High End 2015

High End 2015: Wrapping the Un-Wrappable


HE15_Logo_GB_01An entire month passed since we got back from Munich and our combined efforts produced more than 50 extended show reports, many of which are closer to mini-reviews than a mere system and price tags list with a few pictures. Munich offers so much material that we could probably go on for another month still without covering everything. A show with close to 1000 brands is absolutely insane and impossible to cover so we did our best in providing the best sounding, most extravagant, innovative or down right curious exhibits with our own personal perspective.

Going straight to the point, my Best in Show goes to Lyn Stanley who performed in the Classic Audio Loudspeakers room with Atma-Sphere amplifiers and Purist Audio Design cables. This was the most engaging room of the entire event, attendees simply could not get away once they entered and found Lyn performing live songs from her latest album, Potions, right there in front of them. Fatal attraction. For the record, this room featured the amazing T3.4 speakers from Classic Audio and MP-1/ M60mk3 amplifier combo from Atma-Sphere, and a remarkable analog front-end, with a Feickert-Triplanar-Lyra-Dynavector analog set up, as well as a Weiss MAN 301 DAC/ server.

BestInShow2015v1“Best in show” and “best sound” are distinct categories for this year’s High End Munich; if you followed my adventures then you already know what the almost designated best should have been. The single most impressive set up was the Stenheim One with the four tower Reference Statement speaker system amplified by CH Precision, with analog front end by Audio Consulting and cabling from ZenSati. What was the most expensive and specs wise the most impressive system of the show gave a new meaning in words like authority, extension and visual impact. Part of the system’s performance was left in the imaginative plain as it was fitted inside a small prefabricated room down the ground floor halls which is, acoustically speaking, as inadequate as it gets. Placed in a proper room and with the channels not inverted this extraordinary system would have swiped other contenders from the MOC in a blink. Hopefully next year they will propose something similar in a room of at least 100m² and then I will be able to award them my best sound of the show. For this year my Audio Traveler award remains vacant, other systems performed very well but knowing what sort of potential this particular one could deliver makes comparisons almost futile.

Excellent runner ups were, in no particular order, the Tidal room which added some mid-warmth in the already detailed and dynamic range of speakers with the new Akira model fitted with the exotic 5” diamond mid-range driver; The Zellaton room with BFA amplifiers which offered a convincing dynamic dipole speaker presentation and the perennially great sounding all TAD room which for this year proved thanks to the CE-1 loudspeakers that size does not matter, not always anyway.

Among the various new products the “audiophile on a budget” one I would have brought home was the Auralic Aries mini streamer, a complete solution capable of DSD and DXD streaming with an incorporated ESS SABRE DAC for an astonishingly low price of $399 that will sell like hot bread, as long as they manage to iron out the glitches which affected the first generation Aries.

The other product, a not-so-budget but still far from being unreasonably priced product, and one I would love to review, is Wilson Audio‘s Sabrina speakers. Not sure if it was the wine, the company or the speakers, but that press-only event was huge fun and left me with the idea of a very well-engineered product that will find the way into many audiophile’s listening rooms.

As for the rest, the night action and the Weiss beer, Schweinshaxe and Weißwürste with friends flying in from all around the globe, it is always the best part of an audio show and one I would rather not comment upon as you never know who’s going to read this (for example, my wife). Instead, let me extend an invitation for next year, make sure you come for the crazy four-day Munich show and let us know, we will be showing you the best (or worst depending on the points of view) brauhaus in town!


Aurender is the Proud Sponsor for High End Munich 2015

High End 2015

High End 2015: Magico


HE15_Logo_GB_01Magico did not bring the highly expected M-Project in Munich’s High End 2015 show but maybe it was too much to ask, after all they did brought the Ultimate III last year, so instead, we had to listen to “normal” productions models. Oh, the humanity!

They turned up with two rooms, the first one with the metallic blue S7 speakers ($58.000, launch expected for this summer) paired with Constellation electronics and MIT cables; the second with the new top-of-the-line Q7 Mk2 model ($230.000) driven by Soulution electronics, with Vovox cables of Switzerland taking care of the connections.

Constellation brought the new Centaur II power amplifiers ($80.000 for the pair of monos) and Peter Madnick, VP of engineering, explained me how the power supply got beefier with 10x the MkI’s filtering capacitance, bigger toroidal transformer and generally speaking, even more “trickled down” technology coming from top-of-the-line Hercules model. Along with, Peter also brought the Virgo III preamplifier and the new Cygnus Digital File Player / DAC with an external power supply ($35.000).

On paper, this should be a great system, but left me perplexed, wondering what was wrong during “Heart is a Drum” from Beck’s 2014 album Morning Phase. Bottom extension was all there but at the same time, the mids were simply wrong. I like Beck’s musical style, but to be honest my ”thing” is classical; Irv Gross from Constellation’s marketing team agreed to play the allegro from Mozart’s violin concerto in D major with Marianne Thorsen (2L records), but still, I made no emotional connection with the system.

