I bet you are still searching for a free Munich High End Show 2023 report that doesn’t force you to pay a fee or buy a coffee for a random person. Rest assured, you’re in the right neighborhood which will guide you through a long show report, 14 video interviews placed in a single YouTube video will follow shortly, including hundreds of pictures, lots of highlights, and a few surprises along the way.
We are finally back from the biggest HiFi show on the planet and oh man, what a show it has been! I’ve been traveling with three of my buddies and since our plane touched down at 8 A.M. At 8:30 we were already at the show, which took us in and welcomed us with hot coffee and tasty pretzels.
We had a massive show last year after a dormant three-year pause, but this time around everything felt doubled & blown out of proportion! Finally, I could meet interesting people such as Zach of ZMF headphones, Dan of Dan Clark Audio, Blaz of Erzetich Audio, Chris of Audeze, Pierre of Headonist, Michael of Enleum, Frankie of Shanling, Morten of Raidho and of course, I couldn’t wait to shake hands with familiar faces of Rockna, Trafomatic, Meze, Hifiman, Ferrum Audio and many more. It felt good being stopped by random people, which shared a memory with us and thanked us for our contributions. I’m sorry I couldn’t talk with you all, but maybe we’ll have a bigger team next year and I will have more time for you guys.
If you think we went to Munich High End Show only for high-end electronics that we could never afford, then you would be wrong! We are going there mainly for the social aspect, meeting our old friends and making new ones, we are going for the jokes & laughs, for the beer and wursts, as we couldn’t survive a day without them. Carrying camera equipment for three days straight was tiresome, but thanks to people like Chris of Ferrum Audio and Blaz of Erzetich Audio which provided much-needed beverages and homemade energy boosters, we could continue our work with a wider smile on our eastern-European faces. Although we shot 14 interviews, tens of video B-Rolls, and hundreds of pictures, the positive energy and good vibes emanating from the people kept us going forward, wanting more. The nicest thing about the show is that everybody talks in a language we all cherish and love, people discussing new album releases, old LP releases, and where to get them from, people were chatting about vacuum tubes, dynamics, and sonics all day long. It felt like being in a candy store, the only difference is that we could taste the candy, regardless of its color, size, or price. We had plenty of surprises this year, lots of WOW moments, and very few disappointments. I will be splitting my report in two for speakerphiles and headphone nerds out there and let’s start with all things stereo.
I. Stereo Setups
- Best Of Show
- ESD Acoustic room. This was the biggest and the most expensive room of them all. I’ve been told the whole setup costs around 3.6 million EUR, the paint job for the horns is being done by 15 people and they need to work for 2 months to finish the job. Honestly, horn-loaded speakers were never for me…until I heard these. I closed my eyes and I a big orchestra started playing in front of me, everything felt easy-going and unrestrained, sounding a whole lot Bigger than any other setup at the show. The whole presentation wasn’t just right or natural, it sounded real, like having your orchestra playing just for you. I was shocked by the low end which moved my body a few inches every time a big drum would bang, yet the hits were spreading the energy all over my body, getting them easy and gentle. Although ten power amps were powering every speaker driver you can see in the picture, it sounded like real music played by real people in front of us. This was the biggest surprise, getting WOWed every 10 seconds or so by the sheer scale and naturalness of the music. Of course, we could never afford something like this, but if you have the chance of experiencing an ESD Acoustics setup, don’t walk away from such an opportunity.
- The best loudspeakers for the buck we heard at the show were TOTEM Acoustic loudspeakers. We tried the Tribe Tower first which uses a 1.3” soft dome tweeter and two 4” Torrent woofers. These were one of the smallest stand-floor speakers we heard at the show and yet, the sound was indirectly proportional to their size. The holography and the imaging of these speakers were unmatched by any other speakers at ~8K Euro. These are full-range speakers which don’t use active or passive crossover circuits, getting a very life-like sound that very few setups could provide at higher prices. If I wouldn’t have my KEF Reference 3, then I would surely be getting these babies. Although fancy materials weren’t used in its construction, I was surprised by how fast and energetic these sounded, keeping up with modern tunes and decaying everything at the right time. The key elements that describe their performance were timing, precision, and naturalness. How two 4” woofers could bring so much low-end definition and punch was beyond my understanding, bringing thunder every time a low-end note would hit my eardrums. After a few minutes, we tried their Signature One bookshelf speakers, and again, these had a natural flow, music was pouring slowly into the room like a mountain spring.
