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HIGH END 2018 | Monachium

Time: 10th – 13th May 2018
Venue: M.O.C., Munich

Hatzfelder Straße 161-163 | 42281 Wuppertal - Germany




aving arranged business cards on the table, I saw an archipelago come to life. Nominally, these were islands or perhaps groups consisting of a few islands each. However, when I looked at them from a longer distance, they merged – often in an amazing way. When I came closer to them again, they would again divide into separate entities or small groups that did not seem to have any points of contact with one another.

This obvious allusion to the world of audio was not yet clear to me then and I was not aware of it. When I work on reports from large exhibitions, I develop photographs from RAW files and look through them. Only then do I recall emotions connected with them, sound and associated conversations, and I can use my notes (if I took them), company materials, the catalogue and business cards. The HIGH END exhibition in Munich that I have been attending since it was moved there from Frankfurt, is one of the biggest such events in the world, at least when it comes to stereo and pure high-end. So, my method of work has been surprisingly effective.

This time I started from the very end, i.e. from business cards, because at this year’s exhibition I spent most of my time on meetings, talks and planning. I aimed to recall all the people that I wanted to tell you about and use them as a medium for describing the event itself, and trends in audio that are being born in front of our eyes and are being revealed through the exhibition.

| Master class

The High End exhibition opened its doors for people from the outside at 10 a.m. on Thursday, i.e. on a day traditionally reserved for people representing the audio industry – the press, distributors and sales representatives. Reserving one day for this purpose is necessary, as the exhibition in Munich is mainly about business – I heard that from everyone that I talked to, followed by a claim that the Audio Video Show exhibition in Warsaw is equally important to them, as it is the place where you go to listen to music. It is an obvious exaggeration, as in Munich there is also a lot of good sound and in Warsaw people also talk business. However, this is how these two complementary events are perceived by manufacturers and the press.

Todd Garflinke and Chris Sommovigo – on his smartphone, Todd is showing cables that Chris has made for him.

Already a minute after 10 o’clock, I had an appointment with Chris Sommovigo. The 3202 interconnect and 3232 speaker cable that we had just tested became a pretext for a longer conversation on cables in general, Japanese culture and the future of the company. It appears that Chris, for family reasons, is now moving back to the USA. As he said, it is a real ordeal for him, as he must send large and heavy machines, which means an at least 2-month break from work. However, he is an optimist, as he has prepared some cables “to have on stock”.

Chris shared his stand with a man that he, before the exhibition, had promised to introduce me to – the owner of the M•A Recordings company, Todd Garflinke. I do not know if you have heard his recordings – if not, give them a chance and you will witness an incredibly natural musical event. Todd’s main recording technique is recording in the DSD128 digital domain. Acetate is cut from such signal by Len Horowitz, a young man, using a Scully machine with a Westrex head, both manufactured in the 1950s. It is almost certain that this machine was used to make acetates for the Prestige record label.

Todd Garflinke | M•A Recordings

In the past, Todd also recorded in PCM 24/96, but DSD won due to its much more natural sound. The company offers both CDs and files for download, but the products that seem to be the most interesting are LPs and – attention! – tapes. An extremely beautiful box with Bach’s Goldberg Variations performed by Ito Ema was shown during the exhibition. The wooden box was handcrafted in Japan and it costs 600 USD… It is no coincidence that the two gentlemen had their stands next to each other – Chris has made special versions of cables, with silver content, that are used to connect a DSD recorder and the Scully machine.

What is interesting, the record label also offers a Polish album that we can find in the menu, with the tag “Poland” – Grzegorz Krawiec’s album Journey – Podróż. However, Todd played something else for me – a recording from Thailand featuring a girl with an incredible voice. I must say that it sounded great! So, the only thing I can do is give him the Best Sound • High End 2018 award.

I knew then already that this was not the end. A serious looking gentleman was standing in the corner of the same tiny stand, with a few copies of the book entitled Music and Audio: A User Guide To Better Sound, published by AIX Publishing. The massive book has 850 pages and probably discusses all the topics that we deal with in our industry. It was written by Mr Mark Waldrep, an academic lecturer and the owner of AIX Records – a record label that deals with hi-res recordings. He records in the 24/192 PCM format and releases recordings on Blu-ray and DVD-V/A.

Mark Waldrep (on the right) talking to Bartek Pacuła.

He also writes the blog where he presents the views that he discusses in detail in the abovementioned book. I think that everyone should have this book and regularly read it. It was written by a man who knows his job and the topics are described in an intelligible, but yet detailed enough way. Not only does each chapter contain a description of techniques and technology, but also evaluates them. I disagree with most of the evaluations.

It is no printing mistake – I value and respect Mr Waldrep and I am glad that, finally, someone who clearly opposes many views popular in the world of perfectionist audio does not gabble, as it usually happens, does not say “no” for the sake of it, but has solid arguments to support his theses. And arguments can be rationally discussed. So, I read sentences like the one below with pleasure:

If the music you want is available as a normal CD file or download, you should acquire it that way. If you spend $35 on an XRCD, you’re wasting your money. 

