High End 2016 Key Kim
I’m so glad that I decided to take a trip to this year’s Munich High End show. This was an especially therapeutic trip for me. Lately, I’ve been very busy with my new restaurant, which I just opened about five months ago and I needed to take some time off. And there’s nothing I could think of as a better escape than to attend the mecca of all audio shows! Celebrating its 35th anniversary, this year’s High End show saw nearly 20,000 visitors in a total of 4-days. I have to agree with CP, this year felt bigger and more alive than previous events I've attended. Munich also had the best weather in years; it was summer like and of course coming from a cold and rainy NYC, I loved it. The funny thing was that when I arrived in Munich, I felt as if as I were charged with energy. It felt like, as I was a kid in a candy sore. I loved every minute in the MOC and I got to reconnect with friends and to see a host of new toys. Here are some of the interesting and good sounding rooms that I particularly enjoyed.
Trulife Audio/Hartvig Audio
While walking to the show in Halle 4, CP he told me that I should be sure to check out the Trulife Audio room (TLA). The name TLA at first wasn’t familiar; then after one good look upon entering their room, it hit me. When I entered the small makeshift TLA room I was quite surprised at how good it sounded. The first thing I noticed, besides the sound, was the TLA Zeus amplifier ($19k) with soft warm tubes glowing between the loudspeakers. I said to myself “wait a minute, I should look into TLA products”. I introduced myself to Aristomenis and Velissarios Georgiadis and got to know a thing or to about TLA. This makeshift room sounded quite impressive; all electronics from Trulife Audio from Greece were teamed up with Verity Audio from Canada and Harvigt from Denmark. The system was cabled with Signal cables from Greece. The TLA Zeus amplifier, a push-pull stereo power amplifier produces, an impressive 120 watts per side in (tetrode) and 70 watts per side in (triode), utilizing eight KT88 or KT150, in an Athena tube preamplifier ($12,200). It is a Class A design with no feedback and it is a full dual mono equipped with 2 power supplies and 2 transformers and 4 chokes with M6 lamination. It has a volume remote control and an Argo phonostage ($15700) was used with the beautiful sounding Hartvig TT signature turntable.
Voxativ loudspeakers of Germany had me coming back for the three times to enjoy the music from their Zeth loudspeakers ($9,900/pair) and the T-211 Integrated amplifier ($13,900). They rendered music beautifully and was intimate and involving with a natural sound despite all the ambient crowd noises. The Zeth loudspeakers, designed by Holger Adler (above), were perfectly paired with their sweet sounding T-211 Integrated amplifier. This single-Ended beauty sporting 211 output tubes capable of 12 watts per side worked in perfect sync to drive the highly efficiencient Zeth loudspeakers.
EMM Labs/Lansche Audio
EMM Labs showcased their new MTRX2 monoblock amplifiers ($80k/pair), due in this fall. It’s a powerhouse and delivering an impressive 600 watts per side into 8 ohms. The technology is based on the company’s bigger brother, the MTRX. The Lansche Audio Cubus MKII loudspeakers rendered music beautifully driven with all EMM Labs electronics, and the EMM Labs DA2 Stereo D/A Converter ($25k). A matching TX2 CD/SACD transport ($25k), is to be produced in limited editions of 50 units. Graditech cabling was used throughout the system. The sound was very involving and dynamic with authority.
