Sunday 19 August 2018

Local Audio Store Visits: Liquid Sound, Vancouver. (And engagement with high-end audio dealerships...)

Well, it is summer and today I thought I'd post something a little "lighter", "softer" and I think more typical of audiophile blogs :-).

I was thinking the other day, I'm fortunate to be living in Vancouver where despite the decrease in brick & mortar hi-fi audio stores over the decades, there are still a number of stores in town that have listening rooms and show off some high quality equipment. In fact, I live less than 10 minutes away from the Headphone Bar (article on Inner Fidelity a few weeks ago). Over the years, I've also talked about local places like Hi-Fi Centre and Commercial Electronics - both about 30 minutes away. If I head in a somewhat different direction from home, further west, we get to Liquid Sound along West 10th Ave.

Obviously, based on my writings, tests and listening, I have a "more objective" take on the audiophile hobby than the "mainstream". I have not seen any large polls but I suspect that the number of audiophiles who appreciate objective analysis might be rather significant.

There is something to be said about knowing about the local dealers and having the opportunity to visit, see, feel, and hear the latest on offer out there. Likewise, I think the local dealers need to check the "pulse" of the audiophile hobby and appreciate the demographic characteristics especially as the typical Baby Boomer audiophiles age. This IMO includes engaging the "more objective" folks who might be more than a little turned off by obvious hype and pseudoscience.

Typically, I'll go to the local stores maybe every 3-6 months or so to get a sense of what these products are like "in person". It's funny, I suppose... In a way, it's like heading off to the local symphony or jazz club every so often to "calibrate" the senses. Except, rather than calibrating to the sound of "live" music, listening to the sound at a dealership's acoustically treated listening rooms (often with my standard test CD of music I'm familiar with) gives me an idea of what current "high end" sound reproduction is like. Understandably, this is not the same sound as listening in my own room of course, but it can at least help the comparison process. If I listen to a sound system at these places and am "blown away" by the sound compared to what I have at home, then for sure, I either need to check whether something's wrong with my home system or have discovered necessary product(s) at the store!

So a couple weeks back while on vacation with some time off on my hands, I decided to make that drive to Liquid Sound for a look and listen!

Snuggled in the West Side near Dunbar in the affluent neighborhood of W. Point Grey, the store has 2 well-treated listening rooms and a front display area with a few systems shown.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit was because I didn't get a chance to meet up with Mitchco on the Sunshine Coast recently while he was reviewing the Kii THREE speakers for Computer Audiophile (fantastic review - highly recommended reading). He had completed his work and shipped the units out to Liquid Sound. Given his positive comments on them when we chatted before the article came out, I was hoping to have a listen. Alas, they were not on active display yet at the store, but I did see them in person:

Beautiful fit and finish... Hopefully I'll get a chance to listen to them next time I visit!

As you'd probably expect, there are a number of items on passive display to make use of the space... Devialet Phantom speakers and integrated amps are found prominently through the store:

As are Magico's speakers:

That's the Magico S5 Mk II (US$38,000+/pair, Stereophile measurements here) - diamond encrusted beryllium tweeter, graphene-endowed midrange -  system in the larger of the 2 listening rooms. Driven by what I believe are a pair of dual-mono Devialet Expert Pro's (~US$13000 each) and fed by an Aurender N100H streamer (~US$2500-3000, depending on whether you want 2TB or 4TB storage space) feeding the USB DAC input of the Devialet. In total we're looking at about US$66k of gear right there (not mentioning what I think are some Nordost cables - that could be a Leifstyle flat speaker cable in white back there).

While the Magico's are too close to the wall, they are non-ported and the room is otherwise quite well treated. I spent a bit of time listening to 5 tracks or so with the salesperson including some classical like Harold Farberman and vocals like Melody Gardot. It sounds very good overall. Certainly I cannot complain about the detail and ability to render the nuances. I can imagine the vintage tube, speaker and LP lovers not fully embracing the "hi-fi" sound of the Devialet/Magico combo. No complaints about the bass or 3D soundstage with nice side-to-side spread and illusion of front-to-back space through this system.

I did not get to hear the Magico A3 (outer pair of speakers below) connected to their Hegel stack unfortunately:

The A3 is Magico's push into the "mainstream" market at ~US$10,000 a pair. Certainly within the grasp of many audiophiles willing to put some money into the system. I gotta say that the build quality is impressive with the aluminum frame and 110lb heft. This sucker's dense. It would be interesting hearing these little guys beside their larger brethren (the S5 Mk II) in the sound room above for comparison. The $10k/pair market is certainly crowded with many excellent options! For example, consider the new Revel F228Be (~US$10,000/pr) - I heard this a few months back at another dealership.

By the way, beside these Magico's are the ATC "Classic" SCM100 ASL active speakers. It looks like they have a number of ATC products around the store as well.

