High End Munich 2019: Finish with Head Wrapping

Last year (2018) was my first time at Munich’s High End show. Sadly, I missed High End’s first 36 annual incarnations. Totally-stoked for my first look at audio’s Big Show, I arrived in Munich at 7 a.m. on Thursday, which was trade day. I was in the Press Room drinking coffee by 9:30 a.m. unwashed and sleep-deprived.

I missed Sunday altogether because I had a 12:00 flight back to JFK. But, in my two whirlwind days, I saw and heard enough to know this is the place where smart audio people scout the current state of the audio arts, while trying to imagine the future of perfectionist audio. Happily, at High End Munich, there are no drones, TVs, or smart phones. Just fantastic leading-edge audio.

Last year there was a side-show, a headphone exposition called “CanJam,” that had no affiliation with CanJam Global or Head-Fi. This un-affiliated, and name-challenged headphone show was next door to the giant MOC convention center where the two-channel Big Show was being held. This year it was gone. And so were 99 per cent of the headphone manufacturers and aficionados. I felt confused because I did not know what was going on and I felt rejected because I wanted to cover the 2019 headphone event for InnerFidelity readers.

I found only a few headphone manufacturers tucked away in the four Great Halls that constitute the main floor of this event. German headphone giants Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic were surprisingly missing from the Great Halls of High End 2019.

Before I left Brooklyn, I heard friends mumbling, speculating about the business of headphones being in decline. I told them I did not see that decline. What I saw were headphone manufacturers taking stock, assessing their accomplishments, and pushing forward, refining their products both sonically and user-interface-wise. I saw a headphone world finished with its flash-growth and start-up mistakes, flushed with new investment capital, and an army of believers. I saw a headphone industry expanding out of personal audio into gaming and virtual reality. I saw a proud, prosperous new industry ready to assume the throne, put on the robe, and wear its well-earned crown as the king of audio-frequency transducers.

Now, one week after Munich, I see the headphone industry as a multi-headed hydra. One hydra head speaking to smart phone subway riders. Another to travelers on international flights. Another to indentured office-cubicle servants and stock-room box-sorters. Another speaking to recording engineers and air-traffic controllers. Another listening closely to mad gamers and silent-ravers.

And then, there is that one shy introverted hydra-head. The one looking away from the others. The one where state-of-the-art scull-mounted transducers reveal more of what is on LPs, CDs, audio streams, and high-resolution files than any audiophile box or panel speaker ever could.

Right now, the hydra head I am most interested in, is the one involved with extreme deep and mindful listening. That head was not in Munich either, but it is home with me now whispering in my ear, reminding me of developments in electrostatic headphones by companies like HiFiMan, MrSpeakers, HeadAmp, Stax, and Warwick; reminding me how 21st-century companies like JPS Labs (Abyss), HiFiMan, Audeze, and Focal are now blue-chip established and impelled to focus and refine their offerings.

Right now, this quiet hydra-head is welcoming all serious headphone aficionados to the next higher level, Are you paying attention? Are you coming along? I know I am.

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COMMENTS
Ortofan's picture

... "missed Sunday altogether because [he] had a 12:00 flight back to JFK", then how was he able to write the following report about being there on Sunday?
https://www.audiostream.com/content/high-end-munich-2019-wrap-four-cycle...

Rafe Arnott's picture
Uh... He's referencing his FIRST show in 2018. TO QUOTE: "Last year (2018) was my first time at Munich’s High End show. Sadly, I missed High End’s first 36 annual incarnations. Totally-stoked for my first look at audio’s Big Show, I arrived in Munich at 7 a.m. on Thursday, which was trade day. I was in the Press Room drinking coffee by 9:30 a.m. unwashed and sleep-deprived. I missed Sunday altogether because I had a 12:00 flight back to JFK."
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