High End Munich 2019 Wrap: The Four Cycles of Audiophile Combustion

The four parts of a four-stroke internal combustion engine’s cycle are: intake, compression, power, and exhaust. The 38th consecutive staging of HIGH END Munich was pretty much like that.

Imagine a time-lapse video showing an aerial view of an enormous glass and steel convention center. Notice light from the sky penetrating all the way down to the ground floor. From above, you can see the whole building in plain-view – including its insides. First it is starkly empty and quiet. Then a truck pulls up. Then another. Then hundreds of trucks coming and going. You can see mountains of tan boxes piling up, moving around inside. Then cars begin disappearing into the basement garage. Then the boxes disappear; and the whole building sounds like an orchestra tuning-up. This intense intake is followed by a quiet night.

Imagine this process as started on Monday, May 6th, in Munich Germany, and it represented the intake of audio and display gear of 551 exhibitors from 42 countries. The quiet night is Wednesday, May 8th.

Early Thursday morning, 8,208 trade visitors arrive, most in pale yellow taxis, from 72 different countries. There is a second (alternative) show called HiFiDeluxe; it is just-a-ways away at the Marriot hotel. Picture thousands of taxis and shuttles, like bees, swarming to and from one hive to another. And the show isn’t even open to the public yet. (compression)

The trade visitors are back Friday morning, but now they can barely get around, because all the empty spaces are stuffed with audiophiles, carrying cloth bags, staring at the High End app on their smart phones, and gulping free espressos. The massive sky-lit edifice is now under complete siege. (power)

At 4 p.m. on Sunday, it gets scary. The visitors slowly and reluctantly exit the building. Some, still stalking the halls while the 551 exhibitors accomplish the impossible: in about 3-hours, they tear down and pack up rooms and booths that took 2-3 days to set up. Cars, trucks, and taxis exit the building at a mad rate. It took me and my mates almost an hour just to exit the basement parking garage. Everyone in the car is still hyperventilating from the show’s power cycle.

The only question now is: was this mad European siege worth it?

By 4 p.m. Sunday, all those 8,208 distributor-dealer trade visitors (from 72 countries) had interacted with the 551 exhibitors (from 42 countries) and were on their way home to write emails, negotiate deals and make money transfers – expanding the exhibitor’s brand into new markets. By 6 p.m. on Sunday, all those massive billboards, and that incredible, relentless signage are gone. All those 12,972 audiophile-attendees are mostly home, their minds filled with extremely-exotic sights and sounds. Brand names and faceplate logos spinning in their mind’s eye.

But, for me, the beauty of this show, was not the big time-lapse picture above. The reality of High End 2019 took place down on the ground, face-to-face, close up, eye-to-eye. It took place, sitting in the sweet spot, whispering to the person next to me; or, huddled up in the back of the room, listening to a designer explaining his creation.

The reality of this show that lingers now, is not the hive and swarm, or in the international money transfers, but in the snippets of sweet stereo sound that haunt my memories. I can still see the gleams of prospect and promise in the manufacturer’s eyes. I can still feel the sincerity of husbands and wives inviting me to audition the latest products from their small family-owned companies. I can still hear the voices of seasoned PR persons approaching me from behind. Most of all, I can still see the looks of yearning, and audio-gear aspiration, clouding the eyes of audiophiles and their familes. I can still hear my audio peeps exclaiming, “Best show ever!” And “Can’t wait ‘til next year!”

As soon as the High End Society of Munich announces the 2020 show dates, I will make my reservations. Hope to meet you there.


Ortofan's picture

... or not?
In the following report, he states that "I missed Sunday altogether because I had a 12:00 flight back to JFK."

Rafe Arnott's picture
If you read it, he's clearly referring to the 2018 trip. Not 2019.