The 6 wildest audio experiences we tried at High End Munich 2023
If you love your music and hi-fi – analog or digital, this is an inclusive space – High End Munich 2023 is for you. And this year was just as much of a corker as last year's show.
What follows is a roundup of the most eye-opening products and events we saw at this revered exhibition, featuring everything from wildly expensive monoblock power amps to jewel-like in-ears, from prized vinyl presses to the cutting edge of home theater.
Enjoy, and, hey, why not book a ticket to the event next year? We'll see you in one of the myriad listening rooms.
1. Western Electric's 1927 12B speaker blaring out Led Zep
The wooden behemoth above and its partner were made in 1927 by Western Electric for Warner Brothers Vitaphone operation – just in time for the first-ever "talking picture", The Jazz Singer. The WE 12B snail horn is a landmark product in audio history, and it's made from 180 precision-cut hardwood pieces.
Few survive, largely because this model (the B suffix was used because there are two field coil WE 555 compression drivers per horn, but make no mistake, there's no crossover here) was quickly superseded by an economy model fashioned from bendable softwood. Here in Munich, though, this flagship version is not only in full working order, but if you go to Silbatone Acoustics' room at the right time, they'll hand you a beer and bang out Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love.
How do these speakers sound playing a 1969 banger, considering they were built 42 years prior, and (arguably, of course) 25 years before the advent of rock n roll? Magnificent.
2. Prototype Final electrostatic super-light headphones
Dedicated hi-fi headphone listening rooms at High End Munich are an oasis of calm, and Final's is no different. While talking to one of Final's representatives about the nuance and separation in Hotel California on the D8000 Pro Edition (scroll to number four of my roundup last year for a quick take on these) I'm given a wry smile.
A hand reaches over to a shelf. A set of cans is proffered, and I'm told, "Wait 'til you're able to hear these. They're a prototype right now – all new materials, all new construction, very light on the ear; planar magnetic."
And soon, I'm wearing something that hasn't been teased, is completely unannounced, and definitely won't be unveiled until at least the end of the year.
3. Snoop Dogg on Dali's exciting Epikore 11 speakers
If you're after coverage on Dali's new over-ear headphones, feel free to check it out, but Dali is celebrating its 40th anniversary and as such, it's in a jubilant mood.
Having spent several hours listening to classical concertos and huge orchestral pieces to remark on the placement, dispersion and stereo imaging of many a set of very expensive speakers, I decide to ask Dali if I can just open the things out and give me some Snoop Dogg – this is a party after all.
Suffice to say, the Dali Epikor 11 speakers (and the man running our demo) jumped at the chance. These $60,000 / £39,998 / €39,998 speakers were agile but punchy, zealous but accurate, giving me the textures in Calvin's lyrics while going all the way down to celebrate those early noughties juicy hip-hop registers.
4. Sennheiser's quick, pain-free Custom Comfort Tips
Sennheiser's Custom Comfort Tip offering was innovative enough that it deserved its own experiential feature, but here's the gist: if you've always wanted to try custom ear tips for your Sennheiser IEMs (including the Sennheiser IE 300 or Sennheiser IE 900) but don't like the idea of deep impressions being taken by an audiologist (with the use of syringes, thermosetting material and blocks) worry no more.
The whole experience took less than three minutes. That included a brief appraisal of the shape of my ear canals and telling Sennheiser's specialists the color I wanted my earpieces and the engraving I'd prefer. I'd do it again if I could.
5. Dirac, StormAudio and Perlisten's awesome home theater
Again, this life-affirming experience deserved its own feature but the fact that StormAudio, Dirac and Perlisten were able to deliver it at a temporary trade show was no mean feat.
Each 20-minute showing was fully booked to the point of squabbles almost breaking out should an attendee without a ticket show up and try to get in unannounced. Watching it, I hadn't felt the same joy since I saw Elvis in an elite Dolby Atmos cinema, or heard L-Acoustics' 18.1.12 setup.
The 15-seat demo room combines the intelligence of the new Dirac Live Active Room Treatment software with StormAudio’s powerful ISP Elite MK3 Immersive Sound Processor and a THX Certified Dominus home theater-quality Perlisten surround sound system for the first time ever at High End Munich. The speakers? That'd be Perlisten's premium S Series In-Wall Speakers and seven (seven!) subwoofers from its acclaimed D Series.
How much? I don't know for definite – installation costs and other variables will make it hard to put a firm price on this setup. But I do know that a pair of Perlisten's S7t speakers come in at $15,990 / £16,000 / around AU$24,000 – so this 11.7.6 system will certainly cost more than any of the best home theater systems of 2023 in our roundup. And it's emphatically worth it.
6. The foreboding brilliance of Wilson Audio speakers
You might remember the Wilson Audio Alexia V, available for £79,888 per pair (roughly $91,069 or AU$136,000) or around the same price as a new Lexus LC500. Well, these Wilson Audio speakers are much more expensive than those.
Because this is the Chronosonic XVX, which starts at around $330,000, depending on the finish. And can we talk about this particular finish? I've praised Wilson Audio before on its Dalek-esque aesthetic, but if I'd begged the company to make its flagship speakers look as much like they'd harvest my kidneys in the night as possible, Wilson couldn't have done a nicer job.
The curious unease they bring to a room is quite unique in audio (especially with the glowing green lights from Dan D'Agostino's amps all around them) and I adore it. Give me the brazen, the slightly terrifying, the unforgiving, the eyebrow-raising, and the downright scarily good when it comes to beautiful speakers!