Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

Have You Seen?


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.

So fresh in the morning of the first day, I had to find a place to sit and gather my wits. I’d stopped in at T+A’s exhibit with Doug Schneider to present company founder Siegfried Amft with his SoundStage! Network Outstanding Achievement award, and I made a bad decision: Just. One. More. Coffee. My front teeth were vibrating like tuning forks, and I couldn’t process just how large this show was—how tightly it was packed with juicy, shiny, smoking-hot audio gear.

Marten and Engstrom

I was following Doug around as he stepped into the Engström and Jorma room to take a quick look at a new pair of Marten speakers—the €108,000-per-pair Mingus Septet. I didn’t make it out for the next hour. I mean, just look at this place. A crisp, bright room with tropical plants, a sloping metal roof, and an open, airy feel. And at the business end, a squadron of tube amps, an imposing turntable I’d never heard of, and two of the most elegant speakers I’d ever seen.

These new Marten Mingus Septet speakers radiate sound from a golden rectangle of inky-black lacquer, with chrome highlights and feet that look like they’d support a construction crane. They look like they’re wearing tuxedos. There’s high-end tech inside, which you’d expect given the price. From top to bottom on the front baffle of each speaker are a 1″ tweeter with a custom-made diamond diaphragm, a 3″ beryllium-dome upper-midrange driver, a lower-midrange driver with a 7″ ceramic cone, and two 8″ woofers with aluminum-honeycomb sandwich cones. Around back are two 10″ aluminum-sandwich passive radiators.

The rest of the system comprised Engström electronics, Jorma cables, Solid Tech racks and stands, and the turntable, which, I found out, is made by Reed.

Marten and Engstrom

This is a hi-fi show, so you just know that listeners have had their fill of shitty audiophile music, and the exhibitors are just itching for an excuse to play something fun. I spied an LP of Massive Attack’s Mezzanine and gave the nod to Timo Engström, CEO of the Swedish company that manufactures all the electronics used in this room. Timo happily cued up side one on the crazy Reed Muse 3C turntable and let it rip. I was writing this report while sitting and listening, but stopped in astonishment as “Risingson” spooled up and a rich, textural atmosphere condensed right there in front of me. How lovely.

Next, Timo cued up Deep Purple’s Made in Japan. I believe the last time I listened to this album was in 1978. I was in a Plymouth Duster with an 8-track player glommed under the dash with drywall screws. “Lazy” built up slowly, and it was at this point that I determined that there wasn’t a single transistor in this system. I could feel the music squeezing toxins out of my pores, and I noticed I couldn’t get a Wi-Fi signal.

Now, there was plenty of top-end extension, and we were listening loud. But there was no mistaking the richness of those 845 tubes. It was like downing a flaming marshmallow with a cognac chaser. Wild, powerful, with a deep, deep soundstage, and rich like fruitcake. What was equally impressive was the way these amps managed to control such large speakers. The Septet is specified as 88dB sensitive, and the Eric Encore mono amps, which cost a cool €155,000 for the pair, can chug out 70W each, which shouldn’t really be enough for such high volume levels.

Marten and Engstrom

Or so you’d think. This wasn’t whip-crack solid-state bass by any stretch, but it was tight and tuneful, with a huge payoff in the midrange. Oh my. Perhaps the highlight was Vaya Con Dios playing “Nah Neh Nah” from their album Night Owls, a tango-themed song with depth like I’ve never heard.

That said, it wasn’t just the soundstage depth that grabbed me by the short hairs. No, it was the texture that was wrapped gently around each image, especially the vocals, which had a tangibility that gave an almost hyper-real quality to the music.

What a beautiful room. What a beautiful system. What beautiful sound.

Jason Thorpe
Senior Editor, SoundStage!