The 2023 Munich High-End Show: Robert Harley Reports from the World’s Premier Audio Event
After two years of COVID shutdowns and last year’s meager attendance, the Munich High-End Show came back in full force. This year’s event was the most successful in history according to every metric. The show had a total of 22,137 visitors, of whom 10,768 were trade attendees. The press representation included 529 journalists from 54 countries. These are all record numbers.
Even before receiving the show statistics, it was obvious on the first trade day that attendance was way up, judging from the packed hallways and exhibit rooms. The show organizers reiterated their commitment to two trade-only days of the four-day show, a departure from the single trade day of previous years. Exhibitors were clearly thrilled by the number and quality of the trade and consumer attendees. It was great to see this most important of all shows back with such vibrancy and energy.
My beat was speakers, a daunting task given the show’s size. My apologies to any companies I missed. Here are my selections for the most significant new loudspeakers in Munich.
YG Acoustics Reference 3 Series
YG Acoustics unveiled newly and greatly updated versions of its Reference line of loudspeakers, called the Reference 3 Series. In a press conference, CEO/CTO Dr. Matthew Webster described the improvements to the company’s flagships. Most fundamentally, the new products benefit from extensive multi-domain modeling of the speaker’s performance as well as modeling a wide range of listening rooms in which the speaker will be used. Dr. Webster and his design team have specific expertise in advanced computer modeling—he wrote his doctoral dissertation in astrophysics on modeling the large-scale structure of the universe. They have applied this expertise to loudspeaker design, including the interaction between drivers, crossovers, and enclosures. A new tweeter, called “Lattice,” builds on the idea of YG’s original BilletDome, attaching a tiny airframe, machined by YG, to the soft-dome tweeter to prevent break-up modes and extend break-up-free response. The crossover is also extensively revised, with near-perfect phase alignment over a wide frequency range and improved transient response. The crossover also uses new capacitors and inductors. The crossovers, brought out during the press event, are massive. A seat far off-axis prevented me from getting a good listen to the Reference 3, and every time I returned to the room, one of the entry-level Peaks models was being demonstrated. Andy Quint, however, proclaimed it one of the show’s best-sounding rooms. The YG Reference 3 Series begins shipping to dealers later this year.
The Swiss-based company Clarysis made a great impression at last month’s AXPONA show with its smallest speaker, the Minuet ($46,000)—indeed, it was named Best Sound at the Show by Jonathan Valin. But Clarysis used the incomparable Munich stage to showcase its largest offering, the Auditorium ($146,000). Driven by the new Soulution 727 preamplifier and 757 phonostage (“de-emphasis preamplifier,” in Soulution parlance) along with the company’s existing 701 power amplifiers, all supported on Critical Mass Systems equipment racks, the room was one of the best sounding at the show, with a solid and precise soundstage, exceptional transparency, and superb transient fidelity. There’s just something about a big planar speaker when done right that transcends the sound of box speakers. Clarysis was formed eleven years ago to provide repair and upgrade of Apogee speakers. It then decided to develop new speakers based on the Apogee designs but with the best of today’s greatly improved materials. Unusually, the speakers are built in Vietnam. We plan to get one of the Clarysis speakers in for review.
Crystal Cable Minissimo Forte
The Dutch company known primarily for its cables showcased a new and highly innovative upgrade of the stand-mount Minissimo speaker that we’ve reviewed and acclaimed in the past. This compact two-way with integral stands, called the Minissimo Forte, was billed as a “passive-active” speaker, which piqued my interest. Edwin Rynveld of Siltech and Crystal Cable, designer of the speaker, explained that the speaker’s passive crossover is followed by a current amplifier between the crossover and each driver. This insulates the crossover from changes in driver inductance, which is constantly varying as the voice coil moves within the magnetic field, effectively changing the crossover frequency. The technique has other benefits, including making the speaker very easy to drive with a sensitivity of 95dB and a flat 16-ohm impedance. Moreover, the crossover is a fully balanced symmetrical design. The cabinet is lined with a “meta-material” that acoustically increases the enclosure size for deeper bass extension than is typically possible from cabinets of these dimensions. The Minissimo Forte’s sound, driven by Siltech Saga amplification, was outstanding at the show. But the speaker’s capabilities weren’t fully revealed until I heard it in the Siltech/Crystal Cable listening room during a factory visit right after the show. The speaker had a stunningly wide and deep soundstage but, more importantly, sounded very resolving without being analytical. It’s a speaker that beautifully communicates music. Price: $20,000 per pair including stands.