The other room, the one with the Q7 MkII, was better, with slightly fuller mid-range frequencies and excellent top-end extension during Paganini’s Capricci with Mayuko Kamio (RCA). The sensation of a stronger presence coming from the improved graphene-carbon mid-range driver was confirmed by Bonnie Raitt singing “Back Around”, where her voice was definitely warmer than usual (with “usual” being the typical previous generation almost “dry” Magico sound). Soulution was helping drive the Q7s with a full stack of their latest electronics, including the 725 preamplifier, a pair of 701 mono power amps and the new 760 DAC ($59.000). Interestingly, they also had on display (though not playing during my two visits in the room) a (very well made for being a prototype) turntable fitted with EMT cartridge on a Thales tonearm, and connected to the all-new 755 phono stage ($59.000). A special mention must be made for the gorgeous Critical Mass Systems Maxxum Racks, among the best out there.

For being a half a million dollar room, the sound, while not bad per se, was just not what I expected for this category of equipment. It is not a matter of “playing right”; systems of this caliber have to do everything by the book and even more so. It actually comes down to sensations, and while I think the Q7 Mk2 are a clear step forward for Magico, there’s still some room to grow.


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High End 2015

High End 2015: Rosso Fiorentino, Thrax, North Star and Bergmann


HE15_Logo_GB_01When you think of Rosso Fiorentino speakers concepts like pricey, great sound and Italian artisanry come in mind. Now take the pricey part out of the equation but keep the artisan finish and melodic sound. Engineer Francesco Rubenni, founder of the Florence based speaker company, revealed a new model for the affordable line of speakers, the Classic series which now consists of three models; the moderate sized standmount named Giglio, the 2 and a ½ way, 88.5db sensitivity floorstander we had the chance of listening to in Munich that goes by the name of Elba and last but not least a central speaker for home theater passionate, the Pianosa.

The thing about high-end companies introducing affordable models is that usually they first introduce them in China. That is in order to keep prices low the design takes place in the headquarters but production is shifted where labor is cheap and one too many times quality and finish suffer. This was not the case with the Elba which was superbly finished in leather and wood and when factoring in the 2400 euro MSRP the package screams VFM.

The Munich set up consisted of Thrax Dionysos pre-amplifier, Orpheus phono stage and Teres hybrid power amplifier, North Star Design Supremo 32-384 DAC and Sapphire transport and the classic Bergmann Magne System turntable. Cabling was provided by Kubala-Sosna with their second from top Emotion series.

It appears as the rest of the system was a bit of an overkill for a pair of speakers costing less than $3K but listening to Muddy Waters singing Good Morning Little School Girl while playing his guitar convinced me otherwise. These are engaging little speakers that will make many audiophiles on a budget more than happy. Who said that High End Munich is only über expensive rooms?


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High End 2015

High End 2015: Lyra


HE15_Logo_GB_01Weeks before the show I found myself chatting with Jonathan Carr, designer among other things of Lyra, a range of bespoke moving coil cartridges and we promised to discuss things when finally face to face in Munich. “Discussing” is a slight exaggeration; the reality is closer to Jonathan “giving me a lesson” on design principles, and providing pieces for the analog playback puzzle that I never had in-hand.

He did mention something about a cartridge that may eventually make it to the market sometime in the future, one that he is still trying to design as an affordable model without having to sacrifice production capacity currently used for the Lyra flagship models . For this he is seeking production techniques that can be automated to a certain extent thus lowering the final price while keeping certain crucial to him aspects intact, namely the “house sound” of Lyra.

Where he focused mostly was the design of a new step-up transformer with the goal being to create a sound close to the one produced by an electronic circuit (aka active stage, meaning dynamic and extended playback) without the electric part, therefore with no noise or electronic distortions added to the fragile signal coming from the cartridge. He is studying ways of presenting minimal capacitance back to the cartridge itself, which combined with the inductance of the generator would create an electrical resonance that is far easier to control than with conventional step up transformers. . Are you still with me?

I will cut to the chase here and tell you what matters. Several great rooms in Munich had an Etna or an Atlas MC cartridge playing gorgeous music. The amazing SAT tonearm mounted on the new Thrax-Dohmann Xelix-1 turntable had an Etna, while the Schroeder CB tonearm on the same table had the top-of-the-line Atlas. The Primary Control tonearm on the Vinyl Savior/Wolf von Langa room had another Atlas. Another Atlas was in the Audio Tekne room on the Garrard 601 table connected to the exotic TEA 9501 PCS €225.000 phono stage. Yet another Atlas was spinning in the Absolare room. You get the picture? Considering what Jonathan has accomplished so far, that forthcoming step-up might be quite something.


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High End 2015

High End 2015: Zellaton


HE15_Logo_GB_01There is something about historic brands, they have a special charm which I find irresistible. We have witnessed the re-birth of famous 19th century maisons in watchmaking and something similar happened with a few legends of the audio industry that woke from their long hibernation.

One of these brands that I have been following closely is Zellaton. Originally founded by Dr. Emil Podszus, Zellaton focused in producing speaker drivers and eventually filed for a patent for his foam sandwich diaphragm.

In recent years the company launched a new reference line of speakers designed around the in-house produced drivers with a rather intriguing cabinet which on first sight seems like a classic box but after closer investigation one realizes it is a semi-open baffle with the back of the speaker being open through well finished windows, thus creating a dipole dispersion pattern.

Zelaton makes all drivers with a painstakingly long process that leads to a sandwich of various materials with the end result being light but stiff cones for low inertia and razor-sharp transients. Reference speakers demand reference parts throughout and Zellaton uses some of the most expensive capacitors available in the market for their cross-overs, the silly expensive Duelund Coherent Audio along with Mundorf ones, Van den Hul cabling, Mundorf binding posts for speakers that are true cost no object designs.

