The Munich High-End Show has become one of the most important places for audio product launches. It’s impossible for one person to cover all 800 exhibitors across three halls, two atriums and dozens of rooms across three floors, and that’s before you include the numerous off-piste events at hotels further into Munich itself. So instead, here is a selective list of some of the best products from Munich this year.
Astell & Kern
A&K has taken the shell of the AK240 and applied it to the replacements to the AK100 Mk II and AK120. Now, here’s where it gets confusing. The replacement to the AK100 Mk II is called… the AK100 II. In the flesh, the two are significantly different, but be careful when ordering that you don’t end up with an older model. The resemblance is more than skin-deep, as both new players sport Cirrus Logic DACs too (one for the AK100 II, two for the AK 120 II), and both support DSD (albeit converted to PCM). Prices will be confirmed later in the year. In other news, A&K has announced a dedicated app for Qobuz, the French hi-res download site.
The AURALiC range is already pushing the envelope of what can be extracted from digital files, but the ARIES streamer extends the properties of any good DAC, by bringing to the party virtually every digital audio file format that’s in common circulation. Supplied in two forms – the crystal controlled ARIES LE ($999) and the femto-clocked ARIES for $1,599 – the streamer uses AURALiC’s Tesla hardware platform, and is controlled by the company’s really rather spiffy Lightning app.
An new UK-based brand, Bespoke Audio takes the high-performance properties of really good passive preamplifiers like the Music First Audio and delivers a six-input, three output, transformer coupled passive preamp with a remote volume and a finish to die for. The ‘Bespoke’ part of the name really is just that; you can specify the type and number of connections, the size of the cabinet, the engraving, finish, whatever you wish for. Prices start from around £9,000.
Following in the footsteps of McIntosh’s legendary USB press kit shaped like a 275 amp, Crystal Cable had the best promotional product of them all in the shape of the Minissimo. Literally; it’s a small orange rubber loudspeaker and the USB connector forms a grey stand. The new entry point to the Arabesque loudspeaker range was a little bigger than the USB stick, and the standmounted two-way borrows from the Arabesque Mini, but with possibly sleeker lines, a smaller footprint and a choice of five colours. Price is expected to be about $10,000 per pair.
This was driven by the latest version of Crystal’s mysterious Cube system. Currently all you get to see is the remote control, a 3D printed cube with a bi-directional display and intuitive controls. The SAGA-based Cube is still in the ‘it will be worth the wait’ stage of late development.
The French brand took the opportunity to launch its new 7.1 firmware, which increased the power output of all its existing product line. The company also announced a slaved version of the 170, er… 200, which effectively turns the amplifier into a 400W dual-mono design.
Devialet also announced its first loudspeakers tested in its ambitious SAM (Speaker Active Matching) program. This maps several properties of a loudspeaker (including phase alignment, low frequency extension, and even the heat properties of the cabinet itself) producing a performance threshold that both enhances and protects the loudspeakers. The list of speakers increases on a weekly basis, and now that the KEF LS50 is on that list, it’s testing time at Hi-Fi+!
Engstrom & Engstrom
The brand behind The LARS mono power amplifiers has also launched a new preamplifier called The MONICA. Priced at a cool €30,000, the line and phono preamplifier is distinctive in that it is divided into switching unit and power supply, but the controls for the preamplifier are contained in the power supply. Apparently this is the best way for a preamp to reduce noise from the volume pot!
One of the two audio equivalents of a 1970s supergroup, Vervent Audio Group (formerly Focal & Co) showed several new products to the public. This was the first continental European showing of the Naim Statement amplifier, but was also the first public showing of the new Muso all in one system.
Meanwhile, the Focal side of the band had been busy too. The company announced its €179 Spirit One S replacements to the original Spirit One headphones for ‘nomads’ (iDevice and Android users), the new Dimension soundbar (€999, or €1299 with matching subwoofer), the new Aria 905, a €349 entry level two-way standmount in the brand’s increasingly popular flaxen-driver range, and finally the three-model Alpha line of active stand-mount loudspeakers for professional and semi-pro use.
It was ‘moody’ in the Naim/Focal room, and press shots looked better than gloomy photos!
KEF’s launch was one of the high points of the show. It announced a complete Reference range, and the $24,000 Blade Two, a (slightly) scaled down version of the popular Blade loudspeaker. The Reference range comprises one standmount (the $7,500 Reference 1), two towers (the $13k Reference 3 and the $18k Reference 5) and a centre and subwoofer. The Reference utilise the latest technology hewn from the Blade and LS50 design briefs, to create a more up to date aesthetic and sonic performance.
KEF even announced updates to bring the epic Muon flagship up to date, with retrofit modifications for existing customers. Fortunately, KEF comes to the Muon mountain, not the other way round.
Fine Sounds (Audio Research, McIntosh, Sonus faber, Wadia)
The other audio supergroup, Fine Sounds had a lot to talk about. Apart from the management buy-out of the group, each line in the group had something new to talk about.
As discussed previously, Audio Research introduced its new G-Series range (G, meaning Galileo), a stylistic echo of classic ARC models past. There are three models in the range, including the GSi75 integrated. McIntosh announced three new models; the MB100 media bridge, the MHA 100 headphone amp and the MXA70 system. Most of these were seen in prototype form at CES, but the real products are ready to be launched any day now.
Wadia also announced four new products; a full-sized 330 Music Server, with 150 and 300 Class D power amps, and a new 122 Decoding Computer, to replace the half-width 121.
Sonus Faber announced the Lilium, which is a tall, backswept floorstanding 3.5 way loudspeaker, expected to cost around €48,000 per pair and to reach down to 20Hz.
Harman’s flagship electronics brand announced the new 585 ($11,995), intended to be the finest integrated amp ever built, according to the firm. With 200W of Class AB power, 32bit/192kHz and DSD decoding and the company’s ClariFi digital signal processing to bring out the best in compressed audio, it might just live up to expectation. The 585 is modular in design, and an optional MM/MC module will be available mid-2015, for an additional $2,500. Just how good is this amp? You’ll have to wait until the end of the year to find out.
Meridian Audio announced its new special editions of its DSP range, the DSP8000 SE, DSP7200 SE, and DSP5200 SE. All three feature a new beryllium dome tweeter, improved DSP featuring the company’s Enhanced Bass Alignment technology, and clamp rings around the drive units to better couple driver to speaker. The EBA system in particular produces an extremely lifelike sound, because it helps correct the bass arrival time in a way no mechanical time alignment system can achieve. The DSP5200SE was on demonstration.
Simaudio Moon’s Neo range is proving very popular, because the company is very good at reading the market. Its latest product will be the 430HA, a headphone amplifier with optional DSD256/32-bit DAC section. Sporting practically any connection for a headphone you could think of (aside from Stax earspeakers), the 430HA is capable of delivering up to eight watts into a 50-ohm headphone! Available later in the year, the Neo 430HA will cost $3,500 in its standard guise, the optional DAC board will be available for an additional $700.
Finally, no Munich show is complete without a extravagant turntable, although one that was in focus would be a bonus. And, while Vertere shocked the world with its $30,000 tonearm a couple of years ago, it’s now more down to earth. The company recently launched a more down-to-earth tonearm, as well as two variations on a theme turntables building on the strengths of the classic turntables designed by Touraj Moghaddam in the 1980s.
The show saw Vertere’s top RG-1 turntable partnered with the company’s new SG-1 TPA (Tri-Point Articulated bearing) tonearm. Prices on these are yet to be confirmed, but expect to pay a lot less than that Reference tonearm for the pair!
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