A Visit to the High End 2018 show in Munich - Part II

Visitor: Carlo Iaccarino
The show took place from May, 10th through May, 13th, 2018 at the M.O.C. facilities, in Munich, Germany
Originally written: May-July, 2018
Website with plenty of resources: High End Society

[Italian version here]

Keep on strolling...

This year, too, this famous brand showed a system with very good loudspeakers. Their look and sound show how different German loudspeakers are now from what they were back in the late 70s.
Canton loudspeakers
Canton showed their IQ Vento 9 Active floorstanding loudspeakers that sport internal amplification and digital connection, both wired and wireless. So, you can hook both of them to an AC outlet, connect one of them directly to a source, digitally slave the other loudspeaker to the former, and you're ready to go and play music, without the hassle of choosing the right amplifier, the right cables, hiding the cables, etc. The acoustic result was also good, with all the genres of music played. And, of course, they would also pair with your bluetooth device of choice: using your cell phone that you carry with you all the time and with which you have access to Tidal, you don't need anything else to play music... At the show, I was told that they plan to make them available for Christmas (I later checked their website, where they write September...) and plan to sell them for Eur 4.400. There's also a cheaper model, the IQ Vento 3, a two-way standmounter with the same characteristics, but less powerful.
Canton showed also the new model in their Reference K line, the Concept Reference K (the white one in the picture), a traditional passive three-way floorstander, with a less imposing look than its siblings in the same line. It will retail for Eur 15.000 per pair, and its projected launch should take place for Christmas, too... if you behave well, maybe Santa can be inspired... ;-) This model, too, sounded very well - better, in my opinion, than the active one, but this was somehow expected, due to the difference in price and in the customers the Reference line is aimed at.

Also this famous loudspeaker maker showed a range of wireless active loudspeakers. It's the Callisto line, consisting of the 6C floorstanders and the 2C standmounters. They must be connected to the AC line; they have an analogue input; they give their best when wirelessly connected to the Sound Hub, a device to which an analogue and a digital source (up to PCM 24/192) can be connected.
The wireless connection can carry also high resolution signals. The loudspeakers have their remote control; the Sound Hub can be controlled via an app, that also allows you to stream hi-res content to the loudspeakers. Plus, it can accept future expansion modules; at present, already available is the Blu-OS module, that opens this system to a wireless communication standard adopted by their famous "cousin" company, NAD. They have an effective catchy phrase on their ads: "You worry about the volume, let us worry about everything else", and it really gives the idea of how simple is becoming to listen to your music, wherever it may be located, and with no loss in quality. Prices, here, are not intimidating: the system 6C/SoundHub will sell for about Eur 5.000.

This year, center stage was given to their Concentro Ms, the big, white, round-shaped floorstanders in the following picture. ELAC Concentro M
Those loudspeakers are completely designed by Elac's own engineering team; at the show, the were driven by a complete Burmester amplification system. They told me both companies have a partnership, and ELAC provides the drivers (especially their Jet Heil-type tweeters) for the Burmester car audio system.
Yet, I was much more intrigued by the sound of the other pair of floorstanders you may see in the above picture. They are the FS 407.2 model, part of the new Vela range that consists of the bigger FS 409.2 FloorStander, the CC 401.2 Center Channel, and the BS 403.2 BookShelf models. The sound of the 407.2 was really pleasant, complete, non-fatiguing, with a big and deep bass. Sure, driven by two Burmester monoblocks they were supposed to play well, but the result was extremely pleasant; in my opinion, better than with the bigger Concentros. And, and it is a big and, they have a projected price of Eur 4.000 per pair: not cheap, but far away from the exaggeration seen in other rooms. They produced an acoustical result very, very appreciated, not only by me, but also by other showgoers to whom I talked, and who also said that the bookshelf model is even better, pricewise... Anyway, you have to wait until October to find them in the shops.
But, after this all-German exhibition, you may ask yourself what was there of the Jones' loudspeakers designs and the (former) Audio Alchemy electronics. Fear no more: I saw both Mr. Jones and Mr. Madnick walking around Elac's room. There, I was told that the company just couldn't complete in time its electronic line, and that the concentric drive found in the Concentros showed the common ideas between Elac's own engineers and Mr. Jones.
Anyway, in the other Elac Room, the complete range of Debut loudspeakers was statically displayed, as well as other Jones' designs, some of them also dissected, like this Argo B S 1, for Eur 1.000 each.