Unfortunately last year they did not perform anywhere close to their capabilities (an obvious mis-match with the driving electronics which ended up in ruining a mid-range driver) but this year it was a completely different story for the Zellaton Reference MkII. Beyond Frontiers Audio provided some remarkably transparent amplifiers from their Tulip line (tube pre-amp and a pair of hybrid monos along with their DAC) and Schnerzinger completed the set up with their active shielding cables and Giga protectors (high frequency field generators that allegedly overcome the shortcomings of musical signals; don’t ask me what it means as I have no clue). CD player came from Loit, the exotic Passeri MkII, while the analog front end included a classic La Platine Verdier turntable, Acoustical Systems Axiom tonearm and Aiwon cartridge, with two phono stages sitting in the fabulous and highly sophisticated Tandem Audio racks, one from LKV, and the second from Mal Valve of Germany; the later was the one with which I did my auditioning.

This was a room where they clearly love acoustic guitars; they had records of Eric Bibb singing Good Stuff (Opus 3 LP) and Ry Cooder playing his bottleneck style guitar with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt in A Meeting by the River (Water Lily Acoustics Records) both of which sounded very open and rich in harmonic content. Attack and resolution where place under exam with Boris Blank’s Electrified tracks for a system that was easily among the top of the 2015 show.


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High End 2015

High End 2015: Kyron Audio



Despite having read several glowing reviews about Kyron’s dipole speaker systems this was the first time I had the chance to spend some time listening to them. The Australian firm brought in Munich their smaller model, named Kronos, which consists of 3-way dipole speakers (2×1” tweeters, 7” neodymium mid and 2×12” long throw woofers) along with a massive amplifier that incorporates a DEQX preamplifier responsible for signal processing, frequency response, phase and room correction along with 6 Encore class D power amplifiers for a total of 1200Watts. So “smaller” is not exactly small when it comes to the Kronos system.

Aesthetically the dipoles are stunning; at least for my personal taste they look closer to a modern sculpture than any given typical speaker. No sign of boxy looks, no veneers, no nothing. The skeleton that keeps the speaker in place is very robust and meticulously finished, the amplifier box is massive and includes a USB DAC too; for 99.000 euros what you get is a complete system with DSP function needing only a computer or streamer in order to play music.

Normally dipole systems like the Kyron necessitate of careful and symmetric placement away from walls but in Munich the sound was more than good, even in the acoustically dreadful sounding isobox room on the ground floor. There was a sense of air combined with a wide and involving soundstage during Chris Thile and Edgar Meyers “Tarnation”, part of all this should probably be attributed to the DEQX digital signal processor. Coming from a relatively new company the Kronos is a refined and mature product.


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High End 2015

High End 2015: CH Precision, Vivid Audio, TechDAS


HE15_Logo_GB_01Some companies do not simply “show up” at Munich High End, they try to dominate the show. Some, like CH Precision, present more than one amazing room — they presented their line of electronics with Stenheim, Wilson Benesch and Vivid Audio, an “en plein” of sophisticated speaker designs among the best out there. Normally I would choose the best sounding room and report just that one, only there was no best; it came down to personal taste, room size and even musical selections.

The Stenheim room was stunning, the size and impact of the reference speakers (not to mention the price, frequency extension, and just about everything else) was simply impressive. The Wilson Benesch speakers on the other hand were pulling a perfect disappearing act and if ones lives in a normal sized house (and not Buckingham Palace), this is where he should be looking.

The Vivid Audio Giya is somewhere in between, at least size wise. Impact is there, soundstage is wide and imaging is precise; paired with the CH amplifiers, the G2 managed to create perfect contours of instruments on stage. Still this would have not been enough for me to cover a third CH room if it was not for the P1 phono stage taking care of the titanium-bodied TechDAS TDC01 Ti cartridge mounted on Graham Phantom tonearm and (perhaps obviously) with the Air Force One taking care of the spinning.

What is so special about this phono stage? Everything. Three balanced inputs two of each are current mode thus perfect for low impedance moving coil cartridges (the TDC01 has a Z of only 1.4 Ohms); the third input is a “classic” voltage design so it can handle moving magnet designs as well. For 24.000 Swiss Francs (close to $24K with today’s exchange rate) you obviously get a fully balanced topology with all discrete parts, ultra wide bandwidth and a noise floor buried 6 ft. underground. If all this is not enough you can add an external power supply for an even lower S/N and an even higher price tag.

In the end there is a reason why CH got so much coverage, all three rooms delivered musical pleasure in spades; with the Giya G2s and that awesome TechDAS analog front end we heard Ray singing and Basie swinging right there with us.


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High End 2015

High End 2015: Albedo, Audia Flight


HE15_Logo_GB_01This was one of the most interesting rooms of this year’s Munich show and had a strong Italian flavor with speakers from Albedo, electronics from Audia Flight and Music Tools racks.

