High End Munich 2023: show report
Andrew Everard, Audio Editor
Tuesday, June 13, 2023
The world's largest audio show saw major launches, huge numbers – and plenty to delight, intrigue and fascinate, says Andrew Everard
Everything about the High End Show, held annually in Munich, is big. Held over four days, it attracts tens of thousands of visitors to see more than 800 brands on display and demonstration, filling four halls and two atrium areas lined with showrooms. Comfortably the world’s largest specialty audio show, it’s also the launching-point for many brands’ latest products , and over its 40 years has taken on global significance as the place to see – and hear – the latest audio arrivals, from pairs of headphones to loudspeakers and electronics with five- or six-figure price-tags.
One of the biggest announcements, in terms of the sheer number of products launched, was from Britain’s Naim Audio, following the announcement of its New Classics 200-Series earlier this year with a complete 300 Series system of network player, preamplifier, monobloc power amps and phono preamplification. All the new arrivals can be used with existing Naim components, but they also form a remarkable system in their own right, with Naim’s usual option of enhancing the performance of the NSC 333 network player and NAC 332 preamplifier, each selling for £7900, with the addition of the NPX 300 power supply launched alongside the 200 Series models.
Paying tribute: Naim's Nait 50 integrated amplifier
Both network player and preamp have greatly revised circuitry, and they can be partnered with the company’s new NAP 350 mono power amplifier, delivering 175W and selling for £12,000 a pair. Completing the new line-up is a standalone moving coil/moving magnet phono stage and power supply, derived from the units supplied with the company limited edition Solstice turntable and selling for £2699 apiece.
The New Classics range is part of Naim’s celebrations of its 50th anniversary, so the surprise addition to the announcement was the Nait 50 integrated amplifier, a tribute to the first Naim amplifier of this kind, combining up-to-date electronics with a very retro look. With a 25W per channel output and the classic Naim ‘chrome bumper’ look, right down to the original company logo, the new Nait features a headphone output based on that in the company’s Atom HE, and will be available in a limited edition of just 1973 unit, at £2699.
Also announcing the unexpected was another British company, loudspeaker maker PMC: its new prodigy models are designed to slot in below its current range, while still retaining technology and performance derived from its professional use speakers, found in recording and broadcast studios, and mastering suites, worldwide.
The prodigy 1 standmount speaker, at £1250 a pair, and the £1995/pr Prodigy 5 floorstanders, share the company’s 27mm tweeter and 13cm mid/bass driver, both tried and tested in PMC pro-use models, along with design and components dictated by listening as much as measurement. The bass is tuned using the company’s Advanced Transmission Line technology, with Laminair ports used to smooth the airflow for a big, rich sound, while the design of both drivers aims to deliver excellent imaging and a neutral tonal balance across a wide listening area.
Talking points: PMC's Prodigy group
Prices are kept down by offering the speakers in just one finish – a ‘pro-grade’ silk black – and offering magnetic grilles as an extra-cost options, but the prodigy models were definitely one of the talking-points of the show, offering superb weight an definition from compact enclosures – even the floorstanders is only a little over a metre tall on its spikes. The Prodigy 5 will be reviewed in Gramophone’s August issue.
A classic British loudspeaker line is being revived by Musical Fidelity, which now has its own versions of the famous ‘BBC monitor’ designs, the LS3/5A and LS5.9. Its new arrivals join a number of variations on the BBC speaker theme now on the market, with the LS3/5A selling for £2349 a pair, and the LS5/9 £4099.
The Munich show wouldn’t be the same without big, impressive – and expensive – speakers, and Danish company Dali didn’t disappoint with the début of its Epikore 11 model, although this large 4.5-way design is actually a simplified derivative of the massive Kore speaker the company demonstrated at the last High End show. Described as ‘the natural progression of our award winning EPICON speaker, applying the learnings from our DALI KORE flagship,’ the speaker uses a hybrid tweeter module plus five more drivers, including four 20cm bass drivers, and is expected to sell for just under £40,000 a pair, in high-gloss black, maroon or walnut, when it arrives in August.
Rather more affordable are the new Concept 5000 speakers from UK company Q Acoustics, which fills the gap below its high-end – though keenly-priced – flagship models. Ranging from the compact 5010 standmount at £499/pr to the 5040 floorstander (£999/pr), the speakers use the company’s Continuous Curved Cone mid/bass driver for excellent dispersion, integration with the tweeter and improved deep bass dynamics. The tweeters are decoupled from the cabinets, which use Point-to-Point bracing and measures to avoid pressure build-up within the enclosures, and are available in satin black or white, Santos Rosewood and Holme Oak. A larger 5050 floorstander will join the range later.
