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Munich High-End 2024: The Top, Top Fives!

Munich High-End 2024: The Top, Top Fives!

The annual Munich High-End Show is the predominant audio event. Although AXPONA in Chicago a few weeks before the event and the Hong Kong and Warsaw shows later in the year are also strong contenders, this is still the show to attend if you want to know what’s new and what’s next in audio.

Its biggest problem is its size. With hundreds of exhibitors spread across the MOC exhibition centre, the nearby MotorWorld, the HiFiDeluxe show across town, and more, it’s easy for a company’s new product launch to be entirely drowned out. To this end, this year, both Thursday and Friday were trade days, allowing distributors, dealers, and the media more time to visit manufacturers and allowing manufacturers to spread their events across the two days. In addition, the two atria were filled with manufacturer’s booths for business-to-business discussions. Despite this, the sheer scale of the show meant that multiple press conferences took place every hour over the two days.

The Munich High-End Show has long been an event of monumental proportions, impossible for a single person to cover comprehensively. Attempting to cover everything would result in an overwhelming report, a testament to the show’s significance.

So, instead, we tasked several reviewers at the show with coming up with their top five products at the event. To make these top five more impactful, we asked them to consider their best at the show’s end rather than having it in their minds as they walked the halls. Note that not everyone took images at the show; where possible, we have used our own images; there will be some ‘gaps’!

Post-show time is busy for everyone as people write their reports, try to secure products for review, and catch up on lost time in their schedules. We sent our request for a top five to several of our reviewers; these were the first to respond. There will be another round next week!

Alan Sircom

Constellation Audio

Constellation Audio Revelation 2 Preamp and Phono stage

On the surface, Constellation Audio launched a revised version of its Revelation range (dropping names like ‘Pictor’ and ‘Andromeda’ for a simpler ‘Revelation 2 Preamp’ nomenclature in the process). It brought an elegant new champagne finish and now has XLR connectors between the main unit and power supply. However, a root-and-branch change to the Constellation Audio design has replaced conventional linear power supplies with custom switch-mode power supplies throughout the range. The amplifiers still retain their Class A/B amplification, but in listening, they deliver a faster, more dynamic, and exciting reading of the classic Constellation Audio sound.

DALI

DALI Rubikore range

 

Danish loudspeaker experts DALI announced its new Rubikore range at the show. Like the Epikore range launched last year, Rubicore takes many of the lessons learned in developing the brand’s flagship Kore loudspeakers and brings them to a party that costs a lot less. The company gave an hour-long presentation on every aspect of the design using the £5,999 Rubikore 8 to give musical examples to highlight these performance aspects. From the light, rigid Clarity Cone mid-bass and its innovative magnet materials science, to the combination AMT/dome tweeter array, this speaker could handle any kind of music and sets a high standard to beat at the price.

Marten

Marten Coltrane Quintet

 

Marten released its outstanding Coltrane Quintet floorstander at one of the best demonstrations at the show. The loudspeaker, starting at €170,000 per pair (€187,000 for the Statement Edition on show) now uses a Marten-designed diamond tweeter, beryllium midrange dome and new carbon-fibre mid-bass, alongside the Accuton-derived bass units. Some 25% larger than the Coltrane 3, the four-way bass reflex design also uses internal wiring from sister brand Jorma, the company’s trademark first-order crossover and Marten’s new isolators. It was shown in a room-within-a-room, playing through the recently-rebooted Halcro audio electronics.

Innuos

Innuos ZENith NG

 

The Innuos ZEN NG and ZENith NG do not replace the existing ZEN and ZENith. Instead, they use an entirely new streaming server platform that has taken three years of development. The new, fine-tuned Precise Audio main board is considerably more optimised toward audio performance. This is met with a new Gallium Nitride-based low impedance power supply and the new Sense 3 operating system. These combine to deliver a server with strikingly low latency. In performance, and in the context of an excellent system, the £14,200 ZENith NG was trading blows with the existing Statement Next Generation server, with many preferring the newer model to the reference.

Wadax

Wadax Studio•Player

 

Spanish digital experts Wadax launched the first in its new line: the Studio • Player. Drawing heavily from the company’s Atlantis flagship line, the one-box Studio • Player features a CD/SACD transport, a sophisticated streaming platform and the same DAC circuit used in the Atlantis in a more streamlined, attainable, and – let’s be honest here – less ‘bling!’ package. The €35,000 one-box digital solution will be available in mid-2024 and is expected to be followed by a clock and standalone DAC from the same line. The Studio • Player was on demonstration in two rooms at the show and sounded damn good in both of them.

