Kal Rubinson Visits Munich High End

The Kii Three speaker on top of its BXT woofer module.

For years, I have had the Munich High-End Show on my bucket list and, this year was the time to cross it off. Past reports have been enticing not only from the detailed reports of a wealth of familiar, not-so-familiar and some downright unknown audio companies but, even more, because it is said to be the best show in terms of venue, focus and community spirit.

I landed in Munich on Thursday morning, dumped my luggage at a downtown hotel and hopped on the U-bahn to the M.O.C. out in the quiet suburb of Freimann. Physically, the show was everything that I had anticipated. First, there are three large halls filled with booths of audio (and nothing but audio) with only the minor intrusion of a few automobiles with notable sound systems. Above the halls are three spacious atria, their inner and outer perimeters lined with larger demonstration and display rooms. I tried to cruise the halls by following the floor plan but found that I was constantly detoured by surprises in the form of new products and old friends. It was easy to fill two full days and I could have filled more had I not had other travel plans. This is really the best pure audio show I have been to in a long time.

As for the equipment, that depends on one's interests and both Art and Herb have offered more balanced reports than I will. That is because, for all my fascination with the accoutrements of audio, I really have no serious interest in rooms filled with high-tech turntables, hand-built vacuum-tube amplifiers, or horn-loaded speakers. To me, they are audio pornography. In addition, with only two exceptions that I can recall (Merging Technologies and Denon-Marantz), everything was stereo only!

So, what's in it for a modern multichannel guy? In a word: loudspeakers. There were four loudspeakers that I think worthy of mention. The first is the Vivid Kaya 90 ($26,000/pair) which Art has already mentioned. The three-way 90, with its four bass drivers, is the largest of a new Vivid line and adapts the construction principles of the successful Giya line to the use of simpler materials and processes. All the models in the Kaya line are less elaborately shaped than the provocative Giyas and, of course, they are much less expensive. The line also includes the Kaya 45, a smaller three-way floorstander, the Kaya 25, a compact two-way floorstander, the Kaya S15, a compact way monitor, and the C25, a center-channel speaker. However, even in a confined demo space, the 90 conveyed an open and dynamic sound. I visited this demo 3 times, so enticed was I by the sound of the Kaya 90.

In that same price range is the combination of the Kii Three loudspeaker with its dedicated new woofer (see photo). I say woofer, not subwoofer, because the BXT extends the range of the Three by adding the output of its eight woofers (per channel) by enhancing the bass from the Three but without any crossover. The Three sits on top of the BXT and they are interconnected physically, electrically and logically as the pair is integrated by new software in the Kii Control Module. It is as if the Three has just grown big woofers! The overall appearance is clean and not nearly as massive as the advance photos have suggested. In fact, many would not regard this combination as a large loudspeaker but it certainly performs as one. In my enthusiastic assessment of the Kii Three, I did find that, while it has quite extended bass, Kii applies power limitations to keep from overdriving the small LF speakers. With the BXT, this is no longer the case. In fact, using some of the same demo tracks as in the review, the Three/BXT was formidable.

In contrast to the above, I was also impressed with two "real world" speakers which incorporate built-in amplification and wireless signal inputs. This is not entirely novel but, in discussion with ELAC's Andrew Jones and Peter Madnick, we agreed that the rise of streaming and file-playback make these features so desirable that serious speaker makers must respond. ELAC's response is the new Eva line, shown in prototype form but with revealing interior views. The $2000/pair Argo bookshelf and the $4000/pair Argo floorstander are both three-way designs incorporating a new concentric HF/MF driver (different from the Uni-Fi) and one or three aluminum-cone woofers, respectively, with BASH class-AB amps for woofers and midranges, linear class-AB amps for the tweeters and analog crossovers. These speakers have wired and wireless digital inputs but, with their analog crossovers, they can also support no-compromise analog playback. I am eagerly hoping to get a pair (or five) of the floorstanders for review.