Albedo is not the typical Italian speaker, it is not mellow warm and overly smooth in its presentation. In fact it is a much more modern concept and on the elaborate scale of 0 to 100 it comes pretty close to that 100 being among the most sophisticated ones. The Acxentia now in the Mk II version is a transmission line design with an incorporated Helmholtz resonator, a concept named by Eng. Costa Helmholine. The use of a resonator inside the cabinet eliminates secondary peaks inherent in transmission line speakers thus lowering colorations and by using Accuton ceramic drivers the end result is even more pronounced, fast and detailed is how I would describe it. The looks are definitely Italian though, with the wood and metal cabinet finished in exquisite manner.

Transmission line designs have their weak spots and sometimes end up in long decays in the bottom octave. This was not the case with the Audia Flight huge Strumento No. 8, a 500W/8Ohm, 3000VA power transformer and 48 output devices per channel monoaural amplifier capable of controlling perfectly the Axcentia speakers while offering a bit of their own character with the overall sound coming from the Strumento No. 1 preamplifier-24/192 DAC being on the warm side of neutral.

The whole was put together thanks to the impressive black pythons Golden Sequence cables by Signal Projects which vaunt industry low capacitance and resistance for a level of transparency that very few can match. I gave the system a run with music standing in the antipodes, the Thunder and Lightning polka by Strauss and Oh Yeah by Yello. Deep bass without the use of sub-woofers and credible string passages made up for a very convincing presentation.


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High End 2015

High End 2015: ENIGMAcoustics



ENIGMAcoustics is a relatively new company and one clearly here to stay; you can tell because they chose to propose new things and not follow the easy “me too” way. Last year in Munich, I stumbled upon their speakers and was so impressed that I had to ask for a review sample. Something very similar also happened this year, only with headphones this time.

From Wikipedia: In Hinduism, dharma signifies behaviors that are considered to be in accord with rta, the order that makes life and universe possible, and includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and ‘‘right way of living”

Interesting name for a headphone, no doubt about it. Especially if one considers that it is a hybrid design. Dharma declares a frequency response of 15-50KHz and achieves that by combining a 50mm Wagami paper dynamic driver along with the patented SBESL (self-biased electrostatic) membrane, the same technology behind their impressive Sopranino super-tweeter.

Now, hybrid headphones have had a rough ride for many years — it’s unlikely that two drivers, placed a few centimeters from your ears, will ever integrate. Yet, ENIGMAcoustics seems to have made it happen. The $1200 headphone conveyed great tunes; at least this was my impression when I was listening to Janos Starker playing the exquisite Saint Saens cello concerto. There was no audible crossover issues when going from the dynamic driver to the electrostatic one, at least not in show conditions so I had to ask in what frequency this occurs. Turns out the dynamic driver goes all the way up to 10KHz and the super-tweeter takes it from there adding a familiar for me sense of air just like the Sopranino did when connected with “ordinary” speakers. Seems like the “right way”!

Worth of mention is the 380gr weight, a very interesting spec as one too many flagship headphones gravitate around the half a kilo or more (which is heavy for long listening hours).

ENIGMAcoustics will also provide a fabulous matching amplifier, the Athena 1, with an expected price tag of $1500. A hybrid design as well (is everything they do hybrid in a certain way?) with a ECC82/12AU7 triode tube driving a MOS/BJT output stage with a very low output impedance making it a perfect match for headphones from 16 to 600 Ohms. Add a robust 9V RMS output voltage and a housing made from the same Swarovski like casing found on the Sopranino tweeter, and you have yourself one of the best offerings in this year’s Munich show.







Aurender is the Proud Sponsor for High End Munich 2015

High End 2015

High End 2015: Blumenhofer, Einstein, TechDAS


HE15_Logo_GB_01Pairing a huge 16” woofer with a compression tweeter usually leaves a gap in the crucial mid frequencies but Blumenhofer Acoustics managed to get things right. The Genuin FS1 mk2 pairs the woofer with a rather wide 1,4” horn loaded titanium tweeter for a very easy to drive 96dB bass reflex speaker with the port firing to the floor.

Electronics were provided by Einstein, a company who has little imagination when it comes to naming their equipment; on display: The Preamp, The Phonoamp and a pair of Silver Bullet OTL monos capable of 65W/8Ohm, I’ll let you figure out what each does.

The phono stage was a brand new design, first public appearance and performed in a most musical fashion, conveying tunes with rhythm and pace in perfect synergy with the in-house produced The Pick Up Cartridge (bingo! it is an MC cartridge) mounted on an Ikeda tonearm and TechDAS Airforce One turntable. Cabling was provided by Cammino along with a Power Harmonizer that served as passive filter and surge protector.

A record to die for, and old school reviewer’s favorite for “PRaT”, is Mancini’s “Pink Panther”; the visitors were tapping their feet on the ground, always a sign for good sound.


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High End 2015

High End 2015: Soundsmith


HE15_Logo_GB_01This year in Munich, I finally got the chance to meet in person two living legends of cartridge design, Jonathan Carr of Lyra (who went so technical that it knocked out both Scot and I, but stay tuned for this report) and Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith who kept things in an almost understandable level.

Peter took the time to walk me through the entire line of Soundsmith moving iron (MI) cartridges, along with explaining some of the design principles behind them. When compared to the classic moving coil cartridges, the MI ones offer even lower moving mass, and when combined with Peter’s newly engineered damping system, the end result is what he likes to call a “low jitter” one, meaning much better tracking.

