What are the take aways from Munich 2023?
By Roy Gregory
Once the dust settles on a show, the specifics and details surrounding systems and new products tend to fade, replaced with overall impressions, emerging trends and more general conclusions. Some of what we’ve written has already gone to that place, but reflection adds greater detail.
Looking back, these are the things that we learnt (or were reinforced) by our visit to Bavaria…
More rooms featured more elaborate build outs this year than ever before – and not to the benefit of the sound. From complete shells or rooms-within-a-room to extravagant lighting gantries and space-frame graphics (expanding structures that look like they’ve been carved from the fuselage of a Wellington bomber and then wrapped in printed fabric) there was more effort and money expended on presentation than ever before. The Magico room was an excellent example, with its bold, dark-grey structure and contrasting orange fabric and graphics, it looked a million dollars – which in one sense made it all the more ironic that the company was showing its modest S3 model. But perhaps more remarkable than the presentation was the performance. This was the best sounding Magico room we’ve heard in years and in terms of performance versus décor – and that definitely made it the exception to the ‘beautifully dressed room’ rule. Too many rooms looked impressive and sounded anything but… Unlike its predecessor in Frankfurt, Munich has never been a great sounding show, but musically speaking, this year was a new low.
The question is, how long can high-end audio sustain such indifferent performance? It’s almost as if the industry shuffled up to the edge of the post-Covid cliff, peaked over and decided that the best way to avoid tumbling into the abyss was to look more professional (as opposed to being – and sounding – more professional).
The Munich Show is the biggest shop window that audio has. Increasingly, international visitors include customers and enthusiasts as well as distributors and manufacturers. Just counting the Atrium rooms, rooms in which a little planning and application can produce really good results, there are around 140 opportunities for many more manufacturers than that to really impress. The fact that the rooms that succeed in delivering anything like a musical performance, let alone really demonstrate the potential of the (invariably monstrously expensive) systems they house, can be counted on the fingers of one hand, is a shocking indictment of the industry as a whole. That this situation is getting worse is bordering on a suicide pact. Too many rooms were apparently proceeding on the basis that simply plugging in the system guaranteed the required results. It never, ever does.
Conclusions? What conclusions?
During and after audio shows, the industry is a-buzz with opinion expressed online and on the printed page, opinion that is gradually but inexorably transmuted into ‘knowledge’. The number of reviewers (who should know better) and show goers (who could know better) that express entrenched views on brands and specific pieces of equipment based on first or second-hand experience at shows is genuinely alarming. Reading about somebody hearing equipment at a show is not the same as hearing that equipment in your own home. Watching a video taken at a show is not the same as being there.