HIGH END Munich 2019
Outside in the courtyard in front of Hall 4, see the Enjoy the Music sign? They were everywhere this year!
This system was DYNAMIC! Piano strikes were percussive, yet full in texture, with vibrant timbre and remarkably faithful decay. Midrange tone was just about as perfectly presented as I've ever heard from horns, and the bottom end was deep, powerful, and coherent, completely integrated with the delicious midrange performance. Uppermost octaves had a purity and shimmer that made them almost seem to float in the air they were created in. This was an exceptional system, very well set up, to one highly musically engaging result.
Next up was a stop in the Zellaton/YS Audio room, Atrium 4.2, F208. Both of my May visits to this show have found the Munich-based speaker manufacturer Zellaton showing with the even more expensive Japanese electronics manufacturer, YS Sound.
LPs were transcribed by either a Reed Muse 3C turntable (€15,850), fitted with the Reed 5T tonearm (€14,900), using yet another Top Wing (Top Wing was everywhere at this show) Suzaku Red Sparrow cartridge ($16,500), or the Reed Music 1C turntable (€11,000), using a Reed 1X tonearm (€3000), mounted with a DS Audio Master 1 optical cartridge (€22,000). Preamplification was handled by a YS Sound YSS-782 linestage ($312,500), in turn handing off to a set of YSS-722 monoblocks ($437,500/pr.), and everything was connected with Atomic Bonding cables from Dortmund, Germany's Schnerzinger.
The Zellaton Reference MkII is a very different looking and sounding 3-Way floor stander. It uses one 40 mm (1.6") cone tweeter, (not a dome, mind you, but a cone), one 180 mm (7") cone mid-woofer (covering a remarkably wide frequency range, from 250Hz to 6.5kHz!), and three 220 mm (9") cone woofers.
The Zellaton Reference MkII 3-Way floor stander.
Zellaton drivers are formed into a three-piece sandwich cone, with a micro-thin layer of aluminum film (just 0.006mm thick in the case of the tweeter) laid over an ultra-stiff, aerated foam, backed by a layer of proprietary treated paper, much as they have been since their original development in the 1930's. The result is an extremely light cone that is also incredibly stiff.
All these drivers use computer-optimized magnet systems, proprietary spiders and surrounds, and high-temperature voice coils on titanium-film formers. The dividing network employs ultra-high-end Duelund Coherent Audio caps, coils, and resistors, and they are wired internally with ultra-high-end Schnerzinger cable.
These drivers are all housed in a unique, multi-layered, matrix-braced, open-backed handcrafted enclosure. The enclosures are intricate, with complex damping, bracing, and the multi-layered wooden walls with varying thickness, from 34mm to 50mm. One of their most unique attributes is that a large portion of the rear baffle of the enclosure is open from top to bottom. Done to reduce (or eliminate?) compression of the back waves from all the drivers, it also gives the Reference MkII a pseudo-dipolar radiation pattern.
The YS Audio YSS-722 monoblocks
Given the ultra-wide frequency range covered by the midrange, conflated with the open-back baffle, the Reference MkII had an arresting, non-boxy sound. I wouldn't say that they offered the same box-lessness sense you get from the best ESL panels, but it was more similar than dissimilar to that sound.
Bass was deep, fast, and well defined. The mids were richly textured and vibrantly alive sounding. Treble was extended, refined, and airy. Timbre was near faultlessly rendered, and their ability to present the jump and slam of whatever music they were fed was stunning. Their portrayal of hall ambiance and spatial queues raised goose bumps. But what struck me most was their utter coherence, their sense of having a single voice, a broadband seamless sense of unity. This was a great sounding room.
The recently restructured, resurrected, and resuscitated German precision electronics manufacturer Audionet was in Atrium 4.2, Room E207, showing its long-awaited production-ready HUMBOLDT integrated amplifier, which is expected to be shipping this August. Though the final price is still TBA, it should be in the low to mid $50,000 range.
I got to meet the new CEO and Owner, Engineer Stefan Schwehr, formerly the leader of Paragon AG. Stefan's work at Paragon AG and his resultant familiarity with Audionet, given an ongoing joint development project using decentralized and networked digital amplification and signal processing modules integrated directly into the speaker for automotive applications, is what led him to step up and purchase Audionet when it was surfing some financial turbulence. I can't imagine a more fitting CEO, or a more successful direction for Audionet.
Like all the current Audionet products, this one is named for a prominent man of science, in this case famed Prussian polymath, geographer, naturalist, explorer, and influential proponent of Romantic philosophy and science, Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt resurrected the use of the word cosmos from the ancient Greek and assigned it to his multi-volume treatise, Kosmos, in which he sought to unify diverse branches of scientific knowledge and culture.
With circuitry by Audionet and design by legendary German industrial designer Hartmut Esslinger, the new integrated amplifier shares the same chassis as the STERN preamplifier, which Audionet says houses "the most advanced circuitry and technology money can buy." They feel that HUMBOLDT stands as an integrated amp unlike any other on this planet."
Resurrected German precision electronics manufacturer Audionet showed its long-awaited production-ready HUMBOLDT integrated amplifier.
Offering full dual mono layout of all circuitry, it utilizes four separate power supplies, one each for positive and negative power cycles, input, driver, and power stages. It employs two encapsulated and decoupled 100VA, and two encapsulated and decoupled 850VA, toroid transformers, all bolted to its stainless-steel assembly.
Like the statement STERN linestage, it features their unique floating panel design for optimal resistance against microphonic effects as well as temperature stability. The floating panels of the body are mounted by isolation pads to the aluminum frame for resonance-optimization.
Its high-resolution display shows user-defined names for each input as well as a readout for the power supply monitor and menus for adjusting the individual input levels. Using their superb Planck CD player/DAC ($18,900) – that's right folks, 16-bit/44kHz only – but oh is it EVER so accomplished, powered by the Ampere power supply ($11,800), as source, the Dynaudio Confidence 50 (€30,000), converted voltage back into kinetic energy.
I really was taken with this performance, and I had expected to be, as HUMBOLDT takes much of its lineage from the aforementioned STERN linestage and HEISENBERG monoblocks. I was fortunate enough to have those flagship products in my room for some two months last year, and what I heard from the HUMBOLDT, including the cunning combination of delicacy with power, focus with bloom, resolution with body, detail with texture, and clarity with expressiveness, left no question that this is one serious integrated.
I was only too happy to be able to spend time with Benno Baun Meldgaard (Raidho's new chief designer) and the USA's Audio Skies President, Michael Vamos. The Raidho room, Atrium 4.2, E227, had no less than three world premieres, the new Raidho TD3.8 loudspeakers ($100,000/pr.), the Pear Audio Blue Odar turntable ($18,000), and the Chord Ultima monoblock amplifiers ($41,000/pr.).