May 18-21, 2023
All prices in euros unless indicated otherwise
At the end of each year, the SoundStage! editors pick the best products based on the reviews that have appeared across our network of sites during the previous 12 months. This year, we created an award for Outstanding Achievement in the industry—and there were three people in 2022 who won.
It’s not often I get stopped in my tracks by a turntable. I should qualify that statement a bit . . . I’m a cheap date, and any turntable that isn’t a rectangular slab of wood will give me horny pains. But that said, I’m quite capable of walking past most of the chrome and acrylic monstrosities without going ga-ga.
The Rockport Technologies and Absolare room was packed. Standing room only. This was Saturday, the first of two days during which High End was open to the public, and attendance seemed to have more than doubled. Thank heavens the COVID-19 emergency has officially ended because this would have been a superspreader event.
In the weeks leading up to a show like High End 2023, I research what new products have been announced and ask manufacturers to let me know what new products they’ll be displaying. I plan my initial coverage around products for which I’ve received advance information. Everything else I discover at the show is secondary.
For the first time ever, I got to listen to Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut at an audio show—on vinyl, no less. It impressed me that Gediminas Gaidelis, owner and engineer of AudioSolutions, had this LP buried in among the usual audiophile bumfluffery. Why more exhibitors don’t use this album in demos is beyond me.
Are you not entertained? Is it a spectacle you want? Well, ESD Acoustic, a new-to-me company that’s just thrilled to tell you it’s from China, presented a truly over-the-top spectacle at High End 2023. In all my days, I’ve never seen anything like this outrageous system. I mean, just look at this setup.
Certain iconic products have become part of our cultural DNA. The Coca-Cola bottle. The Rolex Submariner watch. The Chanel N°5 bottle. The Ferrari 308.
Switzerland’s Stenheim used High End 2023 to launch the new Alumine Two.Five loudspeaker, which the company describes as “a passive two-way, floorstanding, high-performance speaker that incorporates the company’s essential design attributes in an elegant tower that adapts to most living spaces.” The Alumine Two.Five reportedly “builds on the simplicity of the original bookshelf Alumine Two, but with greater cabinet volume and double bass drivers for lower extension.”
After sitting down in Verity Audio’s room, I realized within 15 seconds just how much I’ve missed listening to the company’s speakers. It’s been well over a decade since I reviewed a Verity speaker. It was the Amadis, back in 2010. That sealed my fate, as the Amadis was probably the most musically satisfying speaker I’d ever heard in my room.
For 20 years, Denmark’s Lyngdorf Audio has been making products that are both technically advanced and lifestyle-friendly—the latter meaning that interior designers might approve of using Lyngdorf components in the home. That can’t be said of all hi-fi brands.
Denmark’s Gryphon Audio Designs is well known for massive class-A-biased power amplifiers that generate a lot of heat, take up a lot of space, and probably injure a lot of backs as buyers try to maneuver them into place. Examples include Gryphon’s flagship Apex stereo and monoblock power amplifiers. The stereo version of the Apex won a SoundStage! Network Product of the Year award in 2022.
I’ve been into audio since 1980. Since then, I’ve been aware of the Naim Audio brand, but I’ve never owned a Naim product—though I’ve been tempted to. Naim Audio has always had a fervid, almost cult-like following. People don’t seem to just buy Naim; they live Naim. I’m reminded of that whenever UK-based SoundStage! contributor Jonathan Gorse speaks of the brand. He owns several Naim components, including the Nait 1 integrated amplifier, which the company released in 1983 and just refurbished for Jonathan. Never having owned a Naim component, I can’t quite understand this fervor, but it’s something I kind of envy.
It had been a slow start to Friday morning. After dinner Thursday night, we’d made a tactical error and ended up at a bar with some industry folks. I proceeded to drink more than was strictly advisable given the early starts we had scheduled for ourselves. Doug Schneider is much more mature than I am when it comes to this sort of thing. He had one beer and then split, shooting a look of warning at me as he bellowed, “8:30 tomorrow in the hotel lobby. Right, Jason?”
France’s Diptyque showed the new DP 140 MKII in one of High End’s hall-area displays on the main floor. Priced at €14,000 per pair and measuring 55″H × 19″W × 1.85″D, the DP 140 MKII is a ribbon-based design described by the company as being part of “a new generation of isodynamic speakers designed for music lovers.” Frankly, the beauty of this tall, wide, shallow speaker might be in the eye of the beholder, but I think it looks really good. It could dress up an appropriate living room with its lithe, modern look.
At High End, companies usually showcase very expensive products. But at High End 2023, the focus of UK-based Professional Monitor Company, aka PMC, was affordability.
When covering events like High End, we hardly ever include products that are being displayed away from the show itself. It takes too much time to visit offsite exhibits, which means we’d shortchange the event we’re supposed to be covering.
If you’re ever feeling too comfortable in your life, if you ever wanna be overwhelmed for a spell, nip on over to Germany and spend a morning walking around Munich’s High End show. It’s huge—way bigger than any show I’ve ever experienced. I’m on audio overload.
In the weeks leading up to High End, many companies send out press releases describing the products they’ll be unveiling at the show. I try to look at every press release, though I sometimes miss a few. But the one that jumped out at me the moment it arrived came from NAD, announcing the Masters M66 streaming DAC-preamplifier. The M66 is priced at €5999 and will be available this fall.
Last year I spent a week visiting Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries (DALI), one of the world’s largest manufacturers of hi-fi speakers. DALI had invited a group of journalists to Denmark to tour its factory and gain detailed insight into the design and construction of its flagship Kore loudspeaker.
Since its founding in 2010, Estonia-based Estelon has focused on making sculpture-like speakers where form and function appear to be on an equal footing. According to CEO Alissa Vassilkova, this form-and-function approach has been guided by her father, chief designer Alfred Vassilkov. From the beginning, his goal has been to make speakers that look and sound beautiful. Estelon’s latest speaker is the Aura, which was announced a few months ago. As far as I know, High End 2023 was its first public showing. It sells for €17,500 per pair.
Holland’s Crystal Cable is well known among audiophiles for its thin, attractive interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords. It’s the sister brand of Siltech, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. But although much younger, Crystal Cable has enjoyed astonishing success during its 19-year history.
Have you ever looked in the window of a bar and watched people dancing? Without hearing the music? It’s creepy to watch, sort of like human versions of those weird-ass birds of paradise you see on nature shows, doing nutty dances while the female bird watches intently from a nearby twig. We’re not far removed from the simpler animals. We build fences to protect our territory from intruders. We dress up and work out to attract mates.
As I’m typing this, I’m in Munich, Germany, and it’s one day before High End 2023 opens. The show will run May 18 to 21.
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