For those of you who have not been to the High End Show in Munich: It is a show where all kinds of equipment for music reproduction in your home, or nowadays also for on the road, are presented. Almost all of the companies have their products on display, as well as demonstrate how their products perform live. It is not just any show but THE show for high-end gear. Not only is the product quality at this show staggering, unfortunately so are the prices. Most of the stuff easily sells for 5 digit numbers, but the top gear is even more expensive than that.
Since the consumer visitors of the fair are just as dedicated and demanding as the manufacturers and producers, one would assume that all of the companies put their utmost effort into a great presentation. Since the fair is all about music reproduction equipment, a careful selection of listening examples from a variety of genres, orchestrations, and dynamics play an essential part in the art of the presentation. In other words: contrary to the fashion fairs which also take place at the MOC, the main focus is not on the best visual presentation, but in the best listening experience.
One more thing that is important to know: The show is open for 3 days with 1 extra day for dealers to execute business without distraction from ordinary customers. More than 900 (!) exhibitors present their products on 28.000 sqm ( or 280.000 sq.ft ) , so you will definitely be very busy even if you just want to take a glimpse of what’s on sale this year and see where you should spend your money.
Let’s move on to some disappointing examples of this year’s show, as well as some moments of reaching nirvana.
The ignorance of innovation masters: DEVIALET
Before you keep reading, let me emphasise one thing: I am a big fan and admirer of the french company DEVIALET, who not only brought radical innovation when it comes to sound and design, but also state of the art technology to the high end world and improved the ease of use like no one else before. Therefore, they earn a high position among brands to look out for. Knowing their brand and expertise I expected the presentation to be much more professional than it actually was:
Friday morning: One of the first rooms to open was Devialet’s main listening room , where 4 Devialet stereo amps with more than 3200 watts of power are coupled together in a special setup to pump music into B&W’s top range NAUTILUS speakers. The room was packed with visitors even at an early hour, but no one seemed to care about demonstrating the products. After some time of awkwardly standing around in silence, we were informed that the demonstration would start in about 10 minutes. Customer service gave a few welcoming words to start off the presentation, but it seemed to be foreign policy to the gentlemen representing Devialet. Finally the autistic young man at the left side of the room started playing the first track from his macbook. The tender voice of jazz vocalist Melody Gardot filled the air. It was very enjoyable at the beginning, but Gardot’s soft and laid-back style is not the best choice when testing the variety of sounds on those excellent speakers. Nor is something you can actively listen to without getting easily bored. After an estimated five minutes (which felt more like an hour) everyone in the room was noticeably relieved the song was finally over. I was expecting the next song to be something more uptempo with more variety in sounds and velocity. Some Rock, Funk, Classical, Pop, Folk, Electronic. Pick any genre! But no… The guy decided it was a great idea to play another slow Jazz ballad, that sounded almost identical to the first song, just with a different female vocalist. Unwilling to sit through another second of the dull presentation I left the room. In the next room, they presented the revolutionary designed PHANTOM speakers. Despite an impressive setup, it was impossible to hear anything due to the chaos in the room.
Unwilling to give up and convinced that DEVIALET’s portion of the fair could still be a success, we returned the next day. We found ourselves sitting in at another listening session in the room where the PHANTOM speakers were on display. The demonstration begins. Again no greeting. No explanation. No Questions. No Answers. Just three guys rom the devialet team playing whatever song comes into their minds. Mostly Disco and Pop tracks. There were up to 9 speakers in the room, which ridicule every stereo source into a sound mash. I’m not even gonna go into their lack of DJ skills. Straight cuts, no set list. On a positive note there was impressive bass power for such small units. While these speakers may have be ok for under a $1,000 bucks, they did not sound like, from what I’ve calculated, $10,000 quality. My educated guess is that the units were capable of a much better performance, which the hired “professionals” from Devialet were unable to present to us that day. After that sobering experience we moved on to the main room, where eight Devialet amps performed through NAUTILUS speakers. Again there was some amateur playing from his playlist, but at least there was some variety this time. Later, one of the distributors who had brought some vinyls got to play a few songs. A song by the german pop band “Extrabreit” demonstrated how this top high end equipment can show off the most average music and “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck once more proved to be the best recorded album of the fifties. I guess I would say that this was a good sound system, but I don’t see how this kind of presentation would convince anybody to spend endless amounts of money.