These days, there's of course the need to show off mainstream components like the Sonos line:

A range of Sonos products in the other listening room. A friend of mine recently installed some Sonos devices in his home and it's working well for him. Great for convenience, sounds fine... Of course not exactly the kind of system for audiophile geeks who like playing with high-res and other technical minutiae. I noticed a good amount of Vicoustic panels around the room. Monitor Audio Silver 500 (6th Gen I think) speakers ~US$2500 up front there.

Out of curiosity, since the company also does home automation and network set-ups for clients (important these days in the age of digital streaming), here's a look at their geek panel running the stuff in the store). Scary potential for electrical noise, eh guys? Maybe some audiophile ethernet cables could do wonders :-).

Couple of other systems to look at and listen to...

Lyngdorf stack (CD-2, TDAI-2170), Rega Planar 3 turntable, Dynaudio and Fidelity Acoustics RFM1.

Dynaudio speakers, Cambridge Audio CXA-80 integrated amp, CXC Transport.
While I didn't see much headphone gear, I did spot the Chord Mojo which looked smaller in person than I had imagined seeing pictures online.

There's a nice looking Rogue Audio tube amp in that top image:

It's the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II (100Wpc - pretty good as valve amps go) integrated amp.

It is fun every once awhile to visit stores. As posted in the past, on my travels, it's one of those things I also enjoy doing on vacation (like this, or this) once I've done other touristy stuff of course :-).

While obviously my position on stuff like cables would be at odds with beliefs of many in this hobby (including stores that carry major name brands), there's still much to talk about and enjoy beyond the contentious items and beliefs. In fact, I wish I had a bit more time on the visit to Liquid Sound to talk with the sales folks who were gracious in showing off their wares and chatting about experiences over the years.

BTW, we got to chatting about the Vancouver Audio Shows which were held in 2015 and 2016. Bit of a shame that the show didn't continue these last 2 years. With quite a bit of Asian-Pacific money flowing through this city and the presence of local larger audio stores, it might be nice to have something like this continue up here in the Pacific Northwest. These guys at Liquid Sound are well aware of how MontrĂ©al resurrected their (now free) show... It would certainly be nice to have something like that in this part of Canada as well.

Certainly worth a visit to Liquid Sound for audiophiles if you're in the Vancouver area!


BTW: If anyone is wondering... No, I have no connection or affiliation with any audiophile dealership. Just a guy interested in hi-fi audio as a hobby.

Just like I think the audiophile press (including perspective and knowledge base of reviewers) needs to be improved in many ways so that they can present a reality-based picture with the ability to discern and separate truth from BS, so too I think the dealerships can be engaged with.

I know... Dealerships need to make money. But unless prospective educated buyers familiar with technology can feel that they can trust and recognize that the salespeople (especially in small boutique stores - we're not talking Best Buy / Magnolia here) are able to engage at a level that supersedes the myths and partial truths so evident in the hobby, much of which perpetuated by the mainstream audiophile media, how can the hobby be seen as respectable and grow? IMO, it would be nice to see a rise of rational and objective audiophiles to better the hobby and engage with dealerships themselves. Education among audiophiles will IMO affect the products being sold and what message is being pitched to consumers. [For example, imagine bringing the jitter test files from last week to play on some very expensive hi-end gear at the store and starting a conversation with the salesperson on the audibility/inaudibility of even very large amounts of jitter! Bet you they've never heard or spent much time to think about "the sound of jitter" before, despite surely hearing about it from various manufacturers over the years...]

Remember, as in the past, I've expressed that there are inevitably "non-utilitarian" roles for the products we own. There's nothing wrong with owning luxury products if one feels that the materials used, the finish, workmanship, and design appeal to one's senses. While the sound quality coming from speakers might be viewed as the product's role as an "appliance", a nice looking speaker is just as much a piece of "furniture" for the space it's meant to inhabit.

Good sounding products with great functionality can be costly. Good looking products can be costly as well. But the sound quality, functionality and looks do not have to correlate with price nor with each other (as well demonstrated by the cover product in this month's Stereophile!).

Enjoy the music everyone...


  1. Acoustic treatment doesn't get enough play from my perspective in mainstream audiophile press, and I really like the look of the Vicoustic panels. They seem to have cornered the market on good looking panels and while more costly than alternatives like GIK, excluding the custom panels, I suspect this is something worth spending on for based on the WAF. I think their diffusers look great as well as their combo diffuser/absorption panels.

    I'd love to see more articles in mainstream press on setting up a room acoustically and testing various acoustic panels. My suspicion is that it might open the market up a bit more and bring prices down a bit. It is also likely better bang for the buck then spending an extra $5k on speakers. I'd also love to see more pieces from mainstream audiophile press on room correction software (dirac, accourate, rew, etc.) as they once again have great bang for the buck.

    It woudl be great to have an article compare before an after with both inexpensive, moderately expensive and expensive speakers in:
    1. An untreated room
    2. An untreated room with room correction
    3. A treated room
    4. A treated room with room correction

    With corresponding levels of spend. My hunch is that moderately expensive speakers in a treated room with room correction will perform significantly better than expensive speakers in an untreated room (not going out on much of a limb here), and it would help folks prioritize their audio investments.

