High End Munich is the Met Gala of events in the hi-fi industry's event calendar. Full of glitz, glamour (well, bar the press room) and big bucks being thrown about, it's the biggest hi-fi show in Europe that's only growing with each passing year.
From giant speakers and expensive headphones to extravagant turntables and electronics, around 800 brands showcased their enticing wares.
This is by no means an exhaustive list; the corridors at the MOC Event Center in Munich held far too many treasures for us to ever go through in just two days, but the following is just a glimpse into the best hi-fi separates that got us excited.
From relatively affordable fare to resurrected originals to some high-end marvels, it also proves that the world of hi-fi separates is in rude health.
Naim Nait 50
Naim started things off with a bang as the company revealed its special limited edition Nait 50 integrated amplifier. Our readers will most likely recognise the Nait 50's design – it's based on the iconic, much-loved Nait 1 (Naim's very first integrated amplifier from 1983) and features the same chrome bumper finish and half-width design of the original. Only 1973 units will be made, each costing £1,973 – the year Naim was founded, of course.
We'd love to hear what the Nait 50 sounds like, although we can imagine all 1973 units will be snapped up as collector's items very, very quickly.
Also unveiled was a five-strong Naim Classic 300 series of serious high-end separates, comprising the NSS 333 music streamer, the NAC 332 pre-amplifier, the NAP 350 monoblock power amplifier, the NVC TT phono stage and the NPX TT power supply.
Musical Fidelity A1
In the same vein as Naim, Musical Fidelity surprised us with a remake of the also celebrated A1 amplifier from the 1980s. This, however, isn't a special edition or anniversary model; it will be in full production and likely cost under £1500. The new A1 looks near-identical to its original, with the much-needed addition of heat sinks to deal with the full Class A design – still a rather unique offering in the world of integrated amps.
We even got to hear a snippet of what the new A1 sounds like, and it left us wanting to hear more.
Moon North Collection 891 & 861
We were treated to a sneak preview of Moon's new North Collection of hi-fi separates earlier this month, but this is the first time we've seen the flagship of the series.
The 861 power amp behemoth and partnering 891 streaming preamp were on display at the High End Show, looking stately and impressing us with their power (300W into 8 ohms in the power amp) and price – about £25,000 each. Now we're talking.
Regular readers of What Hi-Fi? will have spotted Yamaha's HA-L7A before – it was on show at the inaugural Australian Hi-Fi Show in Sydney earlier this month, and our Oz-resident Becky Roberts told us we had to go check it out at Munich. We duly complied and sought it out.
Details are still very much thin on the ground as the headphone amplifier doesn't launch until later in the year, but we know it's a built-from-the-ground-up design and its unique looks are due to the two toroidal transformers kept separate from the rest of the electronics.
Paired with the exceptional Yamaha YH-5000SE headphones (five stars, £4799), the headphone amp (still a prototype version) delivered a potent combination when we had a quick listen to some classical music and Slipknot. We can't wait to both get the full details and a review sample in to test properly.
Read our Yamaha YH-5000SE review
Chord Ultima Integrated
There are integrated amplifiers, and then there's Chord Electronics' Ultima Integrated amplifier. With its eye-catching space-age looks and glowing lights, it's hard to miss this amplifier. It's also Chord's first full-width integrated in years.
We hold the Ultima range in high regard, giving the Ultima Pre 3/Ultima 6 pre-power amp combination a five-star recommendation, so already have sky-high expectations for the integrated version of the same family. It boasts 125W of power (into 8 ohms) and "offers levels of performance not yet seen in any integrated amplifier" claims chief designer John Franks.
And it has a price tag to match its ambitions: at £8,500 it makes other integrated amps look positively mainstream.
Bluesound Node X
Here's something that's a little bit more real-world money. Canadian manufacturer Bluesound is celebrating its 10th anniversary and has splashed out on a special limited edition of its current Award-winning Node (2021) music streamer. The Node X doesn't just have a shiny new silver finish (that admittedly looks smart in the flesh) but it's also packed with new technology that promises a performance upgrade over its five-star standard model.