Everyone who heard the planar-magnetic speaker from Spanish company AlsyVox at the 2019 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest came away wowed. Jonathan Valin and I still talk about that speaker to this day. But that was just a teaser for what was presented in Munich—the company’s new flagship Raffaello. This massive panel is built with a line-source ribbon super-tweeter in the center flanked by two ribbon “mid-tweeters” and two ribbon woofers on the panel’s outer edges. The crossovers are housed in large external enclosures. The speaker stands 80” tall, 33” wide, and is just 2” deep. Sensitivity is a whopping 95dB. Simply put, the Raffaello sounded convincingly like live music on many tracks. The sense of no transducer between you and the music was startling. The speaker reproduced instruments, particularly brass and woodwinds, with speed, dynamic verve, and sheer lifelike realism. Unlike some planar speakers, the Raffaello combined this speed with real weight and impact behind instrumental attacks. Timbre was pure and clean, and images floated completely free of speakers and drivers. Hearing the Raffaello was a thrilling experience. The Raffaello was driven by Pilium electronics and sourced from a Lampizator DAC and Taiko server.
MoFi SourcePoint 8
Andrew Jones’ latest design is an amazing achievement in size, value, and performance. The $2750 SourcePoint 8 combines an 8” woofer with a concentrically mounted tweeter in a small rectangular cabinet. Driven by Aesthetix electronics, the SourcePoint 8 defied every expectation of size and price. It sounded like a much bigger floorstander in bass extension and bottom-end dynamic impact; the rest of the spectrum was equally impressive, with a tonally uncolored midrange and treble along with a huge soundstage. A great bargain.
I had the opportunity to audition at length Linn’s ambitious new 360 loudspeaker, an interesting design packed with many innovations. The 360 is available as a fully active system with integral crossovers, amplification, and DACs built into the speaker ($105,000), or in a passive version ($66,000). The active system is designed to be used with Linn’s DSM Network Music Player, and features Linn’s Exakt technology throughout. A newly developed amplifier incorporates digital-to-analog conversion as part of the amplifier circuit. The beautifully shaped enclosure houses a four-way driver-array consisting of dual 8.5” woofers, a 7.5” upper-bass driver, a 2.5” carbon-fiber dome midrange, and a beryllium dome tweeter. The Linn 360 had an extremely transparent sound, tonally and spatially. It threw a soundstage much larger than its size and placement would suggest. The bass was full and powerful, and the enclosure made for a visually beautiful and compact package.
Magico created a portable replica of its factory listening room and brought it to Munich to showcase its new $54,000 S3. As great as the S3 sounded in Chicago last month, the larger room, better acoustics, and more ambitious accompanying equipment really showed what this speaker can do. Had I not known the speaker I was listening to, I would have thought it was a $100k+ model. This is the first Magico model to benefit from technologies developed for the $750,000 M9. The S3 was utterly liquid, spacious, refined, resolving in a musical way, and with surprising bass extension.
