2023 Munchen High-End Audio Show
It is with great delight that I share with you my long-awaited journey to the renowned audio show in Munich. This extraordinary spectacle has been calling my name for the past decade, but, as fate would have it, significant obligations have always steered me away, year after year.
Upon entering the grand event, I was awestruck by its staggering magnitude. An ocean of innovation stretched out before me, larger than anything I could have anticipated, rendering my well-laid plans to see it all somewhat inadequate. The month’s worth of steps clocked in as I ventured across the vast expanse of the show was evidence enough of its extraordinary scale. My previous experience at CanJam paled in comparison, as the Munich show was in a different league altogether, maybe sixfold larger. In the forthcoming years, I aspire to employ a more methodical approach, mapping out a comprehensive strategy to truly conquer this monumental showcase.
The show’s pulsating energy was infectious, the gathering of like-minded enthusiasts exhilarating. The incredible diversity and the finely crafted presentations stirred my senses, while the cutting-edge gear on display was nothing short of inspiring. Though ours is a niche hobby, the convergence of passionate individuals from all corners of the globe culminated in a strikingly large, shared experience.
I confess, my attention gravitated more towards the headphone section, where I found myself ensnared by the entrancing rhythms and melodies. My exploration of the speakers, despite my love for them, was not as exhaustive as I had hoped. However, I remain resolute to rectify this in the coming years, armed with a more organized approach.
In the spirit of sharing my unique experience, I have created a couple of videos encapsulating my impressions of both the headphones and speakers. These visual diaries can be found below, offering a glimpse into my personal journey through the show. Moreover, I plan to spotlight some notable highlights right here, in the following sections of this post.
Video Summary on my Headphone Experience:
Video Summary on my Speakers Experience:
Let’s start with the Headphones Section
I’ll primarily focus on the headphone section, which I covered in more detail. I might pen a separate article dedicated to the speaker section, but in the meantime, most of the details can be found in the second video above.
You can also see the photo album here.
Meze held the crown for the most outstanding display in the entire headphone section of the show. Their booth was a testament to their dedication to the craft, manned by a team radiating enthusiasm and open-mindedness. Each staff member was not just communicative and helpful, but embodied a palpable passion for their work.
The Meze booth wasn’t merely a display; it was a sensory sanctuary sprawling with space, yet still managing to foster an atmosphere of intimacy. This secluded retreat allowed guests to immerse themselves in the private experience of sampling their headphones, which were paired with an array of exemplary systems, each delivering exquisite audio quality.
It was here, within the confines of the Meze haven, that I encountered what could only be described as one of the most exceptional sound systems at the show. A sublime ensemble of a Rockna Wavedream Edition, gracefully partnered with the enchanting Woo-Audio Luna amplifier, and crowned with the distinguished Meze Elite headphones.
This majestic triad served up a symphony of sound that was nothing short of revelatory. Its natural and realistic rendition was akin to a live performance; an organic symphony of harmonious notes that breathed life into the music. The auditory experience was profoundly engaging, exuding a rich musicality that captured my heart and left me utterly enamored. Such was the profundity of the experience that it was impossible not to be completely enthralled by it.
The Meze booth took center stage once again when legendary musician Al Di Meola graced the area with his presence. Meze, in an exemplary show of appreciation, presented Mr. Meola with a stunning pair of red Elite headphones – a thoughtful gesture that only added to the spectacle.
This wasn’t merely a token exchange, though. Al Di Meola reciprocated the warm gesture by signing autographs, creating a flurry of excitement among the gathered enthusiasts. His arrival was more than just a celebrity cameo; it injected a vibrant energy into the event. Open, friendly, and evidently enjoying the moment, Mr. Meola’s cheerful demeanor was infectious, spreading a wave of positivity that significantly elevated the overall atmosphere at the booth.
I have to congratulate the Meze team for the organization for this show but also for their achievements so far.
Rockna Audio Booth
Though better suited to the Speakers section, I find myself compelled to share this here, driven by my profound admiration for the sublime DACs this brand has crafted, which, to my delight, I’ve had the opportunity to experience firsthand. You can delve into my detailed reviews of the Signature Wavedream and the Wavelight by following the embedded links.
The room dedicated to their showcase was among my most cherished spaces at the entire show, and quite rightly so. The meticulously arranged system was an awe-inspiring symphony of a Rockna Wavedream Signature, a Trafomatic Rhapsody Tube amp, a Wavelight Server, and Tune Audio Loudspeakers.
