Survived your first imaginary day at Munich High-End 2023? How about another spin of the wheel? We open our second round of previews with a new word: Arschkram. It’s Germanski for all things of the arse; in short, crap. Most of us wade through loads of it with our speaker/room interactions. Whilst acoustic treatments can clean some of it up, the worst offenders are room modes across the three bass octaves. Those require copious cubic absorption volumes to be addressed effectively. In most domestic scenarios, hard-working passive bass traps get too large to mean more Scheiße.
Enter wunderbar by way of crack Swiss engineering. It’s the new AVAA C214 from PSI Audio who work out of Yverdon-Les-Bains just like their colleagues of Wattson Audio. It’s an active fully digital bass trap that operates from 15Hz-160Hz. Efficiency is claimed as high as a perfect passive absorber up to 45 times its size. Despite being active, this device emits no signal, merely absorbs without requiring any calibration yet cancels “all undesired room modes”. And unlike its analog MDF sibling, the digital version is housed in aluminium. “By lowering the acoustic impedance of the air in front of it, the AVAA effectively sucks in low frequencies over an area of about 1-1.5 meters. As a result, the optimal position for an AVAA is in the most rigid corners of the room where pressures are highest and room modes most present.”
On the same b.ass subject, the lateral cancellation of out-of-phase energies wrapping around open-baffle speakers is a passive way to minimize room interactions. Popular quite affordable such designs come from Emerald Physics and Spatial Audio. Diesis of Italy, Kyron from Oz and sound|kaos from CH push the concept upscale. Now comes Davide Dellasca of IO Design from Italy hoping that we correlate his aptly dubbed Naked with cosmetic elegance at its best. After all, his country is famous for its style in all things design. Davide’s speaker combines dual 12-inch woofers with a planarmagnetic custom midrange and ribbon tweeter whilst standing 155cm tall on a 47x66cm WxD footprint. Weight is 80kg/ea. and claimed bandwidth 22-35’000Hz. Is this the height of contemporary Milanese fashion or an overgrown erector set for the industrial crowd?
Skinning the cat rather differently is the curiously called Silent Pound company of Lithuania whose Challenger combines dipole woofers with cardioid mids à la Dutch & Dutch. The perforated openings bracketing the twinned mids return their rear wave to the front with nary any time delay to extend out-of-phase cancellation to the sides well above just the usual bass. Hear less of the room and more of the signal is the motto. Put differently, it makes speakers behave more linear like (cough) headphones.
For another speaker house that walks paths less travelled, consider Boenicke Audio from Switzerland and their new W22 flagship. That’s slow-cooked on their best burner for the last three years already. Bullet points are: Accoya or Mahogany solid-wood enclosure with custom-made side panels on proprietary Swing Base flotation; Furutech FT-816 speaker terminals; Lessloss coaxial hookup wiring; Duelund tinned copper Pio Cast and Audio Consulting custom-made bypass tweeter capacitors; custom AER tweeter of high 101dB/2.83V/m sensitivity with ultra-linear cone, powder-coated bell-bronze curved baffle, friction-free suspension, paper voice coil former, special aluminium-alloy voice coil wire, double C37 lacquered carbon membrane, bell-bronze phase plug, Harmonix RF 5700 on magnet; Audax rear tweeter; custom 28.5cm Supravox mid/woofer with bell-bronze phase plug, C37 lacquered cellulose diaphragm, paper voice-coil former, aluminium voice coil both C37 lacquered; no electrical crossover on widebander; proprietary suspension mechanism for the mid/woofer and tweeter; proprietary linearization network for acoustical phase; 24 x LessLoss Firewall filters per speaker; Boenicke Audio ComDev inside; Steinmusic Speaker Match Signature inside; latest-gen Bybee Quantum filters inside; latest-gen double series and single parallel resonators on all drivers; 600W Class D module with programmable DSP for active bass amplification; twin 15-inch long-throw woofers in sealed enclosure delayed by extra samples to phase-correct minor DSP latency. And finally, the W22 model has no set price. Price is determined for each individual transaction based on custom finish choices. Worldwide shipping and personal set-up by Sven Boenicke himself are included.
As AMG are to Mercedes Benz so are Michi to Rotel. They’re the high-performance subsidiary that now bows their Series 2 versions of the X3/x5 integrated amplifiers and P5 preamp. More than 300 refinements total are bestowed upon the revised machines. There are 350/600wpc into 4Ω respectively for the two integrateds and the bigger one even gets an upgraded MM/MC phono stage. It’s how current Rotel friends can go upscale without leaving the company. Fancy a kilowatt monaural amplifier? Michi have you covered with the M8 which still swings 1’800 watts into 4Ω. No need to go full-on esoteric and with a stiffer-lip brand.
