The most exciting pre-show announcement to cross my desk—by far!—was confirmation of a rumour I'd heard last year. Part of team Grimm Audio would launch a new company and with it, the speaker that the Grimm LS1 "shoulda been". Kii Audio's Three is that beastie. It's all of 20x40x40cm compact and 15kg heavy yet contains six drivers and a total of 1'500 watts worth of custom nCore. The longer version would say that it combines Bruno Putzeys, Bart van der Laan, Wim Weijers, Chris Reichhardt and Thomas Jansen; "offers linear frequency response, a perfect impulse response plus phase coherence and Bruno Putzeys' Active Wave Focusing™ technology to control dispersion and direct the sound pressure where we need it to be: in the sweet spot! Intelligent DSP processing provides for a cardioid dispersion pattern down to the low-mid and bass frequencies, which otherwise can only be achieved by very wide baffles, big cabinets or soffit mounting speakers (infinite baffle design). The controlled sound dispersion is the only reason why a big main monitor system in a good room offers the special feel and impact it does."

Specologically, the Three uses 4 x 6.5" woofers, a 5" midrange and a 1" wave-guided tweeter each driven by a custom 250-watt nCore amp. Response is given as 20Hz - 25kHz ±0.5dB and long-term SPL as 105dB (115dB peak). Inputs are analog, AES/EBU and wireless. Neither press release nor website at that point indicated price. Never mind, as a concept, this promised to go beyond even Devialet's very clever engineering marvel that is the Phantom. Both are compact fully active DSP-controlled speakers with advanced class D power and a plethora of inputs including cableless. Once you get down, way down to think about it, such a design offers the shortest signal paths and DSP-based active filtering to transcend what traditional high-end hifi can achieve with passive boxes and separate components of anywhere equivalent size or price.

Of course legacy 'philes swear by mix and match, shake and stir, buy and sell and the whole lot, squared ad infinitum. A closed solution like the end-to-end Three befuddles them with its simplicity; annoys them with its completion; affronts them by closing down the entire playground of tweaks. Inherent in the term HighEnd is superiority. It renders all else lower. Hence LoFi and MidFi and ChiFi & Co. Based on current trends and biases, something like the Kii Three will never be considered HighEnd. Heck, it makes for the perfect studio recording/mastering monitor. Oy veh. Yet none of the other monikers fit. Given its actually more advanced design smarts, even calling it HighEnd is a bit insulting. One has to really coin a new term like IntelliFi or FutureFi to do it justice. Truly, passive crossovers are dinosaurs by comparison. The indirect coupling of amp to driver through such imprecise networks is inefficient and inelegant. The unpredictability of what amp a consumer will mate to what speaker is, frankly, idiotic if one wants an engineer's best work. Just think of the catastrophe and perversity that would befall the automotive industry if customers could combine engines, transmissions, wheelbases, tires and control systems from 10s of 1'000s of options, no engineering degree required. You'd have accidents galore. Of course I'm salting my battle field with fiery words. Even so, the underlying message stands. A fully active speaker with DSP control is the high-performance future. It's also early retirement for us reviewers who rely on separates to isolate and pin performance attributes on individual components. Finally, it's only very obvious imperfections which invite hifi users to keep messing with their gear in the first place. Yet that's called HighEnd. Perhaps it's primarily price? Then let's wait to see how the Kii Three will be priced. At €30'000/pr, perhaps it will be considered high end?

My second juiciest pre-show announcement came compliments of Canadian newcomer Eden Acoustics and their 4-piece Air speaker system. This natty acrylic/Walnut affair combines a pair of open-baffle two-way monitors, an open-baffle subwoofer and an amplifier/DSP control unit with "new-gen class D amps and DACs for each driver (more than 2'000 watts of total power) and a 40-bit/192kHz electronic crossover". Had the openly baffled speaker finally become house-broken? Purely on looks, I felt compelled to say a very loud yes! Of course the proof would be in the listening but it was translucently clear that someone had thought long and hard indeed on how to circumvent the usual cosmetic objections to this breed of speaker which is a Siegfried Linkwitz favourite. Would there be air in Munich?* I sure hoped so. If not, my second nail in the passive speaker coffin would need to materialize elsewhere. I had a new show mission.

On the subject of intermission—to cast an eye on 'legacy' tube tech—Boško Pješčić from Beyond Frontiers Audio announced an active demo with Zellaton speakers and Schnerzinger cables for which they'd use components with a DC-coupled tube gain stage sans the usual coupling caps or coupling transformers. He had announced this module two years ago but apparently it took until now to perfect. Implemented also in a new pair of hybrid 600-watt monos, "for the first time ever it is possible to hear the authentic sound of tubes with the power of bipolar transistors whilst driving any loudspeaker even into 82dB and 1 ohm without phase shift or frequency response distortion." Direct-coupled small signal tubes plus Sanken bipolars driving even the gnarliest speakers into submission? Something else to put on my growing list.

* As Edenista Jean-Pierre Boudreau wrote in after my report had wrapped, "to give you some hint about the sound, I must first admit that I'm a tube amp fan. I would say that with the probably best class-D amps (Anaview) and best DSP (Accuton) installed in the system, inner detail and musical textures are excellent. Sometimes the sound brings me back to my best tube amps. Some of these sell for more than the entire Air system combined. Our suggested retail price is $13'500. The sound is really full range, digging low into the 20s with the real McCoy, a 12" driver. This is full bass with impact. The mids and highs really escape the speakers and live in their own space outside the drivers. That is what we call open-air design."

Teaser shot of Nagra's new HD Amp, showing it to have a modulometer and VPA-type narrow but tall and deep profile.