Many years of experience and a lot of listening sessions that I have participated in with different groups of people have convinced me that it is exactly the opposite – XRCDs sound tremendous and each Polish zloty that I spend on them gives me a fourfold return on investment. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, it must be said that Music and Audio: A User Guide To Better Sound is one of the most interesting monographs devoted to the contemporary stage of the audio world that I have dealt with. It is a book that is pleasant to disagree with.

When Mr Waldrep was signing our copy, Chris took me to the side and introduced me to someone that I had known for years, respected a lot and now met personally for the first time: David Robinson, the editor-in-chief and publisher of the online “Positive-Feedback” magazine. I almost sank in his arms, as it is a big guy and an experienced sailor, as well as an incredibly warm person.

David Robinson | „Positive-Feedback”

Cooperation between PF and “High Fidelity” is extremely rewarding for both sides and it was pleasant to get some praise. Based on this experience, we have decided to do more and now we are talking about something that all the five magazines that have formed this incredible alliance with “Positive-Feedback” could share (the remaining three are: “Part Time Audiophile”, “HiFi Pig” and By the way, David asked me if I want to become part of the editorial staff of PF in the role of “contributing editor”. Of course, I said “I do” :)

| Youth is coming!

A conversation between our friend Dirk Sommer (the editor-in-chief of the magazine who, together with Birgit Hammer-Sommer, is the head of Sommelier Du Son record label) and his new journalist must have been similar. The latter, a 25-year-old Hamburger (when you call the residents of Frankfurt “Hamburgers” in Germany, it is impossible not to smile), is the most recent “purchase” of the German magazine – fresh blood that has entered our circulatory system. The two gentlemen met each other during one of Dirk’s presentations, when he was demonstrating the sound of recordings made digital using different A/D converters. After the presentation, the young man asked a lot of questions and manifested his good taste. I hope that we will soon be able to get to know him better, thanks to reading about him in “The Editors” series.

Dirk presented a similar “trick” during the exhibition in Munich – in one of the rooms, he placed his stand where it was possible, in real time and without knowing which device was being used, to compare recordings made using an internal converter in a Tascam recorder, Mytek converter and an MSB converter. The differences are not small. The Tascam ADC sounded very weak, with sandy treble and weak dynamics. The Mytek device was much better, but the MSB converter proved really classy. The differences were unambiguous and I had no problems with indicating, in such a “blind” test, which device was which.

Dirk’s sense of hearing is something that makes him better than other, also very good sound engineers and remastering specialists. I very highly value albums that he records, but I equally appreciate his work in the field of remastering. That is why my eyes beamed when, exhausted after a long day, with a good drink in my hand and sitting at his home studio, I saw a small Oscar Peterson’s box entitled Exclusively for my friends. I have had a large box, with six vinyl discs, remastered by Christoph Stickel and Dirk, since it appeared in stores, but it was the first time I had seen its digital version.

It is interesting due to the fact that it contains eight discs – the two additional ones are entitled The Lost Tapes. They were not included in the “large” box, as they were remastered in the digital domain, while vinyl discs were released in A|A|A series, i.e. in an analogue remaster. As Dirk said, the Edel company that released the album entrusted the valuable tapes to them after they had demonstrated what they had been able to do with the two that I am talking about. Both were available only in the digital version and one of them had really varied dynamics, tone, volume, etc. And it was not possible to save it using only analogue tools. They have managed to bring it to a state in which it is possible to say “Bravo!” Attention – Dirk is preparing Master File copies of his analogue tapes! They will be available at the online store

However, while talking about the comparison prepared by Dirk and its results, we must remember that Mytek converters are not especially expensive and sound great for their price range. A lot of very serious recording studios use them and the results of their work are very good – see Chesky Records albums. I see Michał Jurewicz regularly during exhibitions, we write each other, but we have never had time for a longer conversation before – until we met in Munich this year. And the time seemed to be very good, as the company is launching a new product – a mobile digital-to-analogue converter and amplifier which is connected to the source using either cable or Bluetooth. The sales target are supposed to be young people.

Cleff by Mytek (this is the name of the brand that devices belonging to this series will be sold under) is the first product sold under this brand, but there are to be more such devices. The motto is: “Stream like Vinyl” and it refers to the growing popularity of the analogue among young people who, at the same time, are “consumers” of digital streaming services. We had a long conversation about that, as it is a “hot” topic and each manufacturer has their own vision of what young people need. There are a lot of opinions and most of them will probably prove wrong. However, everyone agrees on one thing: WE need young people more than THEY need us.

Perhaps for this reason, even in extremely conservative Japanese companies, young people are being given voice. Let us take the Accuphase company as an example. It has not had its own stand in Munich for years, although its products appear in many systems. However, its representatives come to the exhibition every year – this year, the event was attended by Mark M. Suzuki (Executive Vice President), Tatsuki Tozuka (Manager, International Marketing Div.) and the “new guy” (it is, of course, a nickname that I have come up with), Mr Takaya Inokuma (Manager Engineering Div.).