- Rockport Technologies speakers, Nagra, and Absolare electronics. How can you build a solid aluminum enclosure for your speakers, yet the outcome would be tight, convincing, and dare I say life-like sounding that very few setups could achieve. The same Rockport speakers were been demoed in at least two additional rooms and regardless of their resting place, these sounded like proper high-end material. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t fault their sound. They had everything a true music lover and audiophile would ever want. These were easily arriving at the lowest octaves, always sounding tight, on top of that they had all the resolution, punch, and naturalness you could desire. I was usually staying for 5-minute listening sessions, but I stood there for 20, gluing myself to the chair. WOW!
- Audioquest room (Rockport Technologies speakers & Riviera Audio Laboratories electronics) Yep, the same Rockport speakers, but this time around I liked the sound even more! I don’t know what mumbo-jumbo the Niagara 5000 Noise-dissipation system is doing (if you don’t have properly grounded power lines), but the transparency and detail retrieval oozing from this setup was breathtaking! I believe Ana Caram was signing and although a few people were talking at first in a corner, a complete silence took over in mere seconds as everyone was awestruck by how real and palpable everything sounded. I could reach my hands and touch the sound waves, which were going deep, wide-open, and oh, so natural. Riviera Audio electronics could be found in three additional rooms and in all three I was surprised by how dynamic, punchy, and alive everything sounded. These Italians surely know what they are doing.
- Raidho Acoustics Room (Moon electronics & Nordost cables). The show-stopper wasn’t the TD6 which sounded deliciously natural, super tight, impactful, and massive as they look. The real show-stopper was the newest X2T stand floor speakers which looked puny by comparison. The funny thing is that after listening to music for 10 minutes, Morten approaches and tells the crowd that it’s time to hear the roar of the mighty TD6…which everybody in the room thought was playing in the first place. The scale of the X2T was mind-blowingly large! They had Mariana Trench levels of depth, accurate pin-point imaging, and a vast soundstage, plus speedy dynamics and quite an impressive low-end delivery. At ~14K EUR these could be some of the best speakers out there. There was of course a difference between them and their high-end TD siblings, but the difference wasn’t a night and day one as their price might suggest. Mark my words: These will sell like hotcakes!
- dCS Room (dCS & D’Agostino electronics & Wilson Audio Speakers). This was a very direct and engaging-sounding room. Sometimes the bass was punching me in the face, having a very visceral feeling to it. I can see myself listening to rock and electronic music all day long with a setup like this. They were playing Tool – Fear Inoculum and in no time, I was head-banging ‘n toe-tapping, raising those horns sky high. This was probably the fastest-sounding setup from the show, which impressed me to the core as fast transients are part of my daily audiophile diet. I couldn’t fault a single thing about it, but this could probably tire you down after a few hours of non-stop listening. An impressive-sounding room nonetheless!
- AudioNec EVO 3 speakers & Riviera Audio Laboratories electronics & Esprit cables. A close friend of mine owns their EVO 1 speakers, wired with Crystal cables and driven by a full Chord Electronics stack and I was already expending that surreal transparency and see-through detail, but I’ve got so much more. The EVO 3 has four woofers instead of one, doing proper justice to dynamics and to everything that has to do with the bass. I was surprised by how organic and real everything sounded. I can’t describe their sound signature as these were disappearing once the music started playing. Since Riviera Audio power amplifiers were driving them, there was a touch of naturalness that grabbed my soul and bolted me to the chair for 20 minutes or so. I couldn’t fault a single thing about this setup, but I would choose livelier music next year, as a single violin or soprano voice can’t show the full beauty of this setup. I’m sure for one thing though, beating the AudioNec at their own game is close to impossible!
