Munich High-End 2023

I’ll be back. Come again? It’s the annual HighEnd show taking place this month at Munich’s MOC. In parallel, the Hifi Deluxe event beckons like a cuckoo’s nest at the nearby Marriott Hotel. While many makers follow tradition by springing their novelties on an unsuspecting public come show day, others find that divulging their latest ‘n’ greatest ahead of time drives far more guaranteed traffic to their exhibits. And let’s face it, this is one huge event. Attendees suffer sensory overload already a few hours into their first day. A few late nights later, it’s a zoo of headless chickens. That makes it all too easy to miss things only to see ‘em in sundry post-show reports and think, “by tarnation, I’d have loved to have seen and heard that”. To preload your plate with a few items you might find of interest, here goes:

Axxess Acoustics is the fourth and latest brand of the Audio Group Denmark umbrella which also operates Aavik, Ansuz and Børresen. A lot of their kit aims at ne plus ultra kaboodle to mean stickers commensurate with Hifi Formula 1. The aptly named Axxess now means to romance less turbo-charged budgets though tractors are still out. Their first product is the Forté platform, FutureFi which combines a DAC, preamp, streamer, amp and headphone amp in one case. It means two USB host ports, RJ45, USB Audio, BNC and Toslink plus one analog input and a variable pre-out. The internal amplifier is based on a 100wpc Pascal class D module driven from a resonant-mode switching power supply said to increase operating frequency and peak power. The DAC is a 1-bit type developed in house “for faster data processing and insensitivity to noise”. The streamer module incorporates Aavik precedents to shun microcomputers. The headfi section operates in class A. Proprietary high-frequency noise attenuation includes Ansuz Tesla coils. It’s the amount of built-in noise filtering which distinguishes the Forté 1 [€5.5K], Forté 2 [8K] and Forté 3 [€11K]. The three models otherwise share identical featurization and the same chassis which combines metal with composite plates and industrial design by Flemming Rasmussen, original founder of Gryphon Audio Design.

At the AudioNEXT booth, check out Sino brand Cen.Grand for whom 2023 is the debutante ball to global export. Having reviewed their flagship headphone amp and DSD1’024 DAC, I’m convinced the brand is this year’s Denafrips discovery. Depending on what their German importer bought in for Munich, brand new are this dedicated preamp and pair of 1’000-watt class AB monos. A network player with novel ‘synchronous’ connection was previewed at this year’s Beijing show and should start shipping by October. Perhaps AudioNEXT will have a sample of that as well?

As the Bang & Olufsen of France, Devialet will bring Gallic Mania to the proceedings. Priced from $790 – $990, it’s a portable all-in affair of a “360° stereo sound” speaker with four small wideband drivers, two woofers and (cough) bandwidth from 30Hz-20kHz. But there’s also WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, Spotify Connect and AirPlay 2. For juice on the go a 3’200mAh battery builds in. This balcony, porch or beach party affair measures just 18x19x14cm and lengthens our arm by only 2.3kg. Various trim levels apply. At first glance we might dismissively think Sharper Image catalogue or a retail emporium like Harrods of London so a glitz blitz with little sonic substance. But Devialet have proven already that despite very noisy marketing laden with whiz-bang acronyms, they’ve also got excellent engineering and manufacturing chops on their side.

Estelon of Estonia have always promoted very costly ceramic Accuton drivers and sculpturesque composite cabinets to position themselves firmly in our hobby’s higher heavens. So even their new entry speaker Aura [€17.5K/pr] sits where other portfolios would run out of breath, not kick-off. But for those of us dreaming of a hot rod inside a banger chassis, Aura could be just the thing. Simply ditch the banger bit. Whilst these drivers go ‘soft’ by way of a ScanSpeak Illuminator textile tweeter set into an oval waveguide bracketed by two 5” SB Acoustic Satori papyrus- paper mids plus a 10” down-firing sealed paper woofer from Faital, the enclosure remains very curvaceous synthetic stone. Available in white or black, that means true Bay Watch lookers. The filter network includes custom OFC air-core inductors, supercap-type capacitors and wire-wound resistors pair-matched then wired point to point into Cardas terminals.

