ThanatosVIs Munich High End Impressions:
This year I spontaneously decided to visit the Munich high end with my brother. Knowing this would be my first hifi show ever, I was pretty excited to audition all that new gear and finally meet some of the cool guys, that put their sould and heart into developing all these headphones, amplifiers and DACs.
The Munich High end setup was huge. 4 halls and at least as many atriums on top, all full with gear. There was an expected noise floor, but not as bad as I initially thought. It was still easy to talk to each other. For the auditions there also were several rooms that provided a semi-silent environment that actually enabled one to audition gear and get something out of it. It certainly seemed better in that regard, than I expected from all the CanJam show impressions I read.
It still was overall rather loud, which means that I auditioned gear way louder than I normally would listen to. This also showed me that I'm apparently not that hard of a basshead than I initially expected. Usually I apply a hefty bass EQ on my gear (~10db) at the show I needed no bass EQ at all and was impressed by how much bass I heard, to the point where I checked the players if there wasn't any activated EQ on several occasions.
Usually the listening time with a single item wasn't longer than 5 minutes, so my impressions can't go into much detail in most cases. Show conditions aren't ideal so if some of my impressions sound harsh, I apologize.
So here my impressions of the different gear:
I could audition the LCD-5 at the full Holo chain. Holo May + Holo Bliss.
It sounded rather thin to my ears, with closed in stage and didn't captivate me at all. It was pretty sad to see how far it is from the old Audeze house sound.
Certainly not my taste.
Right beneath the LCD-5 there was also a 2F, this one has the classic sound signature. Solid, smooth, engaging. Great headphones.
Certainly among the best at their price point, and absolutely enjoyable no matter the price. I'd pick these over the LCD-5 any day of the week, even if the price tags were swapped.
Final D8k Pro
Having read so much good about the Finals, and even a few users switching from the Elite to the D8k Pro I had quite the expecations. However they didn't fullfill those high expectations. While they were certainly good sounding. Crisp, good bass, very detailed. They didn't seem to do anything better than the Elite at all. Imo a clear notch below the Elite. Both sonically as well as in terms of comfort.
Warwick Bravura & Arperio
At the Warwick room they had 2 setups of the Arperios and 2 of the Bravura. The guys were very kind and nice to talk to, while I was waiting for the setups to be free.
They offer good comfort, amazing detail, clarity, soundstage and speed, but like moset estats they are light on the Bass which removes them from my "list of interests".
They might be a great endgame for someone listening only to bass light music, that requires amazing detail retrieval capabilities, but they are not for me.
Near the end of the show I also found a room with the Abyss 1266TC. Many recommended these to me, stating that they are sure I'd like the sound. I always expected them to have too much treble energy.
When I could audition them now, hold them in my hands and put them in my head. It confirmed that their comfort is trash, fit is horrible, the stock cable is utter garbage, very stiff with cable memory. I hated everything about them except for one thing .... the sound. These do sound incredible and I loved the sound.
I heard them of a weird protoype amplifier that looked like a solid block of aluminium with a volume control.
Abyss Diana (MR?)
The new Diana was an utter dissappointment. Build looks cheap especially the headband. They have a fixed very thin cable. Build looks extraordinarily cheap when in hand, especially when you can compare it to so many others right beneath them. Comfort is okayish at best. And the sound is very boring and soulless.
After the 1266TC I was hoping that they could fit that sound in a more comfortable chassis, but this certainly isn't it.
This one was surprisingly hard to audition. I've seen only one unit at the show and it was nearly always in use. It's very detailed, spacious, bright and thin.
Absolutely not my taste, but at least I can see why someone else might like them. Comfort was good. They ran off the Staxx SRM-T8000 amplifier
Directly after the Stax I tried the Corina off of a Mal Valve amplifier. They seem incredibly hard to drive, I have to put the amplifier to a very high setting to get some volume.
Tonality wise they are the second best estat I have heard. Bass was actually quite nice, but still noteably below most planars.