On the patriotic front, I'd come up with this litany of would-be exhibits under the red-on-white cross: Active Audio, Audio Consulting, Audionautics, AvantGarde HighEnd (not to be confused with German hornspeaker company Avantgarde Acoustics), Boenicke Audio, CH Precision, Colotube, Credo Audio, darTZeel, DaVinci Audio Labs, Ensemble, Goldmund, Holborne, Illusonic, Job Sys, Klangwerk, Le Son, Nagra, Orpheus Labs, Pawel, Piega, PSI, Relec, ReQuest, Revox, Rowen, Soulution, soundkaos, Stenheim, Stereolith, Swissonor, Swiss Cables, Thorens, Vovox and Weiss Engineering. Not bad for a small country like Switzerland. I didn't expect all of them to be present. Especially those focused purely on their domestic market like Rowen have little reason to.

On behalf of our Austrian neighbours across the border, Hubert Pfautsch and Robert Göschl emailed an invite to check out their Diva Grandezza hornspeakers. Their Vienna Physix brand adds itself to a list which already includes German Physics, Audio Physic, Wiener Lautsprecher Manufaktur and Vienna Acoustics. And Wyred4Sound may have started the trend to get creative with spell check. When a .com extension is taken or to emphasize origins, one can go after one's own county's code. That's .ch for Switzerland, the killer .fi for Finland and where it's .at for Austria. Hence Sweden does it single-ended as .se which gets one at Mårten Design who this year would bow their new Coltrane 3, an all 1st-order all Accuton speaker with Carbon-fibre enclosure, massive baffle and a price less than €390'000/pr, a domain already taken up by their flagship. Yes, one of the many things a major show like Munich brings is cause to wonder just how many angels can dance on the needle's tip and how many more ultra-expensive flagship speakers and über amps the market can support.

At least no rack would be taller than this Artesania Audio Exoteryc custom to demonstrate that sometimes, asking is all it takes to get something made that's not in any official catalogue. And finally, there's the whole offsite misery. First of those is the parallel Hifi Deluxe which I'd visited last year to promise myself, never again. To give you an idea of the brands opting for this venue in 2015, here's the full list: Acapella, Active Audio, Audio Art, Audio Note UK, Audio Tekne, Audiomachina, Avalon, Bfly Audio, Bladelius, Bruder Jacob, Bryston, Concert Fidelity, DC10Audio, dCS, Deinformer, Delta Sigma Audio, Die Leistungzentrale, Diesis Audio, Durand Tonearms, E.S.P Loudspeakers, Einstein, Eurl dB System, FM Acoustics, Forcelines, Fortevita, Garrard, GC Audio, Hannl Vinyl Care, Ich bin das Kabel, Jeff Rowland, JMF Audio, l'Art du Son, La Musika, La Rosita, Landmesser Audio, Live Act Series, Loricraft, Malvalve, Manufaktur Kierschke, Martina Schoener, MHW Audio, My Sonic Lab, Natural Sound, Pear Audio, Precision Interface, Relaxed Rooms, Rike Audio, Spiral Groove, Synästec Audio, Synergistic Research, Techdas, Tone Tool, Tonmechanik Berlin, TOS Lautsprecher, Tri-Planar, Vertere and Voight Audiosysteme. Unless I really had spare time galore and the energy, I'd give this show a miss for reasons covered in last year's report.

Circumventing it, a company like Diesis Audio would have a parallel booth in the M.O.C. to show and talk. But to sample the new Kii Audio Three which I was keen to, I'd have to take their shuttle or a cab to the MSM Studios on Schwabing's Theresienstraße 37 where the launch party was set for Friday from 16:00 to open-ended in the MSM cinema mix suite. Ayee! Of course it's self-evident. Anyone getting their act together late also bollixed up any chance at a M.O.C. space reservation for this year. Such folks need to roll their own show presence. Last year the Kempinski Hotel had been one such spill-over venue for Stenheim and the Wilson Benesch Endeavour monitor. Just as self-evident? It strangulates foot traffic to your room; and puts added burden on the press when expected to cover it all. I'd suffer no such expectation. In my dictionary, Munich is synonymous with the M.O.C. That's the event which brings all the hifi-heavy peeps to town. The offboarders are only predatory attempts to siphon off some of its attendance. At least that's how my priority compass would be set. Sadly some people hate to travel, Nelson Pass amongst them. As one of my heroes, a personal meet was way overdue but wouldn't happen in Germany. I'd look him up even if it were just him in an out-of-the-way hotel room and no gear at all.

Two days before heading north for the German border, Frank Nebel's email invite illuminated my active speaker options despite his name (Nebel is German for fog). Made of cement, sand and water, the Concrete Audio F1 is called "an innovative multi-purpose wall-mounted loudspeaker for use in different spaces." Specs include ultra flatulence of 32mm thickness; being active with a fully integrated amp; streaming CD quality via Audiofly Syncronice; and being co-developed by the Fraunhofer Institute which gave us the MP3 compression algorithm but here contributed a patented array technology which combines 41 small electrodynamic drivers to operate as one. Did they perhaps integrate some Quad-style concentric delay lines? Before you joke how many tweeters it takes to hit 40Hz, we should probably have a listen first. Turning the wall into an infinite baffle will certainly have specific benefits.

Another tantalizing pre-show announcement came from Roon Labs whose team was previously involved in designing the fabulous Sooloos media control system. With up to 32/384 PCM support (DSD forthcoming), WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, OGG, MP3 and AAC compatibility and runnable on both Mac and PC, the Roon software means to replace iTunes, JRiver & Co. as the GUI whereby one navigates a software library. Roon integrates Tidal's music streaming and attaches very comprehensive metadata and album art to one's local or streaming content. It will be available by annual or lifetime subscriptions.