Auf Wiedersehen To Munich's Show of Shows

Contrast this view, taken by Peter McGrath as we headed to dinner at show's end, with that of the mobbed staircase at the opening bell. Only the person visible on the ground level carrying two boxes gives indication of the bustle of activity throughout the MOC as exhibitors, who collectively displayed 95% of all high-end brands worldwide, were busy packing, sorting, and shipping enough valuable gear to leave many a trust-fund manager and venture capitalist in tears.

It was another scene in the hallways of the Atriums, where an earlier attempt to connect with McGrath for dinner ran into a major roadblock. In answer to the query, "Why did you take so long?" I replied, "We were lucky to make it through intact."

As veteran readers of Stereophile and know, I've covered more shows than angels can dance on the head of a pin. My beard (when I have one) has grown grayer, my nose bigger, and my frightening posture even more stooped than before. (My husband has quipped that, by the time I'm 85, I'll be this huge nose scurrying across the floor. Thank God, that nose will still rest in the middle of ears.) But the good news is, my love of audio, and my appreciation for the technical and musical achievements of the geniuses in our industry, has only increased. I hope my passion is reflected in my blogs.

Show reports are not reviews. In fact, people who attempt to pass off auditions at shows as reviews, and who write critical paragraph after paragraph about the sound as though they've listened to the equipment under ideal conditions, are writing fiction.

As a rule, I reserve multiple paragraphs for gushes, because the chance that someone can achieve glorious sound in a hotel room or, in the case of the MOC, a thin-walled compartment with two opposing glass walls and a slanted ceiling that includes a vertical divider in the middle, are so slim as to make musical epiphanies close to miracles. So when I have a gush to share, I share it, in full.

On the other hand, I do not sugarcoat reports of the problems I hear. I don't point the finger, but I don't pretend that a square peg can fit in a round hole. What value does a show report have if it remains mum about bad sound?

After all, exhibitors come to Munich not only to do industry business, but also to convince the public of the virtues of their gear. It's essential to put one's best foot forward. If power supplies cannot cope with the dirty and undoubtedly fluctuating power of a hotel or convention center environment, speakers confuse tight bass with base pronouncements and perish at the thought, speaker placement is haphazard and rushed, cables are constructed of 99.999999999% silver-plated bullshit rather than well-researched materials, colorations impact musicality, equipment isn't broken in and sounds as such, acoustic treatment values pretty over practical, or vibration control is left to Ikea, the sound is going to be subpar, and visitors will be either underwhelmed or disappointed. It's my job to tell it like it is.

In my experience, Munich High End is a far more difficult show to cover than those in the US. First, there is the language barrier, which slows communication down. Then there is the reality that a large number of designers and engineers chose to come to Munich rather than attend US shows, and are eager to share their design philosophy with the press. I can tell them more than once that no matter how much they say, my blog is not going to be longer than 300 words. But don't think that stops them from going on and on. I may have covered an average of 20 rooms per day at AXPONA 2016, but that number went down, down, down in Munich.

My focus was premieres, and my guidepost the press releases and emails we received. Lord knows how many companies invested large sums in their exhibits, yet failed to put together even a simple email to the press. I also tried to limit myself to products available in the US, although I crossed the line more than once, usually unwittingly. Finally, while a small number of companies, including Zesto and Joseph Audio, chose to exhibit at the alternate Hi Fi Deluxe show in the Marriott, I skipped it because it made no sense to leave so many exhibitors behind in the MOC as I consumed valuable time journeying back and forth to the Marriott to cover a handful of rooms.

As I scan the list of rooms I had hoped to visit, I see that I missed premieres of the Stenheim Alumine Five loudspeaker (I could not attend two press conferences simultaneously, and my time in the hall was brief) and the Ayre QX-5 Twenty digital hub, the joint premiere of the Focal Sopra 3 loudspeaker and Naim NAP500 DR amplifier (another press conference conflict, and an exhibit that seems to have been open only one day), the global launch of legacy brands Hafler-Dynaco, a new Kharma loudspeaker, the newly Roon-enabled Merging Technologies DAC, and any new Pro-Ject turntables (I got to their press conference late, and then failed to find anyone who was free to chat). Those are the premieres that I knew about. Who knows how many others there were?