The resulting sound was nothing short of pure, lifelike authenticity. It was as if the walls of the room dissolved, transforming the space into a live concert venue. Bereft of any digital harshness, the experience was a celebration of unadulterated, natural sound. The loudspeakers themselves deserve significant praise for their tremendous soundstage and remarkable presence, devoid of any jarring elements.
Having had the privilege of experiencing Rockna and Trafomatic on a variety of systems, I have no doubt that the DAC’s potential is far from fully realized, particularly in terms of bass and lower midrange enhancement.
Rockna’s exhibition also heralded the exciting introduction of their upcoming flagship DAC, the Wavedream Ultra. Crafted from scratch with an unyielding pursuit of sonic perfection, it aims to elevate every aspect of audio experience. Beyond its remarkable sound quality, it also boasts a network input and Rune readiness. Having been utterly spellbound by the Wavedream Signature, envisioning a superior successor is challenging, yet knowing Rockna, disappointment is hardly a possibility.
Over the years, I’ve been captivated by the numerous accolades ZMF has accumulated, and my yearning to experience their headphones grew with each glowing review. Now, with great satisfaction, I can say that I have finally attained this long-standing goal, and the reality did not fall short of my lofty expectations.
Interacting with Zach, the mastermind behind ZMF, was an absolute pleasure. His persona radiated warmth, making him an exceptionally affable individual to converse with. His profound passion for his craft was unmistakably apparent, permeating every interaction, every product, and every note produced by his remarkable headphones.
I had the privilege of auditioning the Calderas, both the Atrium closed and open, as well as the Verite Closed. While each model had its unique sonic character, they all shared a common trait: an enchanting musicality that made for a thoroughly engaging auditory experience.
As some of you may already be aware, I’ve been a long-time admirer of Audeze, with my earliest acclaimed review on headfi dedicated to the LCD-2. I’m delighted to report that my visit to their booth at this show only served to reinforce my fondness for their work, thanks to an array of thoughtfully paired, excellent-quality headphones.
I kicked off my exploration with the Audeze Maxwell, a wireless headset designed for gaming and movies. Having put it through its paces with both forms of media, I can affirm that the value they’ve managed to pack into this price bracket is genuinely extraordinary. So impressed was I by the immersive 3D sound tech, the appealing tonality, and even the striking technicalities of the sound, that I am compelled to add one to my personal collection. The build quality was another pleasant surprise, with premium materials and finish contributing to a robust construction.
The highlight of my Audeze experience, though, was undoubtedly the LCD-5. My previous encounters with this model in various systems back in Bucharest had left me somewhat underwhelmed. While it delivered detail, it seemed to lack presence, musicality, and had a tendency to sound shouty. However, hearing it on the Zahl HM-1 headphone amplifier and the Holo stack (featuring the May DAC and Bliss HP amp) was a revelation. The headphones sprung to life, brimming with bass and presence, while dynamics were dispersed with impressive precision. A truly gratifying experience.
These systems also introduced me to two incredible components I hadn’t expected – the Zahl HM-1 HP amp and the Holo stack, particularly the Bliss HP amp, which has now found its way onto my wish list.
I also had the opportunity to sample the M500 headphones, a delightfully neutral pair with an impressive combination of presence, engagement, and detail.
One of the show’s real standouts, however, was the Audeze CRBN electrostatic headphones, paired with a Mal Valve headphone amplifier. The impact and bass these headphones could generate, all the while maintaining the transparency and speed characteristic of electrostatic models, was truly astonishing. They rank among the most engaging and natural-sounding electrostatic headphones I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.
In conclusion, the Audeze booth was a veritable treasure trove of high-quality products and delightful surprises. I found myself drawn back to it repeatedly, each time immersing myself in the joy of music as rendered by their diverse range of setups.
Dan Clarke Audio Booth
Finally, I had the opportunity to experience the renowned headphones from Dan Clarke. My curiosity had been particularly piqued by the Stealth and Expanse models, and I was eager to test them out. Their booth was admirably designed, featuring a secluded room where one could truly appreciate the headphones in a serene environment.
I also had the chance to experience their electrostatic headphones. They provided a delightful listening experience, showcasing rapid, transparent, and detailed sound, yet maintaining the quintessential characteristics of electrostats. Consequently, I found myself yearning for a bit more presence and low end. However, the real stars of the show for me were the Expanse and Stealth. The moment they were in my hands, I was captivated. Their impeccable construction was a sight to behold, with top-tier materials and exceptional comfort that was simply breathtaking.
