The High End is At Home in Munich

Posted by: Jacob Heilbrunn at 2:02 pm, August 1st, 2011

A few years ago, Johannes Waechter, a journalist at Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung, the country’s biggest serious newspaper, visited me. He had been toiling as a waiter for a few weeks at Washington, DC’s “Old Europe” restaurant as the basis for an article about Bavarian food in America. Now he was clutching a bulging bag that looked to be filled not with sausages and beer, but with LPs from the store Orpheus Records in Clarendon, Virginia (which, alas, recently closed its doors). Until then we had only corresponded about political topics that I wrote about for his section. So I was more than a little surprised by the palpable evidence of his love for vinyl. In fact, I gasped, “Can it be?” We ended up spinning several of the country and western discs, including a well-recorded one by Merle Haggard, that he had just purchased.

This past July I got a chance to visit Waechter, his wife Christina, and their new baby girl in Munich. The story only got even more improbable when I learned that Christina shares his passion for soul as well as country and western music. They enjoy attending musical festivals in America as well as picking up LPs. How many audiophiles can make that claim.

Waechter, as you can see from the accompanying photos, has amassed a considerable and very fine vinyl collection over the years. His system is nothing to sneeze at, either. Johannes is old school. He likes tubes. He’s using an integrated tubed Unison Sinfornia that has KT-88s on the output, an EAR P88 phonostage, Jadis Symphonia Evolution Tube CD player, the Marten Miles 3 loudspeaker, and Jorma No. 1 speaker cables. Are cables important? He sighed as he told me that his speaker cables run several thousand euros, but “they’re worth it.” Spoken like a true audiophile! He’s already demoing a new one. Once you hear the upgrade, he acknowledged, you can never go back.

The sound of Johnny’s system was very musical--fast, airy, transparent, detailed, and smooth. At times, you could hear a little bit of the port, but that was probably a function of the room more than the speaker. We listened in rapt devotion to Isaac Hayes’ superb LP “Black Moses.” The poster that comes with it is stupendous.

Waechter is also a crack drummer, who has played with big bands; his full set is in the basement, which my son Oscar pounded on. But it’s nice to see that the audio system is integrated into his living room rather than relegated to the subterranean depths. I wish I could report that Waechter’s set-up is the norm in Germany, but his discernment is not as widely shared as it should be. Still, high-end audio definitely has a respectable following in Germany. There are several German magazines devoted to the topic with stringent reviews. And in Munich, which features an important high-end show each year, it is comforting to know that the audio flag is also flying proudly at the Waechter household.


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