DALI Epikore 11
DALI has created a new second-from-the-top top model that combines technology from its flagship Kore with the proven design of the popular Epicon series. The appropriately named Epikore II is a tall and slim 4.5-way design featuring drivers built around the second generation of DALI’s SMC (Soft Magnetic Compound) technology, which greatly reduces distortion by lowering eddy currents in the magnet. SMC-Gen 2 is also used in the inductor cores. The driver array includes four 8” woofers, a newly developed 6.5” midrange, and DALI’s EVO-D hybrid tweeter module that combines a dome tweeter with a ribbon super-tweeter. The cabinet was a stunning high-gloss walnut, although two other finishes are available. From the brief audition (from a less-than-ideal seat), the Epikore II seems to deliver a lot of performance. Price: $60,000 when the speaker begins shipping in August.
Estonian speaker-maker Estelon, known for its ultra-high-end designs, brought its technology and aesthetic to the new $20k Aura. The speaker has an integral plinth to accommodate the downward-firing woofer. Looking and sounding very much like a larger Estelon, the Aura produced a sound much bigger than its size would suggest, with deep bass extension and a huge well-defined soundstage despite being seated in a sizable room. Watch for Alan Taffel’s review in an upcoming issue.
T+A Solitaire S540
I got a much better listen to T+A’s S540 speaker than I did a month earlier at AXPONA. In a normal-sized room in Munich and played at an appropriate volume, the S540 was extremely resolving and planar-like in the sense of presence and immediacy. The speaker uses an in-house-made line-source planar-magnetic tweeter flanked by a line array of oval midranges, with side-firing woofers. The idea is to create a narrow radiation pattern from the line array, reducing room reflections. Watch for my review of the $54,000 S540 in an upcoming issue.
Børresen X3, X6, and M3
I had an extended audition of three new speakers from Børresen, part of Audio Group Denmark. I’ll start with the most affordable, the $11,000 X3. The floorstander brings the benefits of Børresen’s more advanced technology to a lower price. Notably, the X3 features all custom drivers including carbon-fiber sandwich diaphragms (unusual at this price) and a ribbon tweeter. The tweeter is very similar in design to the spectacularly great tweeter used in the top Børresen models, but in a more cost-effective implementation.
A step up is the $22,000 X6, which offers additional woofers in a taller cabinet for greater bass extension and dynamic capabilities.
The top model is the $280,000 M3, which features a host of innovations, most notably drivers that are each built with 1.1 pounds of sterling silver rather than iron. Replacing the iron with silver lowers the effective voice-coil inductance by an order of magnitude and results in much better driver behavior and dramatically reduced distortion. The M3 features a very interesting cabinet shape that optimally loads the woofers in a way that changes with frequency.
All three models are 2.5-way, for reasons Michael Børresen explained to me at the show, and that we’ll cover in a review of one of these models. In an extended audition of all three speakers, there was a definite family resemblance. The entry-level X3 delivered tight and powerful bass, superb transient fidelity, and a very clean rendering of timbre. The X6 extended the bass and dynamic impact, with the same sense of precision and clarity. The X3 demo was notable for being driven by sister company’s Axxess Forte streaming 100Wpc integrated amplifier.
The M3 was phenomenally great sounding in every way. I heard a distinct lack of distortion on instrumental and vocal timbres, infusing them with a purity of tone. The treble was highly detailed and extended without sounding bright, and the bass was fabulous; hard-hitting, fast and detailed, and with deep extension. The soundstaging was very precisely defined and palpable. The M3 appears to be a major achievement.
Stenheim Alumine Two.Five
The Swiss company’s most affordable floorstander, the Two.Five, made is debut in Munich. The front-ported speaker features two 6.5” woofers and a soft-dome tweeter in a compact cabinet. The enclosure is aluminum and built to the same standard as Stenheim’s more expensive models. Sensitivity is a high 93dB and impedance is 8 ohms, suggesting that the Two.Five will be an easy load for an amplifier. Price: $23,500. Stenheim also introduced the Reference Platform, a solid-aluminum base for the company’s Reference Ultime Two and Three speakers. Knurled knobs provide precise and repeatable fine adjustments. Price: TBD.
