Munich High End 2014: Day 3 wrap-up

The man pictured above is Joe Roberts, who does consulting work for Silbatone—in whose deservedly, lavishly praised exhibition room I took this photo. Joe published the deservedly, lavishly lamented magazine Sound Practices, which was one of my influences when I started Listener Magazine 20 years ago. In his public speaking as in his writing, Joe is all about passion, honesty, style, and fun. (You can't see it in this photo, but Joe was holding in his left hand the largest spanner I've ever seen. I think it was yellow.) To paraphrase Stephen Stills: It made sense that he was there.

Funny how you have to travel a third of the way around the planet to run into a guy who lives near Washington DC—which is also where electronics designer David Berning used to live. Now he lives and works in California, and spends his time dreaming up things like a self-biasing, class-A, 60Wpc, OTL amplifier that runs on either 211 or 845 thoriated tungsten tubes—and sells for $73,500/pair, and debuted at High End 2014 (below).

There's something very likable—and very inviting—about the styling of Acoustic Plan's electronics; for High End 2014, the German firm displayed a pre-production sample of a brand new integrated amplifier (below), using 300B directly heated triodes in a single-ended circuit. All production units will be hand-wired by designer Claus Jäckle.

In recent years I've been impressed by both the sound and the styling of the German Thöress 300B Mono amplifiers (below)...

...but prior to High End 2014, I didn't realize that Reinhard Thöress also designs and builds loudspeakers for use with low-power tube amplifiers. Here the designer poses with the largest of the two Thöress loudspeakers, the model 2CD12 Mk.II. Incidentally, the Thöress 300B Mono amplifier is also among the products I've requested for review.

On the digital front, Vancouver-based Auralic took advantage of High End 2014 to debut their $1599 Aries streamer bridge (below), which supports double-DSD and enables DACs to have high-resolution streaming functions. (John Atkinson will be reviewing the Auralic Aries in an upcoming issue of Stereophile.)

The three-way, five-driver Zellaton Reference loudspeakers ($99,750/pair) fronted a very clear-sounding system (below): one that drew me in not so much with sheer impact, but by following, tenaciously and non-mechanically, every melody that the source and electronics threw their way.

Finally, a word about music. The only respect in which High End 2014 failed to mop the floor with every other show I've attended was this: For some crazy reason, many if not most of the exhibitors who chose to play music at the show did so with either gritty, bass-boosted recordings of inane techno-pop, or the lamest audiophile chestnuts imaginable. By my reckoning, American shows have, in recent years, made laudable progress along those lines—but in Munich, those gains were either lost, forgotten, or lost and forgotten: We were back to Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Tin Pan Alley" and Rebecca Pigeon's "Spanish Harlem," for God's sake. Worst of all, I even heard Jazz at the Pawnshop (shudder! ) in one room. No one but audiophiles and the recording artists' immediate families listen to the last two; the first one is a lame choice that has been played to death and ought to be banned from public performance for at least the next 80 years.

Exhibitors: Playing any of these selections at an audio show pegs you as someone who doesn't really care all that much about music; is that the attitude you want to reflect upon your gear?

I suppose, in a way, it was audiophile-recording fatigue that drove me to the last exhibitor I visited: Blue Danube Records of Vienna, where proprietor Christian Bierbaumer sold me a first-pressing copy of Elgar's Symphony 1, by Barbirolli and the Philharmonia (EMI ASD 540). It's a near-perfect souvenir of a near-perfect show; I intend to return to both as often as I can.

BradleyP's picture

"We were back to Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Tin Pan Alley" and Rebecca Pigeon's "Spanish Harlem," for God's sake. Worst of all, I even heard Jazz at the Pawnshop (shudder! ) in one room."

Thank you for introducing me to some great music! (I already know Vaughn's work.) A quick check on Spotify revealed two supremely live sounding recordings. OK, so Spanish Harlem might be more of an exercise in recording than in music, but still. I get what you are saying about overplayed "audiophile" music, though, and what that implies about a certain breed of audio geek who gave up on finding new music twenty years ago. After a while, it does get tiresome hearing no-name close-miked singers with GOBS of echo covering soporific standards with minimalist acoustic instrumentation FAR in the echo-ey background. Few entry-level stereos will screw that up, let alone ones that cost more than cars.

rodzilla47's picture

I attended my first show last year at Capital Audiofest and the one thing that stood out to me was the dreadful music played in many rooms. I realize that the vendors are trying to spotlight their equipment but there were rooms I departed after 30 seconds due to the music. I carried a few CD's with me and one room actually played one. In the few minutes that it was playing, three different people walked over and looked at the cover. To me, it's ALL about the music. I'm looking forward to attending Capital Audiofest again next month. (with a few CD's)

volvic's picture

I hate flying but can gulp, take a few zolpidem, for a trip to Austria and visit the store, might never leave.

ken mac's picture

The Thoress amps look incredible, like they've been pulled from a WWII era tank. And the Shick....lovely designs both. But Jazz at the Pawnshop? Rebecca Pidgeon. Good to know we are doing something right...

remlab's picture

It's large, yellow, and he loves to have fun. Hmm..
"If you can't be, with the one you love, honey.." Steven Stills