I was busy walking and looking at the new toys in the Halle1 on Thursday and, surprisingly, I came acrossed Serge Schmidlin of Audio Consulting of Switzerland. Schmidlin said he was exhibiting with Stenheim in the very same halle. Right away I made my way to his room and who was there sitting and quietly listening to the legendary LP Sounds Unheard Of!, CP of course. Unfortunately the room was really a makeshift box that is standard for everyone in the Halle space. I said to myself “I won’t be able to evaluate the sound realistically in this type of environment. Remarkably, the sound proved to be outstanding. The Stenheim Alumine Five is a three-way with four high efficiency transducers in an aluminum enclosure cabinet. The loudspeakers share the same looks as their bigger brothers and have a high-efficiency 94 dB sensitivity, unusual in aluminum enclose speakers. They also share the same tweeter and midrange components. Each driver is housed in its own separate enclosure. The Alumine Five was driven beautifully by Audio Consulting electronics and produced a wonderful sound. The system was comprised of the newly debuted Audio Consulting Meteor Mipa amplifier (CHF 53,700), a Meteor Silver Rock Phonostage feeding a Meteor AVC line attenuator (CHP 26,500), an R-evolution turntable (CHP 34000) with a Thales tonearm equipped with a Mijaiyma Madake MC cartridge and digital source was Nagra and Brandt cables from Geneva completed the system. The Meteor Mipa amplifier is based on a solid-state topology transformer input and the transformer output produces a pure 40 watts per side utilizing the latest toroidal technology. It features silver wire, silk and organic beeswax; all all meticulously hand built by craftsman and is battery powered. Brilliantly Schmidlin designed the Meteor Mipa cabinet to be acoustically effective; it avoids airborne and internal vibrations by eliminating flat and parallel surfaces. It was impressive even in this not too favorable environment; the sound was transparent, detailed and pure sounding with musicality and it was very dynamic.
Marten/Analog Domain/Jorma Design
Leif Marten Olofsson of Marten premiered his Mingus Quintet loudspeakers ($53k/pair). It is a full-range three-way, five-driver loudspeaker utilizing diamond tweeters and 5” midrange drivers the same as those found in the company’s Coltrane Supreme, while all five drivers are Aucuuton cell design. The Mingus Quintet Loudspeakers were driven by the Analog Domain Isis Integrated amplifier ($20k) and produced an impressive sound. The Isis features a proprietary Excalibur circuit, near zero distortion, and a noise floor well below the human perception threshold. Isis has the ability to amplify signals with extreme resolution and control and produces 250 Watts per side. MSB select II DAC and MSB Signature Data CD transports were used as digital sources. Jorma Design statement speaker cables and Prime interconnects were used throughout the system.
Once again, Kerem Kucukaslan of Absolare managed to put on an outstanding sounding room. The Rockport Altair V2 loudspeakers ($102,500) were driven with Absolare Passion an integrated amplifier ($24750), an Absolare Passion phonostage ($33500) feeding a Kronos Limited Edition Pro turntable from Canada ($38k) while the Laufer Teknik 16 core model Memory Player 64 ($35k) were used as a digital source. A complete set of Echole Omnia series cables were used throughout. This was the first time I heard the Absolare Passion integrated amplifier and I really liked it. The Passion is a hybrid design with a tube preamplifier section and a solid-state dual mono power amplifier section, producing 150 watts per side into 8 ohms. The sound was transparent and authoritative with a natural presentation. Job well done Kerem Kucukaslan!
Thrax Audio/Audio union
This was one of my favorite sounding rooms at the show. Thrax debuted their new Bassus subwoofer ($40k/pair), with a powerful and an articulate active 15” driver to match perfectly with their Lyra loudspeaker. The Lyra loudspeakers ($20k/pair) with Bassus subwoofers sounded magnificent, driven by Thrax Teres hybrid mono amplifier ($30k/pair), a Dinoysos preamplifier ($20k), an Audio Union Helix 1 turntable by Mark Dohlmann ($40k), and a CEC TL03.0 transport with their reference DA03.3 DAC. The system employed a beautiful series of room acoustics and the sonic results were captivating. Overall, the performance was authoritative, powerful and delicate, while at the same time, detailed without being analytical. Holographic with a three-dimensional soundstage were the other catch phrases that kept coming to mind. It didn’t matter whether the source was analog tape, vinyl or digital the sound maintained a great balance. Enklein Dave cables were used throughout the system.
