Munich High End Audio Show 2016 Report

Matej Isak's Munich High End Audio Show 2016 Report...
With all of the meetings planned for this year’s Munich High End Audio show, as well with meeting Mono & Stereo’s international crew and spending some quality time with them, I’ve tried to squeeze in as much listening time on the first day as possible, with some additional drop-ins on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Normally I would do my first round on the opening day and return for the serious re-listening on Saturday by which time systems usually have settled in and show a much different picture then during the first few hours of play. Some brands always try to set the systems up before the opening, but most of them are ready just in time for the opening of the show.
It is what it is and I’ll try to convey my thoughts in the best way.  For starters this is for sure my favorite high-end audio show and as most of the attendees of the shows around the world agree that Munich has become the epicenter of our industry. There are many reasons surrounding this fact, but let me leave that for a separate article in due time.
The show was an unquestionable success, and a true Mecca for audiophiles and music lovers. If you’re in our beloved industry this is the place to be.
High End Audio reproduction is still purely subjective and anyone can freely pursue his own personal preferred sonic goal.  At the end each and everyone will have to reach relatively deep into their pockets to realize their dream components and envision a complete audio system.
Still -- at the end of the day -- my quest is focused on the sheer reality of the illusion:  not the details, not the transparency, not this or that pin-point attribute or specific characteristic.  The first and foremost objective and reference remains to create the sound of real acoustic instruments and human voices in real acoustical spaces.  With that premise, and with some mileage earned and clear listening experiences enjoyed, let us see which systems most vividly achieved this goal.
As our two Senior Contributing Writers already covered some of the rooms I’ll try to focus on the highlights for me and my personal favorites.


Trafomatic Audio’s new Elysium power amplifiers made a stir even before Munich show with the initial announcement of their debut.  For sure the show conditions were not the best possible to host these grand system, but one could really “decipher” their combined potency. I’ll go more in depth in due time when the Elysium arrives here for test and review, but there was something special about them which still lingers with me.


Massimiliano, Franco Serblin’s son-in-law who took over the legacy of Franco Serblin speakers, finally revealed the third speaker. Now, this is embodiment of pure Italian aura and beauty. What is there to complain about?  They are superb looking small monitor speakers which instantly lock into the music, and at a price point below the Accordo.


It was a pleasure to finally meet Larry from MSB and I am always happy to see Frank. Frank is the guy you call to set up the system and play THE MUSIC.
This year MSB partnered with Stereokonzept speakers from Germany.  As usual Frank performed his magic and the sound coming from these small floorstanders was captivating and alive.
I wish more companies had such a dedicated and hard-working gentleman who actually cares for how things sound at the show.


I never heard Wilson Audio Alexia speakers sounding the way they’ve sounded when paired with these new Ypsilon power amplifiers. These 60k power amplifiers pack silver-wired power transformers! Actually, I never heard Wilson Audio speakers performing this well. This was one of the most positive surprises of the show and I really want to dig deeper into this Greek brand.  I am always happy when I’m surprised like this and things are already in motion to visit Greece with our Senior Contributing Writer Ahmet Kip. Stay tuned.


Another pleasant surprise of the Munich High End Audio Show 2016 was the latest flagship from Swiss high-end audio speaker manufacturer Soundkaos. One could hear them at both HifiDeluxe at the Marriot (with Grandinote) and in the Hall over at the MOC. I’m a fan of dipole and ribbon speaker designs and from the first note the familiar, open, natural sound kicked in. 
Soundkaos Liberation speakers were not only very different sounding compared to most setups at the show, but also their looks were completely different, recalling the iconic designs from the post-war era with an art noir/art deco spirit.  Photos really do not show them at their best, as the gold textile cover masks their real beauty in the difficult lighting conditions. Martin will send a pair later this year and I’m really looking forward to exploring their capabilities in my own listening room.


Kronos turntables seems to be spreading around the world like a positive analog “virus” : ).  Louis Desjardins must be one of the hardest-working people in our industry, constantly traveling around the world and installing his proud creations. The Kronos turntable had a phenomenal presence at the Munich High End Audio Show 2016. 

