A visit to the High End 2016 show in Munich - Part II

[Italian version here]

Visitor: Carlo Iaccarino
The show took place from May, 5th, through May, 8th, 2016, at the M.O.C., Fair Center in Munich, Germany
Written: May, 2016
Website with plenty of informations: High End Society

... let's keep on

Here we go with other suggestions from some exhibitors that I found particularly interesting.


It's a French loudspeaker builder; the designer is Thierry Comte, of Triangle fame. This year they showed a nice Gallic system, with Atoll sources and amplifiers. The loudspeakers belonged to their GT series, of which they showed three models: a two-way bookshelf, the GT 1 - HD, for Euro 2.500/pair, and a three(and a half)-way floorstander, the GT 3 - HD, for Euro 8.000/pair. Both models can be combined with their active (500 W) subwoofer GT-SW2 SUB, for Euro 2.000. On the rear of both loudspeaker models a switch is placed to adjust tweeter's output; the floorstanding model sports a second switch to control the midrange's output.


Cabinets can be finished in gloss white, black or piano rosewood. Their appearance is very nice and my horrible picture doesn't pay them due justice, but I post it anyway, because I'd like you notice the external pair of "loudspeakers", near the floorstanders. Actually, its' not another loudspeaker; in fact, it's a stack of three subwoofers, DSP- driven. This, with the mid-high rear controls, aimed to show the French loudspeakers positioning flexibility, which was one of their design goals. I was fascinated by the sound of the little bookshelves on their stands, even - I'd say rather - without the help by any subwoofer.


Here we are, once again, chatting with Jason Lim, a longtime TNT's friend, since when he was leading NU-Force, that he later sold to Optoma. Jason exhibited his gear, with some news. Here you can see a picture of his exhibiting space.

[Nuprime Audio]

There was the final version of his IDA-8 integrated amplifier with a DAC built in (Euro 1.000). Also, there were the STA-9, a 120 W/ch stereo power amplifier that can be switched to mono mode, thus raising its power to 290 W (Euro 850), and its mating HPA-9 preamplifier/headphone amplifier (this, too, for Euro 850). Moreover, I point you to a machine that, under a single hood, comprises a digital preamplifier and an audio-video processor. It comes in a multichannel version (HD-AVP, for Euro 2.400), partnering with a multichannel power amplifier. But it comes also in a "plain stereo" version, the HD-AVA, for Euro 3.000, that sticks with only two channels, but adds a stereo power section, thus becoming an integrated amplifier/processor, dedicated to those who - like me... - enjoys video in "simple 2.0".
Yet, the probably most interesting machine I saw is the one pictured here (you already know I'm the dumber of photographers): it's the little box placed above the amplifier.

[Nuprime Audio]

It' called WR-100 and is an adaptor that allows connection via wi-fi with amplifiers that lack this kind of input. Nothing strange, until now. Yes, but this little box can connect to Nuprime units using an ethernet cable (RJ45-terminated) that establishes a bidirectional connection: it gives to the amplifier the signal received via wifi (and translated into a line-level signal), and receives from the amplifier the (little) power supply it needs to work. Saving on the PSU, Jason could limit its cost to Euro 130.
My visits to the Nu-Prime stand are always source of food for thoughts. For Jason, the present stage of development of our toys gives a lot of relevance to the listening to "file-sourced" music, so gear is needed that can automatically reproduce those files. Hence, the trend - of which I already wrote - to market single machines that can stream those files, decode them, and even amplify them, less (can amps) or more (traditional amplifiers). In this context, for Jason, in the near future we'll see less and less DACs - at least at human prices - because the decoding ability will have to reside inside the machines, as is already the case for the whole bunch of portable players, from smartphones to dedicated audio file players (even Hi-Res). By the way, Jason is working to such a product; yet, it's still unfinished, so he didn't say anything about production timeline or price. He even asked me not to take a picture of its "prototype-not-prototype"... So, I shot him, while playing with the future. :-)

[Nuprime Audio]

LAB 12

I went back to these guys to get updates about their business. They confirmed me that they are going well and that their latest line of gear hasn't changed. The only news was the final production of the Gordian, their AC distributor/conditioner, now available for Eur 1.400 (VAT included...), slightly more than last year's forecasts. This company keeps its sane feet-on-the-ground profile, selling products for "normal" people, products for people like us made by people like us. Their prices kept also reachable, in an unmodified range, whose top is still the circa 3.300 Euros (always VAT included...) asked for the integre4.
Actually, they had another piece of news, which forced one of the two guys to remain home for his novel fatherhood duties. We send him our best wishes; and we thank him, because this year he allowed us to shoot a picture that - he will certainly agree - is much better than last year's. :-)


