Munich 2022

After many years of off-site presentations and product launches, Wilson Audio hit the MOC with a splash. The Covid years have seen the launch of both the XVX and the Alexx V, but for many listeners this was going to be their first opportunity to hear either speaker performing in the flesh. With two pairs of XVX and two pairs of Alexx V on hand, all in predictably high-profile, high-end set ups, the results can only really be described as disappointing. Whether it was a function of the show environment or the company possibly over-reaching itself, the sounds on show were ordinary at best and in one case, verging on the painful. After a three-year hiatus, the industry as a whole needs its big names to come back stronger than ever. Few names are as big as Wilson and, especially given the praise heaped on both the XVX and the Alexx V, it’s not just a case of could but really should do better.

In the absence of either Vox loudspeaker system in the Living Voice room, the field was wide open for another horn speaker to stake its claim. Despite that, no company stepped up and, much as we love a good horn-based system, sadly there was little to get us excited here. Having experienced the astonishing performance of the active Avantgarde Trio G3, I was hoping for great things in Munich, but it was not to be, with the big spherical horns definitely hiding their light!

But surely the biggest disappointment at the show was the poor performance of so many high-end digital contenders. Streamed music has certainly contributed to a general decline in musical standards (it’s no coincidence that, with the sole exception of Wadax, all the best sounding rooms were playing physical media) but it was also noticeable that none of the highly touted digital brands trying to close the musical and technological gap to Wadax managed to deliver. MSB, TotalDAC and dCS all disappointed, with sound that varied from sterile through to actively unpleasant. It is difficult to draw lasting conclusions from a single show, but there does seem to be a distinct absence of inspiration amongst the more traditional and higher profile digital practitioners. Streaming inputs that accept ever bigger numbers simply aren’t going to do it and more fundamental engineering advances are required. Otherwise, this is another aspect of the audio landscape that could see significant change.

If there is a single conclusion to take from the Munich show in 2022, it’s that there’s an awful lot of the industry that needs to seriously sharpen up its act. Given the poor quality of the sound in most rooms (and in some, you had to wonder what the exhibitor was hearing – ‘cos it certainly wasn’t the same as us) it is hard to escape the verdict that many of these companies don’t know how, never knew how or can’t be bothered to produce good sound – and that is not acceptable, not at these prices! In an industry that constantly bemoans the lack of public interest and new customers, missing the opportunity to show why hi-fi is a worthwhile investment sits somewhere between gross negligence and suicide. I’m fed up with hearing about the bad rooms in Munich. If some companies can regularly defy the odds, then there’s something wrong with that reality. Companies that don’t know how to work with systems and rooms need to learn. Companies that can’t or won’t learn should hire those skills. The post Covid era is an opportunity for the audio industry – but it is an opportunity that needs grasping and exploiting. For anybody who cares about audio and musical performance, the complacency on show in Munich was worrying. The complacency from high-profile companies in particular, is hard to understand. The landscape is definitely changing. The question now is who wants to remain a part of that picture?