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It seems that the more miles you rack up on your lifeline, the faster the pace becomes. The 350 days since the beginning of last year’s major European audio show had flown by. Just like last year booking the flight early paid off. Now we had to hand over €14 for a KLM ticket, up by €5 over last year. But wait, that’s just for the flight including a drink and snack. The government wanted ten times that in taxes. Since we’re fiddling with numbers, here are some official attendance stats provided after the show - or better the event since High End is more than just a show. This year exhibitors accounted for 366 companies, an increase of 8.6% over last year. Visitor numbers under trade registrations were up by 0.7% to 4.427 heads. Even though the number of non-trade visitors was up by 5.8% to 10.244 heads that's still a thousand down from two years ago*. Part of that might have been made up for by the 10.5% more journalists. And in theory 483 journalists could publish an equal amount of stories about High End 2012 to really cover it all.

* Compare that to the Italian Top Audio show in Milan which draws no less than 20.000 visitors.

Initially we did not plan on coverage of the event in any traditional sense. This year we opted for traveling light and only brought a pocket camera instead of our usual bulky SLR with accessories. That would make it far easier to zip through the Dutch and German equivalents of the TSA. So far we always had to unpack camera and accessories for inspection and gun-powder detection tests. Fill in your own comments.

Traveling today means electronics for almost everything but the flying itself. Book online via the Internet. Pay via online banking services. Make an online reservation for airport parking. Why not add a car wash while you’re at it? 30 hours before take-off you can visit the carrier’s website, select your seat and print out your boarding pass. At the airport you must go to a machine to check in. The days of the smiling ground stewardesses are over. Now you have to approach one of the automated drop-off machines that are lined up. Insert your bag in the illuminated area with the handle up. Swipe your boarding pass’s barcode. The associated screen will (should) cough up your name and destination, then spit out your baggage label which you now must attach to your bag yourself. When done hit done. The lid of the machine then closes whilst the bag tilts back onto the conveyor belt. You may then proceed to the security check. Queues are free. Joy. That was Amsterdam. In Munich there were still humans checking our bags. However the boarding passes were already provided by androids - er, machines which read our passport with biometric chip to identify who we were and whether we even existed.

At the show we were surprised that Srajan had to cancel when his oldest cat fell seriously ill whilst his wife was out of town. (A few days after the show this animal passed away at the ripe old age of 20.) So our idea of a quiet show where we could move about without agenda changed a little. Besides explaining our editor’s glaring absence to many questioners we had to do a little coverage ourselves. Note the qualifier. We selected just those rooms that not only sounded from reasonable to very good but which also paid respect to the visitors. This requires additional comments. We all know how a lot of folks in the audio business complain about lack of sales. Sales figures are not as rosy as they once were. For certain parts of the market. In the very high-priced sector sales seem to be booming. Perhaps that’s not such a surprise when we consider that interest on bank account savings doesn’t even cover inflation whilst gold and other precious metal prices are falling and the stock market is turning into a haven for those with secret financial S&M tendencies. Spending thus is a far cleverer and absolutely funtastic way to stimulate the economy. Of course not only in audio circles is there much weeping and grinding of teeth. Real estate has its own fair share. Want to sell a house? Make it sellable. Get rid of clutter. Give it a fresh paint. Fix up the garden. Forget location, location, location. It's presentation, presentation, presentation!

If we sound like a familiar record, perhaps it's time for this Thorens changer?

The same holds for audio. There’s too much on offer. So buyers are careful and selective. They must be lured, pampered and most of all attended to. At an event like High End that’s doubly true. Visitors must be lured into your room (instead of the next guy’s), pampered while there and well attended during and after. Remember that they could become your clients. For some unknown reason many exhibitors—and thus also dealers/importers—seem to actually loath potential customers. Even though they all pay a fair amount of money to be at the High End show in the first place, they don’t seem to much care what happens once they're actually there. All it really takes is a few banners or a tacked-up poster on the wall. But why bother to bring a decent equipment rack? There’s bare floor space that's free. So make the room really cozy by transforming it into a foot-trippingly dark cave. Cough. To protest we decided this year to only highlight a few rooms which literally welcomed their visitors (what a concept) and then went the extra mile to pamper them and attend to their needs. Wherever we noted something beyond those basics we'll communicate that as well. Of course we missed many rooms which would have easily fit those requirements. But that's the nature of the beast.

Colotube of Switzerland shared a room with fellow Swiss company Boenicke Audio and Absolue Créations of France. Their room faced the open atrium of the M.O.C. convention center and was not treated by flood lights. Drawing the existing shades and flying three medium-large banners in the middle (one for each company), the listeners on the provided chairs were not attacked by overly bright luminance. Sven Boenicke uses blond wood for his speakers and audio racks. That lightness was further enhanced by a beige rug between equipment and audience. Around the side and back a few other speaker models sat on static display. All in all it was a clean, airy, simple but quite homey décor.

As we understood it the makers of the Colotube amplifier commissioned Sven for a special loudspeaker that would match their 300B monoblocks to perfection. This resulted in the W20 launched here. Boenicke designs are not 13 in a dozen. Each model has a distinctive shape and usually an elaborate inner labyrinth CNC'd for a quasi transmission line. Like the smaller W10 the W20 tilts back, has the woofer on the side and sports a rounded top which in this case even slants back. Contrary to other Boenickes the tweeter protrudes from the baffle whilst the midrange widebander leans upwards with the reclining baffle.

Rated at 95dB, the Colotube 10wpc amplifiers had an easy job of driving these speaker and did so very well. With just three tubes and avoiding the almost ubiquitous small driver tube by favoring a full-swing 20A instead—proving fearless of higher gain and voltages—the Colotube monos sounded liberated from the tubular confinement often praised as tube sound. Together with the 5U4G rectifier the driver and power tube are supplied by Emission Labs. The tranquility and lightness of this room combined with what we in hindsight realized was our best sound of the show this year.

In our opinion Sven Boenicke is a very open-minded curious and investigative designer. Many of his creations exploit materials and tuning solutions which are marked controversial or even ridiculed in certain audio circles. To name a few there are  Harmonix dampers and Ennemoser C37 lacquer. In this room there also were four Stein Music Harmonizers, one per corner. We don’t yet have personal experience with those but compared to other rooms the music here felt more liquid as though the air in the room was less compressed. When we played Joel Grare’s Nihavent  we experienced an inner joy and restfulness descend over us. For these listeners this room definitely had it all!