Mr Takaya Inokuma (Manager, Engineering Div.), Mr Mark M. Suzuki (Executive Vice President) and Mr Tatsuki Tozuka (Manager, International Marketing Div.)

Mr Takaya-san came to Bavaria with a design that he has been responsible for from the beginning until the very end, i.e. the new T-1200 tuner. Although it seems that the days of the analogue (when it comes to the method of transfer) radio are numbered, a lot of music lovers, mainly those who listen to classical music and jazz, still use the radio and want this contact to be the best possible. The T-1200 makes more advanced use of technologies that have been applied before, i.e. strongly emphasises the analogue “front end” (RF) and then the digital part, i.e. the IF filter, FM demodulator and stereophonic DS-DC demodulator. Thanks to advanced digital processing, it has been possible to obtain amazing parameters, e.g. signal/noise ratio at the level of 92 dB and fantastic inter-channel separation, not to mention outstanding selectivity.

Apart from the fact that I could feel Mr Takaya-san was proud of the analogue part, he surprised me with something else – when I asked him whether he had worked for Accuphase for a long time, he modestly replied that it had not been such a long time, which was confirmed by his two senior colleagues. So, when I enquired how long it had exactly been, he said: “Seventeen years.” So, the apparently young man really proved to be young, but also extremely experienced. So, I am sure that the T-1200 will have a special position in the company portfolio, despite being a niche product.

Mr Takaya Inokuma | Accuphase | Manager Engineering Div.

We also welcome a young man in the Muson Project Inc. company which is not known to people from outside the industry, because it is a so-called “agent”, i.e. a company which acts as an intermediary between Japanese brands and the outside world. However, it is thanks to them – Mr Yoshi Hontai and his son, Elia Hontai – that brands such as Leben, Acrolink, Oyaide, Acoustic Revive, SPEC and other ones are present in Poland. Let me remind you that I was the first person from outside Japan who wrote reviews of products manufactured by many of these companies, including Leben and SPEC, at the time when nobody in Europe or the USA had heard of them yet.

Anyway, Mr. Yuki Maeda joined the company in April. It is an exceptional and inspiring story. He has a passion for music, which is probably obvious. However, it is not something he had dealt with before – he used to be an insurance agent who offered insurance policies. He sold one of them to Mr Hontai and his son, and the meeting inspired him to change his life. As the audio industry all over the world is doing better and better, and the Muson company is growing, Mr Hontai offered him a job and he agreed to join the company. As Mr Hontai himself has recently been given more responsibilities, he said it was high time to employ someone new.

From the left: Mr Yuki Maeda, Mr Elia Hontai, the author of the report and Mr Yoshi Hontai

It is because he devotes more and more time to the Leben company and, in fact, manages it. Due to the fact that Mr Taku Hyodo, the owner of Leben, is ill, Mr Yoshi Hontai takes care of the business from day to day, as well as oversees new products. Some time ago, we received a new version of the CS-600 integrated amplifier, adapted for operation with other types of tubes, but a new super integrated amp is being developed now. When will it be ready? Unfortunately, it is not known…

Anyway, it is known that an article devoted to Mr Okihigo Sugano (a legend of the Japanese audio industry) and recordings produced by Audio Lab. Record which we are working on now, will be written with the help of Ongen Publishing – namely, Mr Yosuke Asada, the editor-in-chief of “Net Audio” and “Analog” magazines. Their websites present an impressive three-year project in which Mr Sugano-san talks about his life and vision of sound. Yosuke-san proved to be as nice and cool a guy as presented in an interview that we have published in “High Fidelity” alongside this report. The 34-year-old man has the passion and strength that the audio industry always needs.

Mr Yosuke Asada (on the right) | Ongen Publishing

Youth also seems to be the motto for those companies that are rather oriented at “the elders”, simply because this group of consumers has enough cash. One of such firms is Moon by Simaudio which has chosen Munich to be the place for the premiere of their new product, labelled as 390. The device combines: an audio file player with a cable connection and Bluetooth, a line preamplifier and an analogue preamplifier. From among all its functions, it is worth paying attention to the possibility of synchronizing a few devices in a multi-room system.

Bowers & Wilkins speakers from the new ‘800’ series and Nordost cables were used in the presentation. The sound was excellent, independently of what types of files were used. Even though the device refused to cooperate with the presenters for a moment, Mr Costa Koulisakis, the company vice president said that it was a prototype and they had never had such problems before. I hold them to their word! Anyway, it was high-quality sound and I had not heard Bowers & Wilkins speakers play music so well for a long time, hence the Best Sound • High End 2018 award.

| Vitality

However, it was not a single case – the new Bowers & Wilkins speakers were used in a few other systems, including the one prepared by the Cambridge Audio company. The English company, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, presented a high-end line of devices called Edge, including a streamer, an integrated amplifier, a preamp and power amplifiers. It was a minimalistic presentation, yet the sound was fantastic, as it was fresh and natural. Therefore, the Best Sound • High End 2018 award was only natural as well.

