Munich High End Audio Show 2016 report - critical rant

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” - Abraham Lincoln.

Saying that high-end audio industry is dying after seeing all the brands and magnitue of the new products at the Munich High End Audio Show 2016 would be the act of insanity :). Well of sort… Its clear, that our industry is shifting from the traditional path to the “upgraded” luxury dealings. More and more manufacturer are putting heck a lot of efforts into the product design/finish as well to bring up their product to the better quality level. The sad part is that while aesthetics are being refined, mandatory needed focus on the state of the art musical reproduction is drifting away. 

Audiophile pin point focus on certain sound preference seems to be become a leading trend going hand in hand with the luxurious looks and design direction. While cruising through the “Messe” the general attention was more dragged to the captivating looks rather then instantly locking with the music. Quite few people stopped me and comment… “Are we in the right show” :). Luckily there are still some of the manufacturer willing to stick with the musical DNA as forte, but the general leitmotiv was too obvious. 

In the era where younger generation comes impacted from the early age with the refined computer and mobile phones industrial design perfected aesthetics, its hard for them to justify many of the products being of high-end origin without high-end quality and performance. They are constantly exposed to the distinctive and beautiful  industrial design and its hard to convince them in the long run about the inner hearth quality without the proper “packaging”. We desperately need that younger generation to both see and hear the value of real high-end audio and not the pace that create even more niche, close minded market. I could be the biggest sucker on the planet, but I do believe how high-quality music reproduction can affect younger crowds and give them something of higher value. 

On the other hand we’re witnessing another critical “mass” of people stepping over. These upper echelon class is being used to the luxury products for years and comes with even more judgmental mind set. 

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Upper echelon customers are coming from completely different plane. Being real connoisseurs of finer things of life makes them natural critics. They can spot the “fraud” from the distance and being exposed to the real luxurious items for years, for them being highly critical is without second guessing especially with expensive products that they’re committing to. 

The biggest mistake that many, even biggest and long standing high-end audio brands are making is labeling such wealthy people with the restless money spending label. Putting the main land China bling spending customer on the same boat as Hong-Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand kind of high-ender is the worst mistake some of top tiers did and still do. You will offend these people for a lifetime and loose valuable former or possible ecustomer that would usually become a brand ambassador and stay loyal to the brand for a lifetime.

Point? For now let me restrain without going into the mentioning  of the specific brands, but this just might come up in my future writings at one point. I don’t even want to count again how many of these ardent music lovers and audiophiles (in the best sense of the word) were disgusted and left down with many brand’s attitude towards them. Imagine a customer, being uber fan of the speaker manufacturer... He paid his own airplane ticket as well all costs involved to visit his beloved brand and meet with the maker(s). Now, reality strikes in. Expected experience turns into the complete nightmare. Instead of making the owners even prouder and more happy, they've created their own worst enemies. Nobody actually really cared and dedicated their time for this particular visitor. Why should they, right!? Money was already spent and let them just move to the next well standing sucker. The result? First day when they’ve hit the home ground you can guess what instantly went on the second hand market, even by loosing a lot of money with the quick sale. They don’t care anymore. Magnitude is the same to the  the level of high-end audio manufacture care for them. Period! On top of this,  instantly the word is out about “special and friendly” service where CEO, iconic designers etc. couldn’t event spare 3-5 minutes to meet the customer who spent six digits and more with the product. I’m writing about this a too many people told me about exact same experience in private conversations.  

All in all. Our industry urgently needs standardization of sort, that other branches are embraced and practice for decades and more. Not only for customer service, quality of product, certification etc… We need to create a objective level of the high-end reference level awareness, where buyer actually gets what he pays for. In car audio industry, for example you know clearly how it feels when driving with V6 or V12 under the hood. In our industry high-end audio performance should be taken for granted if the manufacturer tells you so. Well, that's  a perfect business plan that might worked for some, but let me tell you that such easy going customers are becoming a very rare species and people . Demanding and well based people I’ve talked to regarding this bad issue are coming from the top positions in other industries. Thats tells a lot… If not all that matters.

On the record. Of course the subject matter of this rant is touchy and of intimate nature, closely connected with the end buyer free will and personal "taste" about the product. They have they free will to buy any darn thing they want to. Still… We need to establish the reference level of musical reproduction where products and audio systems really deserves the high-end audio designation. So many systems at Munich Audio Show 2016 sounded completely alienated from the music,  pointing towards certain idea of the sound and pushing forward manufacture's own idea regarding the musical reproduction.

We have great selection recordings of real, live, un-amplified acoustical music as well as ardent concert goers. Taking these attributes for a critical judging is something that can be of objective criticism. In not so far future Mono & Stereo staff will focus on this values, differentiating the real world product and so called wanna be system and products.

I believe that our industry was laughing stock for to many years and its about time that we actually do something about it. For High-End Audio manufactures that wants to take their brand into the future and keep their presence in industry, there should really be no excuses. Real story of success begins with the packing, manuals, design etc. up to the premium aesthetic and most importantly musical potency. Proper balanced is needed and everything matters. 

In upcoming years such positive end user friendly attitude and dedication for the real quality products will be the key turning point. Setting apart weeds from the real gems will become mandatory and self evident. This transitional path is brining THE changes… 

Let me stop my rant and move on… For now... More articles and hands on report from Munich High End Audio Show 2016 are coming soon. Stay tuned!

Text: Matej Isak