Both models include, among other upgrades, a new plinth machined from a solid aluminum block that raises and supports the speaker while also reducing enclosure resonances. Although the LE is limited to just ten pairs, it is joined by the Alumine 5 SX which also features the new support base without the tweaky upgrades (and gold-leaf adornments) of the LE. The SX also includes a control panel on the rear for adjusting the tonal balance to your room and tastes. There are grounding posts on both models, a feature that is becoming more popular on speakers and electronics as the industry begins to recognize the importance of connecting an audio system to a dedicated grounding device. The new plinth is available separately as a retrofit ($13,500) for Alumine 5 SE owners. Driven by Nagra electronics, the $97,500 Alumine 5 LE threw a large and well-defined soundstage with an engaging musicality that had me returning to the room twice more during the show.

Germany’s T+A introduced the new Criterion line that feature transmission-line loading. Company founder and loudspeaker designer Siggy Amft explained the design details of the transmission line using a cut-away enclosure. Quite a bit of engineering went into the transmission line’s shape and the placement of damping within the line. T+A demonstrated the $16,490 Criterion S240, which has two woofers, two mid/woofers, and a magnesium-dome tweeter in a nicely finished enclosure. It looks like a lot of speaker for the money. Deliveries begin in June.

RH-2 Magico

Magico used the Munich show to formally introduce the new S5 2024, a larger version of the amazing S3 2023 that wowed me last year (and Jonathan Valin in his review in Issue 347). With a substantially larger enclosure and a pair of 10” woofers coupled to a 6” midrange, the S5 had a much more energy in the power range than the S3, which was demonstrated in the same room last year with the same electronics and front end (including a Wadax Reference DAC). The S5’s bottom end was big and powerful, with a strong physical presence. It didn’t sound quite as lithe and light on its feet as the S3, which could have been due to a room resonance. Price: $74,500.

RH-3 Albedo

After enjoying listening to the Achema from Italian speaker maker Albedo, I asked the company founder/designer the price. Based on the excellent sound quality and superb fit ’n’ finish, I was expecting to hear a number north of $30k. But he told me the Achema has a U.S. retail price of $16,500. The Achema is a two-and-a-half-way floorstander with transmission-line loading (as are all models in the company’s portfolio) with slightly different sized mid/woofers (160 and 175mm) mated to a dome tweeter. The enclosure is fitted with exterior metal side panels that reportedly tune cabinet resonances. I also learned that Albedo has been in business for more than 20 years and makes several more ambitious models, including the $140k diamond-tweetered Atesia.

RH-4 Scansonic

Scansonic of Denmark showed the new MB8B (15,000 euros), a tall and slim floorstanding speaker with a ribbon tweeter featuring dual 8” woofers with a carbon-fiber midrange and ribbon tweeter. Scansonic’s parent company, Raidho, produced terrific sound from two different models, the all-new X2.6 and the long-standing flagship, the TD6. The 2.5-way X2.6 features Raidho’s two 6.5” ceramic-coated woofers, a ribbon tweeter, and premium crossover components. The drivers are all designed and built in Denmark. The speaker also introduces a new foot design with decoupling ball bearings inside. The X2.5 simply disappeared as a sound source, filling the large room with a wide, deep, highly defined soundstage populated with tangible images. The X2.6 shared the stage with the mighty TD6 ($210k euros). Based on the X2.6’s huge soundstage, one could believe that the TD6 was playing, not the smaller speaker. The X2.6’s bass was more than adequate to fill the big room. On a price-to-performance basis, the 21,000 euro Raidho X2.6 was one of the show’s most remarkable debuts. I was also greatly impressed by the TD6, which was among the best sounds at the show. Both speakers were driven by Moon electronics including the company’s new 891 network player and massive 888 monoblock amplifiers.

RH-4 Wilson

To commemorate the company’s fiftieth anniversary, Wilson Audio showed (but didn’t demonstrate) a special edition of the WATT/Puppy. The retrospective speaker has the same dimensions and look of earlier generations but is built with modern drivers and materials. The WP went through eight iterations from 1986 to 2011, until the WATT/Puppy became the Sasha. Wilson showed the new speaker on a rotating turntable alongside a vintage example.

Florence’s Rosso Fiorentino showed but didn’t demonstrate its new Arno, a mid-sized speaker priced at 12k euros. The Arno features drivers completely designed and built in-house, a first for Rosso Fiorentino. These highly sophisticated new drivers will likely find their way into future speakers from this Italian speaker specialist. The Arno featured a luxurious leather-clad enclosure that only the Italians seem able to do.