Louis Desjardins, CEO and Founder at Kronos Audio, revealed the new, optional SCPS-1 D.C. Accumulator Power Supply upgrade for the Kronos Pro turntable. This new addition to the Kronos Pro turntable can literally isolate motor from the noisy main power grid via its capacitor banks.  This power supply is not battery operated, but it powers the turntable from one capacitor bank while the other capacitor bank is being charged, and it switches between them.


Natural Sound revealed their new Natural Sound 1 field coiled speakers at HifiDeluxe in the Marriot Hotel. Powered by the legendary Maxonic drivers and exciters they’ve captured the minds of many SET enthusiasts.  A beautiful Indian Apple veneer high-polished luxury finish adds to the unique aura and value, and instantly elevates them to a precious, timeless throne.  For sure thay are not everyone’s taste, but those who recognized their potency were mesmerized by the sound and returned a few times to listen.  The Natural Sound 1 speaker project was designed with help from independent acoustic designer Miro Krajnc, also known for his work for Ubiq Audio and as the owner of SoulSonic Speakers.


Viva Audio presented at Hifideluxe in the Marriot Hotel their all new Viva Audio Nuda four-way speaker system. This EUR 79,000,00 horn speaker implements 1 x 15“ woofer, 1 x 8” midbass with wood horn, 1 x compression driver with wood horn and 1 x Ring supertweeter with crossover points at 140Hz, 600Hz and 16kHz.
The Viva Nuda system includes a fully adjustable frequency section and dedicated bass amplification. By request they can provide a dedicated three channel amplifier, based on their Aurora monoblocks.
Like with the Credenaza and MasterHorn systems, the Viva Audio Nuda horn system shares the same audio DNA, which can instantly embrace your musical inner clock, where you forget about the music and the world around.
Export retail for this system is EUR 79,000.00, including a bass amplifier and passive crossovers.


This was the first room I rushed into for many reasons. Many of us were thrilled to experience hands-on the latest and greatest from this German company. Zellaton managed to capture the minds of many music lovers over the past years at the Munich show, and this was the world premiere of their all-new Zellaton Statement reference flagship speakers. I was smitten by their presence at first sight. Hands down, for me, without second thoughts, the Statements were the best-looking speakers at the Munich High End Audio Show.  Period!

The Zellaton Statements are a 300.000 EUR three-way speaker project that includes mixtures of different, highly-selected materials for the enclosure. The Statements had a genuine Rolls-Royce paint that uses a special protective coating material to prevent scratching and to ensure longevity.

I’ve had time to listen to only two songs on the first day right at the beginning of the show, before running to the next demos. Still, I could sense the potency of the speakers as Gideon played two unfamiliar songs for me at lower, down to earth volume.  The sound was very different from the past two years as the Zellaton flagships were paired with another ultra-exotic product – an amplifier from Germany – the Franz de Wit.  At their size I do believe that a bigger room is mandatory to show their full potential.  My meetings kept me longer then I wanted on Saturday and Sunday, so I cannot add to these initial impressions, but the great news is that I’ll have a chance to explore these stellar creations in depth when I visit Audioarts in New York later this year.  Of course, a write-up will follow thereafter.

Without a doubt these gorgeous-looking speakers show how our industry slowly but surely is moving into the luxury realm and the upper echelon plane, where much more attributes are perfected (fit, finish, materials) and where money needs to be justified on many levels.


Living Voice Vox Palladium’s, new “baby” version of the Vox Olympian flagship speaker system was revealed and premiered in Munich along with the Vox Elysian powered subwoofer system. As usual Kevin firmly trusts the Audio Note Japan - Kondo electronics for the matching partners. Year after year, I’m more and more convinced that Kevin is actually building these speakers for his enjoyment and others just follows.  With Living Voice Palladium he managed to encapsulate the engulfing sound that crosses over to the musical world effortlessly.  We are always exposed to the unknown in show conditions, but with the acoustic recordings of small ensembles, piano, voice and chamber ensembles the sound never became generic. The Living Voice Vox Palladium shows core values of the music with inspiring ease with the right source material.


Sound Galleries presentation of SGM 2015 at the BMW Welt showed great potency and the clear direction of contemporary digital audio.  The high-end audio industry is finally taking music servers seriously and the Sound Galleries SGM 2015 comes as a great ambassador of this growing trend.

