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Are you experienced? KEF, Arcam at Munich High-End 2016

  • “And you’re east of East Saint Louis and the wind is making speeches / And the rain sounds like a round of applause” – Tom Waits

    Was Tom Waits out in the street dreaming up weird imaginings when he wrote Rain Dogs’ centrepiece “Time”? Or was he at home listening to a CD of sound effects like those used to promote the format at the dawning of the digital audio age? We’ll never know for sure.

    What is certain is that he was a long way, in space and time, from the music and movie samples served up by the ‘megastudio’ set up by the KEF and Arcam partnership at Munich High-End 2016. Theirs was a pseudo-canned demo into which I dropped at the start and end of the show’s four day run.

    Common to both demos was Andy Moore’s (of Arcam) demonstration of the system’s lynchpin, the AVR850 (£4200) and how its internal Dirac Live room correction can dramatically transform the sound of a thunderstorm – from a round of applause to rain it went. VERY convincing.

    The accompanying “7.2.4” Dolby Atmos loudspeaker configuration came courtesy of KEF: their Reference 3, 5, centre channel and subwoofers worked the floor, augmented by four (unknown) boxes strapped to the room’s high ceiling beams.

    A large room like that enjoyed by the Brits needs additional muscle and driver control, here provided by a set of Arcam’s Class G power amplifiers bridged into mono. As Moore opined, the AVR850 might have been enough but where’s the fun in that?

    System pricing all up and inclusive of cables came to €100,000.

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    Both in surround sound, the Mad Max: Fury Road movie segment roared into life whilst a choral piece from Kings College, not this commentator’s usual speed, was properly emotionally stirring.

    Later, Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight”, played in ye olde stereo hi-res PCM, saw the system’s immense dynamic thrust and clarity really make itself known. I almost enjoyed it. Almost. Alas, I absolutely cannot abide Collins’ solo work.

    However, I don’t only visit KEF demos because of their hardware. I do so because brand ambassador Johan Coorg obviously spends a number of pre-show hours carefully selecting a handful of tunes to play at each show. His presentation style sits somewhere between 1980s pirate radio DJ and evangelical preacher.

    A varied selection of interesting cuts always follow Coorg, each time the Brightonian steps out to pace in front of the audience whilst giving introductions. We almost always get to hear something new (and sometimes wonderful). Depressingly, that’s isn’t something we can say of 95% of the show’s other exhibits. Go here to see (and hear) why.

    I don’t enjoy everything that Prince committed to studio tape throughout his career but at Munich High-End Coorg unearthed the rather delicious “5 Women” from outtakes compilation The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale, reportedly released with little promotion by Warners Bros. in 1999 as a contract filler.

    Wikipedia tells us that this album’s 10 tracks were recorded between 1985 and 1994 – in this writer’s opinion, Prince’s most golden of stretches.

    Tracking down a copy of The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale post-show wasn’t easy. Thankfully, Discogs came through. If you’re a Prince fan and you don’t own this album, I recommend you rectify that situation at your earliest convenience.

    Back in Germany, through the KEF/Arcam mega-system, “5 Women”‘s mid-paced sly funk comes on with plenty of punch and – again, that word – clarity.  I’ve heard KEF’s Reference series enough times now to know that these aren’t loudspeakers for those who like a little sugar in their coffee. They’re an upfront, straight double-hit of espresso that offer a speckless take on music.

    Listeners who prefer a little shade-dimming might find Reference’s presentation too confronting but others, especially those who like to reach for phrases likes “gets out of the way of the music” will find their cliché rings truer than true.

    KEF and Arcam don’t just show off their gear, they provide us with a listening experience.

    Further information: KEF | Arcam | Prince – The Vault Old Friends 4 Sale on AllMusic.com

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    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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