Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

Have You Seen?


As a first-timer here at High End 2024, I was struck by the scale of this event. The show venue is roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island (perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration), and yet is filled to capacity. What’s mind-boggling about the World of Headphones section of the show is that it takes up about one-eighth of the total floor space of the exhibition hall. When you consider that headphones are absolutely miniscule compared to, say, a pair of Vivid Audio Moya M1s, you realize that that’s a lot of space to devote to just headphones. It’s clear that High End 2024 is really serious about ’phones.

I was, of course, completely overwhelmed by the size and breadth of the section, which included products from more than 70 brands. You’d have to spend the entire four days that High End 2024 ran to cover them all. So sadly, I’ll be presenting only a “greatest hits” selection. Pay attention to the prices, because they are given in US dollars for some models and in euros for others.

Austrian Audio

Given how overwhelmed I was when I walked in, I figured, why not start with something totally unfamiliar? I found an attractive-looking pair of open-back ’phones and put them on. I learned that these Darth Vader-looking headphones are made by a company called Austrian Audio, and the model is called the Composer. They retail for €2499, and the sound coming from their 49mm drivers matched the price—kick-butt dynamics, razor-sharp details, and a sense of coherence from the bottom to the top of the audioband.

Full Score

The Composer headphones were being driven by Austrian Audio’s Full Score One headphone amp, which features fully discrete circuitry and bandwidth up to about 1MHz, which the company says maximizes its dynamic capability. No power figure is given, but some back-of-the-napkin figuring based on its 9Vrms maximum output indicates around 8 watts. The Full Score One retails for €1499.


It felt like it was time to move to more of a known quantity, so next up was Sennheiser. Whether it’s because this German brand is a hometown hero here in Munich, or just because it’s one of the biggest names in headphones, the Sennheiser exhibit was densely packed by showgoers—there was a line outside, even. I didn’t stick around to see what everyone was waiting for, but I did get to try out the absolutely wonderful open-back HD 800 S headphones (€1799). These are probably the most open-feeling and open-sounding headphones I’ve yet experienced.


I moved on to Meze next. This is a brand that I know, but it is not as familiar to me as Sennheiser. There were three different models to try out here: the 109 Pro ($799, not shown), the Liric ($2000, not shown), and the brand-new 105 Aer ($400, shown above). The sound profile of Meze headphones isn’t really my preference, but it’s a sound that will grab you and take hold—clear, exciting, and airy. The closed-back Liric headphones seemed to have the most solid and accurate sound profile, but the new 105 Aer headphones were the rockstar of the bunch. Based closely on the upmarket 109 Pros, the 105 Aers use an ABS plastic housing and a couple of other tweaks to bring the cost down, while retaining much of the 109 Pro headphones’ performance. It’s exciting to see hi-fi brands create more accessible products that will introduce people to their lineups, and the 105 Aer headphones will no doubt do just that.


I made sure to stop by the RME booth, since I’m quite familiar with the company’s products—I reviewed the ADI-2 DAC FS for SoundStage! Hi-Fi in January 2023, and it earned a Recommended Reference Component badge from us. Here at High End 2024, the brand featured its $2000 ADI-2 Pro FS R Black Edition. The name is long, but the sound through a pair of Neumann NDH 30 Black Edition headphones ($525) was great. The playlist of classic rock was clean and punchy, and it let through just enough warmth and grunge from the 1970s and ’80s recordings to be engaging.

Finally, I stopped by FiiO’s surprisingly large and well-organized booth. The first (and last) I’d heard of this Chinese brand was about 10 years ago, when I learned that headphone amps are “a thing.” I don’t think the company offered many products, but all of them were cheap, and I didn’t give the brand much thought.


It’d be a mistake to keep that attitude now, though. I asked the brand representative to point me in the direction of something new, and he didn’t disappoint. I was shown a pair of still-unnamed prototype headphones with attractive wooden earcups and no-nonsense build quality. I was told there is basically no info available yet, but FiiO is shooting for a release date in June or July of this year. They were driven by the €1099 FiiO M15S, which the company refers to as a “portable desktop-class player,” and I was impressed by how clear and refined the details of the music were—even though it was some lame solo violin stuff. I recommend keeping an eye on FiiO.


This is only a whiff of the World of Headphones at Munich 2024—I can’t even come close to reporting on all of it. But sometimes, all you need is a whiff to know which direction to head.

Matt Bonaccio
Contributor, SoundStage!