Both the Stealth and the Expanse left a lasting impression on me, and I would relish the opportunity to experience them on my own system. The Stealth, in particular, astounded me with its breadth of soundstage, intricate details, rapid response, and natural tonality – quite an accomplishment for a closed headphone. The Expanse, however, managed to sound even larger, offering superior micro details and dynamics. While I need more time to fully evaluate both, it’s indisputable that I was profoundly captivated by each of them.
It’s worth noting that both headphones seem to require a significant amount of power to be driven properly, perhaps comparable to the demands of the Susvara. This is something potential buyers should consider when contemplating a matching amplifier.
Indeed, I was fortunate enough to experience the Orpheus 2, the most costly headphones on the planet. I had previously sampled the Orpheus 1 at Canjam 2015, an encounter that moved me to tears, and this new experience was eerily reminiscent of that emotional moment.
I was incredibly fortunate to approach the booth towards the end of the second day of the show. Serendipitously, no one was waiting to audition the headphones after me, granting me an unhurried 15-minute window to immerse myself in their unparalleled sound.
The transparency, speed, and clarity offered by these headphones are nothing short of extraordinary, existing in a realm far beyond the ordinary. Furthermore, they boast phenomenal bass that not only strikes hard but does so with extraordinary precision. Attempting to dissect the sound would be a futile endeavor, for the experience was akin to being teleported into an ethereal realm of musical bliss. At one moment, the headphones managed to stir such deep emotion within me that I found myself shedding tears, a testament to the sheer joy and profound emotional connection they elicited.
These headphones perhaps come closest to matching the audio experience offered by the Orpheus 2. While they may not quite reach those dizzying heights, they unquestionably dwell at the pinnacle of the auditory realm. I had the privilege of testing them not once, but twice – at both the A&K and Stax booths.
They delivered a remarkable soundscape that checked all the boxes: clarity, speed, detail, soundstage, natural tonality, and even a compellingly impressive bass response. The experience was truly immersive, and yet I couldn’t shake off the sensation that I had not yet explored the full extent of their potential. My intuition tells me that these headphones, when coupled with a superior amp and DAC, can reach extraordinary levels of performance.
RAAL was another brand that had intrigued me considerably, and I was able to sample both headphones they produce (the SR-1b and CA-1) in a variety of setups. Both left a lasting impression.
The CA-1 shone in its exceptional speed, intricate detail, and precise timing. Harshness was nowhere to be found, replaced instead by an engaging and joyous auditory experience. Admittedly, the CA-1’s build quality does come off as slightly peculiar, particularly concerning its earpads. However, its remarkable sound performance more than makes up for this unconventional design. Notably, the best pairing I experienced with the CA-1 was with the Ferrum OOR amplifier.
Listening to the SR-1b presented a rather interesting sonic journey. The experience mirrored that of listening to speakers rather than headphones. As expected, the soundstage and imaging were out of this world. What I truly admired about them was the ability to convey richly detailed textures and speed without introducing any unwanted brightness. For instance, the sound of violins was notably realistic, detailed, and richly textured.
While I did not test any bass-heavy tracks on these headphones, it was clear that the CA-1 had a more pronounced presence, though neither headphone was able to replicate the heavy sound often associated with some planar models. Nevertheless, the sound they produced was impressively satisfying to my ears – an absolute pleasure to listen to.
Rosson Audio – Rad 0
It was rather unexpected when news broke out that the founders of Audeze had parted ways and a new company was in the making. This stirred up my curiosity, particularly about the sound quality of the new Rosson headphones. It seemed to me that Audeze had gradually moved away from their original sound signature, one that focused on a heavy, musical, and joyful experience. Instead, it had shifted more towards a transparent, detailed, and fast sound. The LCD-5 and M500 models seemed to be the epitome of this new direction.
Intriguingly, I anticipated that the Rad-0 would embody more of Audeze’s initial sound signature and I was not mistaken. Rad-0 seemed to hark back to the early sound signature of the LCD-2 and LCD-3 models from years gone by. The sound was elevated, exhibiting more detail, improved dynamics & speed, but it maintained a similar musical and weighty sound signature. I found myself genuinely enamored by its sound. It evoked nostalgia, taking me back to the “childhood” phase of my audiophile journey.
