Best Practice: Munich High End Show — Mad, Wonderful and Essential
A little bit of madness, in moderation, is a great thing in an industry that values reliability and architectural discreteness over and above flair and making an artistic statement.
This madness was on display at the wonderful Munich High End show. Twenty-five years ago, the vast majority of ‘industry’ companies came from the hi-fi industry. Then, audio quality of installed system was top of the agenda, an emphasis that today is sadly often compromised at the altar of making technology invisible. On display at the Munich show were speakers ranging from small, inexpensive and sensible, to huge, eye-wateringly expensive and just downright bonkers. Illustrating this superbly was a speaker system that was not for sale, because it was made in 1924. The behemoth 11A speaker system from Western Electric (pictured above) made me laugh with joy. Yes, it’s sound was coloured but I sat there in awe of something so enjoyable from a bygone era.
The modern incarnation of the Western Electric system was the Gamma II F8 from Cessaro Horn Acoustics. Featuring a subwoofer the size of a small family car, the system was making some incredible music. Though most of what we all do is focus on integrating and hiding technology, speaker systems such as this one from Cessaro can be treated as a piece of statement art as much as an incredible music reproduction system.
A new Swiss company, Boenicke Audio was showing some amazing looking floorstanding speakers that have a milled from solid cabinet and a mid-bass driver made of wood. When I walked into the room I was skeptical having never heard a wood-based driver sounding anything better than mediocre. My perceptions were shattered the moment I heard the sound, which was truly excellent. These speakers are an example of rather than hiding technology away, find a product that fits into the design aesthetic of the building and make a statement of it. The Boenicke would definitely fit into a clean Danish inspired design theme.
Trinnov, makers of high end AV processors were showing their Altitude 88 model driving eight Mola-Mola Kaluga amplifiers and the five-driver, four way Vivid Audio Giya (pictured left) G2 loudspeakers. Two things made this interesting. Firstly, the processor was acting as the active crossover for the four way speakers. Secondly, Trinnov were using their room optimisation system usually thought to be more suitable for cinema environments. They showed, however, that room and speaker optimisation is just as beneficial for purist two-channel systems as it is for cinema systems. I can see more and more digital electronics manufacturers implementing room and speaker correction as the next frontier in optimising and improving in-room sound quality.
Meridian, Bowers and Wilkins, Bang and Olufsen, Bose and Harman Kardon are all known for working with high-end car manufacturers to engineer and provide their audio systems. Making a statement at the show was high-end German manufacturer Burmester, who were showcasing their systems in both Mercedes and Porsche cars. The system they had in the Mercedes GTS sounded absolutely stunning.
My favourite show moment was delivered on a pair of headphones and gave a glimpse into a technology that has the potential to replace immersive cinema audio systems. A new startup company, Smyth Audio, were showing a prototype of their Realiser A16 system. The first step in the demonstration was having some tiny microphones placed into my ears. The system then measured some sounds coming from an array of speakers. Because the microphones were tucked into my ear canals, they were measuring the sound unique to my head and ear shape. The next step was to repeat this 60-second process with a pair of headphones, but still using the in ear microphones. Thirty seconds of number crunching by the Smyth Realiser later and the system was set up uniquely for me. Then the magic started. First I listened to sound from the speakers. Then I listened to sound with the headphones. They sounded near identical! Both tonally and critically spatially the headphones were perfectly reproducing what I heard in the room. Sounds were perceived as coming from all around me with surprisingly high spatial resolution. The even more remarkable thing was that the system tracked my head movement so no matter in which direction I was looking, the sound stayed locked. I can see this system being developed to the point that Smyth has a library of measured rooms that can be replicated with headphones. Anyone fancy watching a movie whilst having the audio experience of the being in the dubbing stage at Skywalker Ranch or Galaxy Studios? Though lacking the visceral experience of being shaken by bass, spatially it was an incredible experience.
Peter Aylett is a world-renowned speaker and lecturer in residential technology, and the Technical Director at Archimedia, a multinational high-end residential integrator in The Middle East. He is also currently Chair of CEDIA’s International Technology Council Applied Content Action Team, and a regular contributor to HiddenWires.
Audio is still a very important part of what we do in the integrated systems World. As with all the other technologies that we install, it’s important to go to shows so that we can keep abreast of innovations and what is possible. The Munich High End show is full of stuff that most industry people perceive as too wild or expensive to install into customers’ homes. This attitude is a lost opportunity that could potentially be turned into a sale. All it takes is a little inspiration and the Munich show has that in spades.