Pieter Bruegel the Elder's "Das Schlaraffenland" (1567) which I got to see on my first day in Munich at the wonderful Arte Pinakothek
"It's how all hi-fi shows should be." I heard this sentiment expressed by more than a few people about the Munich High End Show and I agree. While the MOC where the event is held does not offer the last word in friendly room acoustics, the benefits of the place far outweigh the sonic pitfalls. And these benefits include location, location, and location. I'm not sure you can pick up the vibe at the Munich show and transplant it just any old place.
The Zero 1 (€9000) from Avantgarde Acoutic wins my award for best Trendspotting piece of kit because the Zero 1 packs up pretty much everything you need minus the source(s) into a horn loaded package. You get a DAC, preamp, and amp with USB, Toslink, S/PDIF, AES/EBU, and optional analog inputs stuffed inside a pair of horn-loaded loudspeakers. And I mean loud. The Avantgarde presentation was in German but the Zero 1s easily speak to anyone with ears who cared to listen and I found this room's sound to be among the most compelling and physically vibrant at the show. The Zero 1's speakers are rated at 104dB and their associated amps at 2x 50W for the midrange and tweeters, and 1 x400W for the bass and the combo had no problems filling Avantgarde's very large exhibition room with pulse pounding yet finely nuanced music.
I also covered the Munich High End Show for Stereophile where my assignment was to pick a few favorite things. You can read all about my picks right here but this task also led me to places I wouldn't normally travel, namely rooms without computer audio stuff. So I actually listened to a wider variety of gear than my typical AudioStream focus and I thought I'd share some of these rooms as well as things I've covered before or just frankly didn't get enough info on to cover more fully.
I got to hear two very interesting A/B comparisons in the JPlay/Thrax Audio room. For the first A/B, we switched back 'n forth between the same song by none other than Elvis playing from a 12" 45rpm single (A) and a 16/44.1 rip (B). The second A/B was a live LP (A) compared to the digital download of the same. During the A/B'ing in the first comparison, the differences were negligible at best. I would have been hard pressed to guess which we were listening to. In the second comparison, it was painfully clear that the LP sounded smaller, more condensed, and overall less engaging. And I mean painfully clear. But let's set the boundaries of these A/Bs as they are talking about the recordings and system context as much as they are about formats. But I still view this as good news.
The Soledge Maestro (€14,000) from France incorporates 2x 1TB hard drives for music storage, a 8.4" color touchscreen display that pops up when it senses someone is near (using a proximity sensor), a slot drive for ripping your CDs, Coax S/PDIF and Toslink outputs, fixed and variable RCA outputs, and 3 USB ports for accessing music from USB storage. But the real story with Soledge is their components all talk to one another via power line communication (PLC) technology which they call the Canto system, kinda like Sonos but for grownups. The other thing of note is Soledge quotes Jean Paul Sartre on their marketing literature which is a first in my experience:
"We shall call emotion a sudden loss of consciousness into the magical." ~ Jean Paul Sartre
The Orpheus Lab Vanguard Digital Audio Dock supports Firewire, USB (up to 24/192KHz), Bluetooth A2DP, iPod/iPad/iPhone, flash USB, LAN, Webradio, Toslink, ADAT, AES/EBU and S/PDIF digital formats. There's also a line in input for you analog guys and gals and a volume control so the DAD can function as a preamplifier as well. Nice!
Trinnov Audio from France was showing off their Amethyst (€8,000) which is a preamplifier, MM phono preamp, digital media renderer, 24/192 DAC, room/speaker optimizer, 2-way active crossover, and Wi-Fi access point all wrapped in one sweet package. Inputs include 2x XLR, 1x RCA, 1x MM phono (RCA), 2x AES/EBU, 2x Coax S/PDIF, 2x Toslink, Word Clock in/out, and 1x DLNA/UPnP Ethernet (supports WAV, AIFF, OGG, FLAC, MP3 up to 24/192kHz).
I first listened to this system at the NY Show (read my more in-depth report here) and remain impressed. The system consists of the The Weiss MAN301 music server ($9,083 or $12,262 w/Internal DAC which is the Weiss DAC202) which was directly connected to a pair of Klangwerk Ella fully active speakers ($7,495.00/each). The German-made Integrita audiophile music server ($5,500 for 10TB total storage/6TB for music storage) which is really a NAS stored the tunes and this all adds up to another addition to our Trendspotting list.
Some things are nearly certain and one such reassuring event is the TAD room at hi-fi shows which consistently deliver great sound. "Effortless, dynamically scary, piano and cello sound like piano and cello..." so went my listening notes. Zoomed in on in the above picture is the TAD C2000 Preamplifier ($24,500) that also houses a 24/192-capable DAC.
I was first made aware of Dutch company Grimm Audio by Jared Sacks of Channel Classics Records who uses the Grimm AD1 on many of his wonderful DSD recordings. At the Munich show, Grimm was lighting up their room with the LS1s loudspeakers (€25,000/pair) which also house a DAC, preamp, amplifier, and subwoofer. So all you need to complete your computer audio system is a server and some music. The LS1s also have an analog input, which gets converted to digital prior to being amplified, so you can add a turntable if you so desire and there's also onboard DSP for equalization, crossover filtering, and time alignment for the two drivers (1” Seas dome tweeter and 8" Seas Excel bass-mid driver). The internal DAC can handle up to 24/192 and the 180W Class D Hypex NCore amplifier section designed by Bruno Putzeys of Mola Mola resides in one of the speaker's legs.
Burmester's components suggest (to me) that one needs to address them with a fair amount of reverence while being properly quaffed, properly attired, and with very good posture. The Burmester 111 Musiccenter ($50,000) combines a DAC, Preamplifier, CD drive for ripping, SSD system disk, mirrored 3TB (6TB total) of hard disk storage for music, UPnP Ethernet and WLAN connectivity, a 7" display, iPad app, 3x analog inputs, 6x digital inputs (3x Toslink and 3x Coax S/PDIF), supported file formats include "FLAC / wav / mp3 etc" and up to 24/192 playback. There's also a headphone jack and RCA and Tolsink output.
Emotiva Pro was showing their Stealth 6 ($499/each) and Stealth 8 ($669/each) powered studio monitors. The Stealth 6 feature a 60 x 32mm airmotiv™ high-frequency transducer and a 165mm (6.5 inch) airmotiv™ low-frequency transducer and each driver gets its own amplifier (100W up top and 110W for the woofer). The Stealth 8 ups the ante on the bass driver to 8" and power gets pushed to 200W for each driver. These are not small speakers but I'm sure they'd make your desktop rumble.
The mysterious AVM Tec (check out their website for an explanation) coupled their Alluxity Pre ONE preamplifier and Power ONE amplifier with the Aurender W20 music server (pictured at the bottom of the rack), and the Estelon Model XB speakers ($32,900/pair). AVM Tec is the brainchild of Alexander Vitus Mogensen, son of Vitus Audio founder Hans-Ole Vitus, and the company specializes in OEM and DIY markets.