Munich High End Starts This Week

Munich High End, an audio show so big that it claims representation from 95% of high-end brands worldwide, opens this week in Munich's MOC Convention Center. The show opens on May 5, which intentionally coincides with Germany's annual Ascension Day holiday, with a "Press and Industry Day" whose attendance is so large as to be mind-boggling. Then, from May 6–8, Munich High End opens its doors to thousands upon thousands of "the public" from 10am–6pm.

That public, it should be noted, represents a far larger cross-section of the populace than at North American shows. Although the demographic remains overwhelmingly white, reflecting the nature of the Bavarian populace as a whole, it includes far more women and families than at US audio shows. The age range, too, is more diverse, and speaks to an intergenerational love of music.

Munich High End owes its success as much to its location amidst a thriving economy as to its nature as an industry-run and financed show. Because it is a collective endeavor of the industry-run High End Society, it overflows with camaraderie and positive expectation. Sure, every manufacturer wants to succeed, and convince attendees that their product sounds better and/or offers better value for their euro than the one down the hall. But by the end of the day, the sense that we're all in this together, and that no one is out to take advantage of anyone else, is reflected in an excitement and optimism that the public eagerly receives and returns.

Members of the Stereophile team who have reported from Munich, including Michael Fremer, Art Dudley, Stephen Mejias, and myself, have been unanimous in their assessment: the Munich show is a lot of fun. It overflows with enthusiasm. The spacious downstairs atriums are open and inviting, the food courts and concessions big and plentiful, and the entertainment a delight. There's so much to see and hear that it's like being in a audio candy store.

Yes, many of the exhibits are packed into curtain-divided booths in contiguous open halls. Save for a few enclosed spaces, these exhibits offer compromised sound at best. At last year's show, I recall trying to listen to the new Merging Technologies NADAC via open-backed headphones, and discovering that the background noise in the hall was louder than the music itself.

It's equally true that the acoustics in the glass-backed and sloped ceilinged conference rooms on the second floor have sabotaged many an exhibit. Skillful exhibitors who come equipped know how best to cope; the rest flounder or beg for assistance. That many overcome the challenges is proof that, with enough ingenuity, fortitude, and (yes) cash, many audiophiles can turn a sonic nightmare of an environment into a successful listening space. Which is not to say that it's easy.

As for the listening, the music is great. Some rooms transform into veritable dance parties by show's end (perhaps to the chagrin of their neighbors). Others offer rare opportunities to hear music far from the mainstream. I recall Paul McGowan delighting in an excerpt from David Chesky's The Zephyrtine, and Austrian exhibitors who were going wild over a fabulously colorful recording of some obscure German operetta. Stephen Mejias undoubtedly found a year's worth of cutting-edge experimental artists to explore in Munich. For those who have had their fill of "Hotel California," Ella and Louis, and the same RCA Living Stereo titles reissued time after time, attending Munich High End is like coming upon an oasis in the desert.

The product premieres are equally rich. While many European companies stage their debuts in Munich, more and more companies from Asia, North America and beyond schedule theirs, not at their "home shows," but in Munich as well. This is in no small part due to the reality that more distributors from abroad are choosing Munich over CES as the place to meet with manufacturers. If you're looking for new toys, Munich is the place.

Nor is Munich High End the only show in town. With no room left at Munich High End—I have been told by the show manager that the only way for new exhibitors to participate is by partnering up with older exhibitors, although at least one major US distributor says that if you really want to exhibit there, you can find a way—some companies have turned to the alternative Hi Fi Deluxe Show at the Munich Marriott Hotel. Although the show's website has surprisingly not been updated to include the correct brands at this year's show, Joseph Audio and Zesto Audio are among the US companies heading to the Marriott. Admission to this much smaller show is free, with the show open May 5–7 from noon–8 pm.

This year, as Stereophile's returning emissary to Munich High End, I'll do my best to focus on premieres from companies that distribute in the USA. I may not get to them all—companies smart enough to send press releases in advance or snare me in the hallways take priority—but I'll sure do my darndest. Coverage will begin this coming weekend, and continue after the two-day return to my home base in the Pacific Northwest. Please stay tuned.

Audio_Visionary's picture

Yes, as long as the fine folks at CES continue to choose the worst week of the year to set up in Las Vegas, CES will continue to fall in importance for the audiophile. I remember being very impressed that at High End, they have an area for new companies to exhibit for free - the only restriction is they cannot play music - they are there for networking, feedback and a bit of press. This would not happen at CES - all about the money that CES management rakes in. hasta la vista CES.