Tidal Contriva G3
Tidal introduced the third generation of the Contriva loudspeaker, now with all new drivers and cabinet construction. The Contriva G3 ($79,000) is a three-way design housed in a multi-chambered cabinet made from Tidal’s TIRALIT material. The two 8.5” carbon-fiber/aluminum woofers are mated to a black ceramic midrange and a diamond tweeter. The crossover is housed in a hermetically sealed sub-enclosure within the cabinet. Driven by a Tidal Contros digital source/preamplifier and Intra power amplifier, the Contriva was rich and detailed without being analytical. Its build and finish quality, like that of all Tidal products, was extraordinary. For example, each speaker is finished with 65 pounds of lacquer. What looks like chrome is actually highly polished stainless steel. Exquisite look, exquisite sound.
Raidho X2t and Scansonic Q Series
Raidho showed (but didn’t demonstrate) its new 2.5-way X2t small floorstander. It’s built to the same standard as its more expensive models but on a smaller scale. The X2t still features Raidho’s tantalum-coated diaphragms, point-to-point Nordost wiring in the crossovers, and premium crossover parts. It looks like a lot of speaker for 14,000 euros. Since this is Munich where everyone demos his big boys, Raidho played its huge TD6 (220,000 euros) driven by Moon electronics.
Raidho’s sister company, Scansonic, launched a line of affordable speakers in the entirely new Q Series. The three floorstanding models reportedly bring Raidho DNA to lower-priced products.
Kroma Atelier Mercedes
I had never heard of speaker-maker Kroma but was impressed by the sound of its flagship Mercedes, which made its world premiere in Munich. The Spanish company makes nine models in its new Signature Line, ranging in price from 7500 euros for the Mimi to 90,000 euros for the Mercedes. The three-way system employs dual 8” woofers, dual 6.5” midranges, and an AMT tweeter with a neodymium magnet, all in a tall slim enclosure. The Mercedes projected a large and palpable soundstage detached from the speakers along with an exceptional naturalness of timbre and density of tone color. The bass was also outstanding, with a nice combination of extension with definition.
The Rockport Orion that I reviewed in Issue 338 made its European debut, and it never sounded better than when partnered with Absolare’s hybrid monoblock amplifiers and Absolare’s new Eternum two-box reference-class preamplifier. This was one of the show’s best sounds, with a beguiling musicality. The speakers disappeared in every sense of the word; instrumental and vocal textures were lifelike, and the soundstage was fully expressed. I returned to this room several times, taken by the effortless musicality and depth of expression. Notably, while some exhibitors seek to impress showgoers with demo material that is more like sound effects, Absolare always chooses music that impresses with the power of the musical expression, not the sound.
Zellaton has taken a different direction with its two new speakers, the more affordable two-way floorstanding Emotion Evo and the larger three-way Plural Evo. The 85-year-old company has found methods to reduce costs while keeping the special qualities for which Zellaton is known. For example, the drivers are not hand-made one at a time as they are in the company’s top models, and the enclosures are more cost effectively constructed. I heard just the Plural Evo and thought it represented the Zellaton sound in a more affordable and easier-to-drive package.
Stein Music Bobby Ultimate
Holger Stein of Stein Music was on hand to demonstrate his new Bobby Ultimate loudspeaker. Made in Germany, the four-way Bobby Ultimate combines side-firing powered subwoofers, three 10” front-firing woofers, DSP crossovers, and a horn midrange and horn tweeter. The shape of the multi-sided enclosure was precisely designed to more uniformly drive the room’s resonant modes. The sound was very dynamic, with exceptionally smooth and extended bass. Price: $250,000 per pair.
Kharma Enigma Veyron 2D
Kharma is one of those brands that never fails to sound wonderful at shows, and this year was no exception. The second-from-top-model Enigma Veyron 2D, finished in a striking red, showed all the hallmarks of the company’s expertise, with a presentation that could scale the most dynamic music with ease yet also convey the subtlety and intimacy of small-scale music. It was one of those sounds that is hard to pin down sonically, but the engaging musical result was unmistakable.