Along with my analog soft spot I’m also an avid digital geek, closely following its growth from early 1980s.  Digital audio momentum is finally in its full bloom with products like the SGM 2015, focusing both on technical advancement and on the end-user experience while embracing the uncompromised sound performance.

I was really impressed with all of the efforts with the organization of the SGM 2015 world premiere. It was not easy to set up everything perfectly as the room was huge and was filled with a crowd of fifty people from the industry. So, putting everyone at the sweet spot and offering the optimal sitting position, was out of the question. Still, this was a great opportunity to learn about the new Sound Galleries music server and to get a good glimpse of its sonic ability.

Due so many unknown factors its hard for me to pin down its exact sonic attributes, but it was possible to peek into what clearly is the great potential of the SGM 2015.

Stay tuned for more where, in due time, I’ll try to elaborate in-depth about my hands on personal experience and come to a conclusion about its exact sonic virtues.


Finishing just prior to Munich show the first part of my Trinnov ST2 system review got me curious to hear the Vivid Audio Giya G2 speakers driven by the Trinnov digital system in person.  As I’ve written in my preview, the Trinnov team is doing something right in the digital audio domain as I’m finally discovering DSP and room correction which is not intrusive after decades of experimentation. There is no doubt that digital audio is coming of age with faster and more complex DSP algorithms, and that the usual listening fatigue and digititis is finally being reduced by improved digital aliasing, with over-processed sound becoming less and less in the way of the music.


This was my last stop before running to the car. This combination was sounding very similar to what I’ve described in my review of the Boenicke Audio W5 speakers:
Speakers are last in the system chain and our closest messengers of beloved audio material being transported towards the listener. Its always about the real, unspoiled interaction between the performer and listener. Without the emotional energy exchange what good any speakers can do in their primal role.
I can clearly relate to the similar feather-light sense and transfer of musical energy. It was the first time I was exposed to CAD digital electronics and I can understand why they’re embraced by those who are seeking the natural side of musical reproduction which is closer to the analog realm and further from an overblown and artificial DAC sound.


At the Sheraton Hotel, some 15 minutes away from the MOC, Ubiq Audo was showing their latest version of the Model One speakers.  The New Special Edition version comes with a Duelund capacitors upgrade and a few refining design updates. Ubiq Audio also revealed a full range of new products. More info to follow soon . . .


Audio Alto also presented their fully-developed system at the Sheraton Hotel.

Let me quote our Senior Contributing Reviewer Ron Resnick who summarized very nicely his experience:
The proprietor is Saša Burian, a very friendly fellow who has been designing audio equipment for decades. His speaker system, the AA 5K, is a unique design of modular, building-block, configuration. The speaker can be composed of one or more wide frequency range air motion drivers which cover 700 Hz to 20 kHz; one or more upper bass drivers; one or more woofers; and one or more subwoofers. (For both the upper bass module and the woofer module Saša uses the exact same driver; he simply changes the crossover frequency.) The finish on the exterior of the modules was of a very high caliber. A variety of cabinet finishes are available.
I wondered if, by assembling a tall vertical stack of these modules –- placing more modules one on top of another than Saša shows in the photos on his website –- we could create a speaker with the height of the tallest state-of-the-art speaker systems, and achieve some of the scale and sound-staging advantages of those systems, at a fraction of the price of those systems. Could we use these Audio Alto speaker modules to build a “poor man’s” Raidho D-5.1, for example?
The complete article is here: link.


Right before the Munich Show I completed my review of the Diapason flagship speakers here.  The Diapason Dynamis system has shown a sensible portion of what I’ve been exposed to in my review/listening time.

I was really surprised by the Van den Hull power amplifiers and preamplifiers when I heard them first time at Diapason’s HQ and they really pair in great synergy with Dynamis speakers. It must be related to the Alessandro and Van den Hull decades-long friendship and their sharing of similar preferences in sound reproduction.


Thrax Audio is conquering a not so small portion of the high-end audio market. Thrax is the brainchild of Rumen Artarski -- aka “Cesar.”  Rumen is a real entrepreneur with a completely different mind set and operations facilities which give Thrax an unprecedented advantage. They have the rare advantage of having all R&D as well as manufacturing done in-house.

The all-new 100kg+ Thrax Bassus subwoofer system comes as a matching partner for the Thrax Lyra speakers.  The new Lyra-Bassus speaker system achieves seamless locking between Lyra and Bassus and the distinctive brand’s sound DNA that always focuses on the music’s speed and musicality.  I’ll try to explore this system in due time and go more in-depth.

