This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

With our potted balcony plants in full bloom by early April and the lake weather nicely sunny this year, I'd caught upfront rays to attend the Munich HighEnd Show as a black man. Predictably my pale attempts at incognito failed most miserably. Even so I hadn't come for the usual show report. I'd come to check out a few items of personal interest, see a few specific people and otherwise remain below the radar. My mode of attendance was thus highly selective. By implication that was broadly dismissive. The latter is no reflection on anything. It was about attending for once just for pleasure.

My below bulletin-style impressions fell into three categories [click red dots for large photos]. Certain components on static display were suspects of greatness. Certain systems simply played wonderfully though assigning specific responsibilities to specific contributors is impossible under conditions where everything is unknown. Finally certain things caught my attention just because.

Back in the group of active systems I sat down with, there were two core approaches. The emotionally by far most compelling had hornspeakers and valve electronics. Of those the Greek Tune Audio speakers with Cypriot Aries Cerat valve electronics were my favorite by quite a margin. Whilst such systems might have had 'objective' shortcomings of the sort that bother test-bench nerds, their live charge triggered all my very subjective emotional hot buttons. The obsession with amplitude linearity is absurd if people knew what the unsmoothed raw 1/48th in-room response of their speakers really looked like. Our hearing is far more tolerant of amplitude errors than it is of phase/timing errors, lack of tonal substance and badly compressed dynamics.

The second core approach or flavor was that of ultra-refined hifi sound. That is characterized by resolution and lucidity. By definition those aspects go beyond reality. Live music does not overlay a recorded on an actual acoustic. There both acoustics are one and the same. During hifi type separatist playback they become two with as much distinction as possible. This focuses highly on visual aspects like soundstaging, image focus and - um, separation. Of this kind my clear favorite was the collaboration between Ancient Audio, Tidal and Musical Wire with the smaller Tidal speakers organized by Dmitry Valdin of Transparent Acoustic whose banner-type room treatments graced the room's sidewalls. Between those two approaches there was a third which split the difference. Here to my ears Audiopax had the best example.

Accuton showed their S280-18-282 ceramic sandwich cone 10-incher with underhung motor design, 55mm Titanium voice coil, low-loss rubber surround and thin fabric spider. Recommended bandwidth is 25 - 600Hz.

Albedo Audio statically showed the HL3.4 top model of their Helmholine System transmission line speakers with integral Helmholtz resonator. This is a linear-phase floorstanding 3-way with 2 x 6.5" ceramic woofers, a 5" ceramic midrange and 1.2" ceramic tweeter with an acoustic 1st-order crossover, 89dB sensitivity and 35Hz to 20.000Hz bandwidth. Having previously reviewed the smaller HL2.2 to find it very different from previous personal encounters with the 'ceramic sound', agreements have been made to review this model in our pages.

Ancient Audio's Jaromir Waszczyszyn showed with Tidal Audio, Musical Wire and Transparent Acoustic for my favorite example of Refined Hifi Sound. From Poland he had brought his new top-loading Air CD player/preamp with built-in dual-differential 6H30 preamp stage (remote analog volume, 24/192 streaming module forthcoming) to directly drive Tidal's stereo amplifier and speakers. Also showing was a prototype of his new SD card player to support the SDmusA project. I had déjà vu all over again relative to the Resonessence Labs Invicta converter with its very similar SD card feature. To investigate this initiative more closely I've already committed to a visit to Krakow which will probably turn into a RoadTour Poland type of report.