However, not only such “old” companies can offer something exceptional. Most Polish brands are young or very young. It may be the reason why, during meetings, I heard a few times that foreign manufacturers, journalists and distributors are impressed by the vitality of the Polish press, our manufacturers and the exhibition in Warsaw. This image is enhanced by the Polish companies that are more and more boldly entering western and Asian markets. The products of Franc Audio Accessories (cooperating with CH Precision, Kronos Audio, Engstrom and Living Voice) and Rogoz Audio (the main partner of the TAD company) could be found in a few rooms.

Fezz Audio toroidal transformers, manufactured by the firm’s parent company, constitute the basis for Fezz Audio amplifiers

As usual, a lot of emotions were connected with the joint presentation of the Pylon Audio and Fezz Audio brands. The latter attracted visitors’ attention due to the fact that it uses its own toroidal transformers not only in power supply units, but also in the output stage. Such innovations, as well as sound and workmanship that are also excellent here, are given awards by people from outside Poland. It was similar in the case of Pylon Audio which presented a number of their speakers having a completely new finish with “metallic” lacquer at the exhibition. Apart from transformers, Fezz Audio also enchanted visitors with the new Lupi amplifier.

“Metallic” housings of Pylon Audio speakers from the Diamond series

There were many more Polish “stormtroopers” at the exhibition. A nice presentation was given by the Divaldi company represented by Waldemar Łuczkoś and Sveda Audio whose products were exhibited with LampizatOr electronics, right next to the stand of the cable manufacturer Albedo. Arek Szweda, the owner of and constructor at Divaldi, has just prepared a “home” version of his monitor speakers that we are to test soon. He also told us what the recording session of Audiofeels debut album, which took place at a “studio” built at the back of a store, looked like and why it sounds so good.

The stand of LampizatOr and Sveda Audio companies

The monitor speakers that I have mentioned have a classic d’Appolito speaker array and are active. Rebel Sentiment 10 speakers that we tested in the March edition of “High Fidelity” (HF | No. 167) have a similar but passive array. In Munich, it was also possible to see their floorstanding version. Although the presentation took place at a tiny open stand in a large hall, it was possible to sit down and listen to the model ‘10” with Struss amplifiers, including the R500 model.

A family of Rebel speakers from the Sentiment series – it is worth paying attention to the consistent use of a d’Appolito array

There must be something special about this speaker array, as the new (and simply beautiful) Monitor Audio Studio speakers look exactly the same. They have been designed to monitor recordings at a studio, but they can be as well used to play music at home. They include a “bellows” Heil tweeter and two midwoofers (sandwich design). They are small, perfectly made and cost about 1000 pounds.

| Even higher high-end

At the other side of the price rainbow there is the YG Acoustics company. However, it also designs its midwoofer modules in a very similar way, but using much more sophisticated tools. It is one of the companies that, thanks to providing perfect mechanical design and carrying out advanced research on the operation of the whole system, have raised sound quality to a new, seemingly inaccessible level. The company is growing so fast that, despite the fact that its factory has been made larger, it already lacks space. That is why Mr Yoav Geva, its owner and the main engineer, decided to employ someone to manage the firm, in order to be able to focus on developing new constructions. So, Mr David Komatz became the new CEO.

A “spider” that reinforces the tweeter dome is made from such an aluminium rod that is CNC-machined to give it the desired shape

While we were having beer together, our friend, Kerry St. James, who takes care of the company contacts with the outside world, told us about a few innovations, including some really “big” ones. What seems to be the most important now are improvements of existing models. They cost a lot of money and may seem small, but they have really significantly changed the sound of speakers manufactured by this American company. One of such changes is a modification of the tweeter and, therefore, of the crossover as well. Another one consists in changing the transformer coil in the woofer section.

Kerry said that Mr Geva came up with an idea for the former at night: he woke up and immediately had a ready-made solution. If, he reasoned, a delicate fabric used for a tent is reinforced using metal ribs, why not use the same structure for the silk tweeter membrane. Developing a working prototype took quite a lot of time and money, but the result is impressive: an aluminium “T-piece” is CNC-machined of the most expensive aircraft-grade aluminium and adhesively attached to the membrane at the back.

Replacing the coil required an even higher investment. A Mundorf coil that had been used so far was excellent, at least when it comes to its electrical parameters. However, it had a classic mechanical design, which did not fully satisfy Mr Geva – a perfectionist. So, he designed his own coil whose clamping elements are made of thick aluminium, thanks to which the coil gap has extremely small tolerance. In some time, we will be able to learn what the Hailey and Sonja speakers sound like in our “HF” editorial office system. I met the latter speakers’ namesake, Mrs Sonja, and listened to the Sonya 2.2 speakers with Nagra and Boulder electronics, and a new SME Synergy turntable with Crystal Cable cables. It was excellent sound and hence the Best Sound • High End 2018 award.

