HIGH END Munich 2019
The Renegade HiFiDeluxe Show
Depending upon whom you ask, it is either the show for the serious listener (the rooms seem much more audio friendly than most of the cabins at the MOC), or just a less costly, more off-the-beaten-path destination for vendors who can't otherwise obtain a room at the MOC (there is a LONG waiting list), capitalizing on Munich High End's monstrously large crowds.
Regardless of your take, I've been a fan of Alsyvox loudspeakers since I first heard them here some two years ago now. Designed by Daniele Coen, an Italian Aerospace Engineer, the Alsyvox speakers are hand-crafted. The most critical components are made in-house, while other parts are sourced from the best available suppliers, with the panels and housings made in Italy, electrical parts sourced from Germany, and with final assembly and testing done at their laboratories in Spain.
Italian electronics manufacturer Omega Audio Concepts sources and electronics.
Showing with elite Italian electronics manufacturer Omega Audio Concepts, this was an Italian built tour de force. Soured by the Omega Audio Concepts Stream CD player (€38,850), which is housed in a semi-spherical aluminum case machined from one piece of aluminum, using three independent power supplies, it fed the massive four-box Stream Power Mono Integrated Amplifiers (€120.000/pr.), with Timeless Power Plant Nano Power Supplies (€2,780/ea.).
Wiring was all from Omega Audio Concepts as well, using their Nano Series of cables, with the 2M AC Power cord (€1,800), the 1M Signal Interconnects RCA (€1,800) or balanced XLR (€1,990), the 1.25M Phono cable with SME connector (€1,990), the 1M balanced Digital XLR cable (€1,132), with several sets of 3M Speaker cables (€3,685), driving the Alsyvox Caravaggio loudspeakers (€275,000).
Alsyvox was showing their stunning looking and sounding Caravaggio, a 5-way dipole ribbon loudspeaker. It is a 4-panel design with two panels and two external passive crossovers per channel. At 168cm tall, it uses a 32cm ribbon-planar subwoofer, a 32cm ribbon-planar woofer, a new patent pending 2x37mm wide ribbon midrange, a 25mm ribbon tweeter, and a 5mm ribbon super-tweeter. All internal and external cabling is the Omega Audio Concepts NANO extra and their high sensitivity (96dB/W/m) allows the use of a very wide range of amplification.
The Alsyvox Caravaggio, a four-panel, five-way dipole ribbon loudspeaker, with two panels and two external passive crossovers per channel.
The new midrange driver, covering the critical voice frequency range from 500Hz to 1500Hz, is a 2x37mm wide ribbon that uses a new patent pending design to increase magnetic field linearity and control over the ribbon movement. This relatively large surface area (7.4x168cm = 1243cm2) allows for incredible liveliness and dynamics.
While bi-amp'ing is not mandatory, it is recommended to obtain the best results. Obviously, they require a good-sized room to perform their best as well.
This was one of the most intriguing and musical systems I had opportunity to hear in Munich, regardless of which venue. The resultant sonic envelope was liquid, with rich tone, a huge and accurately sized soundstage, remarkable bass extension, and they pulled a complete vanishing act. The presentation was finely layered, with vivid dimensionality, and an almost scary natural presence. I was very impressed with their blistering transient attack and dynamic abilities, especially with percussion. While I'm not necessarily convinced this larger system was inherently superior overall to the smaller two panel Botticelli system I've heard several times and will be reviewing this summer, it was breath-taking, nonetheless.
This remarkably fine level of achievement was realized because they did such an amazing job with room taming in these problematic spaces. By forgoing the use of large draped curtains that so many exhibiters use to combat the high reflectivity and poor bass reinforcement available, and instead using very carefully and strategically placed TubeTraps and final loudspeaker placement, Georgia's The Audio Company once again knocked this one out of the sonic park in Atrium 4.2, E217.
Best of Show: The Audio Company, Esoteric, Acoustic Signature, Air Tight, Valve Amplification Company, and Von Schweikert Audio.
