Springtime in Munich, a great time for wheat beer, meat and a fabulous array of high end kit. The biggest and best high end show in Europe continues to surprise and entertain with the variety of manufacturers and designs that are on display and demonstration. This year the very high standard that this show sets was maintained with ease, lots of new product launches and even more brands could be found, the sheer quantity is frankly hard to cope with but I have rounded up some of the more interesting pieces that I found. Please forgive the lack of information I will be more dilligent in future.
One of the most desirable products that I found at the High End was this entry level DAC from MSB dubbed Analog. I can forgive the erroneous spelling on account of its 22mm thickness, thumbwheel volume knob and the perforated display cover. The Analog is still not exactly inexpensive at $7,000 plus another grand for the volume feature but it does bring MSB’s proprietary ladder DAC technology down to a slightly more affordable point. It is also available with any variation on three inputs, so you can have three USBs or a mix of SPDIF and USB or if you want maximum R’n’B make it a single input device. Switches, as we all know, do not good sound make. And what wouldn’t you give to have a milled slab of aluminium of this precision in your listening room?
New for High End 2012 was a newcomers area which managed to attract Canadian start-up Mass Fidelity from Toronto. So far its founder Ben Webster has built a distinctly cool integrated amplifier called the Model 1 whose looks owe something to Braun supremo Deiter Rams (the key influence behind Apple’s Jonathan Ive). It’s not just good looking minimalism however, this 11.5cm (4.5inch) tall cube packs a 50 watt Burr-Brown op-amp based amplifier built with SMD components and has inputs for four sources on the rear. More in keeping with its appearance however is the Bluetooth receiver that will be incorporated into the product so that you can stream your tunes from a mobile phone. Other features that the company has lined up are an ARM computer module with a Stereos OS that will be called The Core. Watch for this circa $1,000 beauty in your style magazines soon.
Korean valve amp and horn aficionado Silbatone Acoustics continued its quest to expose the audiophile community to vintage Western Electric theatre horns by installing yet another extraordinary system at the High End. This time it was the turn of the 15A horn system with 555 compression drivers and a 597A horn tweeter bolted on top. Bass was courtesy of a single corner unit that housed two Altec 515B 15inch drivers which were clearly not sufficient as they were backed up by a pair of 30inch Electrovoice drivers for good measure. It’s certainly the first horn loaded bass system that I’ve heard reproducing church organ with authority.
Silbatone room: Western Electric 15A, GIP Laboratory 5005 system flanking GIP-225 in the middle
Tonearm meister Frank Schroder and GIP Laboratory vintage compression drivers
The most distracting room at the show was that inhabited by two Swiss companies, Thorens turntable restoration specialist Juerg Schopper and valve and horn monger Swissonor. Their weapon was that rare commodity, at hi-fi shows at least, great music. Schopper has some white label pressings of classic albums, including JJ Cale’s Naturally and ZZ Top’s Fandango, the first one caught my ear, the second broke my heart. Billy Gibbons is the king of tone and his Blue Jean Blues is a work of art. Combine this with a ’59 TD 124 running an SPU through push-pull tubes and high efficiency speakers and you have a sound to die for.
Thorens TD 224 auto-changer
Thorens TD 124 with Ortofon SPU in Thorens pick-up arm
I have been getting pretty special results with an Aurender S10 digital transport/music server for a month or so now so it was intrigueing to come across a ‘bigger’ version called W10 Reference. This will be around $15,000 and has two AES/EBU outputs for DACs that support the dual cable system from dCS, EMM Labs and Esoteric. Equally significant is a dedicated USB output rather than the dual function one on the S10. It also has a word-clock connection for those dedicated to the cause. Equally appealing to the purist is a forthcoming S10 with only a USB output. The standard S10 has a state of the art clock for its S/PDIF output so removing this connection will reduce the asking price for what is one of the best digital sources on the market. It will be fascinating to find out how good this can sound with a hardcore USB DAC.
Hegel components with Zappa based 'art'
Pathos Converto DAC & Aurium integrated prototypes
Vertex AQ Aletheia DAC, part of this company's wholistic approach to system building which includes Kaiser loudspeakers, they had the new Chiara on dem, and the Leading Edge rack that's supporting this converter
Tannoy DC10A, A for alnico the king of smooth sounding magnets, this could be one very special Tannoy
Schick Liebenlhul turntable in the SIlbatone room, I don't think the lights are built in but could be wrong
TAD C2000 preamp was making very robust sounds through an all CAD system
Left: AJ Van den Hul the Peter Pan of the audio industry, right: SW Speakers Figaro takes you closer to the sound barrier