2. Honorable Mentions
- Audio Group Denmark booths (Borresen, Aavik, Ansuz & Axxess). Last year, the Audio Group Denmark won our Best of Show award thanks to Borresen M1 bookshelf speakers which outperformed everything else at the show. I could be biased, but they had everything I wanted from a pair of speakers and of course, I was super pumped this year trying out their newest M3 and M6 flagship loudspeakers, which were way more expensive. M3 speakers were in front of me, Lars was sitting to my left, I closed my eyes and let the energy flow. The sound was fantastic, truly…but something didn’t move me internally as it happened last year. Maybe it was the music choice, or maybe there was a little too much bass rumble for my taste…but something didn’t click into place. As expected, I got crazy dynamics, super-fast transients, and among the finest transparency and detail, but for an unknown reason…the music wasn’t speaking directly to my soul. I can see the beauty behind their engineering and I can sense the passion oozing from Lars and Michael when talking about their creations, but maybe next year the small mistake can be taken care of.
- STEIN Music Room (STEIN Music TOPLINE BOB M & BOB L speakers, plus their electronics). I’m not a huge fan of horn-loaded speakers, mostly because they can’t match the speed and resolution of traditional ribbon & planar-magnetic tweeters, but the BOB M and BOB L completely changed my preconceptions. Each speaker uses 12 woofers, out of which 8 are shooting sideways, creating a very 3D & holographic experience, like having a 7.2 Dolby Atmos movie-watching setup all around the room. The sounds were coming from everywhere and to our surprise, there was a perfect balance between bass, midrange, and treble. The orchestra sounded bigger than life and while these were considerably more affordable than the ESD Acoustics speakers, the sound was very familiar and I can see myself using a pair like this in a bigger apartment or home. The sound was easy on the ear and unrestrained, I could follow every small nuance, and the air passing by felt quite amusing.
- Rockna Electronics streamer & DAC, Trafomatic Audio amplification, Signal Projects wires, and Tune Audio speakers. Nucu and Sasha prepared a real feast for the eyes, putting together a yummy-looking Rockna Wavedream Signature Anniversary DAC, a cherry red Trafomatic Rhapsody Limited Edition integrated which was driving a pair of Tune Audio Epitome of the same color scheme. What can you expect from a world-class R-2R ladder DAC, an all-tube 300B amplifier (the most powerful of its class as well), and a super-efficient pair of horn-loaded speakers that are taller than a regular basketball player? The sound was pouring from above in an easy-going manner, male vocalists had stronger and ballsier vocal cords and female singers were crawling under my skin in mere seconds. This was a creamy, warm, and full-bodied-sounding setup that was constantly sending goosebumps throughout my body. When the pace was ramping up, the sound got nimble and powerful. Nucu was also showing off his brand new Wavelight Server/Streamer (which is already shipping) and an ultra-high-end Wavedream ULTRA DAC which is in the works for quite some time. Whatever you do with the Wavedream ULTRA in the coming months, please don’t lower down wild dynamics and punchy transients of its Wavedream Signature sibling! The Ballz, We Need Them!
- AlsyVox speakers, Lampizator DAC, Pilium amplifiers & Omega wires. Just look at those speakers and tell me what you see. They sounded exactly as they looked. If you love an open and wide sound that won’t linger for a microsecond longer (as horn-loaded speakers would do sometimes), then these are definitely for you! Don’t mistake them for electrostatic speakers, as these are 100% planar-magnetic ones. Apart from getting a massive soundscape, these were bringing smiles once energetic music started playing. The low-end must be heard to be believed, getting a thunderous sub-bass delivery, a yummy-sounding midrange, and a refined top-octave, which never bothered us with bright trebles. This was one of the most natural and life-like sounding rooms of the show, I couldn’t fault a single thing. Chapeau Bas!
II. Headphone Gear
- Best Of Show
- Meze Audio Booth. Hear me out. These crazy guys had sixteen (yes, 16! ) different listening stations covering most amplifier and DAC releases out there. If you wanted to hear a Rockna Wavedream Signature, a WooAudio Luna, a Feliks Audio Envy, an AudioByte HydraVox, a Ferrum Wandla + OOR + Hypsos, a Gold Note DS10 Plus, a bigger DS1000 EVO, or the full dCS Lina stack and many, many more, then you could find all that goodness at the Meze Audio booth. One of the very best headphone battle stations I’ve heard was at the Meze Audio booth consisting of an Innuous streamer, Rockna Wavedream Signature DAC, and WooAudio Luna headphone amp, driving the majestic sounding Meze Elite. Most of the headphone gear I wanted to try at the show was already located at the Meze booth and as you can expect, I spent most of the time listening to music or having relaxing discussions with Antonio or with anybody else from their beyond-uber-cool-9000-booth. A birdie chirped that next year they’ll have bigger guns, so I’ll probably bring a pillow and have a nap in the headphone heaven while sipping from a Weisse bier. As it happened last year, the Meze team crafted a one-of-a-kind Meze Elite headphone for the legendary guitarist Al Di Meola, painted in the colors of its signature PRS (Prism Electric) guitar. The guy looked genuinely excited about the gift.
