Munich 2023

by Geoff Armstrong

With something like 800 exhibitors at the MOC alone, of course we all need some personal criteria to judge systems by. These criteria have to be related to how our brains process the information coming in through our senses.

I would say one of the most common criteria which audiophiles judge systems by, is the sense of presence of musicians in front of them, which a given system provides. I believe it’s fair to say, this is a criteria which has been heavily influenced by the review magazines over the past few decades.

The illusion that the musicians are there in the room with you, is something which is more closely associated with our visual sense, rather than our aural sense. So it’s as if we are “seeing” the musicians with our ears. All of the systems I’m discussing here are capable of this. Some push this quality to the fore to an uncanny degree. These tend to be the most elaborate and expensive systems. So I would say this is the criteria which the audiophile world, in general, uses to judge systems by.

I have concerns about this criteria, because I believe it’s related to the problem that we as a species have pushed our visual sense to the fore in terms of importance, at the detriment of our other senses. IMO it’s why porn is killing sex (which is a touchy feely experience, or kinetic, to be more scientific).

Our idea of a civilisation that could reach us from some other part of the universe is represented by a humanoid creature with huge eyes, two holes for ears and a withered skinny grey body, that doesn’t look too inviting to touch.

I appreciate that the information coming in through our senses all gets processed in our brains, in ways that, I don’t understand. Suffice it to say, the information from all 5 senses is closely related. Some people experience Synesthesia, of course, where the sounds can be experienced visually as colours; etc. and it is reportedly an enjoyable experience. Still, I believe prominince should be given to the sense that is most closely related to the exeprience. There are listeners who close their eyes at live concerts so as not to be visually distracted from the experience of listening to music, for example.

Since OMA debuted last year and as well this year, they have caused me to form a new personal criteria. Does the system make me want to break into spontaneous applause at the end of each track, to the point where I have to hold myself back to save embarrassment? Most of the tracks that OMA played, both last year and this year, had this effect on me.

So no matter how impressive any other system is at the criteria of creating the illusion of the musicians in the room, if it doesn’t satisfy this new “impulse to applaud” criteria, then, judged by that criteria, the system doesn’t work!

I approached the rest of the show with that in mind.

I should just mention though that there is a third personal criteria I also use, and that relates to how a system draws me into the music. On certain types of music, lets say music with a “spiritual element”, soprano voices, counter tenors, voices we could call “angelic” I am spellbound by this kind of music on certain systems. So I refer to this as the “spellbound” criteria. As I say though it only happens with certain music, which could include simple beautiful folk ballads, featuring just a voice and guitar. In the OMA room they didn’t tend to play much of that type of music. With certain classical pieces though I had to hold back the tears, so I think of this emotional response as related. My own system at home can do this on the appropriate music.

Two systems that also satisfied the “Spellbound” criteria for me were, the Linn Room featuring their new flagship 360 speaker, fully active model. and the Acapella Hyperion horn system at the HiFi Deluxe show.

On the public days the MOC is way too crowded. So after a couple of brief meetings on Saturday, I headed to the center of town to do some shopping for my family and had decided to spend the afternoon at the “other show” which is the HiFi Deluxe show at the Marriott Hotel, near the Pullmann where I was staying.

I used to think of the HiFi Deluxe as a kind of fringe show featuring more obscure and esoteric brands. I exhibited there with AudioPax and Rethm back in 2014 before we did shows at the MOC. In fact though, the HiFi Deluxe show features some real heavy hitters. Acapella were featuring their majestic Hyperion Horns in one of the more sizeable rooms. Two of the biggest rooms featured FM Acoustics and JMF Audio. Another reasonable sized room featured the Linkwitz speakers.

Judged by the “Impulse to Applaud” criteria the LinkWitz almost did it for me on a single Miles Davis live around the world track; but that was followed by audience applause on the recording, and I found myself wanting to join in. In the OMA room though this had been happening on a large percentage of tracks and not limited to live tracks.