The system that we awarded, including YG Acoustics speakers, Nagra electronics and a Boulder preamp from the 1100 series, as well as Crystal Cable The Ultimate Dream cables

YG Acoustics is distributed in Poland by Core Audio which also takes care of the AudioNet brand. Audionet is another company whose daily bread are technological innovations. When I met David Robinson (“Positive-Feedback”), he emphasised a few times that, in his opinion, the company is one of those that make the best amplifiers on the planet Earth. He introduced me to one of its directors, Mr Robert Hagemann, who surprised me first by handing a business card on to me the Japanese way, with both hands, and then by giving a long response in Japanese to my “arigato”, which I did not understand at all. So, it is necessary to be careful about what you say and to what person :)

AudioNet prepared a presentation of its Heisenberg power amplifiers and the Stern preamp using the Dynaudio Evidence speakers. Signal was supplied to the amps and preamp from the CD Planck player. It was the kind of sound that I consider to be right. What mattered was only the musical message and the role of its technical aspects was only to support it and never to come to the foreground. It was a really perfect presentation and confirmation of the fact that a high-quality CD player is an absolutely sufficient digital signal source. We hereby confirm that by giving the system the Best Sound • High End 2018 award.

A presentation of the AudioNet system

However, as I said when I recalled Dirk Sommer, everything depends on how signal is recorded and who prepares it for release. So, I looked at historical models of Nagra tape recorders with great respect and admiration, starting from the “spy” SN model that once went into space (the Apollo mission), through the first tape recorder – model I powered by a crank handle, up to the classics – models: III, IV-S and the digital HD – one could listen to the latter ones using Audeze headphones.

This is the analogue part. However, my guide was René Laflamme – the most valuable of Nagra’s recent assets, perhaps apart from the HD Preamp that we talked about a lot. It is because René is also the head of the 2xHD label which sells hi-res and even DSD256 files. Although he loves the analogue, as he uses the Nagra T tape recorder with Doshi electronics, he also devotes a lot of time to digital technologies. However, hi-res files make any sense only in such hands. What I heard from these tape recorders, including the digital HD (it was incredible!), had to end with the Best Sound • High End 2018 award, both for “vintage” tape recorders and the flawless preamp.

René Laflamme with the HD Preamp

That does not mean, however, that the exhibition only focused on tape recorders and digital technologies. Traditionally, a lot of exhibitors presented turntables. However, I got the impression that this year they were not the centre of attention. Despite that, two presentations were excellent – one with the new SME Synergy turntable and the other with the Continuum Audio Labs Obsidian turntable. I have already mentioned the former one, so let me now add that the Synergy is the first new SME turntable since 2015 and the ‘15A’ model, as well as the first one developed under the management of Mr Stuart McNeilis, after the company had been bought by The Cadence Group. The system included a Nagra preamp where 6 V battery power was changed to 9 V. The other presentation enchanted me with Dean Martin’s natural vocal reproduced by Wilson Audio speakers powered by Constellation Audio electronics.

The 50th anniversary of the Cambridge Audio company was one of a few important anniversaries that were celebrated during the High End 2018 exhibition in Munich. For me personally, as well as for the whole “High Fidelity” crew, the most touching moment was the opening of a bottle of 25-year-old excellent wine, which took place in the Einstein Audio room. We were moved not by the exquisite wine itself – although it did have some influence on our emotions – but by the fact that our friends and owners of the company, Annette Heiss and Volker Bohlemeier, celebrated the 30th anniversary of the company and of their relationship. We wish them all the best, as they deserve it!

All the best!

| Island-island-island…

I hope that this personal account of the exhibition has shown you where the modern audio industry is heading. In order to make it easier, I will try to summarize my report in a few words.

First of all, perfectionist highest-level audio reinforces the division into many separate “islands”, creating isolated “interest groups” and educating music lovers who find “their” sound here and not anywhere else. It is easiest to see when it comes to sound sources. Reel-to-reel tape recorders set the tone for the exhibition and produced the best sound. Due to extremely high tape prices (300 to 1000 USD!), it is fun few people can have. However, as with any type of perfectionism, all of us can enjoy it, getting better and better LPs, CDs and files. One of the best listening sessions at the exhibition was prepared by the Hemiolia Records company. During the event, a found tape with a recording of Pavarotti’s performance was presented. It was simply great – hence the Best Sound • High End 2018 award.

Compact Discs are doing well, with a small niche in the form of Super Audio CD. However, the digital domain is ruled by those who have decided to sell their music via the Internet. In the “outside” world, most of this market is occupied by streaming services and a small share belongs to stores which sell files. In the “inside” world, things seem to be the other way round, as we can obtain DSD files and real, uncompressed PCM hi-res files only in the latter way. Devices that are used to play files, either directly from the Internet or from local memories, were the most important this year.

The position of turntables remained very stable against this background, perhaps because they are well-established and do not need to prove anything. A lot of inexpensive models, mainly from Asia, were shown in Munich, but there were also representatives of the highest price range, led by the incredibly looking Metaxas turntable. It was accompanied by products manufactured by the Einstein company which offers a complete analogue path with a turntable, an arm and a cartridge, not to mention the electronics.