This year, TAD exhibited in a much smaller room, with, in my opinion, a less refined and attractive way.
Anyway, there was the usual big rig consisting of a pair of Reference R1 Mk2, for Eur 88.000, one C600 preamplifier, for Eur 36.000 and a pair of M600 monoblocks, for Eur 35.000 each; source was the D600 SACD player and their new DA 1200 DAC.
TAD Reference System
Perpendicular to the former system, TAD set up a lesser system, consisting of their Micro Evolution 1 standmounters, for Eur 13.000 per pair (plus Eur 1.500 for their stand), driven by their new M 2500 stereo power amplifier, for Eur 24.990, and the DA1000 DAC/pre, for Eur 14.990; source was the D 1000 Mk2 SACD player.
TAD Evolution System
The real news was this anonymous floorstander, still shown silent and as a prototype, just like they did with their praised Compact Evolution 1 standmounters that I so praised in my past show reports.
TAD Evolution System
They said that CE 1 production will cease, because they are going to substitute them with this new floorstander. I was puzzled by such a plan: the CE 1 model is being appreciated worldwide, and, after all, it's just a few years since it hit the shelves. TAD's managers must have had their good reasons for this move. Yet, you can't read this as a signal of CE 1's poor quality: I still think that they are a good and defintive choice for a small (human) quality system.
Anyway, TAD won the respect also of Pioneeer/Onkyo, who set up a listening room where they premiered a high-definition live stream of a concert from Tidal and played several streamed MQA pieces with their streamer/network player. Guess what they used as loudspeakers of such an important demo room? No, not one of the TAD (Jones)-derived Pioneer loudspeakers, but a couple of ME 1s...

In the same Pioneer/Onkyo exhibition area, also TEAC (both companies are now under the same umbrella, but this is an intriguing financial story I won't examine, here) had his spaces. So, there was also a room where a complete Esoteric system was put in the middle between a big Clearaudio turntable and a pair of Big B&Ws. There was plenty of Esoteric gear, that was combined depending on the source used and the demo intended to perform. While I was there, we listened to the K01Xs SACD player, for about Euro 22.500, the F-03 A stereo integrated amplifier, for about Eur 15.000, connected - but I couldn't figure out why, since there seemed to be no other digital gear playing - also to the G-02 X clock generator, for about Eur 8.000. Skyrocketing prices, here, but I must admit I liked very much the sound of this room...

Another very nice exhibition space was the one set up by the Canadian firm Bryston.
They exhibited a system intended to show their Active loudspeaker range. Those are not powered loudspeakers, as their name might suggest. Rather, they are loudspeakers with which you can use the multiple amplification technique, for which you need an external x-over that drives different power amplifiers for each way (driver or group of drivers) of the loudspeaker. All the models of the Active range can be purchased in the traditional, passive version, with internal x-over, thus needing only a normal stereo amplifier (or 2 monos, one for each) to work; later, you can upgrade them to the active version.
The system showed consisted of the BDP 3 network and memory player, for Eur 4.245 (prices with German 19% VAT included, here); then the B 135 cubed stereo integrated amplifier with internal DAC module, for Eur 5.967; then there was the active section, with two 21 B cubed three-channel power amplifiers, for Eur 12.000 each, driven by the heart of the system, the BAX-1 external crossover, for Eur 4.245. The BAX-1 takes an analog input signal (from the pre-out sockets of the integrated amplifier, in this case), converts it into digital (96 kHz/24 bits) and processes it with a DSP that produces three different analog output signals to drive each channel of the 21 B cubed amplifier. Its final response can also be regulated according to the room's condition (and your tastes...), by hooking the x-over to your LAN and using the purpose made web-based app.
The loudspeakers used were the Middle T Active, for Eur 7.304 per pair. It's the... middle model of the line, placed between the bigger Model T Active, for Eur 9.652 per pair and the little Mini T Active, for Eur 4.031 per pair.
The listening space was really well setup, resembling a domestic environment, albeit a cold, Canadian one :-)
Here is the space devoted to the listeners.
Also this year, there was their now legendary coffee machine, where I could enjoy a very tasty espresso.
BRYSTON coffee bar
This brand's exhibition was one of my first stops, since last year I completely missed their coffee ;-)

Let's go back to an Italian brand, Audiosilente, led by Simone Lucchetti, a guy from Rome that is producing the Eur 40.000 Blackstone.
It's a nice (but aesthetically demanding) idler drive turntable, basically made with Graphite, a material that Simone now knows very well.
Its motor is controlled by an external computer that continuously provides speed stability and, above all, controls the torque's intensity.
Simone's turntables always really give a sense of firm and silent reproduction; I don't know how to say, but they are easy to hear, maybe I should write natural, if I could be sure of its meaning in reproduced audio...
His was the source of choice for showing the new KAYA 90 loudspeakers by Vivid Audio, for Eur 26.000 per pair.
It's the top model in the Kaya line, which is projected to consist of three other models: two floorstanders, the Kaya 45 (Eur 18.000 per pair) and the Kaya 25 (Eur 9.000 per pair), and a standmounter model, the Kaya S 15, a design that is still to be finalized.
Between the Blackstone and the Kaya 90 was the new integrated amplifier by Jeff Rowland, the Daemon, rated at beefy 1.500 Watts per channel, for about Eur 60.000. It was somehow aesthetically imposing, yet the sound of this little and acoustically challenging room was very, very pleasant, and very, very far from being overly loud or "yelled". Unfortunately, at least for me, the system that produced that very good sound was very, very far from the affordable, as well...
A little exhibiting space, but very pleasant to the ears, and run by people very helpful and eager to tell the visitors about their gear; besides Simone, there were both the - very tall - Mr. Jeff Rowland, for his namesake company, and the famous loudspeaker designer Laurence Dickie, for Vivid Audio.

