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 Authenticated, 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 designer clearly 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.

We love tubes and all of their uses. One special kind is the Nixie. Originally designed for industrial environments to display numerical counters, another use is in clocks. VacuumGlow of Moscow offer a range of Nixie clocks in various shapes and sizes. A lovely detail of the giveaway present in the pink boxes was a set of earplugs.

SpalTart is the company of interior designer Klaus Wangen. He uses a special treatment to wood which he sources from his immediate surroundings in the German Eifel area to reveal more of the natural material than a plain clean cut would offer. Some of the treated wood gets transformed into panels for home and office decoration. Another use is for audio. SpalTart offer a so-called Klangwand or sound wall that integrates bending-wave transducers with a decorative panel wall or more (or less) traditional loudspeaker shapes. These act just like an acoustic instrument, say a cello.