Hits and Misses…
By Roy Gregory and Dennis Davis
Having written show reports for both TheAudioBeat.com and Audio Technique magazine, it seems utterly superfluous to repeat that copy or content here. However, a few post-show observations are certainly pertinent, especially given that we previewed or highlighted certain rooms and products. Which delivered on their promise and which failed to impress? Of course, as far as individual products are concerned, it’s always hard to be definitive. Few companies actually do properly structured, comparative demonstrations, which leaves you listening to complete systems comprising often alien or unknown elements. Add to that a decision to run the AC throughout the show due to health-considerations – a decision that resulted in 55dB+ ambient noise levels in the Atrium rooms where most of the better sounding systems are generally found – and it was frankly hard to reach any solid sonic or musical conclusions at this show. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about most of the show coverage I’ve seen is the absence of any comment on the prevalent noise floor – and the extent to which that undermines the value of what observations were made.
The show itself was a slightly strange experience, lacking the continuity that normally shapes such a large, annual event. If major brands like Wilson, VTL and Nordost all change distribution between one show and the next, you can pretty much guarantee a significant ripple effect across other exhibits. Generally, you arrive in Munich with a pretty good idea of the landscape you are going to encounter but this year it was, if not all change, then distinctly different. Limiting ticket numbers made the rooms quieter than normal, especially on Sunday. With three years of accumulated development, rather than evolution we saw step-changes in product lines and brand presentations, new associations and new strategies from exhibitors, with a notably improved standard of room dressing and display materials.
Overall it has to be said that sound quality was disappointing, although the limited number of great sounding systems resulted in clear winners and losers. With that background in mind, who came out ahead, who’s treading water and who’s not waving but drowning?
The unrivalled digital success story of this show was the Wadax Reference components. The Reference Server and Reference DAC featured in no fewer than four systems spread across the High-End Show, including two of the best sounding systems there. Both the Wadax room, which featured ARC Ref 6SE and Ref 160 mono amps and Wilson Benesch Eminence speakers and the Göbel room, which featured TLA amps driving Divin Marquis loudspeakers and Sovereign sub-woofers, delivered consistently excellent results throughout the show. Add to that the Croma/Gryphon system (at the off-site Hi-Fi Deluxe event) that also received considerable praise, along with the Fono Acoustica/Koda/Kharma set up that definitely deserves an honourable mention, and that’s an unequalled strike rate at an event where overall sound quality was well down on previous years. By now, even the most sceptical or observers are going to have to accept that the rise and rise of Wadax is more than just a fleeting phenomenon. What was self-evident to anybody who bothered to listen 10 years ago is now undeniably apparent. The original Pre 1 signalled a significant change in the musical capabilities of digital systems, with each successive generation not just building on that foundation but actually widening the gap. The Reference products clearly live up to the hype, while the arrival of the new Reference PSU for the Server promises another jump in performance. There are few products that can claim genuine head-and-shoulders superiority over the competition, but Wadax is definitely one.