 

Simon Lucas

Arcam

ARCAM SA45

The new ‘Radia’ range of two-channel separates has given Arcam a shot in the arm, it seems – so much so that it took the opportunity to launch three more models at Munich (in between hosting some extremely hip German octogenarians showcasing their latest jazz odyssey on vinyl). The SA45 is the standout product, for me at least – this is an amplifier/network streamer with 180 watts of Class G power, a switchable MM/MC phono stage and an HDMI eARC socket too. It features a big (8.8in) hi-res display, two-way aptX Adaptive Bluetooth connectivity and DIRAC Live Room Correction (an appropriate mic will be provided in the box).

Aries Cerat

Audio Cerat

 

This is what we mean when we talk about ‘high end’. When Cypriot Stavros Danos founded Aries Cerat in 2010, he presumably had to construct a room around its ‘Contendo II’ stereo speakers rather than just setting it up – even without its wardrobe-sized bass modules. This speaker system requires plenty of space and several burly individuals to position. I took a picture of the entire set-up, and even when as far away from it as it was possible to get, I still needed to use the ‘panorama’ setting on my smartphone to fit the whole thing in. I heard it playing some solo piano, and the realism was uncanny. I also heard it playing some pipe organ, and several people had to dash to the lavatory.

Focal

Focal has been doing admirable work where full-sized headphones are concerned lately, and it used the Munich Show to launch a couple more pairs – and of the two, the hard-wired, open-backed £599 Hadenys seem best placed to (for want of a better word) disrupt the established order. More than a little reminiscent of the company’s Bathys wireless headphones, Hadenys are a winning combination of leather, woven fabric and memory foam in conjunction with the distinctive ‘honeycomb’ earcups that are becoming a Focal calling-card. They’re fitted with the same 40mm aluminium/magnesium ‘M’-dome drivers as the Bathys, which won’t harm them…

 

Linn

Linn Klimax 800

 

Never knowingly understated, Linn took the opportunity to create a ‘Klimax’ system consisting of an LP12 turntable, Klimax DSM network streamer, 360 Passive with Activ Bass loudspeakers driven by six (count ‘em!) Klimax Solo 800 monoblock amplifiers, at £37,500 per amplifier! Given that the Munich High-End Show takes place in an exhibition centre rather than an aircraft hangar, it’s safe to say this system constituted overkill – but, at the same time, it was one of the more prodigious experiences on offer. I’m limited for space here, so I will just deploy the words ‘power’, ‘control’, ‘insight’, ‘dynamism’ and ‘finesse’ to hint at the impression this set-up creates.

Q Acoustics

Q Acoustics 3000c

Not only is the new Q Acoustics 3000c range not ‘high end’ as the Munich Show traditionally understands it, but it’s also not ‘high end’ where Q Acoustics is concerned. Nevertheless, the covers being whipped off this latest entry-level range of passive loudspeakers constitutes one of my highlights of the entire show – mainly because Q Acoustics is so very good at this sort of thing. Two standmounters, two floorstanders and a centre channel comprise the new range, with prices starting at £329 and topping out at £899. There are four finishes – two wood variations along with black and white. And the 3000c range are the most affordable loudspeakers to feature the company’s new ‘continuous curved cone’ driver technology that’s gone down so well in the rather more upmarket 5000 series.

Steve Dickinson

SUPATRAC

Supertrak

A truly radical design, SUPATRAC’s ‘horizontal unipivot’ concept has been confounding expectations of tonearm performance. This is a rare example of how some properly fresh thinking on the role of the tonearm can get some truly extraordinary results. The regular ‘cooking’ Blackbird Farpoint tonearm is raising expectations as to where the limits of vinyl may be, and the ‘cost no object’ Nighthawk version, which debuted at the show on a Grand Prix Audio Parabolica, through a CH Precision P1 phono stage in the Vienna Acoustics room, seems to bear out the assertion that using the best and most appropriate materials for the job, gets you even further.

Fyne Audio

Not to be confused with the SUPATRAC tonearm, Fyne Audio has recently launched a supertweeter, dubbed SupaTrax, available in a wood finish to match its Vintage series loudspeakers and also in piano black for wider acceptability across (or indeed outside) the Fyne Audio range. What the supertweeter brings to the party is remarkable to the point of being transformational in terms of loudspeaker performance, particularly in terms of overall levels of coherence, tunefulness and tonal accuracy. Partnered mostly with their Vintage 12 loudspeakers, which are neither as large nor as visually arresting as many speakers at Munich, the overall levels of sheer musical communication rivalled any of the seven-figure systems playing elsewhere, despite using very modest (in Munich terms, at least) Rega electronics.