Still the LinkWitze, partially open baffle speakers really impress on what is their claim to fame, and that is to completely disappear as the sound sources and create an expansive holographic sound stage. In these respects they are very impressive, and I’m sure they’ll appeal to a lot of audiophiles.

JMF had a large room featuring both their electronics and horn loaded speakers. You probably all know that their electronics are used for the famous 2L recordings and they featured a number of these which had been produced using their own equipment. Some of these certainly satisfied the “Spellbound” criteria and I was very impressed by what they were achieving. They demonstrated with a mix of Vinyl, Optical discs and Streaming. At one point someone who I believe was associated with the exhibitor, or part of their team, applauded at the end of a track as if to be demonstrating that “hey this meets the Impulse to applaud criteria” Unfortunately it didn’t cause me, or anyone else in the room, to actually break into applause. That’s not to say the system wasn’t sounding wonderful in its own terms though.

When playing vinyl in the JMF room they were using a Vertere turntable. I believe it was the RG-1 Reference Groove. The FM Acoustics room also featured a Vertere turntable and, at a guess, the same one.

Apart from that the FM Acoustics room featured their own Electronics and Speakers (the Pyramidal shaped speakers). The Phono pre-amp has useful “de-crackle” and “de-hum” controls to remove crackle and/or hum from vinyl, and these analogue filters really worked. Most impressive!

On several tracks, including an Antonio Forcione favourtie of mine, I felt very close to wanting to spontaneously applaud. The impulse was not quite as strong as in the OMA Room; but this might have been down to some psychological factors.

Back to my previous days at MOC, where I spent a lot of time in the OMA room. Jonathan Weiss has a background as a film maker, I believe, and he does apply a certain theatrical aesthetic to his room. So returning back to the MOC and his large room for the moment, what we have is a fairly dark room with curtains to block out the light and aid with acoustics, plus a lot of room treatment consisting of large panels behind the speakers. Two other very large panels on each side also feature a variety of the wooden finishes available for the Fleetwood SQ Deville speakers; but here are being used for room treatment. The tube electronics and heavy racks they produce also feature a lot of solid wood, which mean there is a lot of darkish, organic material in the room. So it’s a comfortable and cosy room, which might put one in mind of a small theatre or concert room. All of these factors, I’m sure, are conducive to listening and responding to music, in a spontaneous and emotional way, similarly to how one might respond to music in a live venue setting.

I’m sure the intimate setting does play a role here; but then again, why shouldn’t any exhibitor go to this kind of trouble to create the right ambience conducive to listening to music played on their systems?  I think Jonathan may be ahead of his time here, and we can expect other exhibitors to play greater attention to room aesthetics in this manner in the future.

It might well have been that if the FM Acoustics system had been in such a room, instead of a large hotel room, It might have completely satisfied the “Impulse to applaud” criteria. There was nothing wrong with the FM Acoustics room, it just didn’t have the same kind of aesthetic appeal as the OMA room. No other room at either show did, for me.

Certainly an increasing number of people were drawn to the OMA room, and by Friday evening it was really packed and people stayed for long periods of time. The fact that we were offered a complementary glass of wine or beer may have helped; but I had fallen in love with the OMA system long before then.

My only concern is that I don’t know how to tease out which factor(s) is playing the most important role in satisfying this “Impulse to applaud” criteria. Is it  a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts? Is it the baby version of their turntable, which they went to great lengths to describe? I really don’t know.

I’m very curious as to what would happen if someone were to hook up an SGM Extreme to this system. I’m also curious as to whether the impulse to applaud would be just as strong if we were to substitute the FM Acoustics Electronics for their tube amps, or the Vertere Turntable for theirs.

For me the system in the OMA room just worked, better than any other, and I told Jonathan as much. So it doesn’t matter to me if the OMA Turntable would be bettered by any other turntable, judged by audiophile criteria, because for me it just works, and does its job as a vinyl system should. So again,  I would love to find out if if the same criteria were satisfied by substitution of the turntable by an SGM Extreme. If only that were possible!

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