I was lucky enough to be be invited by Lenbrook, parent company of PSB speakers, to their international distributors conference. This year the conference was held in Munich, Germany to coincide with the Munich High End show, the largest hi-fi show in the world. I must say, I had a total blast roaming the show the last couple of days. The show was held in the old Munich airport, which has been renovated into a venue for trade shows. Without question, I have never seen an environment better suited to an audio show. All of the rooms were large in size, allowing for some pretty great demo situations. Unlike most consumer electronics shows in the United States, this one is open to the public for the final three days.
The thing you immediately notice upon entering the halls is the sheer sense of energy. The people there love their hi-fi like nothing I have ever seen! I saw people of all ages smiling ear to ear and talking about their demo experiences. (They talked in languages I could not understand, so it could have been about lunch for all I know, but I doubt it). Also, in the United States, the hobby of audio is pretty much male dominated. Over there, you could not turn around without seeing a couple together with the wife or girlfriend leading the way from room to room. Another thing that struck me after a few minutes was the total lack of anything related to video. Home theater has not caught on in Europe like over here, so they take their enjoyment of music very seriously. It’s all about two channel music listening!
I think I saw more turntables in one building than I have ever seen in my life. The very first one I saw cost more than a nice house in the United States! Vinyl is certainly alive and well in Europe. Also, tube based electronics of all shapes and sizes are everywhere. I would guess there were as many tube based electronics on display as solid state. A few of my American friends were demonstrating at the show. Richard Vandersteen made great sound with his new Model 7 speakers. Audio Research had a huge display area showing some promising new gear on the horizon. They will soon have a preamp that also contains a USB DAC, somewhat like the Classé CP-800. Peter McGrath made incredible sound with the Sasha speakers in the Wilson Audio demo room. PSB even debuted a small new speaker in the Imagine series that sounded amazing for the size and price. My American vendor buddies unanimously agreed, this was their most fun show to attend.
The thing that really blew me away, though, was the sheer number of horn speakers. In Germany, the horn speaker design has become very popular. I'm at a loss to explain it. You've never seen bigger speakers in your life, and the homes over here are not exactly huge by our standards. (Perhaps these horn speaker companies don't sell many, which could be the case, as most are over 200K per pair, but I've just never seen so many.) And when I say big, I mean things along the lines of 8 feet tall, by 4-6 feet deep and 4 feet wide! I mean HUGE! Most of the ones I listened to did not do much for me in terms of performance. However, probably the strangest looking one sounded really great!
I'm sharing below some pictures I took while touring the Munich show. If I had to guess, I would say about 75% to 80% of the products demonstrated at the Munich show do not have any distribution in the United States. Many are very small companies. In addition quite a few speakers, as you shall see, are incredibly large, making shipment to the USA almost impractical. The next time your significant other says the speakers you want to get are just too big, you might want to pull these out to show some alternatives that make our choices look a lot more appealing! By the way, a gallon of regular gas is about $8.52 in Munich and they charge for plastic grocery bags over there. I really liked the bag concept as I am one who brings his cloth bags to the grocery store, and now my wife's Prius is starting to look like a really good idea.