Peak Loudspeakers 

Peak Dragon Legacy

Does anybody remember Peak Consult? If you do, you may have welcomed their return at Munich last year. Now dubbed PEAK Loudspeakers, they demonstrated their top model, the €180,000 Dragon Legacy, supported by Gryphon electronics. I revisited this room repeatedly as a form of ‘detox’ from some of my other experiences at the show. Effortlessly musical, they shamed many considerably more expensive alternatives and, had I the funds or the space, these are end-game loudspeakers. I also think the wood and leather finish, while not novel, is so beautifully executed it helps you overlook their substantial size.

EPOS ES28N 

Epos ES-28N

FinkTeam demonstrated its new EPOS ES28N, completing a 3-model lineup of the small ES7N standmount, the chunkier ES14N, and now this mid-sized, 3-way floorstander. It was doing all the right things for me, and at around £8,000, it looks likely to be a real contender at that price. Slotting in below FinkTeam’s branded Kim and Borg models, the EPOS range keeps the faith with the FinkTeam approach at somewhat more accessible prices and deserves to do well. Also of interest in this room was the new Luphonic R3 turntable, a clean, fresh design with an interesting rotating armboard that easily accommodates all manner of effective lengths. Here, using their own in-house designed and built 12” tonearm, it looks and sounds good enough to challenge quite a few established turntables.

CH Precision 

CH Precision C10

CH Precision’s 10 Series continues to grow, with the new €91,000 C10 DAC introducing digital audio at the 10 Series’ performance level. Like the amps, preamp and phono stage that preceded it, the C10 goes beyond the performance of the 1 Series components – a quick 30-second A/B comparison with CH’s C1 D/A control unit was all I needed to appreciate that this was a next-level performance. It’s not as fully-featured as the C1 and won’t fulfil the unit’s control functions, so you’ll still need a (L10) preamp. it’s a more focused product, and that focus shows in how it performs. CH also has some very interesting thoughts about the role of digital filters on DAC designs and why they seem so special on both C1 and C10.

 

Ed Selley

Musical Fidelity

Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista

Among what appeared to be a complete new company’s worth of gear from Musical Fidelity, the NuVista 600.2 integrated stood out as the most alluring of the many new models on show. Fractionally less volcanically powerful than the existing 800.2 integrated (150 watts into 8 ohms and 300 into 4), it actually offers better connectivity than the big amp thanks to a second balanced input. Resident designer Simon Quarry has revised it substantially over the original, partnering the NuVista preamp stage with a beefier power amp section than was used previously. It is on sale later this year.

Dynaudio

Dynaudio Contour Legacy

I’m a big believer in the adage that if it looks right it probably is and the upcoming Dynaudio Contour Legacy is a case in point. Designed to pay tribute to the Contour designs of the eighties and nineties but with modern internals, it uses a 28mm Esostar tweeter and dual 180mm woofers derived from the Evidence range which are controlled by a bespoke crossover made using premium components. The American Walnut finish has been selected both for its similarity to the original Contour veneers and because it is sustainable. Only 1,000 individually numbered pairs will be built.

Meridian Audio

Meridian Ellipse

It has been a while since we’ve seen anything new from Meridian Audio so the arrival of the Ellipse wireless speaker at the firmly terrestrial end of the market is good news all round. The £1,900 unit features UPnP, AirPlay, Chromecast and will be Roon certified, supported by wired input options. The chassis is sealed and all metal with all assembly being undertaken in the UK. Demonstrating something as dinky as the Ellipse in the unforgiving space of the MOC is not without risk, but the Meridian managed to sound extremely impressive over the various test tracks being played.

Fyne Audio

Fyne Audio Classic Gold

Fresh from delivering the Classic and Vintage ranges, Fyne Audio unveiled the Classic Gold range which go on sale later this year. These sit between the existing Classic and Vintage ranges (and Fyne is keen to point out they are closer to the Vintage range in performance while being nearer to the Classic models in terms of pricing). It is also the first time that there will be a 15 inch driver model in the Classic range and while they’re neither small nor exactly subtle, they look great fun and a welcome addition to the range.

Wilson Audio

Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy

The first Wilson Audio speakers I ever heard was a pair of turn of the century WATT/Puppys and they left a lasting impression with me. The decision therefore to revive the name in 2024 is a very welcome one. The premise of the design is the same as before; a two way standmount sat atop a separate bass module; two distinct speakers but sold as a single entity. It now benefits from every additional material and engineering benefit that has been achieved by Wilson since the last iteration in 2011. I almost certainly cannot afford a pair but I covet them very much indeed.

 

Part Two

 

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