The Thrax room at the show was one of the most dedicated in terms of it acoustics and looks. Yes, it takes time and a lot of effort, but do you really want to miss the best chance to sound good at the world’s most important high-end audio show?


Angel Despotov’s Analog Domain amplifiers are steady show contenders. This year Analog Domain partnered with all-new Marten Mingus Quintet speakers.  It was the first time I’ve heard Martens transferring the musical energy with objective virtues.  There is no doubt that Analog Domain was guilty of the crime : ) by injecting life, control, weight and contour that is usually missing.


Backes & Muller might not be so well-known in the global market, but their market presence was always very strong in the German market. This year they showed both BM 35 active floor-stander speakers and smaller Backes & Muller BM 20 speakers.  Both presented nice involving sounds with spot-on timbre.  The BM 35 system was just a bit too powerful and mighty for the room, but their smaller brothers found better balance.


The Gryphon Audio Kodo speaker system sets another milestone in the history of the iconic high-end audio company from Denmark.

These are Gryphon’s biggest speakers ever, and the Kodo name reflects clearly the massiveness and delicacy of the legendary Japanese traditional drum. The Tweeter and mid-driver tower comes as a stacked system consisting of three modules.
The Kodo’s cabinets are made from MDF covered by aluminum side panels, and buyers can order any colour combination.  The Kodo bass towers are powered by 1000 watt dedicated power amplifiers, and volume can be set by remote control.  The bass towers can go down to an impressive 6hz. With sensitivity of 96db the Kodos can be driven by even a low-powered amplifier.
I would really love to explore Flemming’s latest creation in a dedicated listening room.


I felt lucky to return to the Vitus Audio room just at the right time.  At a customer’s request Vitus Audio’s mighty amplifier was paired with the Göbel High End speakers. This was a rare and more than interesting/unexpected combination and this setup kept many demanding ears engaged for prolonged listening.
I’ve been bitten by the Vitus back when I heard the Vitus Audio Master Class connected with the Avantgarde Acoustics horn speakers where it finally clicked for me. In a similar way my inner clock was instantly readjusted when Göbel High End speakers were paired with Vitus electronics.


If Manuel Huber appears for the show it is always pleasure to see him and to listen to his charismatic presentation. Manuel really loves music and he encapsulates his life-long enthusiasm and know-how into his products.

For this year FM Acoustics prepared the all-new FM 123 De Click De Clacker phono stage. This is a trickle-down version of the unique feature from their reference phono stage. For people with large collections of vinyl records this opens up the door to 80 percent of the performance from the bigger brother at a much more affordable price.


As usual CH Precision electronics were playing with Vivid Audio speakers. They have become steady partners along with a TechDAS analog front-end and the complete system always renders the music with great transparency, detail and an absence of the sound being glued to the speakers.
CH Precision revealed its new I1 100 watt per channel integrated amplifier acting as a one box music hub with both digital and analog inputs and preamplifier out. You can add phono and streaming options and, with the phono upgrade, one can actually have three phono inputs!
Florian told me that they didn’t want to do any compromises and that the I1 is a full-blooded CH Precision product with the same uncompromising performance as their separate models. As such it is priced accordingly at approximately 27.000 EUR.


One of the other rooms that offered a pleasing aesthetic and large drool factor was the Kaiser Kawero - Audio Note Japan Kondo joint venture.  I am not sure of the exact price for the whole system, but I’m sure that all the electronics alone would hit the half-million spot.  This German and Japanese high-end audio extravagance for sure satisfied many of the attendees.

The room was a bit too big to handle the lower frequencies in a balanced way, but there were a lot of common points seamlessly integrated coming from both brands with many virtues of the sound performance proving great synergy. Some power reserve was lacking to drive the Classics to their full potential. Nevertheless, for many it was just a grand treat to experience this ultra-exotic setup and to get a greater glimpse into the sonic DNA of both companies.


Italian connection. Diesis Audio and Angstrom Research partnered for this Munich show, although with a silent display. Since many people asked me more about both brands we’ll do a joint presentation in the Mono and Stereo manor premises in an upcoming month. Stay tuned . . .


