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Munich High-End 2022 and the letting go

  • The largest and slickest hi-fi show on the calendar, Munich High-End, ends its four-day run for 2022 this afternoon. It’s the first time the event has taken place since 2019; this year with 500+ exhibitors in tow.

    It’s worth the trip for those wanting to catch the very latest in home audio hardware – many of the larger manufacturers save their biggest product announcements of the year for Munich – but less so for causal hi-fi enthusiasts or those with shallower pockets. Exhibitors showing budget gear are few and far between and so expansive is this event that first-time attendees arriving with the intention of ‘seeing it all’ are quick to adjust their expectations.

    On a more personal note, the High-End show’s smart professionalism and open airy exhibition hall spaces make it one of only two public-facing hi-fi events that make me proud to be an audiophile. (The other is Warsaw AV).

    Helping press members like yours truly more easily put show reports together this year were two trade days (instead of one). The second punter-free day, combined with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, made for a less busy Friday than I’d seen in previous years but the 30C weather made for some uncomfortable conditions under the M.O.C’s glass roof, especially in the afternoon.

    Regular readers will know that I hadn’t originally planned to attend this year’s Munich event. COVID case numbers are still too high in Germany and the Bavarian government recently dropped its mask mandate. However, the 4.5-hour train ride from Berlin to Munich made light work of my last-minute change of heart where fear of missing out (FOMO) won out over the fear of COVID. A mask glued to my face throughout the two trade days (instead of High-End’s full four) would limit the risk of infection. Both proved to be sound decisions. By my reckoning, only 5% of High-End 2022 attendees wore face masks; a low percentage that made many of the Americans that I spoke to anxious about getting home. For only a negative test would put them on their return flight.

    Munich High-End organiser Stefan Dreischarf

    Adversity being the mother of invention, I decided not to cover High-End 2022 in the usual fashion. YouTube’s copyright scanner picking up music anywhere in a video – even in the background – could jeopardise its ongoing publication; the copyright scanner can sometimes take six months to find its mark. And the traffic generated by this website is now too great for Vimeo’s recently revised business model — it is no longer interested in being the indie YouTube.

    Stepping up to the plate in 2022 was Instagram where 36,000 Darko.Audio followers would see updates on my M.O.C. walkabout, first as exhibitor-specific photo coverage and then as a pair of one-minute reels summarising each day. The upshot of this (moving) picture-play was that the Canon mirrorless camera could stay in Berlin and everything in Munich could be shot on a Google Pixel 6 smartphone:

    Day 1:

    Day 2:

    Still to come to Instagram (and YouTube Shorts) are a few manufacturer-specific videos. A podcast review will then try to stitch a red thread through everything that I saw during this year’s event. This more selective approach to show coverage afforded me more time on the show floor to talk with people, some of whom I’d not seen since the pandemic booted in-person events to the curb. I also had a most illuminating conversation with show organiser Stefan Dreischarf (pictured above) to whom I confessed that I am not a fan of Steven Wilson’s music but that I am a religious follower of The Album Years podcast that he makes with Tim Bowness.

    Chatting with exhibitors and press friends also meant walking right past many of the listening rooms that wrap around Atrias 3 and 4. This is where exhibitors focus on the active demonstration of their wares at the expense of everything else, especially meaningful conversations that transcend the usual small talk. Perhaps not coincidentally, these same rooms are where many of the more expensive esoteric brands exhibit and for whom direct contact with the buying public is critical to their high-price-low-volume sales model.

    I found myself much happier among the passive displays downstairs listening where listening is relegated to prefabricated cabins to put chin-wagging back at the top of the agenda. This facilitates more casual conversations with exhibitors. Conversations that all too often turn up crucial tidbits of information that their formal press announcements often miss.

    Make no mistake: even though hi-fi shows like Munich High-End suffer little of the model train enthusiast vibe of the hotel-based events that pepper the hi-fi show calendar, they aren’t exposing as many new people to the hi-fi world as Instagram coverage of the same. This then begs the question: should I start a Darko.Audio TikTok?

    Further information: High-End Society

    Written by John Darko

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

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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