As I write this, in late November, my diary is empty for the foreseeable future. Lockdown in the UK has been reintroduced to a draconian level, e.g., restaurants are closed except for take-out, the only open retail operations are pharmacies and supermarkets, etc. Thus, less-essential matters such as hi-fi retail, let alone shows or press events, are non-starters. Indeed, I haven’t attended anything hi-fi-related since the Tonbridge Audiojumble in February.
Not that the withdrawal symptoms have immobilised me. Zoom has come to the rescue more than once, with audiophile clubs, for example, scheduling virtual meetings, while some hi-fi companies have launched new products this way. As one who considers himself fundamentally to be a misanthrope — and little in humankind’s behaviour of late has altered that belief — I do admit to revelling in not having to don a jacket and tie, or even to shave if not so inclined.
Most normal people, however, are not quite so blasé about this lack of human contact. After months of worrying about (1) the health of the public and (2) the state of the economy, news reports have started to address the mental health of the nation. Suicides are up, seniors in care homes are denied seeing their families — it’s a nightmare straight out of Richard Matheson. And it’s anyone’s guess what damage this is inflicting on our little world, beyond all the serious stuff.
It might not strike anyone as appropriate even to consider what is happening to high-end audio when people are dying from COVID-19, but, as they say, life must go on. And it’s this need to maintain some vestige of normalcy which accompanied an unexpected announcement that reached me exactly mid-November. Note the date.
Far be it from me to comment on German psychology, but it would appear that they are far more sanguine about the current state of the planet than the rest of us, for it has been announced that the Munich High End show will return in September 2021. Talk about timing: this proclamation was made the same week that Pfizer and others started touting the specifics of their much-anticipated vaccines, and I am not so sure that the two are not connected. Perhaps it’s the cynic in me, but, hey, I love the Munich show, and if they can pull it off ten months from now, I will be there.
We need Munich’s High End now more than ever. It has been, for at least four or five years, the single most important hi-fi gathering on Earth, especially since CES pretty much stopped mattering on any level as far as specialty audio is concerned. While it prompts a question about the actual state of the pandemic in the Fatherland, we are talking about a long enough lead time before the show takes place, such that anything can happen by then.
I do not pay any attention to the flagrant liars we call the mainstream press, but I know enough about statistics to appreciate that they have been abused of late when reporting on COVID-19 to a degree which I cannot recall outside of, oh, presidential elections. Depending on the publication or news program, the subtext and the agenda, at any give time country A has the worst/best performance vis-à-vis its handling of the pandemic, country B has the highest/lowest number of deaths, etc. But I am willing to bet that the Germans have a better handle on COVID-19 than most.
(Note: If news reports on coronavirus don’t say something specific and in context like “deaths per 100,000” or “deaths per 1,000,000,” then the raw number is bullshit and meaningless. Every death is an utter tragedy, but — and this is purely hypothetical — 100 deaths per day in, say, Liechtenstein is far more terrifying and sobering a statistic than 100 deaths per day in India.)
Let’s think positively, though, and imagine what Munich 2021 might be like. It will showcase nearly two years’ worth of pent-up product launches. Those items which have trickled out during the pandemic, like the DS Audio Grand Master cartridge, the second Mark Levinson turntable, the Wilson Audio SabrinaX loudspeaker, the McIntosh MA12000 integrated amplifier, and others, have enjoyed an unexpected benefit: reduced competition for coverage, in that the press, retailers, and consumers have not been overburdened with too many new models to accommodate. News pages are not bereft, but neither is there a surfeit of hardware to manage.
But the Munich show? It’s never been short of far too much new stuff to deal with — if anything, it’s downright overwhelming — but the next one will be the hi-fi equivalent of a piñata. There will be an insatiable hunger to satisfy among the visitors, desperate to see and hear new gear rather than see it in magazines or online, while every exhibitor will be eager to promote and hopefully sell its new wares.
Sonus Faber’s Fiore Cappelletto with Ken at High End 2015
After calculating that I have now been to something like 350 shows — 144 just in the past 20 years, according to the number of photo folders on my hard drive — I am surprised that my curiosity remains even remotely active. At the risk of seeming too jaded, while addressing the anachrophile in me, I will confess that I am far more excited about the next Audiojumble and all those tables full of old gear than any gathering of new products.
I’m always on the lookout for old tape decks and tapes, while at the Audiojumble there’s no pressure for me to see everything, nor impending FOMO, as when some hot product was shown privately and I missed it. Munich? Ain’t no way a single individual can see it all. But that’s beside the point. The Munich High End show has new meaning: it’s a powerful statement, a show of strength for the specialty audio industry. And we need that desperately, if not quite as much as we need a vaccine.
. . . Ken Kessler