Reporter: Carlo Iaccarino
The show took place from May, 18th through May, 21st 2023 at the M.O.C. facilities, in Munich, Germany
Originally written: Jul-Aug, 2023
Website with plenty of resources: High End Society
Here we are - the proud Italian HiFi makers.
Let's start with my friend and adoptive Neapolitan, Luca Chiomenti.
He and Silvio Delfino, leading their Riviera Audio Laboratories were very busy with their international audience, especially from the far eastern countries.
As you may know, Riviera makes amplifiers.
Their EUR 20.000 (prices without VAT) Levante integrated amplifier has been widely praised, both by customers and magazines. It was exhibited naked, like many other gear was.
They mainly produce pre/power combos. Here we see a proud papa showing his top couple, APL 01 Special Edition/AFM 100 Special Edition, for about EUR 112.000 (the power amplifier is a monoblock, so you need two of them...).
Riviera also makes headphone amplifiers - here is a picture of their AIC 10 Bal, for about EUR 16.000. As its moniker suggests, it can drive also balanced headphones. What its moniker doesn't tell you, but many of you already know it, is that this little beast also has loudspeaker outputs. And I remember it in one of its first exhibitions, connected to a pair of (not so) efficient loudspeakers.
Let me close with a novelty: their new balanced line preamplifier Levante C1. It has inputs and outputs both balanced and unbalanced; it also has an output transformer. It is a developing project, scheduled for the end of 2023.
Always strong Captain of his Trinaudio, Mr. Martorana is portrayed here amongst his creatures - forefront the pair Keleyma Beta and Dynamis Theta 70 (well, being the latter a monoblock, the couple is rather a threesome).
And here is a group photo of the electronics they exhibited at the show.
I'm thinking about it right now that I'm writing these notes, but these two companies share many points. They both are under the helm of a single engineer designer; both those engineers are self-described "alumni" of famous Italian designer Bartolomeo Aloia (they both use inductive PSUs...); moreover, they both are established in Magna Graecia and so they say in their name (although Luca nothing said, I'm still convinced that the Riviera name is also dedicated to the very popular Riviera di Chiaia street in Naples, where his original laboratory was...).
OK, Let's now move towards the north Italian city of Turin, where Audiodinamica is located.
I'm sorry I don't have good pictures of our friends, but I know they won't bother if I focus on their last machine.
As you may see from my picture, they didn't quit making their famous "cubes", yet they now developed a new, higher level, tubed pre-phono that, for this reason, couldn't have been shrunk in the little volume that their gear usually occupies. It's the machine with the silver fascia with Audiodinamica's logo, that occupies the whole lower shelf, at the right.
Its design sees a first hybrid J-FET/tube (E88CC) stage, followed by a passive RIAA stage and, lastly, a tubed output stage with an output transformer. You can change the tubes in the output stage (but they must be compatible with a noval socket), so you can do your tube rolling, and change the gear's gain. This pre-phono will be called HBPA (Hybrid Balanced Phono Amplifier) and the projected price should be around EUR 6.500.
It has only an MM input - for MCs you can add one of their famous SUT n.2 e n.3 ;-)
Lastly, they told me they are working on an integrated amplifier and a DAC, but they didn't disclose any further details.
Actually, a DAC was present and active (in the picture, it stays on the upper shelf with respect to the HBPA), but - as its utilitarian look may suggest - its their internal laboratory reference. And why was a dac included amongst the machines of a company usually dealing with analogue signals?
First, Audiodinamica's cubic amplifiers are source agnostics; moreover, this year this company exhibited with another Italian company, which is digital native, NOHTA, and makes the known STR@MBO.
It's a little streamer; its hardware is Intel-based, but the main role is played by the software they purportedly developed. You command it with their proprietary app and it can be differently configured, according to the different customers' networks. Once you connect it to your LAN (which can access the Internet...), it can tune into web radios and it can stream from the several services you have available in your region. Moreover, it features Roon Bridge, Spotify Connect and Air Play 2. And, naturally, it can play any of your musical files saved on one of your network resources, e.g. a NAS, a PC, etc.
