Munich High-End 2022 and the letting go

The largest and slickest hi-fi show on the calendar, Munich High-End, ends its four-day run for 2022. It’s the first time the event has taken place since 2019, this year with 500+ exhibitors in tow: so enormous is its scale that first-time attendees arriving with the intention of ‘seeing it all’ are quick to have their expectations adjusted. The High-End show’s super-smart professional image is why many of the larger manufacturers make their biggest product announcements in Munich. On a more personal note, the High-End show is one of only two public-facing hi-fi events that make me proud to be an audiophile.

This year Alan Parsons is the Brand Ambassador at the International Hi-Fi Show. With this move, the organizer is upholding its theme, launched in 2018, of enlisting a prominent artist to underscore the symbiosis between music and technology. As a veritable master of good sound, Alan Parsons has been successful worldwide for decades. With his superb recording technology, he is extraordinarily successful at bringing the magic of his compositions to our living rooms.

Helping press members like yours truly more easily put show reports together this year were two trade days (instead of one). The second punter-free day, combined with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, made for a less busy Friday than I’d seen in previous years but the 30C weather made for some uncomfortable conditions under the M.O.C’s glass roof, especially in the afternoon.

Regular readers will know that I hadn’t originally planned to attend this year’s Munich event. COVID case numbers are still too high in Germany and the Bavarian government recently dropped its mask mandate. The 4.5-hour train ride from Berlin to Munich made light work of my last-minute change of mind.

Fear of missing out (FOMO) won out over the fear of COVID: a mask glued to my face would limit the risk of infection and I’d only turn up for the two trade days (instead of all four). Both proved to be sound calls. By my reckoning, only 5% of High-End 2022 attendees wore face masks; a low percentage that made many of the Americans that I spoke to anxious about getting home. Only a negative test would put them on their return flight.

Munich High-End organiser Stefan Dreischarf
Adversity being the mother of invention, I decided not to cover High-End 2022 in the usual fashion. YouTube’s copyright scanner picking up music anywhere in a video – even in the background – would put that video’s ongoing publication at risk. And the traffic generated by this website is now too great for Vimeo’s recently revised business model. Vimeo is no longer interested in being the indie YouTube.

Still to come to Instagram (and these pages) are a few manufacturer-specific videos. A podcast review will then try to stitch a red thread through everything that I saw during this year’s event. This more selective approach to show coverage afforded me more time on the show floor to talk with people, some of whom I’d not seen since the pandemic booted real-life events like High-End to the curb. I also had a most illuminating conversation with show organiser Stefan Dreischarf (pictured above) to whom I confessed that I am not a fan of Steven Wilson’s music but that I am a religious follower of The Album Years podcast that he makes with Tim Bowness.

Chatting with exhibitors and press friends also meant walking right past many of the listening rooms that wrap around Atrias 3 and 4. This is where exhibitors focus on the active demonstration of their wares at the expense of everything else. Here, meaningful conversations that transcend the usual small talk are extremely rare. Perhaps not coincidentally, these same rooms are where many of the more expensive esoteric brands exhibit and for whom direct contact with the buying public is critical to a high-price-low-volume sales model.

I found myself much more content in the big open halls downstairs where passive displays dominate, listening is relegated to prefabricated cabins and chin-wagging returns to the top of the agenda. This enables more casual conversations with exhibitors that often turn up crucial tidbits of information that their formal announcements often miss.

Make no mistake: even though hi-fi shows like Munich High-End suffer little of the model train enthusiast vibe of the hotel-based events that pepper the hi-fi show calendar, they aren’t exposing as many new people to the hi-fi world as Instagram coverage of the same. This then begs the question: should I start a Darko.Audio TikTok?

Further information: High-End Society

John Darko