Munich High End #40 Breaks Records

What a show. During its four days in the MOC event center, the first two reserved for industry and press, Munich High End attracted 22,137 visitors from approximately 100 different countries. With 550 exhibitors and more than 1000 brands from 54 nations, they had plenty to hear and see.

With the COVID pandemic in (temporary?) decline, lots more people wore far fewer masks. In many rooms, the mask wearers amounted to exactly one: moi. Hey, I want to cover many more shows and hear far more great music before I get the opportunity to discover if the Pearly Gates are a perfect point source.

This year, the percentage of industry attendees increased from approximately 38% of all guests to almost half. In total, 10,748 trade visitors, including 529 photo-snapping media representatives from 43 countries, eventually joined 10,860 members of the public at the world's largest audio show.

The show was so large that the High End Society couldn't meet the demand for private meeting rooms. Part of Hall 1—one of four ground floor exhibit halls filled with tables interspersed with enclosed listening booths— was reserved for the "World of Headphones." Famed guitarist Al Di Meola was a headline guest, and famed music producer Rick Rubin was seen wandering the halls, sometimes past gaping-mouthed onlookers.

Yours truly did something he's done twice before while in Munich: I capped Peter McGrath's presentation on Day 4 with a live performance of Verdi's Aida at Bayerisches Staatsoper. (See my review here.) Seated in a prime orchestra seat in Row 13, I heard sound so live, clear, and engaging as to help put everything I'd heard at Munich High End in perspective. IMHO, even more important than the fact I was listening to living, unamplified artists from a prime seat was the Bavarian State Opera's extraordinary acoustic (at least from where I sat). As I reminded myself over and over as I pondered what I heard in multiple exhibits, "It's the room, darling. It's the room."

I can't pretend that this year's coverage was a walk in the park. Fellow reviewer Ken Micallef had to cancel his coverage plans when he ended up in the hospital with a broken ankle, and Stereophile editor-in-chief Jim Austin was knocked low by a stomach bug midway through the show. Happily, I arrived prepared, with lists of premieres organized by location.

Were there far more worthy-of-coverage premieres at Munich High End? Absolutely. But one of the reasons I missed them, besides the sheer lack of time to do everything while navigating through scores of people, is because, in 2023, many high-end companies seem to think they can skip sending out press releases. Instead, they post a blurb on their website or social media page and expect the press to somehow find its way to their rooms.

But that's my sole gripe. It was a fabulous show. Some people complained of an excessive amount of talking during music. Somehow, I managed to avoid distracting conversations in all but one room, I sure hope those men's stock portfolios are doing well, because they need to stop obsessing about their options and focus more on the music. As for the idiot photographer who flashed away during a marvelous recording without the least concern for those around him, the fiery flames of hell await.

I want to tip my hat to Munich itself. It's a fabulous city. From the food at the English Garden's Biergarten (above)—the white asparagus was divine—to the city's live music, surviving and rebuilt architecture, and museums. Munich is a wonderful place to visit. Readers who have the means but have never taken the time to visit either Mad King Ludwig's three fantasy-driven castles or their real-world antithesis, the Dachau Concentration camp, owe themselves a visit. Seeing the light, the dark, and bizarre on a single visit is potentially life changing. As is hearing the finest equipment at Munich High End.

My sincerest thanks to the organizers of Munich High End, to my dear industry friends with whom I laughed and dined, to Stereophile's editor-in-chief Jim Austin and technical editor/show-report poster John Atkinson, and to everyone who cares about raising the bar in music reproduction. You are a gift.

rschryer's picture

Great descriptions and great prose, as always. You carried the weight of the world on your shoulders with grace, insight, and humor.

Glückwunsch und danke.

remlab's picture

Very enjoyable:)

eugeneharrington's picture

I think you described the Show and its fine attributes exceedingly well, Jason. I'm based in Ireland and have been attending High End each year since 2006, barring enforced absences due to COVID related cancellations. The city itself is wonderful too and there is a selection of decent record stores to browse in when you are not out at the MOC. I particularly enjoyed this year's show and that seems to be the general consensus judging by the feedback from attendees. Commiserations to Jim Austin and Ken Micallef. Strangely, I picked up a heavy cold during the latter days of my week long stay? I'm fully vaccinated but chose not to wear a mask this year. I would say to anybody who is sitting on the fence, go to Munich High End at least once and savour the best of what high performance audio has to offer. It was a 5**** show this year, for sure!

Anton's picture

Thank you. Safe travels!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Off to SF to review operas.