Mixed bags

Wandering throughout the show, although with much less time available, I could nonetheless enjoy lots of interesting listening sessions that, for your enjoyment, I am going to show, with more photos and fewer words. ;-)

I liked a lot the room set up by CANTON to introduce their new loudspeakers, from their top series, the Reference K, consisting of a bookself and a floorstander. I can offer you only this group photo: I hope it pays due justice to their appearance, featuring lines and colours that made more acceptable their massive dimensions. The two-way loudspeaker's sound, driven by Audionet amplifiers, was really full and balanced. We're light years from the "German" sound that someone - like me... - could still remember from past experience with this company.


Also this year Audio Reference, the powerful distributor, set up a big room with all its carried brands. This time more emphasis was placed on Sonus Faber, that provided the loudspeakers for almost all the system displayed, which I am going to show you, in rigorous alphabetical order:

A is for AR...

[Audio Research &
Sonus Faber]

D is for D'Agostino...

& Sonus Faber]

K is for Krell... (I still feel strange seeing them under the same roof...)

& Sonus Faber]

Let's go back to our friends at DIGIBIT. This year their stand was much more professional, it seemed more aimed at attracting distributors and buyers, rather than exhibiting their products - that were given wide (specialized) press appreciation.

[Stand Digibit]

Actually, they were right: all the times I went back to their space, I found them very busy in business or press colloquia, so I couldn't (nor wanted) to interrupt them just to chatter. I can anyway show you their new power supply aria 2 LPSU.

[Digibit aria 2 LPSU
power supply]

PRO-JECT set up a huge exposition in one of the big Halls at floor level. There was the usual Vynil Square.



They exhibited also a weird system, featuring a vertical turntable, the VT-BT-R, for Euro 420, besides the other electronic gear I'll talk about later.

[Pro-Ject VT-BT-R]

Of course, big names were present, with their stratospherical systems.

Unfortunately, I shot obscene photos at the MARTIN LOGAN room, where the monumental and unreachable Neolith were playing. Yet, I saw also two, more terrestrial, new things from this company: the new Renaissance ESL 15 A, for Euro 30.000, already available, ant the slightly inferior Expression ESL 13A, price tbd and availability scheduled for September.

Very good, as always, the system consisting of CONSTELLATION gear and MAGICO loudspeakers.

[Constellation & Magico]

The same can be said for the KHARMA system, although their main loudspeaker model's aesthetics looked to me a tad... funereal.


Let me point you to a clearly provocative system.

[Audio Engine]

A source (in this case, Rega turntable and pre-phono), an ADC/DAC (here the GT-40 by Alpha Digital Labs) and two tiny active loudspeakers (by Audioengine).

[Audio Engine]

In my opinion, it aimed to demonstrate that, with the right tools (Audioengine makes lots of active monitors, also wireless), you can set up a system starting with a modest amount of money. The GT-40 and the little Audioengines cost, together, a little more than Euro 800; if you own a turntable, you probably also own a pre-phono, otherwise your source will be your PC, and your're done with a good desktop system.
Speaking about the GT-40, I can't let go unmentioned its improved heir. Always by ALPHA DESIGN LABORATORIES, the Stratos finally hits the shelves, for a price of Euro 1.400, unfortunately much higher than what we were informally told last year.

[Alpha Design
Laboratories Stratos]

I would have liked to sum up its myriad of features, that make it the official bearer of the "Swiss army knife" title, but I'd rather post a photo. :-)

[Alpha Design
Laboratories Stratos]

Finally, I must at least mention other companies whose rooms I visited, but, regrettably, in a rush and without any good photo to post.