The first really important novelty is that they are now producing low, medium and high output moving iron designs, or to be more precise they are offering the same cartridge in more than one output voltage. The beautiful Paua ($3800) we had the chance to listen to in Munich for example outputs a low-ish 0.4mV, while its twin, the identically-priced Nautilus, makes up an entire 1.1mV, which is good even with phono stages that can only provide up to 50dB of gain. Certain models go all the way up to 2.4mV so a standard MM phono stage can provide all the necessary gain. Going down the price chain, not only the output but the compliance can also be chosen, meaning that if you like what moving iron cartridges have to offer, there is no way of not finding a perfect match for your tonearm and system.

Another novelty which I found interesting is the Irox series ($1850 for the Ultimate and $900 for the entry-level Blue). Irox as “I-rocks”, but not because of the music genre, but due to the rock-solid construction which promises an indestructible cartridge. Name me one audiophile who has not snapped at least one cantilever in his analog years and you will win a cigar! From someone with lots of cigars! Okay, no, not really, but you get the idea.

Peter told me that he plans on doing a demo by throwing the cartridge against the wall several times, just to point out how sturdy these are going to be. You have small child in your house, or you are a bit clumsy, or happen to be a DJ? You might have found your next cart!

One last niche line of products that will be introduced soon is the low-Z designs (internal impedance <0.2Ohms), which will suit the trans-conductance phono stages like BMC’s Balanced MC Current Injection and the new CH Precision P1. Though these phono stages work well with MC designs, they will match perfectly with the lowest possible impedance cartridges, and Peter has some great models ready, like the Sussuro Lo-Z.

All this got me thinking, why I have not tried one of Peter’s designs in my place yet?


Aurender is the Proud Sponsor for High End Munich 2015

High End 2015

High End 2015: Manger and Lindemann


HE15_Logo_GB_01An alternative title for the report could be: “Affordable high-end for your bathroom,” given the bathroom styled curtains standing behind Manger’s P1 speakers.

Manger is a company who built its fame around the innovative driver they developed back in the late seventies, the MSW (for Manger Sound Transducer). This is not (as many think) just a fancy tweeter; it actually behaves like a full range driver capable of 80-35.000Hz. It is built with extremely low tolerances of just 0.008mm, around an array of neodymium magnets with double voice coil and goes against modern trends of hard dome drivers being flexible! In order to have a proper full range speaker, Manger adds to the sealed cabinet design a woofer which leads to an overall frequency response of 40-40KHz, and a moderate max SPL of 106 dBs. Price for the P1 is around 8000 euros.

During this year’s high end show, Manger partnered with Lindemann, who has been getting rave reviews lately for their musicbook series of electronics. Under the small form factor, Lindemann offers two DAC models, two network music players, and a pair of class D amplifiers, with prices ranging from 1800 to 3900 euros. Interestingly, all DACs and network players double up as headphone amplifiers, and in the front of the room, they were paired with a pair of Beyerdynamic DT880s. Next to the modern-looking musicbooks, they had a Bauer Audio DPS turntable with matching phono stage, which unfortunately was not singing during my visit in the room.

The entire system could be considered a bargain, especially when taking into account what the average Munich system has been in recent years. In my reports, the average system goes easily north of 200.000 whatevers (currency is not important here, $ or euros make no difference above certain price tags), and several climb all the way up to half a million whatevers or more. The entire Manger Lindemann system including the beautiful DPS Bauer turntable, Mac computer and bathroom curtains can be purchased for less than the cost of a single exotic interconnect.

Sound-wise, the system was nice with plenty of air in the upper registers and fast transients. Voices (and not singing) were remarkably spacious and sensual in Deborah Henson Conant’s And Then He Kissed Me. Actually, I came to think that human voices is where the Mangers excel at after listening to Ayado Chie singing Hallelujah and also could not avoid thinking that the small Class D amps from Lindemann sounded rather un-class D (not warm, but not cold or harsh either). Again, for the price of a single exotic cable, this was a nice system, a rarity seeing affordable ones in Munich lately.


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High End 2015

High End 2015: Ypsilon, Bergmann, Perfect8


HE15_Logo_GB_01Ypsilon Electronics gave another excellent performance this year with their complete line up of tube hybrid amplifiers and sources. An upgraded version of the Aelius mono power amps ($36.000), with silver interstage transformers, and driven by the 100 PST Mark II pre-amplifier ($37.000), performed very well on the classic “Mr. Bones” by Steve Strauss on LP.

Ypsilon brought their CDT 100 CD transport and DAC 100 converter, but I focused on the analog front end, which is rarely absent in the Munich top floor rooms. The turntable came from Bergmann, their Magne System, which is among the few modern designs that offer exquisite minimalistic aesthetics, serious engineering and great sound, all at the same time. The Transfiguration Orpheus MC cartridge was singing through Ypsilon’s VPS 100 phono stage and matching step up transformer while speakers were sourced from Swedish company Perfect 8.

The Point MkIII (website still has the MkII model) priced at $100.000 is a rather peculiar design made from glass panels and not the typical MDF wood, and there is no sign of internal treatment as well. An open dipole with 2×7” magnesium midrange drivers and air motion tweeter sits on top of a pair of 10” woofer housed in a glass box which also contains a 400Watts class D amp for each bass driver.