The Metaxas & Sins GQT Analogue tape recorder

When it comes to amplifiers and speakers, it seems that effort is being made, on the one hand, to obtain as much music as possible from vintage solutions and, on the other hand, to improve the technical details and specifications of modern products, so that they contribute to musicality. When I talked to people from Accuphase, they said a few times that this is the main change that is taking place in Japan and that their company is trying to keep up with these demands. So, devices that are becoming more and more prominent are characterized by flawless measurements and combine them with elements that companies which use solutions popular in the 1940s and 1950s have built their reputation on.

The exhibition is a good time to give awards – the photo shows Gabi van der Kley-Rijnveld and the award she got for cables from The Ultimate Dream series

I think that what I talked about in the introduction is clear: big money has been injected into the audio industry, so companies have established their positions and are building a base of loyal users around them. This leads to the creation of separate islands which do not seem to communicate with one another at all. So, what comes to my mind is the sentence that was shouted out in anger by the main character of the comedy About a boy (directed by Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, 2002): “I am an island. I am bloody Ibiza!” He elaborates on the thought in the following way:

All men are islands. And what's more, this is the time to be one. This is an island age. A hundred years ago, for example, you had to depend on other people. No one had TV or CDs or DVDs or home espresso makers. As a matter of fact they didn't have anything cool. Whereas now you can make yourself a little island paradise. With the right supplies, and more importantly the right attitude, you can become sun-drenched, tropical, a magnet for young Swedish tourists.

Reality is different, however. If we look at everything from the right distance, we will see countless connections, interdependencies and influences. Let us squint and look at these single spots and we will notice that they constitute clear shapes. It is because reality is reflected by what Marcus thinks in the last scene of the abovementioned movie:

I used to think two was not enough. But now things are great; there are loads of people... I don't know what Will was so pissed about. I don't think couples are the future. The way I see it now, we both got back-up now. It's like that thing Jon Bon Jovi said: 'No man is an island.'