At the show, they brought their ultimate version. You can tell it is different even at a glance, because of its nice wood cabinet, light years away from the original black metallic lab-grade box. Unfortunately, I didn't take notes about its improvement in respect to the original version - which is still available, btw - albeit I scribbled down its (increased) price of about EUR 3.000.
This year, too, Italian company NEW HORIZON was present with their smart and sustainable stand, consisting of cardboard elements that could be assembled to compone stands, desks, chairs, etc. It stood strong even respect to other exhibition spaces, like the big one by Rose Audio they had in front of them, which was very nice, but evidently realized with a questionable massive disposal of resources.
The elements assembled to become stands for the exhibited gear worked also as a label, telling model number and price. I thought it was a brilliant solution, giving all the information at a glance (and photo-friendly...)...
A nice touch on environmental sensibility and, pardon me, Italian genius. Yet, those qualities are not immediately perceivable - especially where such a plethora of exhibitors were available - and, maybe, they should have remarked it more. Like in previous years, I hope I'm doing my part, here..
Let's see what they brought to the show.
New Horizon produces 100% made in Italy turntables: I don't want to be boring, so I give you the lazy suggestion to read my previous show reports. Let me limit here to underline how this autarchic approach allows for infinitely better control and flexibility of the production chain.
Here is a trio of 190 models, with prices starting at EUR 890.
Here is a detail of a 190 turntable in Pecan scuro dark finish - you can also see the arm, also made in-house, and the 10mm (extruded) mehtacrylate platter, whose rim is hollow, in order to better place and retain the transmission belt.
Finally, their top model, which is still the GDS II, whose price is maintained from slightly less than EUR 5.500. You can see its decoupled-double-layer plinth, and its arm with brass wand and counterweight and ceramic bearings. The gloss lacquer is always nice and well-executed.
Another company from Italy and much appreciated abroad is PATHOS, which became famous for their amplifiers built according to the INPOL (INseguitore a POmpa Lineare - linear pump follower) design, conceived by the late Mr. Borinato (an engineer, who co-founded the company) and then developed into its updated version, the double INPOL.
Here you can see the Patrón, Mr. Gaetano Zanini (another co-founder), who is proudly explaining the features of their top integrated amplifier, the INPOL Legacy model. I forgot to take note of its price, but I'd say that we are in the land of the "if you have to ask..." :-)
Of course, they make also a more affordable, no, let's make less unreachable integrated amplifier, the INPOL Heritage model, for just EUR 17.000 (VAT excluded).
It is an 80 W/ch stereo integrated amplifier, in which an optional DAC module can be mounted, thus making its digital inputs work. It also has analogue inputs, both balanced and unbalanced. I rely on the synthesis brought by the picture I shot of its rear panel, showing all its connectors.
They brought to the show all their products. Many of them can be seen in the background of the previous pictures. Here I add this loudspeaker, the Frontiers Legacy model. Its middle and high frequency drivers are placed within a box that can rotate, to accommodate the acoustic emission according to the listening point. If I didn't misunderstand, it's a sort of toe-in, but without being forced to move the whole big loudspeaker. You only move the drivers emitting the more directional frequencies, which can be more affected by this fine tuning in speaker placement. I'll post the following photo, although it is ugly even by my standards, because I think it shows the space occupied by those beasts. The picture doesn't show it, but a further driver is placed on the loudspeaker's rear panel, to make it bipolar (at least in the frequency range covered by this rear-firing driver).
And now, a company from Pisa, Tuscany (well, its boss and designer, Mr. Manunta, is Sardinian, like our Editor, but...): M2TECH.
Here we have a nice trio, for high-level headphones listening, with gear from the "Rockstars" range, with their characteristic unusual dimensions.