RH-6 Rockport

Another speaker shown but not demonstrated was Rockport’s upcoming Lynx. This new three-way floorstander bridges the gap between the company’s $47k Avior II and the $133k Orion. The Lynx features an aluminum enclosure cast in a single piece (plus the plinth) that is finished in a textured coating rather than high-gloss paint. This finish, new to Rockport, is reportedly how the company can offer a cast-aluminum enclosure at this price ($74,500). To damp resonances, the cast enclosure undergoes multiple applications of a special damping material that greatly increases its weight. I was invited to handle the Lynx, which felt like it was made from solid lead. Significantly, the Lynx features the same midrange and tweeter found in the company’s superb $190k Lyra flagship. Deliveries begin in September.

Dynaudio showed several new products including a Black Edition of the Contour 20 with a new crossover, better parts, Dynaudio’s Esotar 3 tweeter, and a larger port. The $8k stand-mount will be available in October. The company has also taken its excellent Confidence 20 stand-mount (reviewed by Neil Gader in Issue 338) and turned it into an active system with electronics and DSP control built into the stand. The speaker has analog and digital inputs with an integral 192/24 A/D converter. The crossover is implemented in the digital domain and features driver-protection programming as well as frequency contouring. Finally, Dynaudio showed a new Contour Legacy, a slim floorstander intentionally designed with a 1970s retro-look, complete with walnut enclosure. Inside, however, are Dynaudio’s advanced drivers and high-end crossover parts (Mundorf, etc.). Price: $14k.

RH-7 Cessaro

When I walked into the show’s largest room and saw the massive, almost cartoonish-looking Cessaro Zeta horn system, my first thought was that this odd-looking contraption could never work or sound “of a piece” from top to bottom. That prejudice was instantly dispelled seconds into the first piece of music. Simply put, the Zeta was absolutely stunning in its realistic portrayal of instrumental timbre, dynamics, imaging, and ability to conjure up the illusion of the physical presence of musical instruments. This was particularly true on brass instruments—the trumpet and sax on Basie Jam or an Art Blakey album, for examples. It was like being transported to the recording studio by a time machine. The many design details are too extensive for a show report but suffice to say that the conception and execution are heroic, including the ability to articulate each driver in two axes, including the massive upper horn, for perfect time alignment at the listening position. The five-way system has a sensitivity of an astonishing 112dB. Huge and impractical for all but a very few, the $600,000 Cessaro Zeta nonetheless demonstrates the potential of horns when realized with this level of execution.

Another horn that sounded excellent was a redesigned version of the Bob called the Bob-L from Stein Music, with six 12″ side-firing powered subwoofers with DSP crossover. The front drivers are passive, with three 10″ front-firing woofers and a horn midrange and tweeter.

At the other end of the spectrum, Harbeth showed a tiny stand-mount that is part of the NLE line (“New Listening Experience”). Using the same drivers as the company’s P3 in a smaller cabinet, the NLE-1 is an active system with a DSP crossover. Designer Alan Shaw told me of an experiment in which they played two otherwise identical speakers, one fitted with a traditional analog crossover and one with a DSP crossover, for more than 100 listeners (who didn’t know what they were evaluating), and every single listener preferred the speaker with the digital crossover. Price: 3000 British Pounds.

Gershman Acoustics had a great showing of the 30th anniversary edition of its Black Swan, which features a separate woofer that fits between the “wings” of the midrange/tweeter module. The woofer enclosure incorporates a bass trap for a smoother bottom end. The $95k speaker sounded superb on a variety of LPs, with the MOC listening room and speakers disappearing into a beautifully rendered soundstage. The tonal balance was very smooth and natural, and bass articulation was excellent while not sacrificing weight and power.

Rh-8 Gobel

Göbel High-End, known for its large and ambitious speakers, introduced the smaller, more affordable (59,000 euros) Divin Comtesse. Based on the company’s bending-wave technology, the diminutive three-way floorstander features an 8” woofer, 8” midrange, and a massive AMT tweeter mounted in an aluminum waveguide. The woofer and midrange are of Göbel’s own design. Sensitivity is 89dB. Despite its relative shortness, the Divin Cometesse sounded like a much bigger speaker, projecting images well above its height. The bass was superb, combining articulation with plenty of weight in the powerband. The Divin Comtesse was an extremely impressive debut.

Berlin-based Voxativ demonstrated a newly reconfigured version of the speaker that beguiled Jonathan Valin back in Issue 289. In this new three-enclosure configuration, called the 9.88 System, the company’s 6” full-range driver is mounted in the top enclosure, a mid/woofer in the middle enclosure, and dual, powered 12” woofers in a push-pull arrangement mounted in the slot-loaded bottom enclosure. Despite the three enclosures, the system sounded smooth and continuous, bringing deep-bass extension and bottom-end dynamics to the wonderful midrange qualities that make Voxativ speakers special.