To the folks I missed, I express my apologies. For the folks that never bothered to let the press know what they were premiering, I'm sorry as well.

My ultimate goal is to serve you, the reader, by piquing your interest in what's new and interesting at all price levels. I hope I have succeeded in that task.

And now to prepare for coverage of T.H.E. Show Newport Beach/Irvine, which starts June 3 (with press day June 2). After that comes The Capital Audio Fest in July, which an East Coast-based writer will cover. With hardly a peep from the California Audio Show—it seems to be either floundering or defunct—that may be it until Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and TAVES in October, and the New York Audio Show in November. Plenty of time to walk through the woods and listen to music. Maybe.

Low tide comes to North Beach in Port Townsend at 4:14pm. Are you ready, Daisy Mae Doven, Leo Gleesun, and Guy Luvberg? Time to play ball on the sand. I hope the rest of you have time to do the same, in one form or another. Whatever you do, happy listening. —Jason Victor Serinus

Anton's picture

In Newport, you should focus on rooms with nothing for sale. And, bring your husband!

Best wishes, and thanks for your enthusiasm and energy!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Several contributors to your room are already posting on Facebook that people can experience their stuff there. It's sounding more and more like KindaNFS.

Anton's picture

I better talk to Big Mike!

I think something may have happened that took us from, "Hey, would you guys mind if..." and turned into something different.

Your post caught me by utter surprise!

I will search out what you mentioned. Anyway, I can assure you that we have no commercial interest, and the invitation to pour some wine for you and your husband is always open.

arctic's picture

Art Dudley will be surprised to learn he was in Munich and has a husband.

Anton's picture

Joke's on me! I had gotten so used to Jason's posts that I assumed this was his thread!

Well, I accomplished half of what they say about assuming: I made an ass out of me!

Thanks for pointing it out so politely!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

This is Jason's post. Art Dudley's wife and daughter will be very surprised to learn that he has been carrying on a secret affair with... my husband!!!! Pretty artful of you, Art.

Art Dudley's picture
Remarkably, my wife and daughter and I just returned from a D.A.R. luncheon—seriously! In my bad fog of sleepiness last night, I apparently neglected to add Jason's name to the appropriate space while posting this blog on-line—and since I was the poster, the system defaulted it to my name, I guess. Whoops!
ednazarko's picture

I used to go to some of the huge IT and electronics shows, and the sheer scope and scale would exhaust me as I walked through the door. To have to then try to maintain critical listening abilities going room to room seems an impossible feat. I'd be afraid that after awhile nothing would sound particularly good. Is there some equivalent to "cleansing the palate" between rooms for something like this?

When I had to buy a new system after moving to Singapore, I went to a mall there that was, top to bottom, high end audio shops. Four floors, shop after shop, different gear. The only way I was able to finally sort out a speaker choice was to take the same CD to every listening session, and listen to the same tracks, in the same sequence, at as close to the same volume as my brain could judge. Not much fun.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I've been doing this for years. The way I cleanse the palette is with enthusiasm. I also try to get a lot of sleep. Having my husband there, and needing to not prevent him from sleeping, helped. But his presence was a luxury. The man has to stay home and work while I travel and work.

ednazarko's picture

Often when I read the articles here, and particularly ones like the show reports, I think that if I did what you all do, I'd lose my love of listening to music. I suppose being a professional writer and reviewer requires developing skills to deal with things like that. Glad your husband could deal with your work responsibilities. My wife stopped traveling with me way long ago, when I'm traveling on a photo shoot, because she found she didn't like THAT me at all (words like obsessive, internal, boring, and a few not suitable for a public forum were thrown around)... you're very lucky!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I am. He didn't even call us crazy one single time. A big change from his only other show, T.H.E. Show at the Alexis Park / St. Tropez.