As a foundation, not only metaphorical, there is the VAN DER GRAAF MkII, obviously a PSU; as a DAC (both PCM up to a 764/32 and DSD up to 512x; MQA decoding) there is the Young MKIV, and as headphones amplifier we have the Marley MKII. The DAC and the can-amp can be also used as preamplifiers, so you could even connect an amplified loudspeaker and get a very respectable desktop system...
Moreover, there were also the machines from the MANUNTA by M2TECH range, whose dimensions are even shorter. They are much more affordable and are only directly sold by the company.
"Ok, but don't you make also a regular, normally shaped thing?"
Of course! They exhibited this year's novelty: the "Classic" range.
Their first outcome will be a Stereophonic Integrated Amplifier, whose dimensions are standard rack, whose power is 50 W/ch (dynamic power specified: 150 W/ch). It has 1 balanced line input, 3 unbalanced line inputs, and one more unbalanced input that can be switched between line and MM/MC phono. On its front panel, a headphone output is present. It also has a remote control.
It was exhibited naked: I hope my picture lets you see the ordinated layout, the separation amongst the different PCB sections, and its classic approach, with a long heatsink for the output transistors that separates the PSU (with a big encapsulated toroidal transformer) from the area where the delicate audio signal travels.
Is availabulity is scheduled for October, 2023, for a price that should not be above EUR 3.500. This range will be completed with a DAC and a power amplifier (this integrated amplifier has a line output...).
I saw and listened to lots of things, at the show, and it would be a hard (and useless) task to report it all here.
I'd better give you some short and random highlights, just like I remember them.
Let's start with a pair of loudspeakers I was eager to listen to.
In one of the rooms at the upper Atrium levels, a system was set up with electronics by MSB driving a pair of beautiful Mingus Orchestra by MARTEN, for about EUR 230.000 per pair. Needless to say, the sound was fantastic, as it'd better be, at this price.
But I was there because that same distributor exhibited also the new tower loudspeakers by PS AUDIO, the ASPEN FR 20, for about EUR 30.000 per pair. Seduced by the marketing abilities of Grandpa Paul McGowan and by his enthusiastic online presentations, I wished to have a close look at those loudspeakers. So, I asked McGowan (Scott) if I could have listened to the FR 20 somewhere at the show, and he answered that they would have been only on silent display, there where I found them. But, being Italian, I anyway unashamedly asked - it was the very first day of the show - the very serious host of the room if he would have connected them to make them play. After a first dubious look, he answered that maybe they would connect them at 6 PM, show closing time. Fair enough, and an unexpected success, I'd say:-).
So, I came back a little earlier, thinking I would have enjoyed a sort of dedicated listening session, but when I arrived, the room's personnel were just switching from the Martens to the Aspens, side-positioned. And the room was full of people: I must have not been the only one to have had that curiosity.
Well, let me say that FR 20s played really well and, not a granted result, they didn't make us desire to come back to the Martens. Of, course, the Mingus Orchestras sounded better, and in every aspect. And, yes, the very good electronics composing the system played their role, too. But nothing wrong was with the PS AUDIO's sound. If I had to say it, they sometimes were a little bit more involving. Sign that they probably were less neutral than the Mingus Orchestra, maybe with an "American" type of sound; I'm not talking about a loudness type of response, but, as they say, a smile-shaped one.
Also the serious German distributor seemed to appreciate the end result, even surprised by the way the FR 20s played although they were placed just dropped there, without reharsals and positioned by ear (while for the Martens they spent several hours and made measurements).
During the following days of the show, I came back to that room, always at closing time, and I always found a packed room, with the FR 20s placed with minimal differences (a sign that they must have performed some after-hour trial... thinking that this loudspeaker was worth it).
A nice loudspeaker, earthy and compatible with normal domestic environments. It seems clear to me that it is aimed towards "normal" customers, not the chronic audiophiles. So, it's a pity that, conversely, it still has such a high price - and this is not even the top model in its range. I guess that, according to the number of products and their productive capacity (but they are made in China...), PS Audio doesn't know how to sell them for a lesser price while keeping them economically sustainable.