Finite Elemente provided the beautiful Pagode APS racks while cabling was a mix of Kubala Sosna and zip cords! At first sight the speakers would have you expecting a cold and maybe soul-less sound, but as I already mentioned this was not the case. Instead, guitar strings were reverberating in the room in almost “live” fashion, with ambience and texture during the playback.


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High End 2015

High End 2015: Audiodata


HE15_Logo_GB_01This was probably the most pleasant surprise Munich offered this year, and yes, I’m aware that this is quite a statement. Audiodata is by no mean a new comer. Actually the company is quite old, going some 30 years back when Peter Schippers founded it, but we could also consider it as a new company, since from year 2014 Hannes Palfinger and Franz Stoger came in bringing fresh ideas for an entire new series of products. The first of which — a gorgeous speaker named Master One.

This is not your ordinary speaker. It packs a coaxial magnesium-beryllium mid-tweeter and four 220mm woofers mounted on the side panels of the, powered by 180 Watts/woofer. They also have sensors reading the excursion of each driver in order to adjust for perfect pistonic movement. At 100+ kg, this is a full-range speaker with declared frequency response of 20-25000Hz. Fit and finish is spectacular; the 70.000 euro price tag seems appropriate.

Franz Stoger insisted on me taking a closer look at the company’s turntable, a mass-loaded design, made from some kind of synthetic resin, costing 39.000 euros. He said that the bearing was exceptionally well-made and I replied “sure” … Then he showed me his bearing design, and I was like “holy f***”; the thing is massive and engineered at levels of perfection rarely seen (even at this rarefied price range). The power supply/external motor-controller was at least as impressive, and got me thinking that a company with this amount of commitment is bound to make titles for years to come.

PS They had in hand a reissue of El Sombrero de Tres Picos with Ansermet leading the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (DECCA), and the system which included a Symphonic Line pre-power amplifier and a custom-made Van den Hul cartridge, performed very well, with micro and macro-dynamics being top-notch.


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High End 2015

High End 2015: Audio Tekne and DC10


HE15_Logo_GB_01One of the most impressive amplifier kits that I had the chance of listening during my student years in Italy came from Japanese legendary designer Kiyoaki Imai, founder of Audio Tekne. This is a very interesting brand, almost unique in what it offers. Imai-san promotes push-pull designs rather than single-ended triodes as the optimum way for achieving audio nirvana, winds in-house transformers with special ($$$) super-permaloy cores, and builds the most expensive phono stage in the market, the TEA 9501 PCS, a piece of equipment that all by itself managed to get me out of the High End Munich show to visit the HiFiDeluxe show, which was running in parallel during the same days. I even dragged Scot with me for this one.

Why would we waste half a day just for a phono stage? It is a very exclusive piece of gear, as it costs €155.000 (yes, that is $170k US, you got that right) and it is not just the price. The 9501 declares a frequency response of 20Hz up to … 15KHz!

You’re probably thinking that this is a joke, but I am only stating the facts here. Every ten grand buys you one kilohertz of frequency extension. The enormous 63kg/channel LCR phono equalizer, consists of 7 transformers per channel, plus a few tubes here and there. And none of these transformers are here for the power supply.

I hope you are sitting while reading this; do hang on tight as you might fall from that chair.

155.000 euros does not buy you a working phono stage. You have to combine it with the TFA-9501 pre-amplifier, which is the only piece of gear being made that can provide the necessary power to power the phono. Oh, and that pre-amp will set you back another €70.000. Not sure how many people ever bought this combo; my guess is that you could count them without using two hands.

The rest of the system included a Loricraft Garrard 601 mounted with the Origin Live tonearm and Lyra Atlas MC cartridge, Audio Tekne 9801 2x8Watt power amplifier and DC10 Kabuki speakers. I must admit being unfamiliar with the speakers, and their intriguing design consisting of a RAAL ribbon tweeter loaded in the bass horn along with two 12” woofers. Their 97db/1W sensitivity makes them a suitable match for the 8W amplifier but specifications are not important for this room. Actually the sound was not important either, I was so biased that describing how Cannonball Adderley’s Autumn Leaves sounded like really makes no sense. It was deeply emotional, pronounced in the all so important mid frequencies and it felt just right. Take all this with a bit of salt, after all I was listening to my dream phono stage.








Aurender is the Proud Sponsor for High End Munich 2015

High End 2015

High End 2015: Wilson Audio’s Sabrina


HE15_Logo_GB_01Wilson Audio finally brought their latest speaker, the Sabrina, to Europe. The debut did not happen within the walls of Munich’s High End show, but in a dealer’s show room. Actually not just any show room, My Sound near Munich is one of the most elegant places I have seen; it resembles more an art gallery than your typical brick n’ mortar audio shop. From what I understood, the owner is also a photographer and one of great talent too. Our hosts were amazing, the wine was exquisite and the company was excellent. There were speakers too.

A pair of Alexandria XLFs were sitting comfortably in the last room, Sasha 2 and Alexias were driven by Spectral amps and Devialets, and of course there was a pair of Sabrinas, playing together with a Pass INT-60 and EMM Labs XDS1 CD/SACD player. You might have expected something more, or should I say bigger, for such an important debut in front of a crowd of well-known European and US journalists, but Wilson probably felt there was no need for separate pre-power amps or stacks of DACs, upsamplers and transports. Actually, many of the guests were not paying particular attention to the new speakers, the wine and gourmet dinner seemed to grab their attention, in primis.