April Music's Simon Lee hand-delivered an early sample of his Eximus DP1 by personal courier (in his own suit case) which I previewed here. Soliciting feedback from dealers and distributors, he was asked to 'rebrand' the machine under the more established Stello name. This might also involve a slightly different nomenclature by the time first production ships in June. Also forthcoming are the Adam—Apple Digital by April Music—digital-direct iPod dock and matching Eve converter (brought together by an apple as it were). Early Adam samples were cubes whereas final production will be low riders to complement the forthcoming mono amps which are to accompany Simon's 'Eximus DP1' aka Stello DP1000 in its designer skins from Alex Rasmussen at Neal Faye.
Ascendo's exhibit with their MS-SE model meant outboard crossovers and a separate tower module for a rear-firing isoplanar ambient tweeter driven by Audio Aero valve amps. Because Ascendo is both loudspeaker and room correction firm their setups are routinely interchangeable on performance. They make very good sound year after year and 2011 was no exception. This was another superior example of the refined hifi sound concept noted two entries earlier.
Acoustic System Int.'s Franck Tchang for the first time demonstrated a nearly—ie. minus the dCS or MacBook sources— complete front-to-back system under his own brand. The ASI electronics were designed by Milan Karan of Karan Acoustics in Serbia. By applying sophisticated sliding bias, the mono amps deliver 2.400 class A watts into 8Ω and produce nearly 5KW into 2Ω. What hampered this system was Franck's reliance on iTunes rather than PureMusic, Amarra & Co. for streaming music. My iPod Classic streaming digitally via Cypherlab's battery-powered Algorhythm Solo into the dCS converter sounded so much better that Milan jokingly begged me to leave it there for the duration. Since I needed it, I instead booked a future visit to Karan to report on these collaborative electronics in proper detail.
Audiopax's Maggiore 100 was the return of a legend by scaling up the Model 88 technology to output 100 watts in class A1 mode with a series/parallel connection of six discrete single-ended amplifiers in one chassis whereby four of the six output transformers are additionally strategically dissimilar to optimize Eduardo de Lima's unique TimbreLock concept. Because these amps and the matching preamp are now built in Switzerland to which Eduardo shall shortly return to oversee first production, he has kindly agreed to visit me for an in-depth interview about his new amplifiers and perhaps even a formal review.

Aura is a subsidiary April Music brand from Korea whose German importer Sieveking Sound showed two new full-size separates priced below the existing Neo/Groove combo. For full-function lifestyle components with a high level of performance, these new Auras should be on the list of folks attracted to Bang & Olufsen.

Avantgarde's new XA Series electronics feature cast and modular chassis within chassis to allow easy swapping of face plates. The new preamp runs on battery cells. The company's new factory/show room will be complete in the fall so naturally a factory tour is on the books already.
Blumenhofer Acoustics had a static exhibit to show off new hornspeaker models, one already finished, the other still a prototype.
Boenicke Audio's Sven Boenicke was sweating bullets over his new 'to spec' flagship which he'd designed in particular response to his Chinese importer's requests for a 16-inch wide big speaker. "I put everything on the line to produce this. If they don't like it, I'll be eating rice and beans for the rest of the year" joked the affable Swiss. His forthcoming far smaller B10 is already booked for a review appearance in these pages later in the year. After the show he confirmed that his Chinese clients were duly impressed so his diet this year will be beans in style (I suggested a red wine goes well with that). Levity aside, make no mistake, this man is one of the most out-of-the-box thinkers on speaker design working today.
Best Sound of Show? It woulda coulda been if this 500cc V-twin Indian Scout 741B built in 1943 had been roaring. Did you know that audiomaniac Harvey 'Gizmo' Rosenberg had bought the Indian Motorcycle brand with plans to resurrect it before it was sold to a conglomerate? Gizmo would have appreciated this motorcycle parked downstairs in Ludwig Beck whose top floor houses Europe's largest classical CD emporium (being possibly biggest too for Jazz and World Music) where you can listen to every CD over headphones undisturbed. Needless to say I walked off with a solid stack. Those exhibitors wondering where I was Saturday now know the sad truth. My music addiction drove me downtown.
Cessaro's big Gamma I with P8 bass horns was another horn/valve system but to my ears bested by both Tune Audio and Musique Concrete. Even so the emotional over mental appeal of this approach remained to suggest that if implemented competently, tubes + horns make for predictable results in this regard. Given size involved, an obvious challenge are cosmetics. Here the French Grande Castine speaker had all hornspeakers at the show beat.
Crystal Cable showed two new Arabesque speakers, a small two-way monitor and a slim 3-way tower both in aluminum rather than glass like the flagship. The monitor is priced at half of Magico's new Q1. Devialet's D-Premier provided the power. Because our review covered this French amp in full detail, it's not listed separately here. Otherwise it would deserve a rare standout mention for unique technology solutions.
EBTB or Everything But The Box for short had the new Terra III, Subterranean II and Luna models. Where other aluminators like YG Acoustics, Magico, Stenheim and Crystal Cable charge the long green for paneled metal speakers, the Bulgarians give you curvaceously cast enclosures for comparable peanuts. The Luna is €1.000/pr, the Terra III €2.200/pr. The big spherical powered subwoofer with additional amplifiers for the monitors is €3.400 to make a complete system minus source and cables. A review will be forthcoming.