For another such more approachable brand, showgoers would be smart to visit Parasound whose founder Richard Schram sold the company to David Sheriff late last year. At Munich, we’d expect the new boss in town to lay out his roadmap of planned novelties if not bring early mockups or renders. Few pedigreed high-end firms have as elite a contract designer on their team as Parasound does with John Curl whose pitstops in audio include prior tenures at Mark Levinson, SOTA, Vendetta Research and AMR/iFi. Yet Parasound always took great care to remain more of a Volks than a Royalty destination. Shouldn’t we be curious about where Mr. Sheriff plans to take it now? Visiting his exhibit ought to clarify that.
On matters of clarity and missed opportunities, beware of how certain brands practice a locked-door policy to conduct controlled demos. If you’re not there pünktlich on the hour and/or half hour, you won’t get in. Some planning ahead is key. For example, Gryphon Audio at the MOC has already announced almost back-to- back active auditions. So has FM Acoustics over at the Marriott Hotel. The Swiss in fact request that you make actual reservations due to limited available seating.
Always open are the select stands of the Newcomer Area where certain first-time exhibitors get to show though not play their wares. Don’t expect sound but instead, one-on-one time with actual designers and a chance to inspect their gear up close. Also true, not all companies in the Newcomer Area make it. I’ve met a number of promising products which never came to market perhaps because of negative feedback from the show.
Back on Volkswagens, during my years in America the big electronics chains all stocked either Denon, Onkyo or Yamaha as one of their bread ‘n’ butter brands primarily for their hulking AV receivers with more socketry than reason. Such representation tended to overlook the true depth of these Japanese catalogues. For 2023, Yamaha has a flagship DAC/headfi amp to go with their statement YH-5000SE planarmagnetic headphones. With a separate power supply with cowled transformers creating visual interest mirrored by top-mounted wheel controls on the head unit, the HA-LA7’s DAC runs a single ESS 9038Pro while the power section outputs 1 watt into 32Ω. Socketry includes USB, coax, Toslink and analog RCA inputs while line outputs live on RCA and XLR.
China’s Shanling has its new M9 Plus digital music player which goes back to the Asahi Kasei well with a quad of their latest AK4499EX converters, a matching quad of premium TI OPA1612 op-amps and dual AK4191 Delta Sigma modulators for fully balanced operation. Two Japanese KDS oscillators handle clocking. A quick 8-core Snapdragon 665 processor with 8GB RAM handles housekeeping chores while the GUI is based on Android 10 to be instantly familiar to many smartphone owners. The 6-inch 2K LCD screen rocks 2’160×1’080px resolution for “full HD”. Data happiness includes 32/768 PCM, DSD512 and MQA. Headfi happens on 4.4mm balanced or 3.5mm standard. The battery is an 8’350mAh job for a claimed 18 hours of non-balanced playback, 11 in balanced mode. Fast-charging Q3.0 tech speeds up recharges. Bluetooth 5.0 supports aptX/HD and LDAC wireless via Qualcomm’s WCN3980 WiFi transmitter. Data input includes USB-C via an XMOS XU316 transceiver and a microSD slot. Internal music storage is 256GB. The M9 Plus can swing 6V/32Ωbalanced, 4V standard. Weight is 379g, trim black.
One dynamic multi-way speaker room I recommend visiting highly is because their operators pay radical attention to detail. They are Living Voice who this year debut their ‘big one’ in the Auditorium range called R80 [£52K/pr with outboard crossovers]. Previewed at their domestic show in late March, this model bridges their classic OBX and exotic Vox ranges. It scales up the former’s twin 6″ array to dual 8″ mid/woofers flanking a ScanSpeak Ellipticor tweeter. There’s also a large rear port. Ancillaries will be the first public outing of the Grand Prix Audio Monaco V3.0 direct-drive turntable fitted with a Kuzma Safir 9 arm, CAR 50 cartridge and Consolidated Audio Copper Nano Monster Can transformer. For alternate vinyl duty there’ll be a Kuzma XL Air/Safir/CAR 60 combo and most likely a second 4P14 arm. Electronics will comprise an SJS Model 3 Premier phono stage, Model 7 Silver Premier preamp and Model 5 Silver Enhanced 300B power amp. Naturally, all that elite kit will rest on the company’s own G2 equipment supports and power from their signature Pure Music 600Ah battery power-supply system. Yep, that’s correct. Kevin & Lynn Scott always bring their very own power plant from which to juice their entire stack/s. Such a systemic approach paid back handsomely whenever I visited their exhibit in years past. It also helped that Kevin’s tastes in music are more adventurous than typical boy-with-banjo show fare. And no, I don’t believe that this year they’ll bring their majestic Vox Olympians.