Here is another exhibition I wanted to visit: MAGNETAR.
It is a French company that builds its electronics in China.
What's new? Nothing. They have "savaged" a space that had been suddenly left void. This company has a long experience as a high-level OEM Audio e Video supplier and decided to satisfy the audiophile people's demand after the demise of OPPO players. So, they now make two universal players, one dedicated only to stereophonic audio, the other also able to play multichannel audio-video programs. Obviously, they cannot count on Oppo's economic power and scale economy, so their prices are not what we were used to with that long-gone brand.
This is the UDP 800 model, for about EUR 1.600.
As its moniker suggests, it's a Universal Disc Player, that can read any optical disc you throw at it (yes, also SACDs and 4k Blu-Ray). It has only stereo line outputs, both balanced and unbalanced. It also has two digital outputs, one optical and one coaxial. It also has two HDMI outputs (one only for audio, the other one for audio and video). It also has a USB input to connect an external HD (up to 16 TB!) and an Ethernet socket, to play your files (it reads also the Matroskas...) saved in any of your LAN resources.
As with the Oppo players, all the audio/video management is taken care of by a big Mediatek chip, here the 8581, while the stereo DAC is implemented with two (one for each channel) Burr Brown PCM 1795 chips, and the output stage is performed by MUSE 8920 integrated circuits, that seem to have an audiophile reputation.
The machine decodes, obviously, any standard, included Dolby Vision, HDR 10+, Dolby Atmos and DTS-X.
Yet, unlike the Oppos, it doesn't have an HDMI input - it was very handy in many systems, making the player its multimedia center (it allowed also to use the player's video processing, a feature now useless due to the more refined A/V standards). They answered my specific question, saying that they deliberately omitted it, because it was too much of a hassle, due to the too many standards and authorization needed to properly implement it, especially for a European company. Neither it is possible to install any app. In their opinion, this is not a deal breaker, since the consumer interested in it has already managed to get those streaming functions, both generic (like Youtube), and dedicated (like the Digital Concert Hall by the Berliner Philharmoniker).
Here we have the top model, surely a much more complicated one, but maybe, less interesting for "us", because it is dedicated to multichannel. It's the UDP 900, for about EUR 3.000.
Besides its fascia, I'd say rather ugly, I show you the rear panel, crowded with connectors, that suggests that it can do more than the previous model.
It has analogue stereo outputs, both balanced and unbalanced, driven by the chip DAC ESS 9038 PRO. It also has analogue 7.1 outputs, driven by a saparate multichannel decoding section that has the chip DAC ESS 9028 PRO. Moreover, it has a USB digital input (with an ubiquitarian XMOS receiver), allowing you to use this player as a DAC connected, for instance, to a PC or to another machine sporting an USB output, where streaming software is running... and we go back to the previous topic.
I can show you also its innards: the player was exhibited with a see-through top plate with a scheme indicating the different sections, easily identifiable thanks to the very neat PCB layout.
Besides those two players, "known" and already available, Magnetar is developing a SACD player, the SACD 600, for a projected price of about EUR 2.000.
To make it interesting also for people who don't have a big SACD collection, this machine will be able to read audio files, DSF and DFF included, also from a USB input. Moreover, it will have stereo analogue outputs, both balanced and unbalanced, and optical, coaxial and HDMI digital outputs. Also for this model, the conversion circuit will be based on the chip DAC ESS 9038 PRO.
Another stand I found interesting - was the one of NEUTRINO.
It's a company based in Zagabria, that makes class-D mono, stereo and multichannel power amplifiers based on Hypex modules. It also makes a streamer with DAC section based on the ESS 9038Q2M chip, both "pure" and amplified, always with Hypex modules, of 2 x 150 W or 2 x 350 W. All in reduced dimension cases, even customizable in any RAL color.
Anyway, here we have decidedly affordable prices.