Elrog is the brand name for new 845 and 211 tubes made in Germany. Stefan Noll and Thomas Deyerling of the German Cayin company are involved. These bottles were active in the Voxativ exhibit where Inès Adler showed her new and gratuitously priced quadratic Ampeggio Due single-driver horns with field-coil motors. For the same fiscal rather than performance reason, SoundStage singled out the same speaker in their 'worst of Munich' mentions. Even veteran showgoers with a good grasp on business realities do expect a bit of applied sanity in the raw cost-to-make to retail price conversion process.

Färber Acoustic Art showed their Equilibrium 3 hornspeakers which combine an 18" woofer with a coaxial spherical horn made from natural stone and copper Karlson coupler for the tweeter.
Gato Audio's young but very accomplished owners showed a 'nearly finished' CD player with 24/192 USB input together with their existing Amp 150 we already reviewed. Naturally there also were their own speakers and cables. In the high-performance smart audio category with upscale lifestyle cosmetics perhaps no recent brand launch is as impressive as this. A complete system review is planned already.
HifiMan's Fang Bian was on hand to introduce his new HE-500 headphones and EF-6 amplifier which will not only drive his orthodynamic headphones but regular loudspeakers as well.
Mårten Design was showing off their new Coltrane II speakers and M-Amp class D amps with massive linear power supplies and proprietary switching analog output stage. Class D stalwart Bel Canto Design focused on value isn't big enough to author their own class D modules. They instead leave the expensive engineering to Bang & Olufsen to surround their ICEpower boards with proprietary input stages and power supplies. With 550w into 8Ω and 1.700 into 2Ω, the Swedish speaker company around Leif Olofsson similarly collaborated for their new and very expensive amps with Patrik Bostrom. Just how far their design diverges from Abletec's OEM modules is unknown but they do discard the stock SMPS in favor of linear power supplies.
Melody Valve Hifi is finally bringing their new line to Europe and America. The MN845 is a push/pull mono beast producing 150 watts of class A power from a quartet of 845s driven from one 2A3 with a 6SN7 input tube.
Metal Sound Design from Korea had their futuristic Moon II and Rhea speakers on static display. Their electronics look fit for Dubai.
Musique Concrete premiered the finalized version of their time-aligned 3-way Grande Castine hornspeakers I previewed here last year. The new infra sub is no longer based on planar technology but uses a custom open-backed 36-inch dynamic driver with 100g of moving mass.

NuForce previewed their new Icon iDo and P-18 preamp. "The Icon iDo extracts audio data in its digital USB Host Mode form from an iPod/iPad/iPhone via analog RCA, coaxial digital and 3.5mm headphone outputs. The estimated list price will be between $249 and $299. Housed in one 17" chassis, the low-noise high-performance P-18 preamplifier improves upon the P-9 preamp with ultra low THD+N (<0.0004%), a switch resistor network volume control and independent gain settings for each input. The P-18's estimated list price will be about $4.800."

