Munich High-End 2024

Not that CH was alone in having their flagship equipment outperformed by its musical siblings. Stenheim had Ultime 2s in both the Nagra HD system and the big darTZeel set up: the Alumine 5 SE on its new X base, significantly outperformed both of them, driven by the Nagra Classic electronics. Another case of a more modest but carefully put together system delivering the musical goods over supposedly bigger and better alternatives. Once again, a lot of visitors drew the same conclusion – the %SX was the best sounding Stenheim at the show.

There were plenty of other systems delivering decent sound from more modest speakers. Magico rolled out the latest S5, in a system that used as many of the massive Telos boxes for power conditioning as it did to drive the speakers. The sound here was variable – occasionally sublime, it could also sound processed and mechanical, suggesting to me that the speakers and system were extraordinarily revealing of file quality. But when it was good, it was very good indeed.

Gershmann Acoustics graduated from a sound cabin to a first floor atrium room this year and celebrated by bringing their distinctive and unusual ‘Matryoshka meets the pyramids’, 30th Anniversary Black Swan speaker – in white! Showing again with the excellent TSA electronics, the sound was typically warm, relaxed and dimensional – the hallmarks of this Canadian brand.

One of the most discussed products was undoubtedly the new Wadax Studio Player, which sounded excellent in both the Göbel and Wadax rooms. Driving the new ARC 330M amplifiers and Magico S3 speakers directly, the results were excellent – another case of a small speaker working more easily in the MOC rooms than its bigger brethren. Avantgarde got in on the act too, their eagerly awaited Mezzo (whilst not exactly small, it’s way smaller in terms of footprint than the Trio) delivering by far the best sound I’ve heard from their speakers in Munich. But if small was, more often than not, beautiful, the true horror of BIG is yet to be revealed: it’s time, dear readers, to Duck For Cover…

And this year, the coveted DFC Award goes to…

Aries Cerat turned up at the show with a monstrous system that sounded monstrously bad. In fact, this was arguably one of the most offensive systems I’ve experienced. Integration has never been a strong suit with the AC speakers, but this hit an all-time low. Amongst other things, I was unfortunate enough to hear them playing that old audiophile standard, the Louis Armstrong ‘St. James Infirmary’. Louis clearly missed his vocation. At somewhere above 12’ tall he should have been in the NBA. His trumpet was loaded with tracer ammunition and the bass was so disconnected that it wasn’t so much coming from next door as being freighted in from the next state! Duck For cover indeed…

This was genuinely awful. I heard it three times (be glad I suffered so that you don’t have to) and on each occasion there was so much loose, sub-sonic information swilling around that it made me feel nauseous. This was appalling by any standards, but given the asking price for the equipment, you have to wonder whether they were actually listening to the results. It was so dreadful they would have been better off keeping the door locked or simply going for a static display. A run away winner in the “how to make a ridiculous and ridiculously expensive ‘system’ sound absolutely horrendous” stakes, this Aries Cerat fully deserves this year’s DFC – as well as a few other awards besides!