If there would be a definition of heaven for audiophiles, then it would definitely feel like everything we saw, touched, heard (and licked) at the Munich High End Show 2022. It was a blast talking with some of the biggest designers, engineers and music enthusiasts in a language that is so familiar to us. I don’t remember my heart pounding so hard with enthusiasm in the last few years, as finally I could talk about electronics and acoustics with a beer in my hand and that would look perfectly normal. Located in the heart of Bavaria, a global center or art, science, technology, culture, innovation and business, it makes sense why the biggest Hi-Fi show on the planet should be celebrated in Munich.
We stayed there for three days and I’m little sad that we didn’t remain for the last, fourth day as we couldn’t visit every single booth out there. With more than 1500 brands, 550 booths (exhibitors) and 21000+ visitors, we didn’t have a chance to try all and everything, but we channeled our energy and listened to the biggest fishes in the pond. I suspected welcoming exhibitors, but some of them stood out immediately with their down to earth, humble and warm personality. I’ve laughed and cried with Marcin Hamerla of HEM, spilled beer through my nose with Nicolae of Rockna and Sasha of Trafomatic Audio and shared a few secrets with Antonio and Mircea of Meze Audio. The speech of Lars Kristensen about their newest Borresen M1 loudspeakers sent me into a goose bump fiesta before listening to the damn things, that man was oozing true passion and desire in revolutionizing HiFi as we know it.
Okay folks, I will be splitting my report in two, for me these were the biggest highlights of the show.
I. Stereo Setups
1. Best In Show
- The Audio Group Denmark booth (Borresen, Aavik and Ansuz). Simply put, this was the one and only booth that created goose bump moments for me. This wasn’t the most expensive booth out there, as some were at least 5 times more expensive, but those Borresen M-1 speakers sounded like heaven to me. I couldn’t believe so much energy, bass definition and thump could be had from such a small cabinet. Mentioning about their realism, scale, see through transparency and off-the-chart detail retrieval is useless, as I don’t think it can get Any Better than this. I was speechless and I was shaking at the end, the only regret I have is that I didn’t go for a second listen and for a proper video/photo shoot.
- For me, the best horn-loaded setup was the Rockna Audio / Trafomatic Audio / Tune Audio / Signal Projects. I’m not exactly sure which electronics came brand-new, as clearly on the third biblical day, the heavens opened and I could finally understand what’s the fuss about horn-loaded loudspeakers. I’ve got intricacies and nuances, overflowing smoothness and a full relaxation of body and mind. I could listen to jazz and blues on this setup all day long and I can definitely say it was one of the most engaging sounding setups at the show. Another big surprise literally and figuratively was spotting a brand-new Rockna Wavedream Ultra R-2R DAC which (I hope) will be released in a very near future. Everything about it felt over-the-top and it had a future-fi flavor written all over it. Another surprise was spotting a re-imagination of the HydraVox family, as SuperHydra, SuperZap and SuperHub entered the arena. These were only prototypes with a few 3D printed parts, these are nowhere near completion and we’ll probably see them on the shelves somewhere next year. Nicolae is promising three times the power output on the SuperVox, a full balanced and fully-discrete headphone and output stage, driving even the most notorious loads as Hifiman Susvara and Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC.
- Steinway Lyngdorf. Here’s the deal, these loudspeakers were glued to a wall, with little to no acoustic treatment around them and yet, I’ve heard one of the best sound in my three-day journey. We were blown away by the final outcome! It was a little louder than usual and still everything was tightly controlled, sounds weren’t bouncing off the walls, these were quite warm, smooth, inviting, but punchy sounding at the same time. I’m sure there’s a clever DSP behind them, that was doing some mumbo jumbo room correction and I see why people with regular living rooms would pick these up over any other loudspeakers at the show. ModeL A is a wide and tall loudspeaker, but its incredibly thin (27 cm thin to be more precise) and yet the sound was open and wide, flying in all directions, enveloping us fully.