After giving a try to the Italian secco bubblies, I supposed that I should at least listen to the speakers, for a bit, and so I took the sweet spot. After listening to the (awful) CD sampler, some random guy sitting next to me asked “Would you care to play some of my vinyl rips? It is all good stuff, made the CD myself”.

There was no analog front-end, so the idea of quality analog rips was extremely inviting, especially when “that guy” does happen to be somewhat notorious for his analog rig. So I took the silver disc, put it on the XDS1 and passed the remote control. We heard maybe 15 tracks, including several classic swing and rock-n-roll pieces, all rigorously ripped with a Lyra Etna cartridge on a 4 point Kuzma tonearm and Caliburn Continuum reference turntable.

Several of the tracks were familiar, and this helped me sketch at least an initial idea of what the Sabrinas are capable of. The trait that stood out was coherence. The blending among the three drivers was seamless, a single piece of fabric with no patches in the upper or lower octaves. The room was moderately treated, but there was no sign of booming, and I trust this is going to be an easy-to-fit-in speaker, and this despite the bass reflex port placed on the rear of the cabinet. Highs were smooth and punch was appropriate for the relatively small cabinet. For a company such as Wilson Audio, the Sabrina represents a first on compact floorstanders and while not being cheap at $15.900, it is not all that pricey either.

The performance? Enough to get Mr Analog to flip his lid.



Aurender is the Proud Sponsor for High End Munich 2015

High End 2015

High End 2015: Stenheim, CH Precision, Audio Consulting, ZenSati


HE15_Logo_GB_01Usually, all the “serious players” show up in the upper floors of Munich’s Order Center (aka MOC) where the High End show has taken place in recent years. Usually … but not always.

This year, the Halls saw an amazing combination of Swiss high-end manufacturers presenting a system that one might easily consider as candidate for Best In Show, even before listening to it. And after?

Main attraction were Stenheim’s new Reference Statement Ultimate Super Duper Supreme speakers (the name is just “Reference Statement,” but I want to be sure that you get the idea). Four towers, the full range pair with 8 drivers in D’Appolito configuration, plus another two “bass towers” to make sure the system is as full range as it gets adds another six 13” woofers per tower, each driven by integrated amps putting out 1200W each. The frequency response is a reference-ultimate-ultra 10Hz to 100KHz — this should settle the full range discussion once and for all. Other “uber” facts that you should consider (if you have $400.000 burning a hole in your pocket) are the weight of 1200kg, 122dB max SPL and the 10 year warranty.

Electronics came from CH Precision, and included the entire catalog that the company has to offer, with all cabling from the top of the line “Seraphim” line from ZenSati of Denmark. The analog front end came from Switzerland as well, and consisted of Audio Consulting’s R-evolution Minima turntable, Thales Easy tonearm with ZYX UNIverse MC cartridge, and again Audio Consulting’s new Meteor Silver Rock Toroidal Phono Amplifier (and yes, this is the real name of the phono stage, I am not embellishing anything here).

The price tag on this system would be close to $800.000, and as I said, it should be up there fighting for best of show. The system absolutely delivered in terms of timbre and detail, and the low-end was truly ground-shaking.

But there were two issues: the makeshift “room” and some lingering setup gremlins. In Munich, the upper floor rooms (arranged around “the Atriums”) do not have what anyone would consider “excellent acoustic properties”, but the makeshift iso-box ones dotting the base-level floor, “the Halls”, are even worse. That didn’t really account for the wiring being crossed, however (auditioning an Adagio by Albinoni / Giazotto, the music stopped and the organizers played a test-track with channel identification. “My voice is recorded on the right hand speaker” … but it was all coming from the left, and so on). Anyway, set up in an appropriately treated (and just plain bigger) room, with proper setup, this could have been among the best systems one can possibly imagine.

[Scot adds:] Aside from the major issues with the venue, this was a staggeringly impressive array of gear. Bass was completely percussive, and the build-quality of all of the gear in the room was absolutely beyond reproach. My favorite bits had to do with the completely odd-ball shapes of the Audio Consulting gear, with their … unusual … (American) football shapes. Unfortunately, none of it was in use during my visits, but that stuff deserves some air-time.

Very much looking forward to seeing (and hearing) all of this gear in more agreeable conditions in the future.











Aurender is the Proud Sponsor for High End Munich 2015

High End 2015

High End 2015: Physical Emotions’ Caeles


HE15_Logo_GB_01I have a soft, warm spot reserved in my heart for all things analog, and probably because of that (ha!), Munich always manages a more than a pleasant analog surprise. This year, actually, I knew that something special was waiting for me in the “newcomers section”, down in Hall 1.

Specifically, I’m thinking about a certain — huge — silk-string transmission turntable design from German manufacturer Physical Emotions. The Caeles (“sky”, in Latin) features an air bearing with 0.1μm of precision capable of holding up to 160kg of weight on the vertical axis, pneumatic sub-chassis and quartz driven – high torque PLL motor with declared wow and flutter under 0.01%. The whole stands atop of a massive tripod for a total of 125 kg of white lacquer finish.