They have incredible detail, a great mid section, smooth treble that's never harsh and also not overemphasized like on the Stax models.
I'm looking forward to my unit, to test it in depth at home. It left the best impression of the attainable estats at the show (putting it above the Warwicks and Stax models)
In the DCA room I also could finally audition the Stealth. These are rock solid headphones. Amazing tonality, bass, detail, smooth treble, everything there. Especially after hearing so many headphones they really did stick out in a positive way. While I love my Liric as a fun closed back, imo it's safe to say that the Stealth is the best closed back currently on the market.
The setup was with an Enleum 23R, that amplifier has a cool feature which makes it turn the volume down to zero when you unplug the headphones.
The Expanse also felt very impressive, I didn't listen much to it, since I already own it, but wanted to use if for comparative reasons. Again one of the most impressive headphones at the show a notch above most others.
Spirit Torino Centauri
Build wise they are not on the level of their top offerings or the likes of Meze, DCA and ZMF.
Sound wise they are very open and were affected a lot by the noise on the floor.
They did sound promising and I need another audition in a quiet environment.
The Cayin booth was a very welcoming place. @Andykong
is an amazing company rep here on the forums and it was nice to see that the Cayin guys at the show were also great to talk to.
Now that I own the Envy I was very interested in a comparison to the Cayin Ha-300. Their setup was off of their DAC (forgot the model atm) and with the headphones I know best - the Meze Elite. To my ears it sounded like the Cayin was even more spacious and ethereal than the Envy, but with weaker bass quantity and softer impact. Not sure about treble extension since the loud volumes at the show have an impact on treble perception.
Apart from their sound I feel the need to talk about the build of Cayin amplifiers. In person they feel much more substantial than on pictures. All of them look a lot better in person than on the marketing shots. From the small Ha-3a to the Ha-300 and their speaker models. Build and haptics are great. I also really love the power button.
At the booth they also had both of their USB dongles. I used them with my Galaxy S10 and Meze Rai Penta, using UAPP on bit perfect setting.
The Ru7 sounded very impressive. Wide, spacious, detailed, smooth - it was a very noteable notch above the Smartphone out. I did briefly consider getting one right at the show, but unfortunately they had only demo units and no stock there.
The "older" R2R dongle was also impressive. Less spacious and smooth but with stronger bass and treble, it offers its very own sound signature. My brother preferred the Ru6 over Ru7 while it was the other way round for me. Both of them would receive a price/performance winner badge from me
The N7 unfortunately had no internet access and not the best music selection. While it did sound impressive it's hard to say something comparative, since I couldn't use the same music on this unit, as I used on the others. I'm looking forward to my loaner tour review unit, the short taste was igniting a thirst for more.
ZMF Atrium open and closed
Zach was personally at the show, for the first time at a show outside of the US and also on the public days. This was cool to see. There were a lot of ZMF headphones at the show. I focused on the Atriums and Caldera.
All three look and feel very well made. Top build quality, excellent comfort and the aesthetics speak for themselfes. It's easy to see why they have so many fans.
I did like the Atriums, the open one more so than the new closed one. They have a sound that goes into the musical niche and not the analytical as most other high end offerings try to. Very pleasing but at the same time they didn't ignite a feeling of "I need them".
For both technicalities like detail but also for musicality that sucks you into the music I consider them a noth below the Meze offerings.
I gave the Caldera an extra whirl on the Feliks Envy that was inside the Feliks room. Hooked up to a dCS Lina DAC (w/o clock) and equipped with Elrog tubes.
Regarding technicalities they are easily the best ZMF offering. They also retain that musical ZMF house sound. They are very enjoyable but in a head to head comparison with the Elite, I preferred the Elite in all aspects especially detail retrieval and soundstage.
At the same Setup I also auditioned the Susvara. While this wasn't my first time, it was the first in a few years. Show conditions might be harsh on their strengths, but they sounded very unimpressive and thin. I preferred the Caldera with everything.
