Munich High End 2016.
We’d made plans to attend well in
advance. The idea was to spend two relaxed days to roam incognito, to meet a few
acquaintances and spot some nice new things along the way. Easy. Then just a few weeks prior to the show, Thor's hammer dropped. Our
publisher announced that he and Ivette were moving house. For them that was nothing unusual.
Since we’ve known them, they’ve lived in at least half a dozen places in many different
countries. [Tallying up our moving madness since we got married, I arrive at six shared homes in California, four in New Mexico, one in Cyprus, three in Switzerland and now our first in Ireland. That's 15 already. Hmm. - Ed
This time the relocation coincided with the show. That put Srajan out of the
running to attend, leading to his unusually brief no-show report
. Our initial idea on how to do the show—in leisure mode for a change—changed back to formal attendance since we now would de facto represent 6moons.
Okay, no problem. In two days, we simply had to cover some 28’600m² of exhibition space occupied by
518 exhibitors. Realistically this meant that we could only cherry-pick, leaving complete coverage to any of
the 514 accredited journos, bloggers and vloggers. The show runs four days. Opening
Thursday is reserved for trade and press. From Fri-Sun, the general public joins in to drive up
the numbers. To prep, we ordered up the event’s 400-page catalogue. It arrived at our Dutch door
mat within a day - another sure tell of the show’s remarkably efficient operation. This
catalogue contained maps of the four occupied ground-floor halls and the three atrium levels above. We
marked the stands and rooms of personal interest to map out the rounds by
connecting the dots starting with the halls. Those primarily offer static demos but if an
exhibitor desires and pays for it, a temporary sound booth can be set up. These booths are white
containers of decent size and equipped with air conditioning.
In hindsight, we spotted four show trends this year. The first was Roon, the clever digital
audio library management system and interface software. Signs of Roon Ready
popped up everywhere to demonstrate a well-played marketing strategy and real interest in the service. The next trend
was another product with clever marketing support: MQA. That’s short for Master Quality
, the brainchild of Meridian’s Bob Stuart and partner Peter Craven (yes, the man
behind the interactive Algol computer language compiler). In short, MQA enables high res
content to be ‘folded’ into smaller files to stream without using more bandwidth than
current RedBook content. MQA also claims to improve digital and digitized analog
recordings without the need for the original master tapes. As cherry on top, there’s built-in
authentication to insure that the proprietary encode/decode scheme runs flawlessly. Whilst
appearing to develop into a movement with some really big market players signing up, we’d
seen the same with DSD as a source format a few years ago. We'll wait and see.
Two more trends
addressed the more visual aspect of our hobby: orange and gold. Gold-plated or otherwise golden
finishes cropped up just as did bright orange gear and speakers. We hope this signaled the end
of boring black and silver audio kit.
In this spirit, we now want to open our cherry-picking tour of Munich 2016 with a total surprise from the
Ukraine. There we were seeking out a stand marked in advance when a really colourful table
display distracted us. It showed folkloric floral paintings, a bit like the ones we saw on Polish pisanki
or painted eggs. What were they doing at an audio show? We soon found out when
invited by a lovely lady to enter their actual sound booth. Here we suddenly stood eye to eye
with two towering loudspeakers. Two metres tall, in the dim light we could distinguish a type of
hourglass 5-driver 4-way. Getting closer, we saw how the entire speaker had been
decorated in the same floral patterns. All kinds of daisies, marguerites, ranunculus and fantasy
flowers were hand-painted on the speaker. Observing the speaker from the side revealed
that the shape was not an hour glass but in fact more of a traditional wooden spoon including
the hook at the top to hang the spoon from a rack. Two woofers sat in the scoop of the spoon.
At the back was a bass port. All ceramic drivers seemed sourced from Accuton. For the
highest frequencies, two diamond drivers were at play.
After our shocked first visual
impressions were processed, we sat down for a listen. Here we avoided the typical ceramic
driver experience. In too many of their designs, these ceramic transducers sound harsh and shrill
when the filters on them are insufficiently steep. The Volya Audio Systems
had made the right choices to tame his drivers. What unfolded before us was a well defined,
spacious and balanced soundscape. We soon learned more about the system. Its designer is
Yevhen Kozhushko. He used layers of MDF to shape the enclosure. Once finished and before
mounting his drivers, the enclosures go to Lyudmila Gorbulya. She is a master of the so-called
Petrikovsky style of painting. Named after the town of Pertikovka, these painted
patterns have been applied from the beginning of the 17th
century to everyday house ware
including, yes, spoons. With its long history, the style is considered a Ukrainian national
treasure. As such, it is included on the UNESCO cultural heritage list. It takes the artist six
months to finish a single set of speakers! Once done, multiple layers of strong lacquer preserve her fine brushstrokes and bright colors. Once filters and drivers are
installed, the total weight amounts to 120kg per side. If things work out, we will receive a pair
of these for a formal review.