Twisted Systems

The Munich High End Show 2019

I attended the High End Audio Show 2019 last week in Munich, as did our esteemed Editor, Bill Leebens.

We came independently. I came as both a fan and as a journalist representing Copper, Inc.com, and Goldmine magazine.

There was enough material at the show to provoke reams of prose for all 3 publications: the gear for Copper, the turntable explosion for Goldmine (a record collector magazine, seeking a “current state of vinyl” report), and the sheer business of the High End for Inc.com.

I also know that show reports are really all about the photos; I took many, and I’m sure Bill did. We’ll see what we can stuff into this story— and yes, my friends, there are a lot of stories.

It’s not about High-End Audio per se. To me, it was about the economics of scale.

You see, in an industry where (at least in America) the high end retailer is bemoaning the evaporation of the “old 2 channel stereo” customer, can there be a greater example of being “priced out of a hobby” than this?

The truth is yes.

It’s not just audio. It’s watches, cars, art—the list goes on. For that matter, I’m sure that fishing equipment at the highest end is also insanely expensive.

As I’m writing this, the window in my office looks directly at the towers on Billionaires Row in NYC. I’m looking directly at 111 West 57th Street, and also at 220 Central Park South, where the single most expensive privately owned apartment was sold a few months ago for $238 million!

And no, I’m not railing in any way about capitalism either.

It’s just that going to the Munich show really exemplifies where the world of luxury has taken us over the last 50 years or so, and that the world of hi-fi has become a part of that world.

Whereas, in 1968, 10 grand could buy you the best hi-fi in the world, the finest watch, a huge apartment in NYC, here we are 50 years later knowing this:

The most expensive watches currently in production in the world, such as A. Lange, Patek, Richard Mille & Greubel-Forsey are priced at about 2 million dollars. The most expensive private yacht is priced at 1 billion—that’s with a “B”.

You could spend, on the most expensive gear that I saw at the show, 2 ½ million dollars….without cables!

Buried within this most insane display of over the top gear are great examples of high quality gear that is sanely priced. That is not sexy, though.

Companies like Pro-ject, Garrard, Rega, NAD, Elac, Marantz, Rotel, etc. offer great sound with real world prices.

And then there is the world of just plain crazy:

In the turntable world, that would be the Acoustic Signature Invictus, Clearaudio Statement, TechDAS Zero, and the Goldmund Reference.

Acoustic Signature Invictus.

JR Transrotor Tourbillon.

Continuum Obsidian table with Viper tonearm.

The world of 40K tables from VPI and SME are really just “budget models” here.

The Goldmund rep told me that they “only made 25 of the $300,000.00 Reference tables (all sold) and that they ceased making more.”

Really??

Vertere, from Touraj Moghaddam, founder of Roksan.

The Raven Black Night from TW Acustic.

Top of the line from EAT.

I know all about this stuff (and I’m sure you do, also), but to see it all in one place, at one time, and to hear each company’s story and justification for the particular design that is “better” than the competition…well, it was certainly entertaining…

Many of you, I believe, are like me. We read about this stuff, and we ask ourselves, “who the hell buys it?”

Here is what I have come to believe:

Most of the buyers of these supertoys know zero about what they are buying.

There are, according to recent press reports, 2,039 billionaires in the world, with about 20 additional members entering this league every year.

Show me a billionaire, and I’ll show you someone who has created a product to separate that person from their money. And lots of it.

I will talk more about all of this (speakers, amps, pre-amps, CD players & streamers, cartridges, super arms, reel-to-reel tape decks—and yes, even high end cassette decks are returning!) in the coming issues of Copper. Meanwhile, I need to see my therapist first so I can digest the current human condition that has led this once very noble hobby, into the world of the truly super financially-supported extension of one’s ego…

And yes…I met many really great, passionate audio entrepreneurs who truly love what they do, create, and market. I heard great music on many systems, many not super crazy, that not only made the trip enjoyable but will surely make for a return next year.

More to come in the next issue of Copper.