- Riviera Audio Laboratories APL10 Tube Line Preamplifier & AFC10 headphone power amplifier powering the Hifiman Susvara, which are coming as an upgrade to the already awesome sounding AIC10 Balanced headphone amplifier. I’m not sure which DAC was used in there, but to my (rusty) ears it bested the Viva Egoista 845 sitting near it, which was driving the same headphone. The Riviera combo had everything I could dream about in a headphone setup. The sound was refined, easy on the ear, and highly entertaining, yet technical and massive sounding. If you need an end-game banger setup, then I don’t know a better-sounding one than the APL10 & AFC10. I can feel my wallet repeating the same word, over and over again: Scheiße!
- Ferrum Audio Wandla DAC, OOR headphone amplifier & Hypsos power supply. Finding a water supply at the show was quite a challenge and after running and gunning all day long with a 12-kilo camera setup, the only thing you can think of is either water or a cold beer. Chris saved my life several times in that crowded inferno, always providing a wink, a smile, and a godly cold beer. Cheers mate! Could you ask for more? I don’t think so. You could try this stack at the Ferrum & Meze Audio booths, but naturally, you had more headphone choices at the Ferrum beer factory. First and foremost, Wandla is a unique high-end DAC from any point of view, packed with a custom I/V conversion stage, custom digital filters made by the creators of HQPlayer, and many additional filters that will be coming soon as firmware updates. This is what I call customer support. This was among the finest-sounding stack you could find at the show, never occupying a lot of space, yet sounding natural, incredibly dynamic, and emotionally involving. This was also one of the most affordable high-end stacks you could find at the show and no, I’m not kidding. One thing is for sure, a Wandla review will be coming shortly from the DACMan himself and I can’t wait to meet these guys next year.Na Zdrowie!
- Erzetich Audio booth (Charybdis, Phobos, Mania driven by Perfidus, Medousa, Deimos, and Scylla amplifiers).There was another supplier of homemade energy boosters at the show and his name is Blaz Erzetich. I tried a raspberry Malinca(a raspberry-flavored spirit) on the first day as a morale booster and a green ooze on the second day, which brought some energy back although a third arm sprang from my back. Apart from that, I was genuinely impressed by the Scylla amplifier driving his brand-new Charybdis. Although clean, highly technical, and big sounding, Charybdis needs an amplifier that would tame their upper treble and bring more definition in the midrange and that’s exactly what Scylla did. The pairing was fabulous and I could easily live with it in a no-man’s land.
- Kallyste Amethyste high-end headphone amplifier. There were several high-end headphones at their booth, including the newest Pioneer planars, ZMF and Hifiman Susvara just to name a few. Its sound was incredibly refined, borderless, vast, and expansive, yet powerful and punchy. As a transient response nut, I tried overdriving it for a few seconds, but it refused to hit the brakes. Dynamics were still going up and the sounds never felt loose or out of control. There was plenty of power left on tap and I hear that they are still tweaking the output stage for slightly more power. It already provides 15 juicy Watts into 8 Ohms and I can’t imagine pushing that output a little bit higher. As an end-game amplifier, expect to pay two sacks of pennies and a bottle of wine, quoting a ~16K EUR price point. I don’t think I need my Harley anymore, right?
