Hits (And Misses…) Munich High End – 2023

What my situation does offer, however, is an opportunity to look at the show through a fresh pair of eyes. With so many regular visitors doing the reporting, it’s inevitable that some of the novelty, the wonder, the imposing scale of the event will have worn off. But it’s all-new to me, so…

First impressions

It’s a big show, isn’t it? Four large halls with the usual trade fair style booths and stands, three atrium spaces, and four more long corridors of generously sized demonstration rooms. No hotel bedrooms here! Lots of brands we don’t see in the UK (and probably a few new brands which we’ll, sadly, never see again). And, despite the High End branding (a hangover from the original organisers, the High End Society, a German audio trade organisation) there’s plenty of mainstream hi-fi product on show too. It’s not all six- and seven-figure systems, so I like the tacit acknowledgement that high-end performance does not automatically require a high price tag.

The venue

The Munich MOC, seems well-suited to hosting this kind of event. The upper floor demonstration rooms are generously sized – large enough to allow a big system the space it needs, but with comparatively little sonic bleed through from neighbouring rooms. But then, (with a few notable exceptions) nobody was playing their kit at un-neighbourly levels and I’m sure that helped. I’ve been to several trade fairs and exhibitions in Germany, and they do have some excellent and flexible exhibition spaces. I don’t think we have anything comparable in the UK, so I’m resigned to our domestic shows being hosted in hotels that offer varying degrees of unsuitability. Unfortunately.

The visitors

People watching is always fun and the public were an interesting mix, too. This is predominantly a business to business show, so the business days were mostly dealers, distributors, manufacturers and media; but on the public days at the weekend, these were joined by a much broader demographic than we see at UK shows. Plenty of younger people, quite a few family groups, far more women and a lot more regional dress made for a much more inclusive, and engaging audience. In the UK it can sometimes feel like a bunch of old nerds playing kit to another, dwindling bunch of ageing, nerdy, white men. I include myself in this latter group, but however you cut it, it doesn’t give much grounds for optimism when it comes to the future of high-performance audio in the UK. Not so in Germany, though, where high-end hi-fi seems to attract a much wider and more inclusive audience. There are more companies making (or distributing) a wider range of products for a larger and more interested customer base.

I don’t know how much of a role the venue or the timing (it’s a holiday weekend in Germany, with heavy family overtones) plays in making this a viable day out for the whole family, and I wouldn’t ignore it as a factor, but the overriding impression is that hi-fi, and good domestic audio, still has a strong following here.

The sounds

On the question of sound, there were two big systems that really worked for me. The CH Precision system, using the TechDAS AirForce IIIP turntable and Wilson Alexx V loudspeakers was the absolute standout; the Nagra system using their own turntable, and the same big Wilson loudspeakers didn’t have the same sense of musical balance and coherence, but was still pressing all sorts of buttons for me too, though this is by no means unqualified admiration: I found much to love in what the Nagra system was doing, but a lot of its potential seemed to be held back, almost struggling to emerge. If any of the Nagra guys are reading this, did you ever think about playing the system at higher volume levels? I loved the music I heard in that room, but would have loved it even more if it’d been given the chance to stretch and breathe a little. A cynic might wonder if this was to avoid releasing various nasties into the space, but whatever reason and despite the modest volume levels, the Nagra room left me impressed, but wanting more. It felt to me like it could deliver, but was not being allowed to. Perhaps more interestingly, both these systems were using vinyl as their primary source. Not. A. Coincidence. Surely.