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A'one, a'two, a'one two three four... and off the alphorn ladies went to ring in the show. I didn't go to Munich to compile a show report of any sort, much less a comprehensive one. I went to see people - those whose products I've reviewed, those who put food on my table. To learn about new products is a mere manufacturer's email away. For that one needn't go. From those makers without the foresight to preannounce their wares (or not wishing to spoil the surprise), one hears soon enough afterwards. And judging sound under show conditions is dubious at best. Did you get a good seat? Was the equipment fully broken in, well matched and properly set up? Did you like the kind of music on rotation? Were your ears worn out from being assaulted elsewhere? Had someone just strained your nerves chatting you up with mile-a-minute tech talk? Were you bleary-eared from getting hammered by bad but loud sound or mentally shut down by a scripted presentation you'd already gotten verbatim by email before? Did you find yourself incensed by nearly being hijacked to an offsite Munich retail showroom?

To go to München expecting good sound is a bad reason then though it does happen, albeit less often than it ought to considering. So no, for me it was about spending time with people this year. But old habits die hard. Armed with my compact Lumix GX1 and a new 7-14 wide-angle lens with Leica glass, I couldn't resist to engage in what I call drive-by shooting. That's in'n'out of a room in less than a minute. If that's what I did, I'll merely present you with a photo or two plus a link to the manufacturer so you can follow up at your leisure.

My report this year focuses on certain exhibits which stood out for reasons I'll describe and where I thus spent some quality time. This gets me directly to what I—and here I clearly was far from alone—thought was the best sound of the event by quite a margin. There were other presentations I enjoyed very much. But one room stood so far above the rest that usual provisos be damned, I'll call it unapologetically Best Of Show. And this incidentally also included choice of music. Hola!

Kevin and Lynn Scott from Living Voice/Definitive Audio—the first is the speaker brand they manufacture, the second their import/retail outlet located in an old textile mill—had driven 2.5 tons of gear from the UK to show the world at large what I'd heard in September 2010 at their facility chronicled here and described a year earlier here. I'm talking of the giant Vox Olympian hornspeaker system.

Finished to ludicrously perfectionist standards and priced to match, this system had another very rare thing going for it. The entire lot of Japanese Kondo gear and C.E.C. transport ran off Living Voice's resident fully customized battery supply which they'd brought through the 50.5km long Chunnel from Blighty as well. Nothing was left to chance.

At the flick of a switch, Kevin could even disconnect this power plant from the charging grid altogether.

Talk about a truly systemic approach. Nobody else went this far.

Here now is the man in his best 'I'm an Englishman in München' pose popping a lolly with a shit-eating "Grützi Krauts!" grin. And Kevin had good cause to feel jolly. Unlike most others who suffered 50Hz bass boom—Richard Vandersteen was a notable exception for reasons we'll get to—his giant 2 x 13" subs plumbed the depths to recreate kettle drums with full force but sans the ubiquitous impact mud heard elsewhere.

This system did it all: scale, splendor, linearity, gushing ease, '64-bit' tone colors, emotional transport-you-to-elsewhere factor, resolution, top-end sophistication... you name it, this room had it. Even disbelievers who in their own words had never heard a hornspeaker that didn't sound like one admitted that this one was different. And though looking at the long 7-segment bronze trumpet with internal precision grooving alarms armchair engineers into thinking that this couldn't possibly work—they'd invoke horn honk, discontinuous directivity or what-not—it worked like a charm. Of course Living Voice didn't get there by accident. Nor overnight. This particular project has a good five years under its belt preceded by prior large commercialized hornspeakers where Kevin cut his horny teeth. For a few years the earlier Olympian had even used rheostats to allow adjustments of the relative output of its various drivers.

If you consider his current 'normal' top model with massive outboard xover above, you'll appreciate what a leap it must have been to turn the Vox Olympian project into a real commercial product. It's a bit like a bicycle manufacturer suddenly making cars. Except that even the best of cars still all go to the same place on the same asphalt, just at different speeds and comfort levels. This system—and again I stress the holistic approach applied which stemmed from Kevin's long prior ownership* of and experimentation with every single component involved plus voicing expertise gained as a setup man par excellence—went places others did not.

* Manufacturers routinely share rooms to split attendance costs. Equal routine is hearing everything together for the first time two days before the show opens. It's little wonder that such a last-minute approach never yields the best results.

Photos really don't do justice to the lustrous detail work but take my word for it, it's on par with the finest piano or furniture finishing money can buy. Obviously that's no sonic requirement. For this no-holds-barred edition, Living Voice simply wanted to demonstrate that on that count too they can deliver well beyond hifi's usual luxury brands.

One of Kevin's super adventurous tracks quickly became identified as the 'scary stuff'. It had a classical soprano usually known for Schubert lieders go wickedly avantgarde. The lady is accompanied by an equally off-road piano to exploit maximal dynamic range and bandwidth which really put a hifi system under duress (and which I don't believe anyone else in their right mind would have attempted, never mind at the realistic levels required to fill such a sizeable space).

Here is the album cover. If you don't get anything else from my report, buy this album. It'll educate you in a hurry whether your current system is made of the real stuff. And regardless you'll still go on a far-out musical trip!

To wrap up this page, the real secret behind the Vox Olympian I think is the fact that Kevin and Lynn are both true music lovers and exceptionally hard to please. Most folks in this racket proclaim how they adore music but by the audiophile dreck they invariably decide to play and own, one discerns limitations and lip service. In a similar vein, most are too easily satisfied. It's this low level of expectations which must be behind the vast swath of bling Munich had on display. With stickers relevant only to the nouveau riche in Russia, China and certain Arabian Emirates, most of it failed to deliver the musical magic. If one didn't know what's possible, this room was the benchmark. Further advantages included ~104dB sensitivity for low-level resolution and dynamic scaling plus buxom cone surface for the low frequencies. And seriously good Kondo electronics and cables certainly played their part too.

When Kevin describes what and how he hears, he'll use words like orgasmic, opulent, dramatic, effusive, evocative and operatic. Monochromatic is the antithesis of what he pursues. These descriptions are worked into such a passionately colorful delivery that you know yourself to be in the presence of a true music affectionado. In Munich this showed in the music played—how about Indian vocal percussion?—and in the complete experience this system evoked. Sad but true, most manufacturers simply don't know how to set up and match their own gear to best effect; don't have good music to play; and sign off 'okay' well prematurely. Here Lynn and Kevin Scott are true full-service providers of a sort I've not encountered elsewhere. If you missed them in Munich, look them up in their UK facility. I guarantee it'll be memorable and hospitable!