Onix showed with a pair of hornspeakers whose providence my quick entrance didn't register.
QAT had shown in Munich for the last 4 years but never had a can-do European sales manager. With Vital Gbezo no longer with Emillé, this has now changed. Western opportunities for this Chinese maker of high-quality music servers have opened up. A review of their smaller 1TB MS5 is planned.
Reimyo by Combak/Harmonix introduced a new transistor power amp and a (sub)woofer base for their small monitor speaker.
Silbatone Acoustics showed can't-buy vintage hornspeakers just because. While many attendees pronounced this the real sound which no contemporary hifi approaches, I had to disagree. Whilst impressive in its own right, I'd take a modern Tune Audio system any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Vintage fetishism à la Quad simply eludes me I guess. Still, kudos to the company for embracing the expense and effort to educate us about the very real accomplishments of the past.
Stenheim from Switzerland believes that visible fasteners on expensive aluminum speakers anywhere are a no-no. Given the back sides of Magico and YG Acoustics I'd fully concur. The Swiss Alumine monitor just gained a matching woofer stand.

Teac showed two new upscale stacks/systems whose styling suggests that the Esoteric brand which formerly acted as an independent entity under its own management has since been fully absorbed by the mothership. The top Teac CD player for example reads SACD and enjoys a 24/192 asynchronous USB input yet sells for pennies compared to Esoteric's K-01 flagship. But Esoteric too had novelties. There was a new class D integrated of proprietary analog switching design with linear power supply fitted into the C-03 chassis; and a traditional stereo amplifier.

Thrax from Bulgaria showed their 70-watt class A1 tube monos where two SET amps are paralleled out of phase. The company uses iron from SAC Thailand, Hashimoto, Lundahl, Plitron and Tamura. Having already reviewed their Dionysos valve preamp with transformer volume control here, I've signed up for the shunt-regulated Spartacus monos with their mighty Emission Labs 520 bottles, Tamura interstage transformer and PX25 driver. Most valve audio today is a rehash of vintage circuits. The Audiopax Maggiore 100 is different. The Thrax Spartacus seems too.

Trafomatic Audio showed what looked as though my Kaivalya monos had been at it for offspring but really was their Experience Head One headphone/preamp in upscale trim.
Tune Audio showed their Anima 3-way horns with active Pulse horn-loaded subwoofer. Electronics were by Stavros Danos of Aries Cerat, cables by Nicholas Korakakis of Signal Projects. This was my favorite system by far. It was wildly impractical and desirous of space and funds I don't have of course. But that's the fun of attending shows. One makes encounters of the 4th kind which, though short-lived, confirm what's achievable to reset personal goals at home. I'd been impressed with Tune Audio already at their first showing during the Athens hifi show. In a rather larger space in Munich this first impression merely compounded. Best Sound of the Show? From what I heard—which was a small fraction—absolutely.
Vivid Audio showed their smaller Giya Series G2 announced in Joël Chevassus' excellent factory tour report. Just as EBTB does with molded aluminum clam shells in Bulgaria, Vivid does in South Africa with composites. These firms rather make boxy speakers no matter what material they're constructed of look so very yesterday and primitive.
Weiss showed their MAN202 server as a proponent of the argument that audiophile servers have a future. Folks like myself who successfully use an iMac with outboard DAC and backup hard drive are more doubtful but only the future will show how this segment will shake out.
Zu wasn't at the show but I met their new VP of Everything Simon Matanle who is headquartered out of the UK. Relieving Sean Casey of sales, marketing and anything else not to do with product engineering or production issues, Simon has become the new go-to man for all international Zu distributors. The company is now fully committed to a global presence.

As you'll agree, the above wasn't the usual show report. We'll have those from and That's simply not why I went this time. Even so I couldn't help taking some photos. Old habits die hard. Those pix shyly asked to be publicized. With the provided links you're all set to research 30-some products and companies which struck me as interesting without taking further notes.

This 2011 installment of Europe's biggest most important show was bigger than in years past and the general mood seemed quite upbeat. Though the high-end sector is infamous for repackaging tried-and-true solutions under the guise of new and improved, Devialet's D-Premier in particular proved that technological new ground remains to be conquered. Because show impressions are notoriously non-representational of what products will really sound like in a controlled environment, many of the above products will eventually make proper formal appearances in these pages to provide you with useful rather than arbitrary sonic commentary. Some will even be accompanied by factory tours...