Meeting the good, positive folks from The Bespoke Audio Company is always a pleasant treat. Their passive preamplifier already is found in many happy homes where passive transfer of the gain makes sense and is matched by the source and power amplifier.  As I’ve described in my review, The Bespoke Audio Company preamplifier works more like a gear box transmission of the energy than in a typical way of dealing with gain through active stages. Where applicable, this preamplifier encapsulates the meaning of the meaning of the straight wire gain in the best way.

This is another exemplary company which always puts customers as its first and foremost priority and their hard work and dedication reflects their ongoing success and presence.


This is another company whose products proudly carry the “Made In Germany” imprint.  The fit and finish of the Göbel High End Epoque Reference speakers is immaculate and impeccable, and one glance at their new bass tower subwoofers in pearl white finish was love at first sight : ).

This year Göbel High End partnered with CH Precision electronics...


Daniela Manger is one of the rare female CEOs in our business. Her positive attitude and dedication to the brand is really exemplary. Manger speakers are recognized for their unique transducers, and many speaker companies implement this unique twin voice coils system into their speakers.

Manger actively displayed the Manger Z1 two-way monitor speakers and florstanders which presented the brand’s renewed audio DNA and star-shaped speakers.


Artesania Audio is already a steady partner of many high-end audio exhibitors. In just few years Cayetano Castellano managed to penetrate the very closed audio rack market with his unique and stand-out rack system. Cayetano has shown me a very interesting new product, but more on that soon.  Artesania is also developing a special turntable stand for the new upcoming TechDAS reference turntable.  That is quite a complement!


I had a quick chance to greet Vincent Brient from Totaldac. As mandatory Totaldac is partnered with Voxativ and, this year, Totaldac was acting as the main digital front end for the €88k Voxativ Ampeggio Due speakers.

I positively blame Vincent and his Totaldac as a strong influence which restored my interest in digital audio with his discrete R2R DAC. Sigma Delta never involved me in prolonged listening, but what I heard instantly within the first few tracks pushed me back to the digital world.


This was another room which featured both Wilson Audio Alexia speakers and a Kronos turntable. It was great to finally meet Matthieu Latour, Nagra’s Marketing Director, and René Laflamme, Mastering Engineer, at 2xhd mastering who also acts as Nagra’s digital consultant.

Both vinyl and R2R analog sources were used to present this legendary and iconic all-Swiss system.  I am set for a Nagra factory visit with Matthieu at the time of the Montreux Jazz Festival in late July.  Yeah!
Nagra is one of the high-end audio companies where you always know exactly what to expect sonically, technically and visually.


One of the systems that really needs a warm embrace was based around Vandersteen 5A Carbon speakers. Nothing ultra ground-shaking, but hearing them just felt right and in sync with the musical flow.  It was a stable and balanced performance.


Magico presented their all new Magico S5 MK II speakers which were mated with the full-blown Constellation electronics. Open, transparent and dynamic sound seemed to settle in during the first few hours of the show.

Initially I only had a chance to audition them quickly and to greet Alon Wolf, but I failed to return during the last two days due my hectic schedule.  In the back of my mind my constant contemplation “program” was repeating itself.  I need to hear S5 MK II speakers paired with MSB power amplifiers. I do hope this comes to fruition at some point.


This was really an eclectic mix of exotic high-end audio gear.  This European combo created a passionate reproduction with a fundamentally different sonic outcome.  Knut “grabbed” me at the hall when we saw each other for the first time and said: “You need to at least hear one or two songs” and I was happy to indulge in a listening.  The sound was as colorful and avant-garde as Akira Kurosawa’s dreams.


It is clear that the main sound orientation of the industry points towards the uber open, transparent, fast sound that is trying very hard to make speaker drivers disappear from their enclosures. We can be only lucky that the majority of these “stand outs” are not powered by any variation of Class D amplification, as I’m sure not everyone would enjoy the endless shower of squelching highs.  

Still, I do think we came to the point where new technologies are making valuable contributions to the industry and to the sound.  Speaker manufacturers are trying to push the limits of broader frequency range as well as implement drivers that offer as little as possible of their own sonic characters. On the other side high-end audio electronics brands are pushing the dynamic range up to the 170 dB level and more, and in this way are trying to offer an uncompressed and as natural a dynamic sound as possible.