Scene-stealing: Q Acoustics's Concept 5000 speakers
JBL has been working-over its retro-styled Classic range, with the MkII versions of its L82 and L100 speakers gaining woofers with improved linearity, higher-performance tweeter and midrange drivers, and a change to the crossover design to provide dual inputs for use in bi-wiring applications. The new models will sell for £1999 and £3998 per pair, respectively. A new larger 4329P model has joined the 4305P in this company’s active speaker range, which offers wireless and wired connectivity for a complete ‘system in a box’ appeal. Selling for £2099 and £3049 per pair, the speakers will also be available in a white finish later this year.
Streaming was everywhere at the show, with Auralic announcing no fewer than four new models: G2.2 and G3 versions of its Aries wireless streaming transport and processor, at £5299 and £9899, have more than 90 per cent new components, enhanced power supplies and more, plus the option of installing faster NVMe SSD storage within the units. And coming soon are G2.2 and G3 versions of the company’s Vega streaming DAC, at £6899 and £10,699.
Not to be outdone, Japan’s Melco has launched its N5-H50 digital music library server, bringing the technology of its range-topping N1-S38 to a more affordable price level. The £7499 newcomer uses HDD storage range than the flagship’s SSD, and has simplified features, but retains the high-quality ‘hand-built in Japan’ design of the N1-S38.
A flagship streaming product from Hi-Fi Rose
And Korea’s Hi-Fi Rose? It announced a flagship streaming transport, due on sale this summer. The RS130 uses all-new casework fronted by a 15.4in full-width display, and excludes interference by supporting fibre optic network and USB connections, and an internal SSD to cache data, again allowing clean signal generation. The price is yet to be confirmed.
Away from all this cutting-edge design, there was a distinctly retro theme in Munich, from that Naim Nait 50 and JBL’s Classic electronics to NAD’s C3050 ‘Stereophonic Amplifier’: selling for £1299, this has a look reminiscent of the company’s earliest designs, such as legendary 3020, but uses up to date technology such as Hybrid Digital power amplification and high-performance digital conversion from TI. It also features the company’s MDC2 ‘modular design construction’, allowing additional modules to be plugged into a slot at the rear, for example to bring BluOS multiroom capability to the amplifier.
And if that makes you think there might be something of an integrated amplifier revival going on, you’d be right: Japanese company Soul Note, formed by ex-Marantz engineers, was showing its massive A3 integrated, formed by combining its existing preamp and power amp technologies in a single housing, while Britain’s Chord Electronics announced the latest addition to its Ultima flagship range. The 125W per channel Ultima Integrated is designed by Chord Electronics’ founder, owner and chief engineer, John Franks, using the latest dual-feed-forward error-correction topology, and the company’s proprietary ultra-high-frequency power supplies. The first Chord Electronics integrated amplifier for seven years, it goes on sale in September at £8500.
An anniversary classic: Thoren's TD124DD
Finally, when it comes to anniversaries, turntable manufacturer Thorens has all the rest beaten: it’s celebrating its 140th birthday, having started business in Switzerland as a manufacturer musical boxes and clock movement. It’s marking the occasion with a new version of a 1960s classic – the TD124DD 140th Anniversary, complete with a new two-layer platter combining aluminium with 5mm of copper, pure silver arm wiring and a new version of the SPU124 cartridge made for Thorens by Ortofon, with pure silver coils. Finished in real wood veneer, and retaining the compact dimensions of the original, the turntable is available in a limited edition of just 140, at €11,999.
But there’s nothing compact about the other Thorens launch at Munich: the massive New Reference turntable uses a fully active vibration damping system developed by the company in co-operation with German company Seismion. Based on piezoelectric acceleration sensors with an extremely high sensitivity, and an all-linear electronic control circuit to generate unrivalled low noise- and distortion-free control forces, the system is described as Sky-Hook-Damping, and claims performance orders of magnitude better than conventional turntable damping systems.
With a motor controlled by three liner power amplifiers, the New Reference can be fitted with up to three tonearm bases and can accommodate tonearms of 9, 10, and 12 inches.
The style and technology may be different but, like so much at the High End show, it’s all about the sound.