- ZMF Headphones. Who would think that Zach and his lovely Bevin are so friendly and down-to-earth individuals? The sound of their headphones didn’t matter at that point, I wanted to know more about them, about the art of crafting headphones into beautiful art pieces. These guys were beyond cool and you could feel how genuine and passionate these people were about their creations. I didn’t have the energy to carry my (heavy) tripod and the second microphone on the third day, so instead of an interview, we got a monologue from Zach which presented his newest creations in quite a chilly way…he even spelled my name right! As for their headphones, I think I like their Caldera the most due to their tight, clean, and punchy performance, but the moment I put the Verite and Auteur on, I understood why people love these with every cell of their bodies. These were one of the most engaging, impactful, and jumpy-sounding headphones, especially after engaging Feliks Envy’sWatt factory, which pumped dynamics like no other amp did at their booth.
- Hifiman Electronics. I’m still kicking myself in the nuts for not having the time to try out the Shangri-La SR, Audvina, and the newest state-of-the-art EF1000 DAC & Amplifier combo, but their Arya Organic and Ananda Nano will be massive hits at their respective price points. Past iterations of Arya always felt technical and too serious sounding, without making a strong bond with my music and this is how Arya Organic solved the biggest problem single-handedly. Expect a fuller-bodied midrange, a lusher treble delivery, and overall, a better flow in long listening sessions. The price didn’t go up and I can sense a cult following for these already. Ananda Nano is exactly what you would expect from a mid-range planar, except that these are slightly more transparent and detailed sounding.
2. Honorable Mentions
- Holo Audio MAY KTE & Holo Audio BLISS KTE driving the Audeze LCD-5. Finally, I could see the beauty behind LCD-5 with a stack like this. LCD-5 are quite a linear-sounding pair of HPs, with little sub-bass punch, always having an on-stage presentation, but the Holo Audio stack magically solved all their problems as a magic wand. The sound got deeper and wider, plus the bass was much more present all around. This could easily be your last solid-state battle station.
- Audeze booth. Chris was such a chatty and funny guy. I was surprised the most about the MM-100 sound & build quality and the same can be said about their Maxwell gaming headphones. The MM-100 comes as a successor to their LCD-1 headphones and you can hear and see that from the very first seconds. Gone is the ugly plastic body, replaced with a full metallic structure and real leather headband. The build quality is rivaling even the LCD-5 if being completely honest with you and their sound didn’t disappoint a single bit.
- Lotoo Mjolnir desktop & portable DAC/Amp combo. First of all, it indeed looks like a Mjolnir hammer, carved from solid metal garnished with gold accents here in there. The build quality was fantastic, every single screw and bolt fit perfectly into place and you could feel that a crazy engineer (in a good way) is building this piece of machinery. It had the power to drive the DCA Stealth and Hifiman Susvara on its SE headphone jack so there is a lot of power even for the most demanding loads. I don’t know why, but I suddenly feel the need of having one. *Googles: kidney buyers*
- Enleum HPA-23RM portable headphone amplifier powered by a HiFi Rose DAC & streamer. I don’t know what magical liquids Soo In poured over its circuit board and what ritual dances were performed while designing the unit, but DCA Stealth and Hifiman Susvara were fully driven with authority, bass slam, and midrange purity! I was impressed.
- Zähl HM1 Reference headphone amplifier. I tried it last year with unknown headphones to me (HEDDphones), but this year I tried it with a DCA Stealth and Hifiman Susvara, and to nobody’s surprise, the hype is real. It didn’t sound like my former Benchmark HPA4 amplifier, the HM1 was considerably more real, more emotionally involved, tighter sounding, and harder pounding. I can understand why people are choosing it as an end-game headphone amp. Too bad Mr.Zähl is not speeding up its production, I hear people waiting in line for more than a year.
3. Slight Disappointments
- Instead of chasing beers, wursts, and good-looking women, I should chase more headphones as sadly, I didn’t try the Sennheiser HE-1 (Orpheus 2), the Hifiman Shangri-La SR, nor the STAX X9000 from their booths.
III. End Words
Wrapping up our report for Munich High End Show 2023, we didn’t have the time to visit all and everything, which feels like Déjà Vu for our 2022 and 2019 visits. it was too much to listen to and digest, but don’t you worry, next year we’ll have a bigger team (bad news for Chris at Ferrum), and hopefully, we will stay for the last day as well. We are already missing the friendly people, the vibe, and the beautiful city. Before you go, find below a few hundred pictures for your viewing pleasure and a must-see video up top which includes plenty of interviews with companies that caught our attention. Until next time folks!