Potential buyers (who already divorced or planning to do so) should also consider the air-compressor that comes along, a box the size of a mini-fridge that will probably also put an end to any new or budding relationships. This behemoth will be accompanied by an in-house designed-and-built tonearm in the not so distant future; for now, custom boards can be ordered for all standard tonearms between 9” and 12”. The tonearm base is a very interesting concept as it tries to bridge a decoupled design with a coupled one. Yes, you read correctly. In order to do so, the tonearm is mounted on a 2kg base that is held in place with … Kevlar strings.

Extras include a peripheral stabilizing ring, a battery power supply and custom paint job. Price for the turntable will be north of €48.000, which will include delivery and assembly for Germany (an extra fee will be charged as one-off for the rest of Europe). We actually already discussed the possibility of a review, but the physical size (which should be the correct name instead of Physical Emotions) makes it prohibitive. Guess I will have to wait for the next High End Munich show for a listen.






Aurender is the Proud Sponsor for High End Munich 2015

High End 2015

High End 2015: Scansonic and Raidho


HE15_Logo_GB_01Do you like Raidho speakers? Frankly speaking, do you drool over Raidho speakers? Do those snappy transient responses and the sense of air typical of the Danish firm make you go crazy, but you know you are two zeros short from the price tag of even the cheapest model?

I do.

Last year Raidho’s chief designer, Michael Borresen presented in Munich the D-5, a $200.000+ speaker standing six feet tall and fledging a stack of diamond coated woofers and midrange drivers with a ribbon tweeter disposed in D’Appolito configuration with the only problem being the price. This year they repeated the trick with the sole difference being the in-house produced amplifier, the Aavik U-300 instead of Constellation’s electronics with the NAGRA DAC and Ansuz cables being the same. Not much new here you might think.

Tony, one of our readers commented last year “I never met a Raidho speaker that I did not like. I never met a Raidho speaker that I could afford. There’s the dissonance.” And this has been my point exactly. Raidho is taking care of us Tony! Michael Borresen designed a new line of affordable speakers under the brand Scansonic.

There are currently 3 models, a small bookshelf and two floorstanders under this brand name, and I finally managed to listen to the smaller of the two, the MB2.5 priced at a very reasonable 2.900 euros. These are good speakers, made in Denmark (and not somewhere in the Far East), carry a similar sealed ribbon tweeter with carbon cone woofers and physically resemble the mighty Raidhos.

You probably think I am going to wax poetic here, but this is how it went. During the show, the staff tried to pump them far beyond their capabilities in terms of power handling, and the Class D Aavik pushed them hard — the result being an audible distortion in Led Zeppelin’s classic “Whole Lotta Love”. Still, the little white and carbon fiber mini-Raidho showed some cojones and made it through without breaking (not so many companies risk playing that loud during shows, breaking a speaker in front of Munich’s crowd and the press is as bad as publicity can be). At normal volumes, they showed common traits with the D-5s standing right next to them; the sound was fast, detailed and airy. A very interesting proposition for more down-to-earth people.






Aurender is the Proud Sponsor for High End Munich 2015

High End 2015

High End 2015: Focal Sopra



Focal was pushing teasers weeks before the show, letting just a few hints “escape” about a new line of speakers that will officially hit stores early this summer.

During the first day of the High End show the company held a press only event, hosted by Focal’s managing director, Gerard Chretien who introduced us to all the innovations and design principles that make the new Sopra line of speakers special.

Chretien talked to the fully packed room of journalists about the drivers with their newly introduced features such as the mid-range’s suspension which lowers resonances and the stabilized magnetic field achieved with the use of a newly designed Faraday ring for lower distortion. The beryllium tweeter on the two Sopra models is also quite interesting as Focal engineers, in order to lower interference from air compression in the back chamber, loaded the diaphragm in an infinite horn geometry which also helped guarantee higher internal volume for the woofer while keeping the speaker size in moderate dimensions. As I do understand that explaining this with words is tricky, check the picture below and you will see a small horn growing from behind the tweeter and opening in the air through a silver grill placed at the back of the speaker.

These innovations apply for both models, the Sopra No 1 which is an €8.000 2-way standmount and the Sopra No 2 at €12.000, the bigger a 3-way bass reflex with two 7” woofers.

Chretien went on and projected a Power Point slide were he showed us that his Sopra speakers were “better than everything else on the market”; the crowd of journalists laughed out loud with his conviction. At this point expectations were pretty high, so many innovations had to pay back dividends in terms of natural and low distortion sound.

Paired with a complete line of Naim’s latest electronics, the two speakers unfortunately sounded harsh, edgy and unpleasant right from the start. The only trait I would give thumbs up was low-end extension; for the size, both speakers seemed to go deeper than one would expect. The demo program had an interesting musical selection ranging from female vocals to classic music but it was all so wrong. There had to be an explanation, rumor was that the speakers had zero hours of break-in time, having been flown in directly from Focal’s factory only hours before the show.

I must say that for a company the size of Focal bringing brand new speakers to the most important show is a surprising mistake, but I managed to find some time on Saturday to give them another try. This time the room was empty, just me and a couple of guys from the staff, and the speakers sounded way, way better. More coherent, less edgy and involving; definitely closer to our expectations for a speaker line that is placed right under the flagship Utopia line.

[Scot adds:] What is the deal with the gold Utopia? Yikes.




Aurender is the Proud Sponsor for High End Munich 2015