Let's start from TOTEM. Usual room, usual setup: good. I like to find a "familiar" space, and it helps to remember; and allows me to point you to last years' article, also for the photos...
Usually effective and handsome, the boss, Vince Bruzzese, conducted his demos with "real" music, lots of exceprts in few minutes, to give variety of sounds and meet everyone's tastes. Also this year Totem exhibited the Tribe V, a sleek loudspeaker that can be mounted up against the wall (or inside it...), for USD 7.000, plus circa USD 500 for its ugly stands. Also showed was the Fire, belonging to the Elements series, a two-way bookshelf for USD 7.000, of which Vince showed us the powerful driver, produced in-house, featuring a big magnet and long membrane excursion; it's mechanically crossed-over with the tweeter. In both cases, we listened to a very powerful sound, although the loudspeakers' reduced dimensions. Speaking of this aspect, Bruzzese, whit his usual joking attitude, said: "other companies sell you a cabinet full of air, we sell you technology." :-)

Also shown was the KIN MINI combo, that I already much appreciated in my past articles. This year, this series featured a new active subwoofer, the KIN SUB, for USD 625. The lesser KIN MINI system, consisting of the satellite partnered with the minor subwoofer, now is sold for USD 1.000 net. Adding VAT, the price still keeps around the Euro 1.000 announced when the Company introduced this series. Price certainly will grow adding import and distribution costs, but I think the company is trying to mantain its effort to keep their prices at the same level. This is somewhat the fruit of their effort, that is not always successful: although they are a Canadian company, they must pay almost all their suppliers (also the European ones...) with the "strong" US Dollars.

Moreover, I visited AUDIO-TECHNICA space, with its usual, reassuring phono cartridge parade; with the usual, very crowded little room featuring a playing turntable; with their awesome AT-HA5050H DAC/can amp, now actually in the shops, whose price is confirmed at Eur 6.000 (VAT included), as announced last year.

Another confirmation from last year comes from RADSONE, now officially selling its airDAC, which is an USB and wireless DAC, supporting also high-res formats. it features an headphone amp and runs a dedicated software developed by this company to reduce what they call digital artifacts. Innovative solutions for a quality machine, whose price is now fixed at Euro 1.000 (VAT excl.).

Still confirmation from last year by GRIMM AUDIO, that now sells its active loudspeaker with internal digital processor (you just plug in it your source, and it plays) in three different versions. The base model, named LS1a, for Euro 14.000. The LS1 model, for Euro 18.000, that can be completed with a subwoofer module for Euro 6.000 more. And their top model, the LSIbe, featuring a berillium tweeter, for Euro 26.000; also this model can be completed with a subwoofer module, for Euro 10.000 more. Defintivly high prices, here, but the sound - I listened to the berillium version - was really very good.

Let me refer once again to my last year's show visit, to confirm the presence of two companies that, after the changes they made to their price lists, I now see as direct competitors. They both sell their own very good and advanced room correction system.
ILLUSONIC, from Switzerland, exhibited a very complex multichannel gear for room correction; but they sell also the IAP 2, for about Euro 11.000, that can be used as a stereo preamplifier, accepting either analog signal, either digital signal (also on Ethernet and HDMI inputs), and sports analysis and room corection for a two-channel system, thus being a much simpler system that can be operated also by "one of us".
A similar proposal is the one by French company TRINNOV. They, too, offer their computer dedicated to room correction, featuring a complex software for multichannel correction. But they offer also more simple two-channel correction machines. Their Amethist model is a stereo preamplifier, accepts input signal in the analog and digital domain, the latter either from a LAN or via wi-fi, and performs DRC; all for Euro 10.000 net (a significant uptick compared to the prices asked last years...). You can add further Euro 500 for the optional microphone (other models can be used, but this is the dedicated one...).

I'd also like to point you to the Russian company G 9, maker of tubed gear: the NERO Phono MM MkII pre-phono, the NERO Pre MkII preamplifier and the NERO 2 MkII monoblock. The latter comes in two versions, depending on the output tetrodes: KT88, outputting 60 W, or KT120, outputting 85 W. Prices are... oligarchistic: Euro 67.000 for a complete system featuring the KT88 monoblocks, and Euro 70.000 for the one featuring the KT120 monoblocks; and you still have to add source and loudspeakers. They sounded really good, but that is mandatory, at this price level... So, why am I talking about them? First, because it's proof that there must be interest also for this market level that, I think, it's the most economically rewarding for producers, and the one where designers can have more "freedom". Moreover, they say that their amplifiers feature unusual technical delicacies. I am not qualified to investigate their claim, but if an old experienced solid state designer like Ole Lund Christensen, not involved with this company, appears to be very interested, then some curiosity still arise... ;-)