Poland’s Ferrum Audio is part of HEM, a company that also does OEM/ODM work and hifi distribution. They used to design/build Mytek kit before branching out into their own brand. That’s named for iron-ore deposits close to their hometown of Warsaw. Their newest product is the Wandla flagship DAC built around an ESS 9038 chip. There’s IR remote, a remote app, a choice of buffered digital on-chip/analog Muses or no volume, one analog RCA input, RCA/XLR outputs and on the digital input side, USB-C, coax, AES/EBU, Toslink plus I2S and ARC via HDMI. Where Wandla leaves the usual reservation is with a touch screen, extensive menu options and their proprietary Serce processor board. That handles signal routing, DSP even I/V conversion. As part of their custom DSP, Ferrum have installed user-selectable filters including some custom filters from HQPlayer. There’s MQA, PCM up to 32/768 and DSD up to 256. The initial I2S pin configuration follows the PS Audio standard shared with Denafrips, Jay’s and Singxer. As requests arise, Ferrum will add alternates by firmware update. Lastly, Wandla can be powered by the company’s hybrid Hypsos power supply as part of their in-house upgrade path.

China’s FiiO has its new FT3 [349] full-size headphones looking to compete against a Darko/6moons favorite, Meze’s 99 Classic. Tucked beneath alpha-male ear cups are N52-powered 2.4-inch dynamic drivers with diamond-like carbon membranes and beryllium-plated gaskets. Voice coil wiring is all of 0.035mm thick, load behaviour 350Ω. 391g of weight will wear slightly on the heavy side. Included are a 3m 23-gauge mono-crystal copper cable, 6.3mm adapter and both pleather and suede pads for some custom tuning.

iFi’s world of budget wonders expands with two novelties for the show. The first is the LAN Silencer [€89], a self-powered inline galvanic isolator aka noise stripper for networked audio. The second is something quite gnarly called GO pod which turns wired IEM into wireless wonders. iFi have collaborated with 64 audio, craft ears, Meze, Symphonium and Westone to bundle select IEM. After the first 1’000 combos are gone, raw GO pods will sell with “loops for MMCX and 2-pin IEM, Pentaconn, T2 and A2DC connectors” to mate with other IEMs. There’s a charging case with 1’500mAH battery. A pair of pods is said to last for up to seven hours whilst the case will refuel them multiple times for up to 35 hours total. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon handles Bluetooth 5.2 with QCC144 processor. Supported codecs are LDAC/HDC up to 32-bit/96kHz. The Cirrus Logic MasterHifi DAC has five user-selectable digital interpolation filters. The volume control is analog, the built-in mic is augmented by Qualcomm’s cVC noise suppression tech. There’s true wireless mirroring and the analog output stage is balanced and discrete.

Lotoo of China will show their battery-power portable Mjölnir all-in-one in the booth of German importer audioNEXT GmbH. Main specs are an AK4499 DAC, 2.5wpc/32Ω balanced power, Roon/AirPlay support, 94Wh battery and 2.7kg of mass. Analog outputs are on XLR and RCA and there are digital i/o, an SD card slot and USB media port. Should the design conjure up Nagra, that’s no coincidence. For more entry-level kit which the storied Swiss brand can’t manufacture in their own Lausanne facility to hit intended price points—I’m thinking of my small portable recorder—they collaborate with Lotoo. Given such credibility at stake, we might say that Nagra has pre- shopped mainland China suppliers on our behalf so that when we go Lotoo, we’re fully Nagra approved. At least that’s what my wallet tells itself.

Mobile Fidelity from the US has the latest Andrew Jones coaxial design, the SourcePoint 8 [$3K/pr] with a 1.25″ soft dome in the throat of an 8″ paper-pulp mid/woofer crossed over at 1.6kHz. Measuring 18×11.4×13.2″ Hx”xD and weighing 28lbs, this speaker is 87dB sensitive and never drops below 6.4Ω. Finish options are black ash, satin walnut or satin white.

Q Acoustics from the UK has the new 5000 models to show. With the familiar form factors and driver tech as their flagship Concept range, the baffles are laminated with butyl rubber and black acrylic for vibration damping. Finish options span a generous satin black/white, rosewood or oak.

If salt and pepper are what chefs call seasoning, tubes and solid state are hifi’s equivalent. How to get both into one shaker Rogue Audio show with their new DragoN monos which embed a 12AU7 voltage-gain stage in the loop of an nCore class D power module whilst running the lot off a classic linear not switching power supply.

More wicked than the witches of Eastwich is Soundsmith with its new MosTube One, “a long-lived solid-state replacement for the most popular power tubes featuring extreme stability, automatic matching, no adjustments, tube-type 2nd-harmonic flavor and an automatic 30-50% power increase. Replaces 6550, KT66 through KT150, EL34, 6L6 and more.” Before you think April’s fool, Brinkmann and Schiit have already done this for some of their own models. Soundsmith is simply the first to propose rolling transistor outputs into any valve amp with the right tubes.