M•A Recordings

MOON by Simaudio | Bowers & Wilkins | Nordost

YG Acoustics | SME | Nagra | Boulder | Crystal Cable | Ortofon | |

Audionet | Dynaudio |

Hemiolia Records

Constellation Audio | Wilson Audio | Transparent Audio

Cambridge Audio | Bowers & Wilkins |

Nagra: III, IV-S, HD Preamp

* Borrowed…

  • Constellation Audio electronics and the Continuum Audio Labs Obsidian turntable on an Artesania Audio rack.
  • The EAT Forte turntable in the mint colour and finish resembling Auris Audio devices.
  • One of the most important novelties – the powerful Dan D’Agostino Relentless power amplifier; price: 250,000 USD… In the background – Dan d’Agostino himself.
  • Dan D’Agostino Relentless: 1500 W/8 Ω, 6000 W/2 Ω, the first 100 W in A class.
  • Another important premiere: the new Dynaudio Confidence series with new NeoTec woofers.
  • Apart from having a modelled front panel, the Confidence series also has a lute-shaped housing.
  • Mr Robert Rothleitnert next to his Ichos Schallwandler No. One speakers.
  • The Indiana Line speaker series.
  • Wolf von Lang speakers with Air Tight electronics.
  • The powerful Air Tight ATM-3211 monoblocks using 211 tubes – 120 W output in the push-pull mode.
  • A touching view of two friends – Mr Atsui Miura (on the left) and Mr Masami Ishiguro (on the right) who set up the A+M Limited, i.e. the AirTight company in the year 1986.
  • The new floorstanding TAD speakers which constitute an advanced form of the Micro Evolution One bookshelf speakers. It is worth paying attention to the cover near the floor – it is part of the company’s woofer loading system.
  • Thrax speakers consisting of the Lyra module and the Basus subwoofer system have gained their final shape – now they look like a complete speaker.
  • This is the largest subwoofer I have ever seen outside cinemas and theatres: the Ascendo company, 50” diameter.
  • A tasty presentation of the Marten Coltrane Memento 2 speakers and Vitus Audio electronics. Cables: Jorma Design.
  • Small, excellently made Monitor Audio speakers from the Studio series.
  • These enormous KS-17electrostatic speaker panels were manufactured by the King’s Audio Limited company from Hong Kong.
  • Organic shapes and great sound – this is the shortest summary of the system with the Höffner Audiosysteme Manufaktur H1speakers, an Einstein Audio amplifier and a Naim Audio CD player.
  • We can see the company’s latest construction: the Graham Audio LS6/f next to tiny bookshelf speakers.
  • A whole range of speakers manufactured under the Graham Audio and Cartwell brands.
  • Ayon Audio is back after many years with the first series of its speakers. It was the first company to use ceramic transducers: the Black Falcon and Black Heron. They are to be even easier to drive thanks to tube amplifiers and a switch which adapts them to both a single-ended and a push-pull construction.
  • A new Genuin Audio Tars server and active Neo speakers produced by the same company, controlled in a DSP circuit.
  • Munich was the place where the latest version of the Avantgarde Acoustic Trio Luxury Edition 26 speakers was presented. It is a limited edition of 26 units, marking the 26th company anniversary. Efficiency: 109 dB, Strontium ferrite magnets.
  • The new Magico A3 speakers in a classic-looking housing, although it is still made of aluminium.
  • A cross-section of the Magico A3 – what attracts our attention are the aluminium reinforcements. Despite having such a sophisticated housing, these are to be the cheapest speakers offered by this manufacturer.
  • And these are “adult” Magico speakers (the M6 model), with a housing reinforced with carbon fibre braid, with Soulution electronics from the 7xx series and a Kronos Audio turntable, standing on an HRS rack.
  • A system that we gave an award to, with the Constellation Audio Centaur monoblocks and the Wilson Audio Alexia speakers. Cables: Transparent Audio.
  • Another return – the JBL L100 loudspeakers with characteristic replaceable grilles. Offered for sale in 1970, now they have been improved, e.g. thanks to a newly developed tweeter.
  • Lyravox and the Karl complete stereophonic system in the form of speakers: DSP, wireless and cable transfer, active crossovers, amplifiers for each speaker…
  • A whole series of active Lyravox speakers (from the right): Karlotta, Karlina and Karlos.
  • For many companies, this year’s exhibition was an opportunity to show their history: the photo presents the miniature Nagra SN reel-to-reel tape recorder.
  • Although the Nagra SN was used by spies, its most famous mission was to fly to the Moon – it went there with Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin in the year 1969.
  • The first Nagra tape recorder, powered by a crank handle (!).
  • The Nagra III, a monophonic model from the year 1957. It still works and sounds excellent!
  • Renè Laflamme and the Nagra IV-S from the year 1971.
  • An Otari tape recorder with tapes that had been considered to be lost for many years, containing a recording of a Luciano Pavarotti’s performance; Munich was the place chosen for their premiere.
  • A less known brand which manufactures tape recorders – the Danish Lyrec Manufacturing A/S. The company was set up in 1945. The photo shows the PTR-1 (FRIDA) model.
  • It is one of the most popular Studer tape recorders, the A812 model. It was possible to listen to it in the TAD company room.
  • A Fern Roby Audio turntable made in the USA from thick aluminium panels. It is a company which also makes aluminium housings for other manufacturers.
  • Christopher Hildebrand, the owner of Fern Roby Audio, presenting a phono stage that can operate on its own or can be magnetically attached to a turntable produced by the company.
  • The Clearaudio company celebrated its 40th anniversary in Munich. Among many other attractions, there was also the modified Volkswagen where a sound system was installed.
  • If we are talking about Clearaudio and sound systems, we naturally need to mention turntables – the photo shows one on a special platform which maintained the level, with an active version of the KEF L50 speakers.
  • Most Clearaudio turntables can be placed on stands.
  • This is Cleraudio history – preamplifiers manufactured for the company in Slovakia, e.g. by Ri Audio.
  • Avid Hi-Fi with the Ingenium model in the unusual anode colour.
  • Conrad Mass, the owner of Avid, next to the latest Sigsum integrated amplifier. Next to it, there is a black turntable – Conrad said that it is the most popular colour now.
  • The Volare Dr. Feickert Analogue model – small and compact.
  • These unusual organic shapes are the trademark of the Metaxas & Sins company – the photo shows the Phonographic Perambulator PP1 turntable.
  • This Onkk Limited turntable also had a streamlined but much more familiar shape.
  • Music Hall presented the mmf-9.3 turntable in natural veneer.
  • The Acoustical Systems Arché is an amazingly fine-tuned arm head, in which it is possible to replace the cartridge only by unscrewing the plate that it is mounted to.