Hifiman Svanar – Wireless earbuds
I am a fan of Hifiman headphones in general. I own and love the HE1000SE and I like many other models, including the Susvara, Arya Stealth, etc. Their booth was quite nice, and I think they would have needed a few setups that would have scaled their headphones to even better performance. What did impress me, was their new Svanar Wireless/ANC earbuds. I tested the ANC in the perfect noisy environment of the show and it did a decent job, not bose/sony level, but decent. The sound was quite fun, natural, detailed and engaging. I quite enjoyed these earbuds and I would love to spend more time with them to understand their capabilities better.
ADV-Sound Turbo In ears
Tucked away across from the towering booths of A&K and Meze, they seemed to be eclipsed by the grandeur of these industry giants. As a result, they were often overlooked by most attendees. But I am grateful for my decision to give their Turbo in-ears a listen, as they proved to be among the best I’ve encountered. The sound they produced was potent and dynamic, delivering a bass region laden with depth, control, and an assertive punch. The midrange was rich in detail, exuding a natural quality, all the while avoiding any hint of harshness. I found myself thoroughly enamored with these headphones. Their price tag might be on the steeper end, but their sound performance, undeniably, was of exceptional caliber.
Holo Bliss Headphone Amplifier
This was one of the best systems I have heard at the entire show. The whole stack provides an impressive sound, showing a great punch with very good macro dynamics, really natural tonality and sound, incredible vocals, very good control, engaging sound signature and overall a pleasure to listen to. I cannot extrapolate necessarily how the amplifier sounds on its own, but my feeling is that it is a very powerful, dynamic, transparent and engaging amp. This is on my buy list for sure.
Stumbling upon this was a delightful surprise, and I had the opportunity to test it with various headphones including the Focal Utopia 2, DCA Stealth, Audeze LCD-3, Audeze M500, and LCD-5. It harmonized beautifully with each pair, producing sound that was inherently natural, transparent, fast, and musical. The question of preference between the Holo Bliss and HM-1 is a close call. My educated guess might tip me more towards the Bliss, perhaps for its punchier sound, but the HM-1 undeniably holds the upper hand in versatility, allowing for greater customization in tuning the sound to your specific liking.
Felkis Audio Headphone amps
I managed to hear their amps on many headphones, starting from all the ZMF headphones, to hifiman susvara and Meze. I liked the sound of all their line and my preferred ones were actually their top of the line Envy amp, their entry level Echo 2, but also Euforia EVO.
The echo 2 was actually a very good combination with the Meze 109 Pro headphones which usually I find a bit bright. with Echo 2, I found them to be engaging, natural, fun and to have the typical magical tube sound. I enjoyed that combo quite a bit.
I heard their top of the line with ZMF Atrium, Verite, Caldera & Hifiman Susvara. In all combination I have heard a good, magical but also technical tube sound, presenting that well textured and present midrange, good details, soundstage and overall natural sound.
I also liked the Euforia EVO sound which retained quite a bit of vibe, energy and qualities from Envy.
Ferrum Audio OOR Headphone Amplifier
First and foremost, I’d like to acknowledge the Ferrum team’s exceptional friendliness, open-mindedness, and joviality. Interacting with them was indeed a pleasure.
As it turns out, they are also the creators of one of the most outstanding headphone amplifiers I’ve experienced, both at the show and in general. I was fortunate enough to have this unit at home for an entire week, during which I tested it with a wide array of headphones, including: Meze Elite, Hifiman Susvara, Hifiman HE-1000SE, Raal CA-1, Final Audio D8000, Beyerdynamic DT880, Sennheiser HD650, Meze Liric, Audeze LCD-5, and others.
This amplifier truly breathes life into any pair of headphones it’s connected with. The result is consistently engaging, natural, musical, and an absolute joy to listen to.
Cayin Headphone Amplifiers
I also had the chance to encounter some Cayin tube amplifiers, and I must say their sound quality was quite enjoyable. I appreciated that they were able to capture that enchanting tube sound while still maintaining solid technical features such as a good bass punch, overall attack, details, and speed. Although all models performed impressively, my personal favorite was the 300Mk2, which was paired with the Meze Elite.
I attempted to cover the majority of the headphone section and share my standout experiences. It’s worth noting that my corresponding video may contain a few more details or featured products compared to this write-up. Additionally, I have a separate video focusing on the speaker section.
Attending this event was a joy, as I had the opportunity to meet numerous fantastic people and explore a vast array of impressive products. I hope to further optimize my organization for future events to provide an even more comprehensive report.