The Munich High End Show is huge. It is also very well organized and an absolute pleasure to attend. With over 350 exhibition rooms representing some 900 brands, there's plenty here to satisfy every kind of audiophile and music lover.
To say that a digital source "sounds like analog" has always struck me as coming up short. The notion that one format sounds like another is not really sensible or even ideal. While I love listening to LPs, there are some physical attributes of vinyl that, ideally, you don't want to reproduce. You know what I'm talking about because, every chance they get, LP haters remind us about pops, ticks, skips, surface noise, inner-groove distortion, etc. So when we say that a digital source sounds like analog, what we're really saying is that it doesn't sound like digital.
The Southern California headquarters of cable manufacturer AudioQuest, which includes their offices, a listening room, conference rooms, a very very large warehouse, assembly rooms, a graphic design room, a few kitchens and various and sundry other more mundane but just as important places, is within a few-minutes’ drive from T.H.E. Show at Newport Beach. Shane Buettner, AudioQuest's Director of Education who you will most likely recognize as the former Editor-In-Chief of Home Theater magazine, Joe Harley VP of AudioQuest (Joe Harley is also a recording engineer/producer responsible for among others the Blue Note 45rpm reissues from Music Matters and he's a musician), and Andrew Kissinger, Regional Sales Manager, gave a group of A/V journalists, including Tom Norton, Senior Editor and Video Technical Editor of Home Theater magazine, the full tour.
My comments on the tour/AudioQuest facility can be summed up by saying that this is one of the most organized, clean, neat and tidy places I've ever seen. And it's not the kind of organized, clean, neat and tidy you can fake for a tour. From the huge warehouse to the tiniest Ziplock baggy, everything had its place and label. Impressive.
"Blondy watched this proud, drum-tight personality fidget past him on the street and began projecting; he couldn't help it: an unfinished degree in journalism, concerned married sisters in New Jersey or Connecticut (but probably New Jersey), weights but no cardio, aggrieved blind dates, Cigar Aficionado and Stereophile, takeout menus, acres of porn."
from "Lucky Alan," by Jonathan Lethem; The New Yorker, March 19, 2007
When did being interested in hi-fi lose its cool? When did it become antisocial? One minute hi-fi was hanging with Hef center-stage in a groovy bachelor pad, and the next thing you know it's a prop used to describe someone who "walked in a fiery aura of loneliness," as Lethem described it. I ask because I'm genuinely concerned. Some of my best friends are audiophiles. But it seems that if you want to be anything related to music, the last thing you want to be is an audiophile.
San Pedro, CA-based retailer Audio Summa brought along a bunch of gear from Silverline Audio, Conrad-Johnson, Parasound, Brown Electronic Labs (BEL), Blue Circle Audio, and Analysis Plus. While I was in-room, we listened to the Silverline Audio Bolero Supreme loudspeakers ($12,000/pair standing on the inside in the picture), BEL 1001 MkIV class-A solid-state amplifier (not for sale), a tube-based preamp designed and built by Alan Yun of Silverline Audio ($20,000) and the Ecstasy Model 20 tube CD player also from the mind and hands of Alan Yun ($12,000). Cables were from Analysis Plus and BEL "The Wire."
The sound in the Audio Summa room was fast and a bit furious, leaving little time for decay. "Pace-y" read my notes.
The Ayon Audio room used a pair of gracefully curved LumenWhite Artisan speakers ($35,000/pair) with the Ayon Orthos II monoblock amplifiers ($24,000/pair) and the Ayon CD-5 CD Player with integrated preamplifier ($11,380). The CD-5 features USB, AES/EBU, S/PDIF, i2S and Toslink inputs and S/PDIF (RCA), i2S, and AES/EBU digital outputs. Cable was from Synergistic Research and the equipment rack was the Bassocontinuo ($10,000) from Italy, shown here with German Plexiglas shelves. Around the room you’ll also notice the Synergistic Research Art devices inviting comment.
I noted a very strong center image, lots of body/weight, and a physical yet nimble presentation.
Yorba Linda, CA-based retailer Scott Walker Audio was responsible for "audio equipment, room set-up & tuning." Solos Audio is the sole distributor for SonicCraft solid-state amplifiers. The setup: Magico V2 loudspeakers ($19,500/pair), SonicCraft Signature stereo amplifier ($3450), which puts out 25Wpc in pure class-A, SonicCraft Opus preamplifier ($3450), Esoteric K-03 CD/SACD player ($13,000), Esoteric G-03X Master Clock ($5000), Synergistic Research cables and power cords, and the Synergistic Acoustic ART Room Treatment System ($3150).
I noted "rock-solid" imaging and a crazy level of micro-detail. "If Dianna Krall had even the merest hint of a cold, you’d know it," read my notes.
Speaker designer Roger Sanders has been at this for a long time and he has a very specific idea/vision that is illustrated in his system and direct-sales approach. It is also illustrated in the room setup which you can't really see in this photo but in addition to that single chair sitting fairly close to the Model 10 electrostatic speakers, there was a single row of chairs, not side to side, but one behind the other.
The configuration we’re looking at and to which I listened was the Model 10c which includes a digital electronic crossover and the Magtech monoblock amplifiers (1600W into an 8 ohm load) for a system price of $13,000. Cables are from Sanders Sound as well, which I believe are included in the system price since there was no pricing information on the sort-of informative brochure I picked up in the room. I say "sort-of" because it doesn't include any information on the source we listened to and I neglected to make a note of it. . .
The big room. Focal Grand Utopia EM loudspeakers ($100,000/pair) standing at over 6' tall, dominated the room, looking like Transformers ready to devour us with music. The Burmester 911 Mk3 amplifier ($29,995) managed the Grand Utopias, the Burmester 089 CD ($28,995) and a Burmester preamplifer (I did not note the model but I bet it costs $xx,995) took care of rest, with Transparent Opus and Reference cables.
It's very difficult to ignore the pair of 573.2 lb speakers in the room but my note, just one, read "Jack be nimble." Of course, anyone interested in auditioning hi-fi for potential purchase, especially when spending this kind of money, will take their time listening and not base their judgment on a few minutes. Jack don’t be quick.
Room 3 was owned by Burmester, no one else need applyB30 loudspeakers ($15,995/pair), 911 amplifier ($29,995), 088 preamplifier ($28,995), 089 CD Player ($28,995), V1 rack (no price given) with, you guessed it, Transparent Cables. If Dieter from Sprockets was an audiophile, this would be his hi-fi. And Dieter loves music: "Touch my monkey."