Although not new at the show, Audiovector’s flagship R8 was new to me. We’ve very favorably reviewed several speakers from this Danish company, but I hadn’t heard any of its products until last month’s AXPONA, where I listened to the $5700 QR7 driven by Bel Canto electronics and sources. I really loved the sound, particularly the absence of brightness and hardness in the treble. The R8 took that performance to another level with the $67,000 R8, combining wide dynamics and deep bass extension with smooth yet detailed top octaves. Notably, Audiovector makes its own Air-Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeters. I wouldn’t be surprised if the R8 holds its own against $100k speakers.
Robert Harley’s Best of Show
Singling out just one exhibit from the many superb-sounding rooms would be an injustice to the several truly exceptional rooms, so I’ll share with you the show’s highlights in no particular order.
The AlsyVox Raffaello planar speaker was a showstopper with its startlingly realistic presentation. The dynamics, freedom from box coloration, and sheer sense of live music-making were jaw-dropping. Driven by Pilium electronics and sourced from a Lampizator DAC and Taiko server, the AlsyVox had me returning to the room day after day.
Rockport Orion with Absolare electronics and Echole cables and power cords. This system was pure musical expression, making it easy to drop into the zone of musical immersion. This system was music, not hi-fi.
Another speaker I’m very familiar with that sounded terrific at Munich is the Magico M6 ($172,000) powered by a Wadax Reference Server and Reference DAC in the Wadax room. The M6 sounded better here than in my listening room when I reviewed it, projecting a palpable sense of presence, ultra-smooth response, and engaging musicality.
Wilson Audio had a great show, with something like nine models on display. Of particular note were three outstanding-sounding rooms featuring the new Wilson Alexx V—Nagra, CH Precision (powered by Series 10 electronics), and Constellation (powered by a Hercules stereo). All these rooms were wonderful sounding yet different, suggesting that the Alexx V’s transparency to sources easily revealed differences in electronics and setup.
The Magico S3 is by far the least expensive speaker in my Best of Show list, but it’s right up there with much higher-priced products.
The big Clarysis Auditorium, the Apogee-like ribbon driven by the new Soulution preamp and phonostage and supported by Critical Mass Systems was another of the show’s highlights. The system locked in with a rock-solid soundstage, beautiful rendering of timbre, and exceptional transient fidelity.
Best Sound (for the money)
The MoFi SourcePoint 8, the $2750 little brother to the SourcePoint 10 Dick Olsher recently raved about, was mind-blowingly great for the price. The Borresen X3 at $11k struck me as offering a lot of performance for the money.
Magico S3. It’s not often that a speaker of the S3’s price is driven by reference-grade electronics (Pilium) and sources (Wadax Reference Server and Reference DAC) in a sophisticated portable acoustic environment, but the S3 demo showed what was possible from this overachieving new speaker.
Most Important Trend
The continued strength of the ultra-high-end market, coupled with “entry-level” products from prestigious brands such as Estelon (Aura), Stenheim (Two.Five), Raidho (X2t), and Borreson (X3).
By Robert Harley
My older brother Stephen introduced me to music when I was about 12 years old. Stephen was a prodigious musical talent (he went on to get a degree in Composition) who generously shared his records and passion for music with his little brother.More articles from this editor
Read Next From ShowSee all
The 2023 Munich High-End Show: Andrew Quint on Electronics and Digital
It’s traditional for a first-time attendee of the Munich show […]
- by Andrew Quint
- Jun 03rd, 2023
High End Munich 2023 Day 3 | Fremer’s Show Coverage
Saturday was the first of two consumer days at High […]
- by Michael Fremer
- Jun 02nd, 2023
Michael Fremer’s Day 1 Analog Show Coverage | Munich 2023
From Fremer: Day one started with a 7 AM breakfast […]
- by Michael Fremer
- May 23rd, 2023