But ponder ye this. These folks’ retail arm of Definitive Audio used to hold the ultra-exclusive UK distributorship for Kondo Japan valve kit. They only relinquished it when after the passing of their legendary founder, Kondo’s sound signature changed. It took them many years to find an ‘old-style Kondo’ replacement: the electronics from Simon Shilton’s SJS Electroacoustics, which in Munich will drive their new speakers and incorporate circuit tweaks curated by them. If you’ve always been a Kondo fan, you might want to sniff about SJS like a hound hunting for truffles?
Raidho of Denmark will debut their new X2t with tantalum-coated ceramic drivers and also play the diamond-line TD6 plus bring the flagship from their sister brand Scansonic, the MB-6 with planarmagnetic thin-foil tweeter and carbon-fibre mid/woofers. Both catalogues share versions of the same tweeter and are based on the same sonic philosophy. Scansonic must simply work to tighter budgets. It should make for a great side-by-side op to compare how available engineering and build funds influence a sonic outcome.
Gold Note from the classic Renaissance city of Florence will debut their flagship Mediterraneo X turntable, DS-1000 Evo next-gen streaming DAC and IS-10, a new half-sized streaming integrated amplifier. Having reviewed and loved their compact 75-watt PA-10 stereo amplifier which bridges to quad power, runs a switching power supply and gallium-nitride transistors in class AB, I predict that its FutureFi integrated version will pack a surprising amount of steam under its tastefully gilled cover.
For a new luxury brand’s maiden launch, get thee over to Houchmand of Germany who hopes to make a gilded impression with their systems approach of active speakers and control unit with integral streaming clients and room EQ DSP. Signal transmission is 24/192 wired or 24/96 wireless, there’s remote control, an iOS/Android app, three remote-controlled tuning presets and an optional subwoofer. A key design objective was time fidelity for linear phase, constant group delay and low jitter which the firm dubs “Pure Path Technology”. Being a luxury product, mirror-polish finish options include 24ct gold, 18ct red gold, platinum or ruthenium combined with genuine piano lacquers.
From the land of champagne and truffles come B.audio with its new Alpha One, a Darko-approved concept of FutureFi which integrates a DAC, preamp, amp and streamer in one case. Full specs won’t be revealed until the show bell rings and the four horsemen of the Bavarian apocalypse blow their alphorns but, you can easily find their exhibit because it’s shared with the picturesque panel speakers from French compatriots Diptyque who specialize in multi-way planarmagnetic dipoles. For 2023 they have the new DP140 MkII with newly optimized push/pull motors. As the name suggests, this model stands 140cm proud. Its finish can be personalized in one of 160 RAL colours plus four leather colours for the edge treatment. If you’ve ever wondered what Audeze or Meze planarmagnetic headphones might sound like as loudspeakers; and if you also thought that smaller Magneplanars lacked some bass oomph… give Diptyque a try. These aren’t grandpa’s Maggies; nor cones ‘n’ domes in a box for that matter.
Which is the whole point. A show like Munich High End and its hanger-on Hifi Deluxe event are an ace and rare opportunity to broaden our sonic horizons. Hence we should sample the gamut from classic dynamic box speakers to horns, single-driver widebanders to planarmagnetics, open baffles to ribbons. It’s the only way to figure out what we like. For purposes of sampling, price and looks shouldn’t matter. It should just be about tuning into a particular presentational style. Once we’ve pegged our favourite, then it’s time to parse our options regarding size, price and cosmetics. At a free-for-all show, it’s best to forget about sense or sensibility and simply imbibe as though there was no tomorrow. And in a few short days, it will all be over.
As to cones ‘n’ domes, Munich will obviously have its fair share of statement efforts, be those from Magico or Tidal, Stenheim or YG Acoustic, Wilson or Wilson-Benesch, Raidho or Børresen. All of these brands represent excellence and very specific design philosophies. What a chance to hear them all under one roof!
For a final wildcard, I’ll throw out Seawave Acoustic from South Korea who under the baton of practicing Buddhist monk Bo San craft high-spec speakers mostly with at least one horn. With Ohm Audio their Benelux distributor, we know that they already sell in Europe. Yet checking the official exhibitor list, I saw neither firm listed. Why still mention them? Because perusing their website and reading the first reviews, they appear to be a very interesting brand deserving of more eyeballs; and because these previews are all about promoting the industry at large. Simple as that.
Now my eyeballs have gone all cloudy to call this a wrap. That’s easy too. “Tschüß tschüß” as they say over in Teutonia…