Besides, I'd like to mention LABORATORIUM, a brand that carries on the loudspeaker heritage of the unforgotten late Franco Serblin. At the show, an anxious Massimiliano Favella exhibited the Lignea, a two-way standmount loudspeaker. I didn't even try and shoot a picture, because I didn't want to mess with this loudspeaker's very particular and, to me, attractive aesthetics. Its cabinet is made of a single block of hardened wood and sports a liquid shape, that perfectly blends with its front wall, where the drivers are mounted, and with its metallic pedestal, this being maybe the only element to improve. I enjoyed a very pleasant listening, refined and elegant, never disappointing: it was a long time since I lastly heard the "S.F. sound" to which we were grown accustomed to (all mr. Favella's behaviour screams continuity, even the photos used for its brochures...). It is not an over-exposed sound, it won't shake your room's walls, neither pushes toward the extreme bit of definition. Yet, I think those two little loudspeakers will find lots of admirers. Price is still tbd, but Mr.Favella "promised" to keep it under Euro 5.000/pair; not few, but it seems that he cannot go lower than that.

Weird things and regrets

Let me start with the first evident thing. If last year MCINTOSH was missing, this year, instead, they were present, with their own room, exhibiting separately - even physically - from the big distributor of the other brands belonging to the Fine Sounds Group, whose McIntosh is still part.
I must admit I was unlucky: as I said earlier, this year I didn't have much time, so I couldn't return to their room for further listening in order to retain a better impression than I had during my first and only visit. Yet, I was conforted to see again this iconic brand.

It's worth noting also the "back to the roots" CYRUS company. They exhibited the Euro 1.000 Cyrus ONE, a stereo integrated amplifier, with MM phono input, dedicated headphone power output and Bluetooth (Apt-x) capabilty. Its power section is in Class D, and features a circuit called SID, that adapts to the loudspeaker's impedance. Until now, this seems nothing special: nowadays we can find several amplifiers with some sort of impedance matching solution. What made me think to the "back-to-the-roots" thing, that made this amplifier notable was its appearance. Cyrus choose to propose once again a little black brick, with a clean fascia with no signs or indications, populated only by two large knobs with a tiny led put into their front face, to indicate, respectively, the selected source and the volume position. Sure, it's made with a material that feels nice to touch and see, but it's always the old little black box, the '80s british minimalism aesthetic manifesto... I can't tell whether this choice will serve the unquestioned qualities of this machine.

I surely regretted the absence of PS AUDIO; I don't hide my sympathy for their products. Anyway, I could meet Scott McGowan and chatted a bit with him. He told me PS Audio is particularly busy and, answering a specific question, he confirmed the commercial success of their Sprout - the little lifestyle integrated amplifier, whose realization he personally managed - that now is completely sold out. We both gladly noticed that they pioneered a path now followed by others. Several companies exhibited, in fact, their little integrated amplifiers, featuring phono input, can amp and wireless connections. For instance, both looked at Pro-Ject and its MAIA (2 x 30 W, DAC 24/192, USB X-MOS, etc...) for Euro 500, and MAIA DS (2 x 60 W and other improvements) for Euro 800. It was a pity not to be able to listen to the new and more affordable PS Audio DAC; I hope I can do it back at home... :-)
Finally, Scott greeted me leaving an unofficial "promise" that they will be back next year...

Another company whose absence was noted was CLEARAUDIO, that, instead, last year set up a huge exhibition (we still remember that motorcycle...). I was left puzzled by their absence, since they are one of the HiFi big names, they are well known in the now-so-hip vinyl world; moreover they are German...

And I missed as well the absence of the Canadian company BRYSTON, that last year delighted me with their amplifiers, loudspeakers, converters, and... coffe... :-)

In the end...

I can't help but repeat myself also this year. I only had two days, I missed lots of demos, I couldn't see everything that was exhibited, but... I greatly enjoyed my visit. It remains an amusement park, obviously for those who, like me, visit it without professional duties. Instead, who was there for business purposes did work hard their day; yet, I saw anyway, even at the end of the day, faces tired, but happy. Especially around 6 p.m. I felt a strange atmosphere. The brand personnel left their room and looked much like a group of friends going for a drink after office closing on friday evening... Probably also this atmosphere is a reason for this show's success: professional and focused exhibitors, that were also passionate about this pricey toys almost like us. During the time of the show it's like we are in a bubble, where we visitors go on vacation; yet I don't think exhibitors take it as a night shift in a coal mine ;-).
One last mention is deserved by the organization staff, always ready to satisfy the strangest request by the operators, press included ;-), and always with a big smile. This, too, makes High End a show you abolutely must see: if you attend several shows, you can easily compare by yourself; if you decide to attend just one show, choose this.

© Copyright 2016 Carlo Iaccarino - www.tnt-audio.com

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