Now is the time to understand the technologies in the right way and to find the proper balance between the high-end audio products. We have a crazy amount of gear being ready to be paired and I do believe that one of the biggest problems we’re facing is finding the proper balance between high-end audio components.

So, being critical for the sake of criticism makes no sense. I really wish for the prosperity and longevity of our beloved industry as a close connection with the music, musical reproduction and all the high-end audio paraphernalia is a real luxury. Unlike any other industry branch high-end audio operates in the intimate realms where the real high-end audio reproduction can and should affect the listener with something that goes beyond typical sensual enjoyment.  Music is such a precious gift given to us and on the ultimate plane affects our whole being unlike any other sensual exposure.

Year by year science is still discovering new and intriguing findings, and one of the latest was a discovery of the dedicated center for music in the brain. Without going much into a philosophical mood swing, I want to point out the importance of the treasures that our niche industry can carry.  Beyond business models and making sure we can all pay our bills we’re dealing with something so profoundly different and precious, that it should matter to all of us.

It is my goal and personal quest to connect more intimately all segments of the industry and to highlight the cultural and humanistic aspect of high-end and ultra high-end audio reproduction. Yes, at the end of the day we can do some good beyond just business.  I’ve had this discussion on multiple occasions with people from the industry and mostly all of them feel the same way.

Music can touch us so deeply and create an emotional bond that lasts for a lifetime. Along with keeping the industry running the broader focus should be to try to expose and reveal the real epicenter of high performance and high-end audio to more people outside of the typical circles. This will connect more people with high-end audio musical reproduction and open up new markets.

In a way Munich High End Audio Show 2016 comes both as blessing and a curse.  As with most things in life one can witness both sides, the positive one and the not-so-inspiring negative one. In all of the abundance of the industry one can always find a not so small number of companies which see the high-end audio industry as a way to cash in quickly. In reality such brands have the lifespan of Mayflies. Still there are people that got hurt financially and lose faith in the industry.

As shown by a few manufacturers investing in demo room acoustics brings formidable results. Spending so much money to cover the rental costs of the room along with the rest of the costs of the show and then to have disappointing sound due to inadequate acoustic treatment is just simply wrong and pure nonsense. I have been trying to emphasize the importance of the Munich High End Show for years, and the importance of proper room installations to achieve good sound. The Munich Show has become a global hub for the entire industry, connecting manufacturers, distributors, dealers and end-users. Many of the visitors come a long way from across the world to hear/experience products and setups that are normally out of demoing reach. By not putting efforts into making a good sounding room and making sure that all the surrounding paraphernalia is on the proper level is consequential.  Many exhibitors understand this.

The high-end audio audience is becoming more and more demanding and critical with each passing year. With the sky-high pricing that has hit our niche industry the expectations are also becoming uberly high. As I’ve written in my article here-link article, people that can actually spend so much money are entering this “hobby” with a specific set of rules.  And let me assure you -- their demands are of the highest level and there are less and less suckers each year.

It was great to see and hear so many products on active and silent displays. The industry is alive and well with an abundance of gear, and I’m sure that everyone found something that suit his/her personal taste and system.

To end in a positive mood, I’m more than happy to see some of the companies pushing hard the agenda of brand importance, quality of products, real technology being implemented, investing in R&D and, most importantly, the awareness of customer satisfaction being the most important thing. Unhappy customers will cause more damage to a brand than most of the brands can imagine and in such close circles word spreads around like a virus not only among the audiophiles and music lovers, but as well throughout the distribution chain.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to see all of you in the rooms, during presentations, in the halls, in the corridors and over at the restaurants.  I’m sorry for not being able to fulfill all of the planned activities, spending more time for  friendly chats and prolonged listening sessions.  Even five full days is too short a period in which to make it all happen, and I’m still affected by the Munich High End Audio momentum.

As soon as Munich High End Audio Show 2016 is finished, the mechanics of the 2017 installment are set in motion. Rumors about BMW taking over the Messe landscape seem to be finally dismissed. The Munich High End Show phenomena is not repeatable as there is no other place that can host the event in a similar way. I really hope it stays like this for years to come. . .
More to come soon. . . 

Matej Isak - Mono and Stereo CEO, Owner, Founder, Editor-in-Chief - email