Guess their technical strengths didn't come through well due to the noise floor at the show - or maybe they aren't that special compared to newer offerings anymore.
Erzetich being such an unknown brand, I was very interested in hearing them. Unfortunately at their booth you couldn't choose the music at all, you could just listen to whatever they were playing at their setup at the time. The music was absolutely not my taste which made it impossible for me to get anything meaningfull on their sonics.
I hope I can audition them at a future show. The build and comfort are only okayish, which means they need to kill it on the sonic front if they want to have a chance.
I've been quite lucky and could audition the Marble stone gem for 10-15 minutes straight. It was mighty impressive. Aesthethics and haptics are in a league of their own with the marblestone and lifting tubes. Sound wise this was quite the experience, it certainly seemed a notch above most other headphones at the show. I didn't miss anything.
It proves that electrostats can have amazing Bass, it has by far the best bass of all electrostats at the show. It felt a little heavy on the treble for my taste, but this could also be due to the loud volumes I used.
Unfortunately they want to increase the price to even more ridiculous levels ... which forces me pass on them even in the future.
The Raal Ca-1a I auditioned had the open pads, someone told me they also had some with closed pads at the show but unfortunately I didn't try them.
Detail and soundstage are top notch at the Raal, but for my taste they were too thin. Comfort was very unsuited for show conditions, since you can't quickly adjust the heaband to your head size. I crossed them off my list, it didn't seem like they are worth an addition to my collection
Woo Wa23 + Rockna Wavedream
In the Meze room, which was also a semi-silent listening room I found this nice stack of Woo Wa23 + Rockna Wavedream DAC.
As headphones the Elite with angled Alcantara pads and the 109 Pro.
The stack had good dynamics. Soundstage was on the smaller side or in other words more closed in. The Envy + Chord setup that was directly beneath was absolutely superior imo.
Feliks Euforia Evo + Meze Elite
At the Feliks booth I tried the Euforia Evo with my daily driver the Elite. The pairing is great, the amp sounds amazing and has great build quality. If I didn't have the Envy already this would be my choice for headphones like the Elite.
dCS Lina full stack
In the Meze room there was also the full dCS Lina stack with DAC+clock+Amplifier. Using the Elite I was very curious what this mighty setup might sound like, and to my surprise it was very dissappointing. Sort of flat and unengaging. The WooWa23+Rockna Wavedream was clearly superior and the Envy + Chord setup another notch above that.
dCS Lina + Feliks Envy
Luckily the issue seems to be only with the amplifier. Since dCS Lina DAC + Feliks Envy is another top notch setup (even without clock)
Not sure if the DAC is better than some of the cheaper options, but it certianly is a good sounding DAC.
Meze 109 Pro
The Meze 109 Pro sound amazing, have great comfort and also score aesthetically. They were my show highlight and I ordered one of them right away.
To me they sounded better than the ZMF offerings and most other headphones at the show. Price is really no indicator of how good they really are. YMMV, but for me they are hitting it straight home.
Apart from headphones I spent also a lot of time in several speaker rooms. My clear favourite were the T+A S540 speakers, an absoulute top notch setup and luckily with 45k so far out of my budget that it's of no threat to my wallet.
Due to a nice coincidence I could also talk to Siegfried Amft (founder of T+A) in person. That was a great experience. Fun fact: he uses the exakt same gear at home that I do. This year I can also upgrade my MP2000R MkII with a new streaming board at a reasonable price. Certainly gives me a lot of faith in the company!
The event was an amazing experience. With that much unknown gear the 2 days have been barely enough.
It was so nice to talk to all the people that create the gear that provides me with so much joy. T+A, Cayin, headphone.shop, Warwick acoustics ... so many had really nice people to talk to at the show.
By now I am at home again at my own setup. Turned out, I really have the best stuff already for my taste and can rest easy that I'm not missing out on anything. My own setup is still the best sound experience I ever had, being able to say that after a show like the High end, is mighty reassuring.