Munich High-End 2024

Round up and wash up…

By Roy Gregory

Every Munich Show comes and goes in a welter of over-lapping (and often conflicting) images and impressions. Products, rooms and systems crowd in on each other in an avalanche of sensory overload. It is easy to find yourself falling back on the familiar and simply responding to expectations in an extended tick-box exercise, rather than approaching each new system with an open mind and open ears. Even if you make an earnest approach to cover every room in the spirit of enquiry, there are too many and too many obstacles. Just hearing familiar music in each and every room is beyond the possible. Making any kind of sensible judgement about an individual product is the stuff of fantasy. So, what can we learn?

Well, you can certainly listen to systems – even if trying to ascribe their performance to just one element is impossible. Also, given that most of the major rooms fit into two main layouts and most of the others share the same construction, you can learn who knows how to work with set-up (or much more likely, who doesn’t). Finally – once you get over the almost hallucinogenic strobing of different products and systems, themes and patterns start to emerge. This year was no exception.

The future is finally now…

Last year, network connected systems accounted for two of my three favourite systems in Munich – systems that actually delivered serious and seriously enjoyable musical performance. The third was an earnest attempt to re-write the route from personal listening on headphones to real sound in real spaces. Streamed music was succeeding where conventional replay of physical media was failing to deliver on its all too real advantages.

Sitting on the side-lines of that conversation was Goldmund’s clever and stylish Pulp, a wireless speaker/hub system designed to deliver high-quality distributed music. This year, building on that digital eco-system, the company showed its Asteria, a deceptively simple, two-box, three-way, active wireless design with a compact, almost anonymous visage intended to fit almost any environment or décor. With three built in Telos amplifier modules, a 7” mid and 9” bass driver and connectivity via S/PDIF or wireless hub, this is a potentially potent performer – despite its modest dimensions. At the show it was played at almost background levels, but even then, its transparency and clarity were obvious.

Elsewhere, Wattson Audio, recently acquired by CH Precision, were showing their range of network replay solutions and a new amplifier, driving Apertura loudspeakers. With milled from solid casework and genuinely high-end engineering and components inside, the thing that sets them apart is not just their price/performance ratio (which is impressive enough) but their diminutive dimensions. Less material and less weight mean a lower carbon footprint, further underlined by local manufacturing and electrical efficiency. The sound of this system was clean, crisp, coherent and lucid, without ever tipping over into the sterile wasteland that so often typifies high-def streaming solutions. In absolute terms, network replay may still be playing catch up, but unless the physical media crowd get their act together, it could be game over sooner than they think.

Broad baffles are back…