I never have much luck at the Munich High End show. It has nothing to do with the show itself, or even Munich. It is just that fate conspires against me. One year it was being held up at customs while I explained that a microphone wasn’t an explosive device, and spent 12 hours trying to edit a three minute interview. The next it was a volcano. This year I just about escaped another volcano, had only the briefest hold-up in customs (‘what is an Audioquest and why does your USB cable have a battery attached to it?’), but heard my trusty-but-rusty MacBook making sounds like a distressed Boeing whenever it was turned on. With all my photos loaded.
The moral of the story: never trust technology. Or volcanos.
Still, a week to reflect on the event is a good thing in many respects. This year’s Munich High End Show was perhaps more subdued than usual, but these things are relative; it was still nigh on 20,000m2 of exhibition space and had more than 14,000 visitors attending, but some of the German distributors were upset that while the number of foreign trade visitors were up, the number of real Germans who might buy things had dropped to under 10,000 this year. And, at first when you saw that half the world’s audio press turned up to view the new 20 year guarantee for PMC loudspeakers, you might be mistaken for thinking this wasn’t going to be a show of thousands of new launches. In fact, there were many key players showing exciting new products.
Perhaps the most anticipated product launch was the KEF Blade. First shown two years previously in the same show, the Concept Blade – as it was known at that time – was considered one of the best sounding products that would never, ever be commercially available. The cost of a carbon-fibre over balsawood enclosure or the array of hand-made drive units, pushed the Concept’s price way over the edge for KEF, the $200,000 Muon notwithstanding. However, in the intervening two years, KEF refined the ideas, made the product production-possible and ran nearly a whole Pixar’s worth of computer modelling to realise the Blade out of the Concept. Built to order, the 24,000€ floorstander features what the company calls a Single Apparent Source, which places the four bass drivers and the Tangerine-waveguided Uni-Q mid-bass and treble speaker all equidistant and effectively acting as one. The two pairs of bass drivers use force-cancelling bars and the new body is GRP. The result is one of the most dynamic, fluid and right sounding loudspeakers around.
Another long-awaited floorstander was not at the show, but off-piste. The new Ktêma Proscenium from Franco Serblin. Serblin, the man originally behind Sonus Faber has designed a loudspeaker that relies on ancient concepts of the focal point of the theatre, creating a loudspeaker with a slim front baffle, expanding back to a wider rear, where the bass loudspeakers fire backwards and the sound emanates outwards through side ports. Naturally, the cabinet is made from solid wood and the finish was exemplary. The net result is a loudspeaker with a breadth that belies its size and all the warmth and passion you might expect from a classic Serblin speaker in a slim, distinctive box, and - as it was being driven by a 25W Sugden integrated – not a beast to drive. This isn’t the only loudspeaker in the range; a standmount is planned too. I saw an early prototype – “no photographs, please!” – on static display and the words ‘achingly beautiful’ immediately sprang to mind. After 30 years in the business, Franco Serblin’s passion shows no sign of abating. Price on both sets of speakers are to be confirmed, but a price of roughly 24,000€ was mentioned for the Proscenium.
Meanwhile, back in the show, Sonus Faber itself announced a Guarneri Evolution c15,000€ standmount that has the same rich chrome and piano finish of the Amati Futura in the traditional Guarneri footprint. This left many an audiophile drooling.
The Amati Futura itself was part of the coolest system in the show, comprising EAT turntable, the new Audio Research PH8 hybrid phono stage and the excellent new Reference 150 stereo power amplifier. Building on the strengths of the Reference 110, but with more power, the balanced-only KT120-based tube power amp has excellent power reserves, a super-quiet fan cooling system. But that wasn’t the only reason it was cool; super-smooth sound aside, it was the only room in the whole damn show to feature air conditioning!