German pro-audio brand spl has crossed into ConFit (Fi fit for consumers) years ago. Its new Phonitor 3 [€2’599] might actually straddle the prosumer fence by adding mastering features like adjustable cross feed, soundstage angle and width, stereo/mono and more. Two VU meters shout mastering console but McIntosh devotees would demure by demanding VU meters at home. This deck also includes a premium DAC and pre-amp outputs.

// Intermission. Toilet break. Head over to the Frankfurter stand between the atriums for some Germanic calories. Chew the fat with other showgoers. Stomach duly fortified, Pilsner swallowed, you’re now ready to spend big; or at least pretend you could. //

For that, take the shuttle over to the Marriott Hotel where Acapella Audio Arts from Germany will show off its new Hyperion. Think 2.5 meters tall and 300kg each. Think 4 x 15-inch woofers; per side. In stereo, that becomes the equivalent of one compound 42.5” woofer! But there’s more. Think 2.5” midrange loaded into a 78cm diameter hyper-spherical horn. Think horn-loaded ion tweeter with essentially zero mass. Outboard crossovers weigh 30kg each. If you need to ask about the price, you’re categorically in the wrong place. So don’t ask. Just sit down politely and hear how the Jones listen.

If Børresen finalizes its new M6 loudspeaker in time, that’ll be another occasion to spend vicariously; to the tune of €540’000/pr I’m told. If not, you could slum it with the €260’000 M3, a 5- driver 2.5-way tower whose drivers rock ultra-light composite cones with N52 motors, solid-silver pole pieces and baskets 3D-printed from zirconium. Anything that fits into the factory’s own vats is deep-cryo’d to boot; and the crossovers incorporate active analog dither spun off sonar radar tech plus active Tesla coils.

For another me-and Mrs.-Jones deed, consider the Clarisys Audio exhibit with their Auditorium dipoles driven in Munich by a full Soulution stack. If you didn’t know, Clarisys of CH is Apogee Acoustics reborn. Of sorts. The company does host an Apogee restoration panel to help owners of Jason Bloom speakers which need repairs. Hence their own products continue where Mr. Bloom left off. That makes this an ideal opportunity to sample true 3-way ribbon speakers at the very top of that game. Think 2m tall, 210kg a side and extreme resolution.

Speaking of ribbons, I would check out Raal-Requisite’s new CA-1a, [€2-2.5K], its circumaural follow-up on the winged AKG K-1000 reminiscent SR1a. It comes with a new impedance interface to run off any standard headphone amp. The Serbian designer is keen for us to know that these are far more than SR1a with ear cups to feature all-new motors and more. Some people are all hot for headfi, others bothered. Even if you’re amongst the latter, don’t miss an opportunity to hear what might be one of the best headphones extant. It may not convert you; but at least you’ll have a renewed respect for what’s possible.

To go gaga over what cost no object can look like in turntables, this year Thorens celebrate its 140th year of operations and bow its New Reference priced “between the Airforce Zero and Nagra Reference”. Designed by Helmut Thiele, its active vibration isolation is from Germany’s Seismion to exploit piezoelectric acceleration sensors in a system called sky-hook damping. This collaborates with an adaptive levelling system with 20μm tolerance. The three-phase synchronous belt-drive motor is powered by three linear amplifiers with 120° phase-shifted signals. The bearing is a hydrodynamic type. The speed controller is based on two precision quartz oscillators with a claimed 3ppm max deviation over 20 years. The table can be fitted with up to three bases to suit tonearms from 9″ to 12″.

Not to be left out to dry, VPI Industries will counter with its new magnetic direct-drive table, the €60’000 aptly named Titan Direct.

If you’re still in the mood for rarefied air but speakers in particular, check out the Monitor Audio Group’s finalized Hyphn [€82’500/pr] which last year merely previewed. I think of it as an ‘inverted’ KEF Blade whose coax executes with seven discrete drivers; whose outfiring quad-woofer array fires inward. It’s an 11-driver dual-concentric 3-way with force-cancelling 8” woofers and 6 x 2″ flat-membrane drivers encircling Monitor’s own MDP III aka AMT tweeter-like flower petals. Loaded into the central slot are two pairs of face-to-face so self-damping woofers. Available matte finishes are white, black and heritage green. Each half of the thermoformed mineral-loaded acrylic ‘H’ enclosure obscures a vertical down-firing ~50cm long large-diameter 26Hz port tube for -6dB/16Hz extension.

by Srajan