Hits (And Misses…) Munich High End – 2023

Perhaps tank-like product proportions are the way of the future. Wadax was once again providing the best digital sound at the show and its similarly massive, literally bomb-proof design presumably had something to do with it. But on the other hand, Crystal Cable/Siltech was making some very nice digital sounds from the SAGA amps and the latest, elegantly compact Minissimo, with its integrated stand. The streaming source was hidden away, suggesting that Siltech’s long rumoured DAC and streamer might be coming closer.

But sonic and musical highpoints were few and far between. Some of the worst sound at the show had absolutely no connection to AI, or any kind of intelligence I could identify. Indeed, some products seemed like the product of a reclusive out design cult run amok. How else to explain Aries Cerat, a brand with a small but dedicated following that brooks no disapproval. Its speakers looked like blow holes and this system sounded just as unnatural as those odd phenomena.

Oswald Mills Audio showed a system built around its Mini speakers, a set up that looked like an entrant in a contest to see who could build a whole set of products out of yard sale rejects. The sound was not so much grating as an exercise to see just how long you would sit and take it seriously.

Chinese manufacturer ESD Acoustic filled a massive space with giant horns and a host of electronics housed in identical lacquered wooden boxes, a modern take with a distinctly 50’s feel. The sound was horrid and the room had a bizarrely cultish vibe, with what seemed like an entire extended family present, dining table and all. In a similarly vein, Korean collector Silbatone had its usual large room filled with huge and hugely ancient horns, making a sound that might just have worked if the recordings had been made in a school gymnasium. Visitors seemed wowed by Led Zepp’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, played at near concert levels – apparently ignoring the fact that the whole rig sounded astonishingly like an overdriven PA! The speakers, it was proudly announced, were all of 95 years old! No one mentioned the distinctly 21st Century AirBlade tweeters that had been secreted within the horns… These were experiences seemingly fashioned to convince you that you’d wandered into another dimension. Were they pulling my leg, laughing up their sleeves or serious? I’m sure that the whole thing was a metaphor for something, and by next year, AI might even have worked out what.

Babe(s) In Toy-land

by Steve Dickinson

I have a confession to make: I have never been to the Munich High End show before.

As somebody who writes a bit about higher-end hi-fi, this feels like something of a dereliction of duty, but in my defence there’s usually been a diary clash with something else that took precedence, or some other reason that I couldn’t make the trip. I’ve been to scores of hi-fi shows in the UK of course, just never made it to Munich. But that’s no longer the case. Having attended my first Munich show, I’m of the view that, from now on, this is now the event that will be taking precedence in the event of any future diary clash.