The missed comeback : TECHNICS needs more time and space
The second story of “How to shy away customers and not sell a single speaker” is about an old contender and recently returning brand, called TECHNICS . Some of you might remember Technics as one of the biggest names in the hi-fi industry among Japanese consumers electronic brands, but also for their well-known turntable SL 1200 , which used to be part of almost every club’s equipment all over the world. Technics is a part of Panasonic, formally known as Matsushita Electric which was originally founded in Osaka. About a year ago Panasonic decided to revive the Technics hi-fi brand for high end sets and to get back into the industry of expensive home stereo equipment. Like many other of the presentations at the High End 2015 the Technics show was pre- booking only, but if you were lucky you could get in half an hour before the presentation. The room was so small that only three of the fifteen seats acoustically made sense, and the other ones were either way to close to the speakers or too close to the walls. It took a while until we discovered, because first 10 minutes went to not 1, not 2, but three masters of ceremony who talked for very long, but were not very informative not very informative, about history of technics. The touched on how great the comeback is and how they miss turntables, which maybe would be part of there presentation next year. Think of tupper party after Tupper made a break for 10 years and you get the tonality. A few tracks without any notable meaning of selection did show a medium but not rare quality of sound and lacking of space and detail you would expect for the price range Technics is trying to get back into. To be fair: I don’t know if the equipment isn’t capable of doing exactly what we have been missing. Another educated guess ( having worked for many years at this company in the 1980s of last century, so its very educated in this matter) let me assume it could be that case. But it definitely was not present in that demo. And yes, I know the limits of small rooms, dirty electricity and time constraints at fairs too good to let those be excuses.
Jubilate Mag(nif)ico and Gauder !
Before you think all demos failed miserably at High End Munich I want to start praising two opposite cases. Gauder Akustik, a German state of the art speaker brand had a presentation with all ingredients of joy. Not only was the equipment leaving no doubt that it was worthwhile the little house you get for same price as their top model and accompanying Swiss Soulution electronics. Thomas Hintze, Gauder’s presenter, a journalist and High End lover, played many rare tracks with very different musical style covering the whole world of classic, Jazz, and powerful demotracks too. How Thomas Hintze explained e.g. the art of American pianist Gary Matsumoto was as entertaining as the piano, which almost felt „real“ in the room. Speed, color, dynamics, everything there as it should. Pure Joy.
There was only one room, which left me even more breathless and – important to say – not because the equipment was just perfect, leaving no room for the slightest question or wish. A pair of Magico Q7 in their new version (MK II) driven by two Mono amps from Solution (which will make your purse over 150 000.- lighter !) was in this room. But the real master here was Joseph Lavrencik, the CEO of Critical Mass Systems, the company behind the state of the art precision audio component support systems aka high end racks, shelves, and footers. With the dedication and dignity to the equipment, the music, the audience, and the developers of these magnificent pieces of gear he celebrated every minute like it needed to be. Extremely carefully selected tracks played from Hires files, CDs and vinyl uncovered the beauty and capability of the setup. From middle age to „Dead can dance”, no corner was left in the dark and no moment to long or too short. He played full tracks if necessary, and faded out others who would not bring new or more information. He disappeared during play into the side corner just to carefully watch the audience and appear again to play what needed to be played next. The whole scenario had a sacred atmosphere. Nobody would have dared to talk or stand up during the ceremony if not really necessary.
It’s about respect
It is this respect I need to have in a demo. Respect for the precious time of the visitors, who are entitled to get decent insight into what to expect when they think about buying such a thing, or at least saving their money until they can afford to make the purchase. Respect for the countless hours developers and manufacturers have spent to build these equipment. Respect for artists, sound engineers and mastering experts who produce such a nice pieces of music. And maybe this is the reason why I’m really angry with all of the bad presentations. How can you dare to downgrade the work of engineers, spending days and nights in endless search for perfection? How can you slap customers in the face with ignorance, after they travelled many hundreds of kilometres maybe, spending money for the trip, hotel and too much for bad food? For me its responsibility of the management to make sure their company is represented in a decent way. It’s simply not enough to spend money for oxygen free copper, Burr Brown DACs, Hyper power cleaners, colourful posters, flower arrangements, or acoustic treatment. A powerful demonstration will spread the word for years, a bad one too.