Tim de Paravicini of EAR Yoshino always puts up a great musical sounding room, and this year was no different. The EAR electronics were showcased with Rockport loudspeakers. The EAR 509 mono amplifier (14,700/pair), is a high performance tube monoblock born to serve professional studios and perfectly suited for home audio playback, producing a powerful 100 watts per side and featuring a classic chrome chassis design. The EAR 912 preamplifier ($11k), is a beautiful retro VU metered tube preamplifier running five PCC88s; it features EAR’s flagship tube phonostage with gain control and MC cartridge impedance adjustment for fine-tuning was used. Sources were the EAR disc master turntable ($28,500), a new EAR Acute Classic integrated CS player ($5,300) and DAC combination. EAR 509 was able to control the Rockport with authority and power. The sound emanating from this room was seductive and sweet.
Audiodata from Salzburg showcased their elegantly finished Art One loudspeaker (35k-40k/pair depending on the finish) with Tonart electronics. The Tonart power amplifier was paired with a prototype Tonart preamplifier with an external power supply and a beautifully crafted Tonart Revolution Double Black Daimond Edition reference turntable was used with their phono stage. All components were connected with Tonart RCA interconnects and speaker cables and hand made power cords. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get pricing for the Tonart electronics. However, the sound was impressive, detailed and transparent, with lots of resolution and the system produced a nice soundstage.
Metronome Technologie/Focus Audio/Jadis
Kalista of Metronome Technologie showcased their gorgeous looking Nausicaa DAC ($35k). Nausicaa was created to offer the ultimate DAC solution to compliment the Kalista and Calypso transport. This reference DAC uses four D/A converters and reads DSD 64, 128 and 256. Brilliantly it offers both solid state and tube output stage, which can be changed on the fly to cater to your preference. The Nausicaa DAC was paired with their Le Player 2 CD Player as a transport. Focus Audio Master 2 loudspeakers were driven by Jadis JA80 MKII mono amplifiers and produced an outstanding sound with resolution, power and authority with a huge three-dimensional soundstage.
Year after a year Brinkmann always manages to produced outstanding sound and it was no different this time. Actually, the digital medium sounded better than ever. I must give credit to Brinkmann’s new Nyquist DAC. Brinkmann is mainly known as a manufacturer of State-of- the-Art analog products, not digital. However, did you know that the company’s first DAC “Zenith” debuted in 1986, 30 years ago? Helmut Brinkmann’s development of the Zenith demonstrated the importance of analog circuitry and passive filter implementation in digital components. Everything Brinkmann learned from Zenith, and three decades of experience has culminated in the “Nyquist”. The Nyquist has been optimized to accommodate the latest digital formats including MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) streaming and playback, PCM up to 384 kHz/32 bits (including DXD). The Vandersteen Audio 5A Carbon loudspeakers ($29,900/pair) sounded impressive driven by their M7-HPA mono amplifiers ($52k). As I listened I heard sound that was open, transparent and very natural with nice musicality.
Audio Note Kondo/ Kaiser
Masaki san of Audio Note, Kondo debuted their new reference G1000 preamplifier ($110k). I first heard the G1000, three and half years ago in a CES as a prototype and it was impressive. The G1000 utilizes a newly developed 50-step attenuator with a new in-house silver winding input transformer. It’s a two-box preamplifier with a main unit and a hefty power supply unit-weighting 44lbs. A large- scale shunt type heater power supply circuit was newly designed. The Kagura monoblock amplifiers ($176k) with 211 triode output tubes in a parallel single ended design, produces a glorious 55 watts per-side, a Ginga turntable ($96k), an IO-M moving cartridge were paired with a prototype GE-10 two-box stand-alone phono stage to compliment the G1000. Kawereo Classic loudspeakers ($96k) with Kondo upgraded silver cable and upgraded stand were driven by Kagura monoblocks to new heights: the sound was delicate, transparent and pure. Listening to Maria Callas was mesmerizing; I felt like she was in the room singing to me as a live performer. All cables are by KSL silver.