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What a high-end audio show REALLY sounds like (reprise)

  • What kind of music gets played at a high-end audio show? The world’s largest show by floor area – Munich High-End – takes place each May. In 2016, it returned the following result (complete with video evidence):

    “If your musical taste doesn’t meet classical, jazz, light acoustic, girl + guitar or white-guy blues head on, you’d probably come away none the wiser as to how Trentemøller, Depeche Mode, Giant Sand or Prince might benefit from a big rig.”

    In other words, in the main, with a few rare exceptions, the musical programme could be likened to the narrow safety of a Starbucks compilation CD.

    Six months later we ask: does the Hong Kong High-End show sound any different?

    The opening day’s sky high attendance made listening close to impossible. Even getting into some rooms proved to be a considerable challenge. Necks craned, smartphones were held aloft. Then came the dire warnings from numerous quarters that Saturday and Sunday would be even more of a squeeze. “You won’t be able to move in here,” said one exhibitor as he gesticulated toward the main hall on level 3 of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.


    The Hong Kong high-end show is run by local publication Audiotechnique and reportedly attracts upwards of 30,000 attendees across its three day run. That’s roughly three times that of Newport Beach or RMAF/Canjam and fifty percent more than Munich. Blimey.

    Mercifully for this commentator, being packt like sardines in a crushd tin box in Wan Chai didn’t materialise. Whilst still as busy as the previous day, I took my video camera out early and late – and avoiding peak time – for tours of the twenty or so larger listening rooms found on levels 2 and 4, and a similar number of prefabricated rooms built along the perimeter of the main hall.

    The show opened with a long queue, bagpipes and a quick sprint from early birds eager to catch worms and ended with a drum solo. In between, the sights and sounds of some of the world’s finest high-end audio systems:

    The musical programme? Our vinyl vendor’s sign said it all: “Jazz / Light music”. Zero hint of rock n roll or electronica, even from the usually more adventurous KEF and Dynaudio. The latter, like the majority of brands at this high-end event, are represented by their local distributor. Only the Hit Audio (Zu Audio / Line Magnetic) and Devialet rooms showed any sign of inclination to stir attendees’ blood with more athletic selections. Elsewhere, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was as racy as it got.

    Perhaps the weather outside the exhibition centre, consistently 33C and 95+% humidity throughout the weekend, demanded nothing but serenity and placidity within.

    Further information: Audiotechnique


    DAR 750 x 290








    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. 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


    1. I could only triple *facepalm* but it’s true that music lover and audiophile gap is the size of grand canyon over here.

      • The problem is that good music is often recorded terribly. Just look at RHCP. It begs to be listened to on terrible sound systems, because it will sound awful on anything decent.

        They could at least play Steven Wilson though… IMHO the music played at those shows can’t demonstrate the full range of the speakers.

    2. I am going through Singapore on holiday next month for 3 days, and am heading to Adelphi shopping centre, the Mecca of Hi end.
      Was there 25 years ago and got some really nice Hi end then.
      I am sure i will have the time to go am listen to all those nice systems in my on space and appreciate.
      Better than any Shows./

    3. Unfortunately “most” of the attendees of the hifi shows expect “audiophile music” and often leave listening room when “other” music is played. It’s a two way street – if more “avantgarde” music is accepted by the show attendees I am pretty sure that it will be gladly provided by the exhibitors. Afterall no sane exhibitor likes to listen to Diana Krall or Eagles day in day out. We certainly played Trentenmoller, Depeche Mode, Scuba, Tosca, Thievery Corporation, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Hird,
      Dzihan & Kamien, De-Phaz etc, etc only to realize that most attendees are not drawn to this kind of music and the moment Hotel California starts room is suddenly full…
      Will gladly put “any” request in the queue at the upcoming shows – we always do – just don’t ask for Diana Krall…:)
      Jerry Cmehil
      Well Rounded Sound

      • Chicken – meet egg.

        And of course, all of this is totally fine if the audio show’s aim is to attract and maintain the same kind of audience/demographic each year.

        • John,
          not long ago Devialet was widely criticized by a lot of “audiophile press” when they demoed their Phantom with “unsophisticated music”…I believe it was at last year Munich High End…

          I think both sides need to have open mind – we certainly take strides to play music that has qualities beyond the quality of the recording…


          Jerry Cmehil
          Well Rounded Sound

          • My beef with Devialet’s Munich demo was not the music itself but the unnecessarily high SPLs.

          • I don’t think it’s a matter of sides: advocating for music other than the usual ‘audiophile-grade’ suspects doesn’t mean we must turn to the likes of RHCP or other dynamically-compressed releases. Sadly though, that’s the way some folk see it: black and white. They’re seemingly unaware of the oceans of grey in between. Frustrating. 🙁

    4. why do most of the show exhibitors not use such genres as : heavy metal, rap, techno, electronica etc. ?

      because 95% of their audio systems will give you head- / tooth- /ear – ache or maybe ” safely boring mood” instead of real music [it’s so called “bad recording/mastering” syndrome, funny …]

      only 5% of their audio systems will give you “JAWS DROP” – btw. that’s what you pay for !

      conclusion : 5% of the audio systems are suitable for minimum 90% of world’s audio [non-audiophile] audience !

      good job! :)))

      PS. I’m an audiophile – but don’t listen to only 300 discs of “audiophile quality”…
      Why ? because there are 3000 discs I want to listen to …

      I suggest : don’t buy any stereo equipment without sound nirvana when listening to YOUR choice of music – make the industry/dealers working hard for your money …

      • Sorry Leon,…a great system will sound great no matter what type of music you play on it.
        Can assure you of that as a veteran of 25 years at hifi shows.
        Typically any non acoustically recorded music will be less demanding of a system than a string quartet.
        Most systems at the shows will handle any type of music – you should try next time.
        However as distributors and manufacturers we rather showcase systems with outstanding recordings (being it acoustic or electronic) than a mediocre ones. Yes the quality of the recording matters and not all recordings are of equal quality.
        Music certainly comes first therefore if someone wants to demo their fav music that happens to be subpar recording we play it.
        We demoed plenty of electronica, heavy metal, drum and bass, house, minimal, trance and most of it sounded really great!!! Cheers!

      • They don’t because such music is often recorded terrible, and a good system will expose the flaws. I can’t listen to my favorite Modest Mouse album on my speakers. The music is great, but the recording gives me a headache. Not the fault of the speakers.

        What is needed is not to buy sound systems that completely change the sound and try to be fun, but to boycott bands that aren’t able to record a decent sound. And to let them know.

        A good sound system plays exactly what was recorded, which is what these high end systems should do. It isn’t the job of the speakers to fix what the band messed up.

    5. Nice article. We need more music like this at audio shows! So what speakers sound great with Mode & Trentemoller? Cheers

    Standing room only at Hong Kong High-End 2016

    DMA / Cafe: quenching thirst for portable audio in Hong Kong