Munich High-End 2024

Living Voice also signed up to the descaling movement, once again showing their R80 with SJS electronics and Kuzma and Grand Prix record players – and delivering another oasis of musical calm amidst the general mayhem. But if both Kevin Scott and Oliver Göbel demonstrated their continuing ability to conjure a musically worthwhile experience from the Munich rooms, other manufacturers were either not so gifted or not so lucky.

Last year, I made myself unpopular in Utah by pointing out that despite the number of rooms featuring Wilson speakers, the only one that delivered a representative performance was the CH Precision room running the Alexx V and WatchDogs – the only one that Wilson didn’t set up! Maybe they took the comments in the spirit intended, or maybe they just worked out that trying to set up eight rooms in a day – especially with Wilson speakers – was simply not sensible. Either way, this year the number of big Wilson systems on show was way down, although that didn’t stop them doubling down on the CH room and not only using XVX to go with the WatchDogs, but insisting on setting them up themselves. It was a bet that failed in spectacular fashion. I could dismantle the results on a point by point basis, but essentially, if you play Mozart and it sounds like Brahms, conducted by Karajan – on a really, really bad day – then you know you’ve got problems. This was all about sound and nothing to do with music, with a bottom-end that was so planted and immobile that it might have been wearing concrete overshoes. Musically flat, this system was perhaps most charitably described as inoffensive – although uninteresting might also serve. Given the price of the equipment involved, could do better really doesn’t cover it.

To add salt to the wound, its lack of musical performance was highlighted by another CH system, this time in the Vienna Acoustics room. Here, a basic 1 Series set-up (D1.5 CD/SACD, C1.2 DAC and T1 clock, L1 line-stage, P1 phono-stage, both fed from a single X1 and feeding a single M1.1 power amp) was paired with Vienna Acoustics remarkable Liszt Reference speakers (€16,800) and a Grand Prix Parabolica, SupaTrac Night Hawk tonearm and Kuzma CAR-40 cartridge to considerably greater musical effect. Do the sums and you’ll figure out that the big rig in CH’s own room was running electronics at 3x the cost, had 10x the money invested in the turntable and 40x in the speakers! Yet the smaller system delivered consistently enjoyable results and not a few bemused looks, when listeners realised how (relatively) affordable it was – especially the speakers.

Now, I know how much better the 10 Series electronics are than the 1 Series. I know how much better the new C10 is than the C1.2. So why the huge difference in musical engagement and communication? It’s all down to set-up. From the coherent cable loom and supports provided by Montaudio, to the attention to detail when it came to optimising the speaker placement. You bring a speaker as big and complex as the XVX to a show and you’d better know what you are doing and you’d better make sure that every aspect of the driving system is spot on. In this case, the mighty XVX had its knickers unceremoniously pulled down by the little Viennas – and unlike the king’s new clothes, everybody could hear it and a lot of people were talking about it.