Hits (And Misses…) Munich High End – 2023

The MSB units in both the Marten and their own room exhibited the cold, dynamically constipated, mechanical and rhythmically bereft performance that helped throttle the Kroma speakers when I heard them in Porto. The TotalDAC system was super spot-lit, sterile and utterly devoid of human agency – just as it was last year. In both cases the welter of detail simply added to the problem, as the lack of musical pattern confused any sense of musical coherence. dCS was its familiar bland and colourless self, absent any sign of musical momentum or interest, character or expression. All three digital front ends reduced the music to a processed cypher of the original event, with no ability to reach out or grab the listener. This was music by numbers with a forlorn hope that bigger numbers might deliver better sound. They didn’t. But the lamentable lack of any musical sensibilities demonstrated by these systems paled into insignificance when compared to the stilted, automated and dissected performance witnessed from both the Nagra and Esoteric digital components. Whatever benefits either company’s turntable brought to proceedings, the damage done by the digital components and the overall lack of musical coherence completely undermined these systems. They were the aural equivalent of watching a pasta cutter spitting out identical shapes, a process without shading or variation, subtlety or nuance. Blocks of sound were simply ejected from the speakers to fall, inert on the floor.

Although both Lampizator and Taiko passed me by, I saw no evidence of any of the digital ‘heavyweights’ listed above making any progress when it comes to narrowing the gap on Wadax, while the arrival of that company’s Reference Transport has moved the goalposts still further away. With far more affordable options like B’audio emerging, the big-number, high-res digital hierarchy is in danger of becoming irrelevant, their top-priced offerings being crushed by the likes of Wadax, their value proposition being undermined by cheaper products that are actually more musically capable. Evolve or die. On this showing, unless they shape up these digital dinosaurs are fast heading for the tar-pits and fossil status.

The best sounding system in Munich – but NOT at the show!


The best sound I heard in Munich came courtesy of Göbel High-End, with a little help from their friends at CH Precision and Wadax. 70 lucky members of the industry were invited to share the Company’s 20th anniversary celebration on the Thursday evening of the show, with buses laid on from the MOC to their factory in nearby Landshut. This impressive facility includes a pair of beautifully treated listening rooms – one large and the other huge, designed deliberately to accommodate the massive Divin Majestic loudspeakers.

Having experienced the Majestics before, I was keen to see what they could produce on ‘home-turf’ so, rather than piling into the bus on Thursday evening we (DD and I) elected to visit separately on the Tuesday after the show. Waiting for us were the mighty Majestics, on the end of an equally mighty system. Front-end was the Wadax Reference Server with Reference Power Supply, Reference DAC and a full suite of AKASA DC cables and Optical interface. These fed the CH Precision L10 line-stage and a pair of M10 twin-chassis power amps, bi-amping the huge Göbel speakers. Not surprisingly, the décor in the room, the black speakers and the rare but wonderful (at least to my eyes) anthracite finish on the CH components, together with the (largely) hidden cabling and smart Falkenohr racks and platforms all combined to create a complete and finished effect, one that defied the sheer size of each individual component to achieve a stylish and ‘interiors compliant’ result – which may also be a first!