HIGH END 2019 Show Report
There were horn speakers aplenty, but Living Voice's Vox Palladian with Vox Basso subwoofer produced the best performance.
It's been 15 years since the HIGH END Show relocated from Frankfurt to the MOC Exhibition center in Munich, and rarely have the fortunes of an event been so positively affected by a change of venue. As a space for an audio show, the MOC is extraordinarily effective, combining spacious halls – for booth and stand exhibitors – with dedicated rooms for larger and more ornate systems. Like all such buildings, it isn't perfect sonically – far from it, its mass of glass and concrete being singularly unsympathetic to the business of great audio. Get past this, though, and the sheer breadth of product on show makes this an unmissable event.
In terms of new product, pretty much every category of equipment has been bolstered. Picking out overarching themes at shows of this nature isn't always easy: there's enough of any given thing being announced for advocates of that approach to declare that it is the one that the industry is adopting wholesale, when of course nothing of the sort is happening. Nonetheless, I'm willing to stick my head above the parapet and suggest that there are some meaningful patterns.
The first is that the high end is in rude health. If you have the budget to go for a piece of equipment that lassoes exotic ends of the periodic table together to create something with the density of a neutron star, there are any number of companies clamoring for your business. Furthermore, there is a specific subset of these products that is now openly gunning to be labeled 'The Best In The World': you only needed to look at the Wilson Benesch GMT One turntable prototype to see this in action. Everything, from the contactless 'Omega Drive' system to the remotely adjustable VTA adjustment good to increments of microns is there, all in the pursuit of being the best and attracting the customers who must have it.
This also manifests itself in the release of limited editions in genuinely limited quantities. If you want a pair of Focal Scala Utopia 40th Anniversary speakers in their fetching silver black finish, you'll need to be quick and lucky: only four pairs are to be made. The industry as a whole is starting to get to grips with the idea of genuine exclusivity and the excitement the concept generates.
Even with products not technically limited editions, many companies took the opportunity to demonstrate and bolster the top of their range. In the case of some of the combinations on display – such as Magico and MSB and Martin Logan and Pass Labs, to name but two – the results were extraordinarily impressive.
Magico was the speaker brand of choice for electronics companies to front their systems – here the M6 partners Soulution's equipment
Not everything was aimed at the luxury trinket set however. The Magicos at the show (and there were plenty of them) were all in the Q and M series, but the company's new product announcement concerned the A1, a two way standmount that is the most affordable (a relative term, admittedly) Magico yet. Likewise, Naim revamped its Mu-So all-in-one system to Mu-So 2, giving it features and functionality enjoyed by its more expensive models.
Sound United re-launched the Classé brand, with three new products to be built in Japan and available later in 2019 . On this right, this combination of Martin Logan Neolith and Pass Labs was another outstanding performer.
SME displayed a heady combination of old and new with the Model 10 and reproduced Garrard 301.
Yes, I remain concerned that some companies are ignoring the process by which new arrivals to HiFi might learn of their existence, let alone buy their products, but many others are working hard to ensure that there is at least a definable path to their mainstream products.
There was also an element of companies going back to their roots. Having focused on some remarkable digital products in recent years, Chord Electronics – celebrating its 30th Anniversary – released new amplifiers in the Ultima line, plus a phono stage, seeking to remind visitors that whatever digital wizardry it gets up to, the company made its name originally with amps.
In some cases, this process reached unprecedented levels. SME announced the Model 12, a replacement for the Model 10 that uses the attractive metalwork of the Synergy, but also took the wraps off a re-launched Garrard 301. Advocates of the idea of relentless technical advancement might want to consider that, in 2019, it will be possible to buy a new 301, a pair of Quad II valve amps and some Rogers LS3/5a speakers to go with them.
Touraj Moghaddam shows off his new entry level Vertere DG-1 turntable, due shortly. See interview on p20.
Celebrating their 40th Birthday, Focal announced some limited edition models and the option of a wood finish on the Utopia and Scala ranges.
Finally of course, there was no shortage of the peculiar: it wouldn't be Munich without it. Pink marble speakers, bamboo turntables, an amplifier making use of valves that ceased production roughly a century ago, and ionized plasma tweeters – all vied for visitor attention and gave the show a slightly different tone to most other events of this kind. Beyond the specifics of the products launched, Munich always manages to feel like a festival of the audio industry as much as a platform for product announcements – and this helps to cement its truly unmissable status .