Music'al Notes

The Munich HIGH END Show

Issue 120

The Munich HIGH END show or springtime for (you know who) in Germany.

The following story was written in 2007. It was around my first or second visit to the HIGH END show (it’s officially named as such in all caps) in Munich, Germany. My comments on new products are now dated but I think this account in some small way captures the mood. As I write this in August 2020 during the COVID-19 crisis, I wonder if and when I will be able to return there. The last time I visited (May 2019) the show had expanded, filling all the exhibition halls and atriums of the MOC München exhibition center. The next show is scheduled for May 2021. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Jetlagged, smelling of stale whisky and airplanes, I arrive in Munich. The days prior to my trip, my company, Music Hall, had exhibited, to good attendance, at the [now defunct] Stereophile show in New York. Now for the European version.

First stop? Augustiners in the heart of the city. They have been in business for almost 700 years serving beer and sustenance to all sorts of strange people.

I sit down and order a Helles beer. Half a liter of pure gold. On the menu they have Weisswurst. Delicious sausages made from veal and pork. They are served steaming in a bowl of hot water. Sweet mustard and soft pretzels are on the side. No novice I, I peel them with a knife and fork. Mark Fisher, once publisher of Stereophile magazine, taught me this. His German mother always made sure he didn’t eat the skin. The waiter is impressed.

Image courtesy of Pixabay/Rita E.

The sausages are delicious. I order another beer.

Later on, Kai Henningsen, my European distributor, and his associate, Lars, join me.

The food in Augustiners is traditional Bavarian fare. This is basically meat and potatoes, heavy and tasty. I order some sort of Schinken (pork). White asparagus is in season just now. This is amazing and nothing like the tasteless stuff served in the US. The meat is great. So too are the potatoes which are served with extra grease.

I love this stuff. What is it about pork that makes it so attractive to a Jewish boy like me?

But I digress. This an article on the HIGH END Show.

The show is held in the MOC in Munich. The venue is bright, spacious and well lit.

The contrast between this modern setting and the often gloomy hotels we use in the US is startling. Security is very tight as the Germans do not want anyone getting in for free. Not only do they charge retail visitors, people in the trade also have to pay. In the middle of the complex between two exhibit halls is a beer garden serving food. It’s a great place to hang out during these lovely Bavarian days in May.

The Germans take their hi-fi very seriously. They seem to take everything seriously. The upside of this is that they ask intelligent questions like, “What are the resonant qualities of this turntable’s plinth?” How would I know? I’m from Glasgow.

I am at the show to introduce Music Hall turntables in Europe for the first time. (Excuse the shameless plug.) I like selling turntables. They are so antediluvian and tactile. The antithesis of the iPod, turntables, and the people who sell them, are considered quaint in the US. Folks here seem to like them a lot.

This show seems full of turntables. They come in all shapes, colors and sizes. Lots of new ones were on display. Revolver, my old brand, introduced one with a marble base. Max Townsend (he of the silicone trough) is back with a new offering. Clearaudio had a very large room full of them. Strangely enough the display was static and a live band was performing. It kind of took the focus away from the exhibit.

But the biggest surprise for me was the Creek turntable. Mike Creek, my friend and ex-partner has designed a very interesting table with a magnetic bearing, sorbothane suspension (definitely inspired by me) and a very sophisticated speed control. I asked him why he made it.

He said that when he first started in this business, he was unsatisfied with the sound of his amp at home, so he decided to build a better one. This was the genesis of Creek Audio.

Similarly with speakers – thus Epos. Now a turntable? I can’t wait to hear the Creek iPod and see the Creek flat screen TV.

Naim Audio had a remote-controlled Zeppelin flying around the hallways. It was quite large at about 8 feet long. It seemed to cause quite a commotion as it flew up to people climbing the open stairways. I thought it would be interesting if it caught fire and I started yelling, “…oh the humanity, oh the humanity…”

Oddly enough, I never found their exhibit.

On Thursday night I had to deliver a speech to about 20 distributors. They listened dutifully without comment and I felt like a second-rate comedian going dry. The Korean gentleman who slept through my performance didn’t help. The only time they laughed was after I told them about a marvelous product that improves any system.

I produced a bottle of single malt whisky.

The show is very well attended both on the trade and public days. Unlike the US, two-channel stereo is still popular in Germany. In fact there were very few video exhibits. Many parents brought their children, and women (a true rarity in US hi-fi shows) were abundant. There was great interest in the Music Hall tables and I spent a lot of time explaining the features and so on. Germans speak very good English.  Ich sprech nicht gutte Deutsch. So language was not a problem.

Good sound is very important here as people would listen carefully to demonstrations.

The enthusiasm and interest shown is heartening.

Interestingly far fewer people in the street have headphones in their ears. I don’t know if this is for financial reasons or something to do with a lack of popularity of the ubiquitous ‘pod. I hate the sound of the iPod. It does not sound as good as a CD player which, as you know, sounds worse than a record. It is interesting to note that while most new technologies have improved performance, the sound quality of HDTV, cell phones, computers and so on has deteriorated. I think my 78 RPM Victrola at home, totally lacking in bass, sounds better than an iPod. Don’t get me wrong; the operating system and ease of use is brilliant but until people start recording stuff uncompressed it won’t do anything for me.

One of the big events of the show is Stereoplay magazine’s party. They are one of the prominent hi-fi magazines in Germany. Not being on the A-list, I decided to gatecrash but this was too easy as no one asked me for a ticket. And where was it held? In the Eiskeller in Augustiners. Guess what was on the menu?

Tomorrow I fly to Barcelona for a 14-day vacation with my family.

Do you think they have pork there?

 

Header image courtesy of Pixabay/Michael Siebert.

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