The "pure" streamer costs about EUR 500; the amplified one costs about EUR 800 or 1.200. The stereo power amplifiers cost between EUR 500 and 900; the monblocks cost between EUR 1.000 and 1.500; the multichnnel ones cost between EUR 1.000 and 1.300. All prices VAT included (but which one? I guess the German one, at 19%).
Here are the streamer and the power amplifiers.
Here we have stereo and mono power amplifiers.
Finally, some more power amplifiers, this time colored. Sorry, but the cubes by Audiodinamica are nicer :-) Although not as powerful.
I'd like to show you also the exhibition by CLARISYS AUDIO.
Just walking by the glass wall separating their room from the aisle, I saw this system, and I couldn't help getting in.
No reason to deny it: I immediately thought of Apogee. The very kind hosts of the room sort of confirmed my thoughts - they started from an idea connected to the old Scintillas and Duettas, but they surpassed it, using modern materials, technical solutions and knowledge, then unavailable. This led to their products: full-range ribbon loudspeakers. They sounded really well - I guess the patrol by their compatriot Soulutions played its role...
They underlined that their loudspeakers were not (anymore) an impossible load for the amplifiers - their brochure dedicates a whole page to the impedance plot, with reassuring straight lines that never go under the 3-Ohm level, with high-level, localized peaks. In short, no risk of frying your amplifier for excess demand of current.
They exhibited their top models, the Auditoriums, for just EUR 147.000.
It's a three-way ribbon loudspeaker, with an external crossover (in a metallic - maybe aluminum - box) in which they proudly say they have put the best Jentzen caps and their homebrew resistors and inductors.
Clarisys also makes two two-way less unreachable loudspeakers: the Studio Plus for EUR 76.000 and the Minuet Neodymium, for EUR 46.000. Ah, in their price is included the possibility to have them personalized in any color you like.
Ok, they cost you an arm and a leg, but the exhibited top-level model sounded really well. We can hope that, if they find commercial success, they make a more accessible model...
Another company exhibiting a system that, with their loudspeaker, sounded really well was ESTELON, with a finally earthy model, the Aura, for EUR 17.500 per pair.
It's a three-way sealed-box slender floorstander with dimensions and, above all, shape, absolutely compatible with a normal domestic room. Maybe the beautiful white finish smears the - already rounded - edges of its cabinet: it has, anyway, a shape undisputably recalling the company's look.
The three drivers that you see cover only two of the three ways. The woofer is mounted on the loudspeaker's bottom and is down-firing. Its face is charged by the space created between the cabinet's bottom wall, the washers and the loudspeaker's base. The designer claims this solution as a good one to pursue deep better damped bass if compared to a normal, direct radiation driver. Will they forgive me if I think to our master Murace? :-)
Nice sound, this year, in the TAD's room, where the last version of their standmounter monitors, the CE 1 TX, for EUR 34.000 was exhibited. Here you see them, connected to a pair of M 700 monoblocks, for EUR 97.000 per pair.
The rest of the system was made of D 100 TX transport, for EUR 20.000, D 700 DAC, for EUR 49.000 and C 600 preamplifier, for EUR 42.000.
You can see part of it behind these two people, Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz. They held a very interesting seminar when they used it to play original, high-resolution music tracks from records by Patricia Barber that they recorded and produced. Naturally, the room was overcrowded. They anticipated us that a new 5.1 multichannel edition of Modern Cool is being published.
This year, too, PRO-JECT set up its usual huge exhibition space; I will point you only at some particular spots.
First, the accessories exhibition. It was arranged as we were at a kaiten sushi restaurant.
Then, the T2 W turntable, for EUR 1.000. It only apparently looks like a classic Pro-ject turntable.
This detail of its outputs says it all:
I never expected to find an Ethernet plug under a deck... And it's not all, since we also have WiFi transmission, also multiroom, which can be managed with a proprietary app and dedicated Pro-ject streamers.
Another singularity was the Automat A2 fully automatic turntable, for EUR 1.200.
