High End Munich 2019: CD is The New CD, Wireless Systems and the Super Integrated

I doubt by now there is any need for me to tell you that High End Munich is the oldest audio show in Europe or the biggest or that it has been held at the fantastic glass & steel and sunlight-filled MOC convention center since 2003. Or that “MOC” stands for Münchner Orden Center (Münch Order Center). Or that Munich High End is the biggest audio trade fair because it is always sold out and there are always over 500 exhibitors... But!

New from Norma. Norma Audio HS-DA1

Unless you go there, you might not grasp how, as you walk the four enormous halls and three endless atriums, you see and hear where specialist audio is now (the current state of the art) and where it is going (the dominant technological and aesthetic trends).

Last year, I was amazed at how I counted almost 60 rooms with giant horn loudspeaker systems. Digital? Streaming? Yes, there were streamer sources featuring TIDAL, Qobuz, and Roon; but there were even more rooms featuring turntables and reel-to-reel analogue tape! Last year CD players were nearly invisible and I could hardly find a room that would play music files from my USB stick. Can you believe?

totaldac fleshes out its DAC lineup. totaldac Amp-1

This year there are even more turntables and R2Rs, but suddenly the newest trend is end-game CD: CD, SACD, DVD, and Blu-Ray players (and transports) built to the highest level of mechanical and sonic quality. It seems manufacturers perceive audio enthusiasts as wanting to hunker down to re-appreciate the collections they have amassed. Can you imagine slews of CD players priced above $20,000 USD? Close your eyes. Do you see them?

The HV Series from T+A. T+A SACD/CD Transports

In the same tone, I am seeing manufacturers committing to the 21st-century version of the 1970’s audio receiver: very stylish one-box super integrated amps with DACs, streamers, CD-burners/players, phono-stages, internet radios, Bluetooth, DSD, wi-fi, etc. – all built in. I saw these one-box schemes powering $100,000+ horns – sourced and controlled by wi-fi and/or Bluetooth – from the listener’s phone! Can you imagine?

I am sure you already knew the biggest trend is wireless speakers which have moved up very quickly from lifestyle products to extremely good sounding audiophile-grade systems. Yesterday, I heard a complete $8,000 USD system (by Voxitiv) that had two wired black-lacquered speakers with one matching black box equipped with only a power cord and an on-off switch. It did everything and sounded better than many $20,000 systems I have assembled in my listening studio.

Voxativ simplicity.Voxativ

Dynaudio and the wireless boom. Dynaudio

And prices? Can you imagine $21,000 phono cartridges? $35,000 tonearms? Or $27,000 CD transports? $120,000 DACs? I saw these things.

I will tell more in the days to follow, but so far, it has been a mind-altering experience. The MOC is the place to be.


Ortofan's picture

... somehow suddenly increased by an order of magnitude (or two), or have all the high-end audio equipment producers concluded that the only way to survive is by catering to the one-percenters of the world?

volvic's picture

There will always be people who love their CD's and not really into the computer audio route. I was one of them but now totally sold on computer audio and its sonic benefits. Still, could it be that the advent of computer audio forced CD player manufacturers to up the ante and bring their A game to the consumer? That is, make better machines and transports that can compete with computer audio? It is possible, I have heard of SACD afficionados stating that copying an SACD file to their computer doesn't sound as good as it does played through an SACD machine. The problem is that these machines will need to be manufactured in a bespoke manner, with customized, built from the ground up transports made out of aluminium and metal, somebody is going to have to pay for all of this expertise. If you thought the YBA and Linn Ikemi players were expensive in the 90's than have a look at how much these beautie from CH Precision and T+A are going to cost.

Mike Rubin's picture

You only can report on what's shown, but, jeez, weren't there ANY new products that a wage-earner realistically could use in a system costing less than a couple grand? From the extensive press coverage here and all over the net, I can see that a lot of us might be in the wrong hobby!