- Marten / Jorma Design / MSB Technology. People were telling me on several occasion that Marten are true high-end loudspeakers and yep. They were right! On a personal scale, this setup was a solid 9 out of 10 for me, sounding extremely precise and tightly controlled, while always pressing the gas pedal to the floor. Dynamics, dynamics and again dynamics, I was toe-tapping and I was feeling every beat of the music. I couldn’t fault anything about this setup, except that I wasn’t getting goose bumps.
- Kharma - One of the biggest, widest and layered sound I’ve heard at the show. Instead of a relaxed presentation, Kharma were considerably snappier and muscular sounding, always racing for the pole position when it comes to dynamics. These weren’t only fast, but incredibly punchy and tactile sounding, right up my alley indeed. Those WADAX electronics were also quite spectacular to look at. If I’m not mistaken, that WADAX DAC is still the most expensive current-production DAC out there, Wowza!
- Credo Audio Switzerland / Pass Labs. Fourteen woofers and thirteen two ring radiator tweeters per loudspeaker, Credo Audio could easily win the Guinness World Record for the most drivers in their loudspeakers. Jokes aside, before music started playing, I thought it would be a complete disaster. Think about forty-six acoustic inception points per loudspeaker, about the timing errors associated with them or about the complicated crossover. There are so many things that could go wrong and yet when people calmed their spirits and music started playing…I’ve felt that I had a big electrostatic speaker in front of me, but with a lot more oomph and low-end delivery. Sincerely, I couldn’t fault anything in this room, these sounded sublime! They got the weight, the impact, the scale and the air mass of some of the nicest loudspeakers I’ve heard in my life. We were gob smacked, looking at each other with funny faces. A big question mark was hovering around our heads, smiling at one another as mindless chimps. These speakers rocked our world for sure.
2. Honorable Mentions
- MSB Technology / Estelon – one of the most expensive and visually pleasing setups. Everybody knows MSB DACs by now and height adjustment Estelon loudspeakers. A match made in heaven, with the exception that dynamics weren’t up there with the best. Easily A mark tier, that could be A+ with better room acoustics.
- dCS / D’agostino / Wilson Audio – dCS just announced their newest Vivaldi One Apex DAC that was playing at the front end of the system. The final outcome was an impressively layered sound, that was hitting the brakes on several occasions. I didn’t feel the need for speed that Wilson Audio are notorious for, instead I’ve got and overly smooth and relaxed sound that was limiting dynamics little by little.
- Grimm Audio – There were five LS1 loudspeakers placed around the room, which created the most holographic and 3D sound. While I really liked this effect at first, it was really weird listening to music this way. These would be impressive for a cinephile that cares about sound quality
- Lampizator / Gershman Acoustics – almost there with some of the best setups, but the sound just didn’t gel together. For some reason, the top octave felt separated from the rest, creating a few timing errors, otherwise a great sounding setup none the less.
- Auralic / ATC loudspeakers – One of the most affordable setups of the show, there was just an Auralic streamer, a DAC, followed by active ATC loudspeakers. We couldn’t complain much, ATCs sounded sublime, just not as technical and fast as some of the best setups out there.
- Raidho Acoustics / Moon Audio – the biggest surprise was not hearing their best of the best TD6 loudspeakers - which naturally sounded bigger than life, offering one of the biggest and widest sound of the show. The rock star was the tiny X1.6 that sounded massive for their size, so much so that at first, we thought that TD6 were playing! Our jaws hit the floor when Raidho representatives started swapping cables, connecting them to their biggest RD6 loudspeakers. X1.6 impressed us so much that we’re contemplating in getting a pair for ourselves.
- Triode Japan / Spendor – a random surprise of the show. One of the most affordable (who I’m kidding in here) system of the show and probably the smoothest, the warmest and the most colorful sounding system of them all. I left their room only because I had to, so I could try a few more setups, otherwise it was one of the most inviting and soul grabbing experiences I had at the show. Yummy!
- MBL – spacious, open and wide, but completely dead when it comes to dynamics. Too ethereal and lightweight sounding for me. Zero dynamics, punch and fun factor. No bueno.
II. Headphone Gear
1. Best Of Show
- Riviera Audio Labs AIC10 / Hifiman Susvara – I couldn’t stop smiling while listening to this one. I hope next year they’ll get a proper booth behind close doors. It was too noisy drawing conclusions, but even in such conditions, I could see the beauty behind their amplifier. A great combo indeed!