If you, like me, happened to think "Dual", maybe it's because it comes right from the former Dual plants, recently acquired by this Company.
We couldn't miss the usual parade of high-heeled turntables by EAT, the company of Mrs. Pro-Ject, who can be seen in the background, wearing her pink robe.
Here we see a particular version of their Fortissimo turntable, showing the quality of the finish with which it can be customized.
I'd like to point you to another exhibition, this one by MOBILE FIDELITY, in short MoFi.
I was fortunate to be accompanied on my visit by an exceptional host: Peter Madnick, who showed me the definitive and presently available version of "his" Master Phono pre-phono, for about EUR 6.500, which last year was exhibited in a naked version.
He also confirmed that Allen Perkins is still working for MoFi: he designed their top turntable, the Master Deck, for about EUR 6.500.
Madnick underlined that one of the main points of this 'table is its arm, so here it's its portrait.
Always good to see their Precision Deck, made in collaboration with Fender, for EUR 3.750.
Finally, I could shoot a picture of the Source Point 8 loudspeaker, for about EUR 3.000, the latest design by Andrew Jones. Such was the hype around this loudspeaker, that I couldn't find an available time slot for listening to it...
Moreover, nice setup and demonstration by John De Vore for his DEVORE FIDELITY.
The usual correct and meaty sound, typical for this company, came from their new O/baby loudspeakers, for EUR 6.750 - they are the bigger ones in my picture, but still with acceptable dimensions, compatible with most of the domestic environment.
Yet, what really surprised me were the minuscule micr/O loudspeakers, for EUR 4.750. A sealed box type, this loudspeaker could play correctly and could fill the room - not huge, as you have seen - with music, notwithstanding its dimensions, and notwithstanding it was placed on a stand, while De Vore said it was conceived mainly to be placed into a bookshelf, like the big record-packed rack you can see behind him in his videos on his Youtube channel.
I'm leaving you signaling a room where I listened to one of the sounds that I most liked at the show: the one by VTL, Luke Manley's and Bea Lam's Vacuum Tube Logic company.
I've never been a fan of their electronics, but this not-so-big room bewitched me. Simple and apparently without acoustic treatment, but with a great system, made also by Nordost accessories and cables and, above all, Wilson Alexia loudspeakers, driven by the prototypes of the new VTL's monoblocks. The music was delivered with kindness; it was not fatiguing, yet it was alive and dynamic. I can't explain why the room wasn't always full of people. Sure, it was not a sound that "made itself present". But isn't it the essence of this whole game of ours?
OK, it's a bit of a nerd conclusion, but I think it gives you the idea.
I'd have much more to show and tell, but I'm sure that you already know it all, having read and seen all the reports from the Munich show posted by "real" reporters for their magazines, websites, or YouTube channels, and so on. So, I'd better end here my chatters about the 2023 High End Show.
But I won't leave you without my usual invitation to manage your time for coming to Munich and visiting the High End Show. It's fun, it's very well organized, it has an international breath, almost ecumenical. For us it's like a Land of Toys, where you can finally walk around the exhibition, indiscreetly glancing at naked amplifiers as you were in front of the worst Amsterdam RLD shop, with no fear of appearing "strange". No, here you feel almost among friends - ok, maybe it's too much: let's say among a harmless group of people sharing the same passion. For a few hours (a day...) we all found ourselves with the same enthusiasm and the same state of mind. Maybe it's the last Utopia? I don't know, but, at least, you can easily come and verify by yourself. The next edition of the show will take place from May, 9th through May, 12th, 2024. Like this year, the first two days are reserved to the professional public, but on Saturday and Sunday you can join the happy crowd of the general public. And don't forget that the show closes at 6 P.M., so you've got time to properly finish your day in a biergarten sipping a fresh beer and enjoying one of the "light" Bavarian meals - I wouldn't miss at least a kaiserschmarrn ;-)
Here are the links to the first part and the second part.
Copyright © 2023 Carlo Iaccarino - www.tnt-audio.com