Costing just £699 / USD $749 / AU$1299, the Bluesound Node X could be one of the best bargains at High End Munich.
iFi iCan Phantom headphone amplifier
Chances are you'll always come across a product or two (or more) that isn't officially launched yet but is getting its very first public outing at the show, fresh from the manufacturing oven, so to speak.
One such product is the iFi iCan Phantom, the brand's new flagship headphone amplifier that will launch this summer and cost roughly £3,700. It's a quirky, distinctive design, catering to headphone fanatics with multiple connectors and an all-analogue stage (in valve and solid state flavours). The standout feature is the way it offers the specific voltage bias needed to drive electrostatic headphones. Want to know more? Read our first impressions for a full overview and many pictures.
Quad Platina Series amplifier & CD transport
Another surprise debut at the High End Show was new separates from Quad. The Quad Platina Series features a 200W integrated amplifier and a matching CD transport (both pictured above), with a music streamer also teased down the line. They look sleek and smart at first glance.
The brand has been fairly quiet in recent years, so a whole new set of hi-fi separates has more than piqued our interest. Stay tuned for more details as and when we get them later this year.
Audiolab 9000N music streamer
We have slightly more details on the upcoming Audiolab 9000N music streamer, which we glimpsed alongside sister brands Wharfedale and Quad.
What we do know is that the 9000N will join the already revealed 9000 series (currently consisting of the 9000A amp and 9000CDT transport) as Audiolab's flagship music streamer. This has meant swapping out the PlayFi platform that's present across the 7000N and 6000N Play streamers for a more high-performance solution from high-end audio network connoisseurs Lumin.
No price confirmed yet, but we're expecting it to launch later this year.
Nagra Classic DAC II
Let's get back to some really high-end components, shall we? Swiss manufacturer Nagra has always been on our radar thanks to its obsessive attention to detail with its products – we reviewed the gorgeous Classic Preamp/Classic AMP combo (£25,500 in total) back in 2018 and are still in awe of its supreme build quality and stunning sound quality.
At Munich, we spotted its newest effort: a sequel to the Nagra Classic DAC. This new Classic DAC II uses the same digital engine as its flagship HD DAC X (a mere £55,500 / £65,000 / $114,995), supports all hi-res formats and the engineers have even focused on getting the best performance from traditional Red Book CD standard 16-bit/44kHz files. Have we mentioned that the Nagra Classic DAC II is the company's entry-level DAC? It's priced at €18,000 (around £15,500) and we truly envy those who are able to enjoy it in their system.
Thorens New Reference
Thorens is having quite the year. The German audio brand is celebrating its 140th year in existence and has had a busy Munich 2023 showing off three new products: a limited anniversary edition of the TD 124 DD turntable, new versions of its SoundWall dipole speakers (that first appeared four decades ago), and the one we're focusing on here: the New Reference turntable built around an innovative isolation system.
This turntable (a belt drive design) is unlike anything we've seen before, and the partnership with active vibration isolators manufacturer Seismion has resulted in a "fully active vibration isolation system" the likes of which has never been experienced in turntables before.
Price? It will definitely be in the realms beyond us mere mortals can afford, with rumours suggesting a six-figure sum. Oof.
Pathos Inpol Legacy
We started with an integrated amplifier, so let's end with an integrated, but one that looks markedly different from the modest Naim. We mean, look at it. Italian specialists Pathos have always had a flair for doing things a little differently (and in style), but this valve-based amp is simply on a whole other level.
The no-limits Pathos Inpol Legacy was already launched last year (at around €50,000), but this is the first time we've laid eyes on it in person, and images really don't do justice to its magnificence and magnitude. It's the size of a car engine and the build quality – from the customary heat sinks that spell out Pathos' name to the striking valves and wood finish on the front – is simply breathtaking.
Here are the best stereo speakers we saw at High End Munich 2023