Hits (And Misses…) Munich High End – 2023

A few of the demonstration rooms at the show invited the listener to take time out of their busy videography schedule to listen to the kind of nuance that cannot be exported to an online forum as a moving picture. One of the few, and certainly the most impressive, was the regular demonstrations in the CH Precision room comparing two things: the difference between the established and highly respected P1 phono-stage and the new P10, in both stereo and dual-mono, four-box form; and the difference that EQ curves (optional with both phono-stages) contribute when playing back original issues of many LPs.

But (perhaps unwittingly and certainly unwisely) what was also up for comparison was the very real difference between the sound of the two turntables in the system, both from the same manufacturer (TechDAS). The far more expensive AirForce One Premium, sported both a prototype TechDAS AirForce 10 air-bearing, pivoted tonearm and a Graham Phantom, both mounted with TechDAS TDC01 Ti phono cartridges. This record player even sported a special Tungsten platter, adding even more mass to its already substantial weight. The second turntable was the much smaller, somewhat lighter and less expensive AirForce III Premium S, equipped with a Thales Statement Tonearm and a Fuuga cartridge. The two turntable setups were dramatically different sounding, with the smaller system providing a much livelier, more involving, more communicative and far more compelling listening experience than the flat, almost robotic sounding AF One Premium. It laid bare exactly the kind of listening experience that cannot be reduced to a video recorded by phone and played back on your laptop.

The AirForce One Premium was far from alone. Like Nagra last year, Thorens had done something similar, taking an enormous hunk of metal and carving a record player from it to celebrate their 140th anniversary. The (somewhat unimaginatively named) Anniversary Reference turntable follows in the footsteps of a previous (and rather under-rated) Anniversary model – although which anniversary that one marked escapes my memory. The tank-like proportions and weight of this one were mirrored in a design that looked like it was wearing body armor, although at least its massive structure contained a novel, piezo-damped suspension system, a technology that was applied to platter speed stability too. It was on display as a static model, circled by a velvet rope barrier, but it was also set up and playing in a small listening ‘cabin’. The €250,000 turntable sounded heavy and seamless — and not in a good way. Where there should have been space between the notes, the notes seemed ground together and smoothed over. It’s too soon to make definitive judgments and hardly the ideal environment in which to do so, but in this situation this was another seriously expensive turntable that failed to convince.

The ponderous sound of these two expensive and immensely heavy turntables seemed to escape comment, perhaps because listening is not part of the video reporting experience, which puts a premium on constant motion and gives the reporter the sense that they are covering more ground than the more pedestrian, old-school approach. Skating across the surface is nearer the mark…