This year, this proudly British historic company had a big exhibition space, much of it devoted to its landmark past products and, above all, their new Edge line, named after Cambridge's longtime master designer, Professor Gordon Edge. The Edge line consists of just the Edge A, a 100 W/ch stereo integrated amplifier with digital and analogue inputs, the Edge W, a 100 W/ch stereo power amplifier with balanced and unbalanced inputs (as well as the other Edge series gear), and, what I found more interesting, the Edge NQ, that Cambridge defines "preamplifier with network player, a good definition, as synthetic as precise it must be to make you understand what this new category of products do and that you can guess by just looking at its rear panel.
I found interesting that a traditional brand gave a lot of emphasis on its latest products, that are also quite traditional, both per se and considering the company's core business, the amplification. Yet, other than the usual combination of integrated amplifier and pre/power amplifier combo, albeit with top-quality parts and design, they choose to provide something in between. The power amplifier is, of course, the most traditional device in the line. The integrated amplifier, too, is quite traditional: it sports a complete digital input section, that, nowadays, is becoming quite "normal" to find in integrated amplifiers. Not so the NQ model. It is the preamplifier intended to be paired with the W model. But it sports also a complete digital input section; moreover, it contains also a PCB containing Cambridge's acclaimed circuitry for streaming.
So this machine can really become the hub to which you can connect every source of music you have available; moreover, you have a device that, although clearly IT-derived, is (should be) optimized for audio streaming purposes.
Cambridge set up also a closed space where the Edge line was up and running, driving B&W loudspeakers.
Unfortunately, all the times I entered in this room, I listened to very unusual musical excerpts, and I didn't enjoy it very much; this make me even more looking forward to listening to this gear under more familiar conditions :-)

Always packed demos, for Technics. This company has continuosly gained importance since its re-introduction on the hi-fi scene, and now we can really say it's back among the top names in analogue reproduction. This year, they exhibited the much anticipated SL-1000R, their best turntable ever, whose price should be around Eur 16.000.
Basically, it consists of their more powerful, stable and silent direct drive motor, which is controlled (speed selection and fine regulation) by an external box.
This motor can be had alone (model SP-10R), or in the complete version that was exhibited, which includes a base that sports also one armboard where the best Technics gimballed magnesium arm is mounted,
plus the housing for two more armboards engineered to house arms by SME or Ortofon. The exhibited SL-1000R was equipped with an SME arm mounted, but not working: it was installed just to show this possibility.
The system used for the demo included also Technics' preamplifier and monoblocks, and their biggest floorstanding loudspeakers.
They also assembled a second, simpler system, placed on the same racks used for the former. It consisted of the latest version of the re-born, beloved SL-1200 turntable, the SL-1200G,
connected to their stereo integrated amplifier that drove their smaller floorstanders.
This year, the demo was really packed; moreover, they were held literally one after the other, due to the massive attendance: the brand's representatives were working very hard to perform the demonstrations at their best, and looked very tired. Yet, I couldn't enjoy the demo as much as I anticipated. Maybe it was due to the fact that they missed the occasion to perform a real comparison between the two turntables, without playing the same record on both. Or maybe it was because the demos were conducted only in German, or because they devoted a good part of listening time to a "modern" version of the classic Tony Renis' tune Quando Quando, which was a little weird, at least for me... :-)

Usual big exhibition space in one of the ground level Halles for this German brand, leading producer of all things related to vinyl playing: turntables, arms, cartridges, pre-phonos, records, etc..
I think they exhibited their whole line of turntables, from the top models...
... to the normal ones.
As usual, they also devoted part of their space to motoristic gear: here we have their unmissable motorbike.
This year this firm celebrated its 40th anniversary, and decided to do something "extra" to underline this circumstance.
So, they revamped a classic, now discontinued, VW Kombi van, with lots of dedicated handworking.
They installed into it a complete and working vinyl playback system, that I hope my horrible photo can show you.
Its main characteristic, albeit being proof of the dedication (and madness) of Clearaudio's People, was, in my opinion, the gimballed auto-levelling support used for mounting and isolating the turntable. The man responsible for the whole work told me that this Kombi setup was a very labour-demanding work, and that they are showing it, of course, for the pleasure of the result, but also to suggest to superyacht owners that they can call Clearaudio to enjoy perfect vinyl reproduction also when swirling through the waves ;-)
Another extra feature for this year's exhibition was to engage world acclaimed vinyl expert and mechanical engineer Wally Malewicz for a series of hands-on seminars about how to properly set up a turntable, to mount an arm and to align a cartridge. Those seminars were always crowded and attentively attended, and I regret not to have scheduled one of them in my visit. My regret is even greater now, since Mr. Malewicz sadly passed by shortly after the show. Shouldn't you have ever heard of him (shame on you!), it may be a good read the v ery well written obituary by analog guru Michael Fremer on his website.

Another momentary stop

As you may have noticed, I am running out of time for attending my duties of storyteller. So, I must make another intermediate stop, here. I'll try to put up a third (and final) part no too late... :-)

Back to [Part I] | Fast forward to [Part III]

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