Munich is always a fine venue for loudspeakers, especially loudspeakers on the far side of sanity. We live in a world where the majority of music now gets played on ear-buds the size of a chili bean, but that doesn’t stop the German audiophile from loving horn loudspeakers as big as a wardrobe. And while the truly crazy one-off designs were thin on the ground this year, brands like Avantgarde were still making their big, bold statements (albeit this time without the full Basshorn rig) and Cessaro (this time with the full Basshorn along with the Gamma I loudspeaker, sounding wonderful in a room with Tron tube electronics and TW Acustic turntable). And there were many more.
Both Adam and Backes & Müller are well-known brands in Germany, specializing in active loudspeakers. While distinctly pro-based, Adam has launched a range of more affordable passive speakers (with active models to follow) for home users. The three-strong Tensor Mk 2 series stretched from the €8,000 Gamma to the €20,000 Alpha. Also in the atriums, B&M had both a booth and one of the biggest domestic speakers ever. B&M is still best known in Germany, although with its vast range (from the budget Prime 3 two-way to the towering chrome €500,000 BM Line 100) and forward thinking outlook, the company is looking further afield.
One of the high-points at Munich is the Silbertone room, in part because it uses vast blast-from-the-past loudspeakers. This year, though, the horns came from Japanese brand GIP Laboratories with its fascinating range of field-coil loudspeakers in large horn systems. With a bewildering array of driver and enclosure options on offer, discussing models and prices are almost pointless, but every speaker is hugely efficient, harking back to a world before Sputnik and a sticker price close to the astronomical.
KEF surprised the audio world with its LS50 loudspeaker. Announced with an eye to the past, looking back to the LS3/5a, the new speaker is as a clean sheet small bookshelf monitor… but that’s probably where the similarities end. With a Blade-derived Uni-Q drive unit, a cabinet using constrained layer damping, and a lot of technology behind the design (including a lot of finite element analysis for the cabinet and computational fluid dynamics techniques in the port construction). The net result was a loudspeaker that sounded outstanding; not just outstanding for the money, just outstanding. And that means this £800/€1,000/$1,500 speaker had most people trying to justify not buying a set, that’s how good they are!
Kaiser Acoustics announced its new Chira loudspeaker. This standmount speaker features an integral stand designed in partnership with Vertex AQ, making the stand essentially a Vertex AQ labyrinth laid on its side, while the room was filled with Leading Edge racks and acoustic treatment, Thrax tube amps and a Spiral Groove turntable, as well as a Vertex converter, power and cable systems. The resulting sound was highly controlled, detailed and seemed to dial past the problems inherent to the Munich rooms.
KingSound is best known for its excellent, large and enthusiastically priced loudspeakers. To break with tradition, however, the Hong Kong based company showed the loudspeaker equivalent of the concept car – a hybrid speaker with an electrostatic mid/tweeter coupled to a dynamic bass driver, set into what looks exactly like an acoustic guitar, right down to the tuning pegs. Played on the end on a brace of AMR electronics, it sounded pretty good (albeit it was in the main hall) and perhaps it won’t stay only a concept for long.
MAD England Audio is really living up to the name, with a loudspeaker that’s as Mad as it is English. The Duke Limited Edition is a short floorstander with a union flag inlay built into the veneer of the loudspeaker. It was only on passive display at the show, but a part of the company’s Noble series, is this the ultimate loudspeaker in this Bumper British Year for the anglophile? Time will tell.