Sources were Germany's Acoustic Signature Invictus Jr. turntable ($85,000), using a Japanese Air Tight Opus 1 cartridge ($16,000), or either the Japanese Esoteric Grandioso P1 CD transport ($38,000) or Esoteric N-01 network audio player ($20,000), feeding the Esoteric Grandioso D1 monoblock DACs ($38,000/pr.). The spectacular retro-industrial looking Valve Amplification Company's new 450i iQ integrated amplifier from the United States ($150,000) drove the USA's Von Schweikert Ultra 9 loudspeakers ($200,000/pr.). Equipment stands were from Spain's Artesania Audio, both the Exoteric Line (3-space racks x 2) and the Artesania Audio Air Force turntable shelf, with all cabling from the USA's MasterBuilt Ultra Line.
Saturday afternoon saw me doing my Audiophile DJ duties in this room. In fact, this entire audiophile LP listening session tradition started with these fine folks at the 2017 Capital Audiofest in Washington, DC, and the event has become somewhat of an ongoing show staple.
But the sonic performance in this room was astonishing; and perhaps even more impressive with its digital presentation than the analog rig could offer at this show. Bass performance was extended, fast, tight, powerful, yet highly pitch defined, no small trick at the MOC. Midrange was pure, with indisputably authentic timbre, full bodied texture, and rife with an immediacy and intimacy that was infectious. The upper frequencies were transparent, detailed, and extended, revealing that final degree of effortlessness, air, and shimmer as naturally as if the system was merely breathing.
I know many of you may be wondering how is it that this same combination of gear and team members can achieve best of show at every show where they exhibit, show after show. You should know that I've had this very conversation with at least a dozen-and-a-half other audio journalists over the past several years. We have all said, rhetorically, how can we award that room best of show again? Well, it all comes down to the reality of the performance.
When you examine the strategic combination of some of the best minds in the industry today (look at the list of partners involved with this system) with the most advanced and successful implementation of technologies, you have no problem understanding such an accomplishment, one that they have managed to repeat, show after show, virtually without exception, for more than two years now.
Think about it. Look at the achievements in any field where state-of-the-art technologies are applied to human endeavors, like Formula One automobile racing. Look at the successes of Ferrari under Ross Brawn, with the most successful driver in the history of the sport, Michael Schumacher, during the late 1990's and early 2000's, when Schumacher earned seven World Championships, five of them consecutively! Or those of Red Bull Racing under Adrian Newey and Christian Horner, with Sebastian Vettel in the cockpit during his three consecutive Championships in the early 2010's.
It should be seen as almost inevitable that when you combine the most advanced technologies, be that an inherently faster and more dependable race-winning automotive chassis and motor synergy, or bleeding-edge loudspeaker technologies driven by heroic valve-based electronics capable of turning in a more realistic recreation of a musical performance, with hard working, inspired, and dedicated professionals in their field, you achieve astonishing, repeatable successes.
And while a Best of Show designation may seem to be a more subjective form of "winning," in a clearly different kind of race, it is no less a first-place finish, crossing the sonic finish line ahead of the competition, and is every bit as real and distinguished an accomplishment. The number of shows over a year may be looked at as the number of races in a given season or series.
To that end, when you look at the repeated recognition conferred upon this travelling collection of gear and partners, by so many different journalists, from so many different media outlets, it becomes clear that they are having one championship season after another.
Heading home, leaving from Flughafen München on a dreary, rainy Mother's Day.
In short, I'm only too happy to report that the sonic achievements here in Munich this year, at the event that is recognized as the largest high-end audio show on planet earth, were quite good during my abbreviated visit and in the limited number of rooms I got to audition this year.
If you are an avid music lover and audiophile, as large, vibrant, and diverse a show as this is, even with all the significant sonic challenges it presents, after having experienced the Munich High End phenomena for a second time, I can't recommend it more highly. If you have the time, resources, and interest to attend this event next May, or some May in the future, you owe it to yourself to make the trip. I assure you, you will...
Enjoy the Music!