I was also impressed, this time by an active demo, of DALI's new Callisto 6C wireless floorstander ($5298/pair). With the 6C and it smaller bookshelf brother, the 2C ($4298/pair), all signal inputs, both wired and wireless as well as analog and digital, are channeled via the included SoundHub controller and output wirelessly at 24/96 to the speaker. The speakers include full 24-bit DSP, class-D amps, and paired sof- dome and ribbon tweeters. The controller has dual expansion slots to accommodate new I/O options and a suitable module for BluOS (NMP-1, $449) was in operation. Clearly this is another way of enabling new signal options but, bottom line, the Callisto 6C demonstrated that it was capable of great sound regardless of the source.

Ortofan's picture

... incorporate built-in amplification and wireless signal inputs, are the electronics sufficiently reliable to last as long as the speaker might remain in use - which could be a decade or two for those who don't regularly change their equipment? Has any provision been made to make these electronics readily serviceable without having to cart/ship the entire speaker to a repair depot? Or, does the speaker become disposable if the amp (or wireless interface) fails?

PAR's picture

" are the electronics sufficiently reliable to last as long as the speaker might "

My active speakers with built in amplification ( ATC SCM50ASL) have recently entered their 25th year with me. There has never been a hint of a fault. I did have the PS caps replaced after 18 years but that was just precautionary. No wireless input though!

Kal Rubinson's picture

All good questions. Mine is: "Does the speaker become disposable if the manufacturer fails?"

rgbyhkr's picture

I had wondered the same about Gayle Sanders new Eikon venture. Great and intersting concept, but some faith seems to be required that the company would be around in 5 or 10 years in the event that you had a need to replace parts or upgrades That's something that we don't have to worry about as much with passive speakers, but do more with active speakers and even more with active digital speakers.

Ortofan's picture

... you need some proprietary part or service information that only the speaker's manufacturer could supply.
That Kii Three+BXT costs on the order of $25K. Can you afford to have a product requiring that sort of an investment become disposable well before its expected useful life has been reached?

Kal Rubinson's picture

I agree. Until/unless active/DSP-based speakers become common and result in the creation of industry standards, I feel much safer with doing all the processing upstream in my music player where I have control of the software.

tonykaz's picture

as in Genelec ?

Active Loudspeakers have become the Dominant type in the Pro World, haven't they ?

Tony in Michigan

ps. Munich was showing Loudspeakers costing more than a Mercedes S Class Automobile but having an engineering value of far less than 1/100 th.

Loudspeaker Cost is justified Socially not Scientifically.

Kal Rubinson's picture

No doubt but business investments are decided on a different basis than are personal ones.

As for the speakers at the Munich show, the majority are exactly as you have characterized them and the same goes, imho, for most of what was on display. For example, see this: https://www.stereophile.com/content/flower-power-speaker-munich-high-end-2018

chuckles304's picture

I have a NAD T758 driving a five speaker KEF setup, and use their Enhanced Stereo mode. I too have noticed using something other than a stereo setup puts you in the minority. I've often wondered what to do should I ever want to transition to separates. I keep seeing references around here to a five-channel Parasound amp but I'm not sure it would do the same thing my NAD does. If Mr. Rubinson were to do reviews of multi-channel equipment/setups I'd be very interested in reading them. Maybe he's done some that I've missed....?

funambulistic's picture

At the bottom of this page, under "Columns". Mr. Rubinson has been doing multi-channel reviews for some time now. :-)

tonykaz's picture

You're lucky day, you just discovered: Professor Rubinson and Music in the Round

Lucky you, you just won one of Life's little Lotterys!

Tony in Michigan

Herb Reichert's picture

Just for fun, define "audio pornography" . . . . if horns tubes and turntables are pornographic (some of which, like the ones in the Silbatone room - are still in high demand and playing music quite satisfactorly after nearly 100 years of hard use) what is everything else?

Kal Rubinson's picture

I thought my list was an effective definition. In another way, it consists of products with great visual appeal but which I would never consider bringing home. The fact that other people might indulge in such things is not relevant.