Hits (And Misses…) Munich High End – 2023

Meanwhile, the fall and rise of Audio Research on the eve of the show effectively eliminated their products from a number of systems, further narrowing the field of available options. However, even if ARC were all but absent, Brandon Lauer was a genuinely welcome sight. His undoubtedly painful recovery from a life-threatening accident is progressing at an astonishing rate and seeing him not just vertical but ambulatory was as heartening as it was impressive, while if the sound in the Wadax room is anything to go by, his skills and enthusiasm remain firmly intact.

No doubt AI will have its applications in the design and manufacture of audio equipment, but its scarier implications are its use by the press, or the emerging press equivalents in the shape of online audio forums, which are carrying increased influence in swaying audiophiles’ opinions. Some are wondering whether AI might slide, unnoticed into the realm of reviews and show reports. I’d just read a story about a real-life attorney who used an AI app to write his legal brief. He was only found out after the app wrote a very convincing brief citing caselaw to support his position – caselaw for which the app had created the legal authorities out of thin air.

What I encountered at the show was much scarier – the capitulation of thoughtful analysis to the instant gratification of video. Why stress out your brain writing about the show when you can simply point a recording device around the room and add some snarky remarks? We have become accustomed to the video takeover in the news cycle and social media. It has become a cliché – rather than extending a hand to save a drowning man, too many in the crowd would instead video the man’s dying gasps. Social media sites that used to feature photographs are now dominated with cat videos.

The use of video in audio to replace the written word has become another pandemic in recent years. Take record reviewing for example. Where once record buyers had a set of favorite reviewers whose opinions they trusted based on long standing experience, now the largest purveyors of reviews are record dealers who knock out weekly videos where they drone on for an hour about the latest and greatest stock that they have acquired for resale. The power of video has replaced the need for thought and analysis, and these “experts” have established huge followings online. The message has not been lost on mainstream audiophile magazines trying to solve the loss of rack space (most bookstores have now abandoned magazine sections), who are indulging in an undignified scramble to establish more video content – often without stopping to consider its quality or relevance. Online forums are buried under the weight of videos of the rooms at shows, often taken by visitors who never take a seat. They enter the room with a phone or video device held overhead, circle through the room and are on to the next.

The blight was difficult to escape at this year’s High End Show. Walk into almost any room and you could witness several bloggers, press members and visitors whose focus was seemingly, capturing video and sound recordings in each and every room. Sometimes they walked around the room holding their phone or video camera out in front. Other times, they sat directly in front of you with arms stretched above them, holding their chosen recording device. You could see professional videographers pulling their hair out as they tried to ‘see’ through this forest of arms and smart devices. Meanwhile whole rooms were rendered silent as magazines and websites seeking video material tried to circumvent the issues of online copyright and recording music replay – something that seems to have passed the bloggerati and the public by… Rooms at shows have to pay performing arts fees in order to play music. So yes, dear reader, if your video captures the music being played, publish it and it will also be subject to royalty payments!