Hits (And Misses…) Munich High End – 2023

The audio industry in general and the high-end audio industry in particular, has for years, attempted to step outside the confines of its established (and aging) customer base to reach a wider (and younger) audience. It has failed miserably. The horrible performance of products like the Devialet Phantom, the musical limitations of the various ‘Smart speakers’ on offer, the laughable (and laughably over-priced) Steam Punk styled products of OMA, have all shone a harsh light on those failings.

Yet in Munich this year there were three products, found at opposite ends of the price spectrum, that promise a quality solution to those who can’t afford, can’t accommodate or simply don’t want to engage with the stack of boxes, cables and organisational catastrophe that represents most even modestly priced separates systems. That in at least two cases, these outliers also presented some of the most engaging and musically satisfying sound on offer is as astonishing as it is alarming (if you are old-skool) as it is encouraging (if you’ve one eye on the future).

The AvantGarde Colibri

Avantgarde has already made inroads when it comes to creating new products for a new generation. The Trio G3 offers sculptural good looks, excellent fit and finish and astonishing performance potential at a price that’s a fraction of competing, conventional systems. Now, the Duo GT has brought that powerful mix of virtues down to a price to fit a smaller budget and a footprint to fit a smaller space. But if you really want to talk about bridge products, the new Colibri C2 is the real deal.

High-end audio is obsessed with resolution and bandwidth, flat frequency response and high-tech solutions. But it ignores the fact that most of us developed our love of and fascination with music from table-radios, their in-car equivalents, some sort of ghetto blaster or at ‘best’ a music-centre. Few if any of us jumped straight to a fully formed separates system – even if we bought one as soon as we could. The conclusion is clear: a hi-fi system can enhance musical enjoyment, but it’s not an essential part of it.

These days, almost the entire population wanders around with a stereo system in their pocket. Those that access that stereo system for music replay do so via headphones and, for many of them, that’s as much as they’ll ever do. Social and domestic constraints impose their own limits, but for a significant number of listeners, headphones carry their own frustrations and are a poor substitute for hearing music happening in real space. It’s the opportunity to step outside the head-set – to share the experience that you hear at a concert or club, even in a loud bar – that is what’s on offer with the Colibri…

A relatively compact, two-way, fully horn-loaded enclosure, the C2 combines a spherical horn loaded mid/treble driver, crossed over from a pair of 6.5” horn-loaded bass units at 700Hz. That makes for a single driver covering the vast majority of the mid and treble range, in a high sensitivity system that extends down to 65Hz. The secret of its impressive performance figures (100dB sensitivity and 117dB maximum SPL) lies in the low-mass diaphragms, narrow magnetic gaps and powerful motors that are a direct result of AvantGarde’s work on their high-end systems: And that’s not all the C2 shares with the likes of the Trio G3 and Duo GT. The cabinet work, finishing and materials are all first class, with extruded aluminium horn flares for the bass, cast alloy end caps that incorporate high-tech mounting hard points and a moulded fibre-glass trumpet for the midrange/treble. This is impressive stuff – even more so if you actually pick one up. These are solidly built, comprehensively detailed and beautifully finished – and they will start at between €6,000 and €7,000 a PAIR! This is more than just affordable: it’s justifiable. Yes, it’s more than a pair of serious head-phones – but it’s a lot more product, capable of delivering a whole different experience, for your money.