RH-9 Audio Vector

Audiovector founder Ole Kilforh was on hand to show a newly reimagined version of his first speaker, the Trapeze, featuring the same wedge shape as the 1979 original but built with modern drivers and crossover components.

DALI, an initialism for Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industry, introduced the new Rubikore series, a trickle-down line from the company’s flagship Kore project. The line has five models including two floorstanders, a bookshelf, on-wall surrounds, and a center channel. All feature Clarity Cone Technology for the bass and midrange drivers, along with DALI’s long-standing Hybrid tweeter that combines a dome tweeter and a ribbon supertweeter on the same faceplate (the bookshelf uses only a dome tweeter). The two floorstanders are priced at $5999k and $4499, respectively. The entire series is designed and built in Denmark. I’ve noticed a trend for European manufacturers to bring production of their lower-priced products back in-house rather than rely on Chinese manufacturing.

The Spanish cable manufacturer Fono Acoustica has entered the loudspeaker market with a new company called Avalos Sound Design. The first product from the company is a large floorstanding three-way featuring a cabinet made in Germany from Panzerholz and acrylic in a thermo-formed composite. The dual 10” Audio Technology woofers and tweeter are all wired with top Fono Acoustica cable. The elegant-looking speaker is available in a wide range of wood veneers and finishes.

Although they are not new models, I’d like to recognize a number of speakers that have been previously introduced but sounded superb at the show. The Estelon XB Diamond Mk.II driven by MSB amplifiers with an Aurender and dCS digital front end produced a gorgeous sound. Von Schweikert had a good show with their VR-55 SE driven by VAC electronics. The previously mentioned Raidho T6 was also superb, combining fabulous imaging, realistic timbres, and a powerful sense of presence.

Although my colleague Alan Taffel and I agreed to name the five most impressive systems, I’m going to cheat and name six, three of which feature alternative loudspeaker technologies (alternatives to cones, at least) and three that delivered superb musical performance without the megabuck price tag.

I’ll start with the MBL 101 X-Treme MKII driven, naturally, by all-MBL electronics including the company’s new $11k C41 Network Streamer. I returned to MBL’s room four times to confirm my impressions that the X-Treme is truly a one-of-a-kind transducer. It does everything spectacularly well and has no apparent shortcomings. My second mega-system pick is the Cessaro Zeta horn system described earlier. My third is the AlsyVox Caravaggio full-range ribbon that I reviewed in the July/August issue. Although not quite as impressive as AlsyVox’s demo last year, and a touch short of the performance I hear in my home, the Caravaggio nonetheless takes its place as one of the world’s great loudspeakers.

My three more modest systems that I found musically compelling were satisfying in their own ways. The first is the Magico S3 2024 ($44k) driven by the new Wadax Studio Player, a disc transport, DAC, streamer, and digital preamplifier in one chassis. The Studio fed the new Audio Research Reference 330M monoblock power amplifier—with no need for a preamp thanks to the Studio’s built-in volume control. The system sounded like music, not hi-fi, with a warmth and liquidity missing from many systems at show. Next up was a perennial Munich favorite, the Rockport/Absolare room. The Rockport Atria II ($38k) was driven by Absolare’s excellent Integrated Amplifier that combines tubes in the front end with a solid-state output section. Again, this system produced an engaging musicality that drew me into the musical performance, not the sound. Finally, the Wilson Sasha V powered by the new generation of Constellation Audio electronics from the Revelation Series was perhaps the best I’ve heard the Sasha V sound, which is saying a lot. Constellation’s newly updated series appears to be a winner; watch for our full review. All three of these systems were musically communicative and delivered the essence of what high-end audio is all about.

RH’s Best of Show

Best Sound (cost no object)
MBL 101 X-Treme MKII (see above).

Best Sound (cost considered)
Andrew Jones’ MoFi 888 loudspeaker, driven by Aesthetix electronics, is the obvious choice. How the 888 can deliver that level of sound quality for $5k is a mystery. The Raidho X2.6 at 21,000 euros delivered the sound quality of a much more expensive speaker.

Most Significant Introduction
Wadax Studio Player. The Spanish company has finally trickled down its state-of-the-art digital technology to a convenient and more cost-effective product.


Robert Harley

By Robert Harley

My older brother Stephen introduced me to music when I was about 12 years old. Stephen was a prodigious musical talent (he went on to get a degree in Composition) who generously shared his records and passion for music with his little brother.

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