Hits (And Misses…) Munich High End – 2023

But, coming back to that question of high-end sound, there were way too many big and expensive systems which seemed to think that if you ticked the ‘powerful’, ‘detailed’ and ‘transparent’ boxes, it was job done as far as high-end performance is concerned. The resulting barrage of pristine, but a-musical, joyless noise emanating from so many six-figure systems was frankly disappointing. I know, we have to make allowances for shows, and I know how hard the people showing my favourite systems worked on set-up to get the results they got, but there’s less excuse for poor sounding rooms at this venue, not least because the rooms are so much better than the poky, or otherwise compromised hotel spaces we get in the UK. So my initial conclusion is that, either, a lot of high-end kit can’t deliver what I think are the fundamental must-haves for high-end musical reproduction, or (more likely) the people exhibiting them don’t know, or don’t care about the critical importance of setup at this level of performance.

There is clearly some very high-end audio equipment that deserves its high prices and delivers on the promise those prices imply. My recent experience with the CH Precision L1/A1.5 recalibrated my expectations as to what is possible. Time spent with the CH Precision 10 series at the show just brought home to me the scope of possibilities beyond that 1-series level and that, yes, the 10 series components are better in both sonically and musically important ways. So yes, some stratospherically priced audio has made a case for itself. And it wasn’t just CH Precision; there were other companies that also acquitted themselves with considerable credit. Some of those positive impressions I share with RG – and some I don’t. Which further goes to show the vagaries of the show experience: different days, different times, different music and in some cases , even different equipment! But while I’m not going to name and shame here, for every good sounding system there were at least as many systems which I’d be reasonably confident of improving on with well-chosen components at a tenth of their price. I don’t think their manufacturers are charlatans, but I do think those manufacturers need to spend a bit more time in the company of music loving people. This would be bad enough with systems costing a few thousand pounds. In a system costing ten or a hundred times that amount, there’s really no excuse not to deliver a genuinely life-affirming experience. If you’ve no need to compromise on your design due to cost, what excuse do you have for such obvious compromises when it comes to presenting your products? I’m afraid that transparency with a huge side order of sterility and a-musicality simply doesn’t cut it…

And in a message to the UK industry, let’s take some encouragement from the diversity in age, ethnicity and gender I saw in this show’s public visitors. Women and younger people are clearly interested in high-end music reproduction. To assume otherwise is a gross (and dangerous) overgeneralisation that we could profitably set to one side. We need to appeal to that wider audience and, on the evidence of this show, I’m not sure the product on offer, or the way we offer it, is hitting the mark in the UK’s domestic market. Maybe we need better venues, or maybe we need to start by talking to a few more music loving people too.

Bridging the gap… the most significant (and amongst the best sounding?) products in Munich

Traditionally, this would be a list of the most expensive brands and rooms (with the biggest advertising budgets). That isn’t the case here. Instead, with so little really good sound to choose from, it was the products making that sound that stood to the fore, for what will be for many, surprising reasons.