High End Munich 2019: “Nice Phono Stage” or The Ugly Truth About Reporting On Sound At Shows

Many moons ago, I walked into a NYC hifi shop with a person/reviewer I had just met. We were there to hear the just-arrived-from-Germany Auditorium 23 loudspeakers.

After just moments of sitting and listening, this person/reviewer turned to me and said, “Nice phono stage.” This coming from a guy who had never heard anything in this system playing an unfamiliar song. I thought to myself, “That’s a neat trick! Impossible, but neat!”

Reporting on the sound of speakers and components at HiFi Shows is like judging a person by their shadow (apologies to Plato). What I mean to say is you just can’t do it with any degree of accuracy and certainly not with any degree of certainty.

In reality, when we walk into a room at a HiFi Show, we are hearing a number of things including (in order of importance) the room, the setup, the music, and last and least the system (which includes power).  Noise, odors, and comfort are also major factors in the overall experience.

What we can take away from going to a HiFi Show, beyond tons of enjoyment, is the full experience of listening to music played through different systems in different rooms with other people all around, some of whom are more than likely talking throughout your “demo.” [footnote 1]

One real potential value in attending hifi shows is the opportunity to meet and talk to the people behind the gear and actually learn something. We can also learn, after attending different shows over time, which industry people know how to set up a room, which systems consistently attract us, and who likes to play what kind of music. This last point can be telling—if all you hear in a given room is what I call lute and feather music—no dynamics, no bass, no brass, etc.—odds are they can’t get their system to reproduce these things in this particular room.

The High End Munich Show is a place where companies conduct business, sometimes right in the same room as the system. Many of the listening rooms are nowhere near acceptable as listening rooms, with major bleed-through from adjacent rooms (I once heard Hugh Masekela’s train nearly as loudly from the next room over as it played in the room where I sat), and throughout the day, the top-floor rooms heat up to uncomfortable degrees. Sitting and listening to music should not be a sweat-inducing experience and if it is, odds are, its going to dampen your experience.

That being said, the High End Munich Show is my favorite HiFi Show. The people in attendance are made up of all ages, genders, shapes, and sizes, most of whom appear to be there to have a good time, this show is the only chance I have of hanging out with some of the people I like to hang out with, and I inevitably leave with new friends I’ll only see here next year.

my pal, John Darko, of darko.audio in action

To read between these lines, hifi shows are a great place to have fun listening to all kinds of music on all kinds of systems while also enjoying the human side of hifi.

1. Room coverage from a show report is not a review. You’d think this would be self-evident since these two different things need different words to describe them but alas…