  • A high-end Technics turntable? Why not – the SP-10R model has all the specifications that will let it win the hearts of more than just a group of “anachrophiles”.
  • SME and the new Synergy turntable – motor from the model 10, in a new housing, plate from the model 15, a new base and, of course, an organic shape are just a few of its special features.
  • As always, Transrotor did not disappoint us – the photo shows the majestic Metropolis Chrom turntable.
  • Afi Flat is a device which is used to flatten vinyl records and reduce internal stresses in vinyl.
  • A novelty from TechDAS, the Air Force V model, so far the cheapest one of all the turntables that the company offers.
  • The Acoustic Signature Tango Reference preamplifier – that is what I call a big device…
  • Although it looks like a Micro Seika turntable, in fact it is the Amari LP-82s. It weighs 50 kg.
  • Another novelty, the Kuzma Stabi R turntable. The photo shows a version with bases for two arms.
  • The Kuzma Stabi R is a modular turntable, so it can be fitted with a wooden housing and a different arm base.
  • An Einstein turntable, unmistakably called The Record Player.
  • Components of The Record Player; in the centre there is a sub-platter for Rega turntables that can be used to upgrade them.
  • Volker Bohlemeier with the anniversary bottle of wine.
  • The BDC2 is a top-loader CD player manufactured by the B.M.C. company. Due to the fact that it has a large knob instead of small buttons, it is extremely user-friendly.
  • A new Métronome Technology player which plays both CDs and SACDs. Please pay your attention to the touch screen.
  • The DreamPlay One integrated CD player has joined the Métronome Technology Kalista series. One can buy a special stand for it.
  • That was the first time I had seen a complete MBS Technology source, consisting of The Reference Transport and the Reference DAC. The transport plays records with DSD stereo and multichannel signal, as well as PCM 24/192 in the AIFF, ALAC, APE, FLAC and WAV formats.
  • Excellent looking Wadax devices from the Atlantis series, including a top-loader CD player. Thanks to the MusIC Chip technology, they are to correct errors that occured during recording or digital mastering.
  • Mr Omata Kyoichi next to the latest server, the DSP-050EX model, manufactured by his company – Sforzato Corp.
  • A novelty from Cocktail Audio, the X45Pro model – a file player and server with the CD ripping function.
  • Opera-Consonance presented a digital source in the champagne colour: a optical disk player with a computer drive and a hard disk called the X1, working with the Reference 8 Pro Music Player (a file player and converter). Using it, we can play files up to 32/384 and DSD256.
  • The iFi Audio room and our April cover.
  • The CEC company does not only stand for sophisticated CD players, but something more – it also offers speakers.
  • The Portuguese Innuos company presented the top-of-the-line Zenith Statement file player. They plan to manufacture only 100 units of the two-piece device.
  • Chord Electronics also presented a new version of their converter – the photo shows the Hugo TT 2. The main change are the new digital filters included in the top-of-the-range Artix 7 FPGA circuit. The display and controls have also been slightly changed.
  • Weiss Engineering, Swiss specialists in digital waveforms, presented the small digital-to-analogue converter DAC501 which, however, has a wonderful specification. Be it enough to say that Herbie Hancock uses converters manufactured by this company. The DAC accepts DSD128 and PCM signal up to 384 kHz.
  • The Kharma company set up this complete system in a specially arranged room. The firm’s powerful loudspeakers make use of two diamond tweeters. Amplification was provided by amplifiers manufactured by the company and the sources included two Nagra IV-S tape recorders, the Clearaudio Statement turntable and a full dCS Vivaldi system.
  • Aequo Audio has made the Stilla speakers for those who prefer to have classic designs in their rooms. Apart from Norm electronics, there was also the Antipodes CX + EX file player/server.
  • In the corridor, one could find the nice-looking and apparently solidly made ultrasonic KirmussAudio KA-RC-1 cleaner. LPs and singles are separately inserted into the slots on the top.
  • A complete Polish solution to high-end problems: the hORNS Symphony speakers, power amplifiers (monoblocks) made by the same company, as well as a J. Sikora phono stage and turntable. Next to them there was a Sumile cartridge and Gutwire cables. For those who wanted to listen to an optical disc, there was also the Audio CD-1sx player.
  • “Sumile” stands for a violet (the flower) in Japanese – hence the colour of cartridges manufactured by the company.
  • Divaldi is one of few Polish companies that have been given the IF Design Award (2017). The firm offers amplifiers, headphone amplifiers and phono stages, as well as speakers, furniture and accessories.
  • It had seemed that there was no chance of return, yet the Finite Elemente company is back to the market. The photo shows one of its original founders, Mr Luis Fernandes, who came back in order to straighten things out.
  • For a start, the Finite company offers anti-vibration feet having different finish.
  • This beautiful headphone amplifier, the AT-HA 5050H model, has been manufactured by Audio-Technica.
  • The Audio-Technica company stand.
  • This is the Opera-Consonance Linear X headphone amplifier with 300B tubes, offering as many as 9 W!
  • Ayre electronics from the ‘8’series – the photo presents a preamplifier equipped with a headphone amplifier and a DAC – the KX-8 model.
  • Novelties offered by the Oyaide company – turntable interconnects: the PH-01 RR, PA-2075 DR V2 and PA-2075 RR V2.
  • New Oyaide plugs from the Armored series.
  • An original Spura machine for producing cables.
  • A stylish stand of the Polish Albedo company.
  • The Fidata company prepared a few new products, including a LAN signal switch, as well as an optical disc transport which makes it possible to rip optical discs to a hard drive. The photo shows one of the company engineers, Mr Akiya Miyamoto.
  • This is the first device manufactured by Cambridge Audio, the P40 amplifier from the year 1968.
  • This is the latest Cambridge Audio amp – the Edge. The company is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
  • In order to see what a sophisticated project the Edge series is, it is enough to look at this photo – it shows a coaxial volume control and input switch knob. And nothing more.
  • This huge block of aluminium is the new analogue Lumïn amplifier operating in AB class.
  • This beast is the Hegel H590 model. The new Norwegian reference amp has the power of 300 W (8 Ω) per channel and an in-built DAC.
  • The Western Electric brand is back to the market with amplifiers – the photo shows the 91C model with the 300B tube.