- Feliks Envy / Abys AB-1266 TC / Meze Elite – A transient response monster that outclassed the sound of Cayin HA-300 MK2 when it comes to dynamics and sheer power output. Envy was pretty much on the same level with AIC10, it wasn’t as romantic and warm sounding as the Italian, otherwise a very impressive amplifier. High-end audio indeed!
- Ferrum Hypsos / OOR / Erco / Meze Elite – the most welcoming and funniest booth of them all. They offered free beers (I think I’ve got three) AND a bottle of mead! I barely escaped alive. These guys were beyond cool, relaxed and oh so funny. On top of that, Marcin is a true leader and the most positive thinking man I’ve met in three days. We already know the OOR with Hypsos very well (here’s a detailed review) and it always brings a smile to my face, there’s a ton of power on tap, a warmer and a life-like tonality. What’s not to like?
- Spirit Torino Valkyria Titanium - I had too little time with them, but it was clear that I was dealing with a special sounding headphone. Dynamics stood out immediately and the out of head experience as well, reminiscent of the Sennheiser HD800S, maybe a bit bigger sounding. A binaural recording was playing at first, which made me turn my head quite often. After listening to regular (stereo) music, they were still mighty impressive and engaging sounding. I’m not exactly sure if they are worth their asking price (12.000 EUR), but these were definitely high-end material.
- Zähl HM1 Reference headphones mixing amplifier / HEDDphone – I never tried the HEDDphone, so this was my first contact. Let me say that the person at the booth was extremely friendly and polite, we had a long chat, so I had little to no time for a listening session. However, I’ve immediately felt its dark background, uber detailed nature and the slight warmish tonality. It wasn’t the most powerful amplifier out there, but for non-Susvara users, this could be an end-game solid-state amplifier.
- Stax SR-X9000 / SRM-T8000 – Easily the most transparent and detail-oriented setup of the show. With all due respect to Hifiman Susvara and Abyss AB-1266 TC users, SR-X9000 were even clearer and more transparent sounding with everything I was throwing at them. I also tried a pair of Final D8000 PRO which at first sounded disjointed and wrong (dare I say…broken) after trying out the Stax. A minute later, I could finally understand the sound of the Final D8000 Pro, still SR-X9000 was playing in a (much) higher league. I was so impressed by the X9000, that I’m already thinking about getting one too, too bad they need a specially tailored electrostatic amplifier.
- Hifiman HE-R10P – Pretty much a closed back Susvara that was by a hair smoother and warmer sounding in the bass and midrange department. This is probably the best closed-back headphone I’ve heard at the show. I wasn’t surprised by their technicalities, as I was expecting them, I was surprised by not sounding inside my head, almost at all. Very airy and holographic for a closed-back, impressive.
2. The Biggest Surprise of the Show
- Meze 109 PRO – After trying out the Meze Elite via the Feliks Envy, my expectations for 109 PRO were very low. I was thinking of an open-back 99 Classics…but boy, I was so wrong. Tonality wise, 109 PRO could brawl with the best headphones of the show. Everything was at its right place, it was so easy falling in love with them. I’ve tried a dozen of tracks, ranging from jazz, to electronica and rock and they worked equally well with everything. While not as technical and precise as their Elite planars….109 PRO wasn’t that far off if being completely honest with you. Remember my words: These. Will. Sell. Like. Hot. Cakes.
- Sadly, there wasn’t a single pair of Sennheiser HE-1 anymore, not even a pair of Hifiman Shangri-La Senior or Junior versions, I wanted to try them out quite badly, but maybe next year.
Wrapping up my report for Munich High End Show 2022, I didn’t visit all booths, I didn’t have the time for all of them. Same thing happened in my 2019 visit, it was too much to listen and digest, but don’t you worry, next year I’ll stay all four days and I wouldn’t miss a single booth (fingers crossed). I’m already missing the Dunkel and Weiss beer, the friendly people, the vibe and the beautiful city. I’m leaving below a few hundred pictures for your viewing pleasure, until next time folks!