    1. As a note this isn't to say other folks don't do this. I know you have(!) and in home theater forums this is pretty standard analysis. Genelec has a home theater build blog post that uses their SAM system (very cool stuff) that does similar. I'm just wishing it was more common in the mainstream press!

    2. Yup, agree RD.

      First of all, getting a decent room to start the project of building a sound system into, then doing what can be done to correct major flaws are essential! In 2013 when I was looking around for a house, I told my wife I needed an acceptable room for the "audio / home theater man cave" :-). Without the room, all deals are off!

      So often I see pictures of listening rooms where obviously large amounts of (presumably) disposable income has been poured into the luxurious sound system crammed into corners obviously without adequate space for the system to do its magic; much less adequate space to install some decent room treatments!

      It's just not "sexy" talking about sound treatment panels in the press. Hard to imagine much ad revenue from the companies who specialize it these types of products compared to the next "high end" whizz bang active tech component or the insane markups from multi-thousand cables :-).

      The Vicoustics look lovely and I certainly would consider ordering some for ceiling absorption and corner bass traps.

      As for room correction, yeah, I just think again the market seems small at the moment for audiophiles and DRC. To do it right, one does need some know-how and the press has been poor in really educating the consumers over the years. So much of audiophilia has been devoted to a romantic old-fashioned vision of high fidelity based on "stereo" 2-channels, turntables, tubes, old music that many will turn their nose up on advanced techniques like DRC. I suspect in time this will turn also...

  2. One of the reasons that headphones always win for me. Room acoustics as well as the interaction of your current listening position with the speakers cause so much acoustical problems, I just can't stand it anymore. And I have yet to see a living room that deserves it's name (for me it includes big glass windows) that can be acoustic-treated sufficiently at all.

    1. Spoken like a man afflicted by "audiophilia nervosa"... Probably gonna show up in the next DSM iteration under the "Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders" category, Techland :-).

      Yeah, can't get away from room acoustics, especially with windows. Alas, there's the issue with comfort wearing headphones for long periods, plus the whole soundstage benefit of real speakers. No matter the crossfeed/DSP technique, I have not found anything that takes the sound outside my head with headphones; even with my Sennheiser HD800's which are supposed to be one of the better headphones for imaging...

    2. Fortunately I have no problem with in-head location. Not sure if I like it or it just doesn't bother me. I do like the extreme width in stereo that phones provide, which makes it easier for me to catch details in the mix. The comfort factor can be a big problem, but first there exist so many nice sounding and also comfortable headphones meanwhile, and second my concentrated listening sessions stay under one hour. So I am happy with my current state :-)

  3. The name Gelenc was dropped above, so I couldn't resist chiming in. But first, thanks for the many enlightening posts, Archimago. You're a rare voice of reason in the audiophile crowd.

    I auditioned the Genelec "1" + 2 subwoofers against the excellent Kii 3. It didn't take long before I developed a distinct preference to the Genelec. One overpowering reason was the SAM, an ingenous kit that truly transforms the sound. A correction is welcome in any sort of room, but maybe more so in a living quarters where other considerations take precedence. For the record, Kii does employ DSP, but a far cry from Genelec.

    I'd advise any sound lover to check out Genelec before shelling out tens of thousands on consumer hi-fi: amazing sound, built to last, conviniently compact, an appealing design, and a simple setup--all for a relatively affordable price.

    1. Ooooh... Thanks Guy!

      Haven't heard the Genelecs myself but "The Ones" look like very interesting products:

      And who can complain about 2 subs!? ;-)

      Just looked at prices on Sweetwater:
      The Ones 8331 - $2250 each
      The Ones 8341 - $2950 each
      The Ones 8351A - $3875 each

      So a pair of the top end / largest model - just shy of $8000. Price of Kii THREE ~$12000/pair.

      Yeah, a shootout would be interesting! Maybe mitchco would be up to the task :-).

    2. I agree that Genelec's are great. I have older 8040 monitors fed by a cheap focusrite 2i4 and think they sound great. As mentioned above they are built like a tank with aluminum enclosures.

      I'm in the planning stages for a new house, and once I get that out of the way I'll be building a small home theater/listening room. The current plan, which I am sure will change, is to use 8351's up front with some of the smaller SAM monitors at the rear. I really like the idea of sending a digital signal all the way to the speaker and having a completely integrated system including the subs. In the worst-case scenario if I don't like the setup, which is unlikely, Genelec's tend to have good resale value.

      The Dutch & Dutch 8c mitchco mentioned in his review look like an interesting competitor to the Kii speakers. Eikon, Gayle Sanders new company (, has a new speaker coming out which are out of my price range that similarly use controlled directivity. It seems like we are making progress on the DSP/active speaker front within audiophile circles but time will tell.

    3. That a sweet plan you've got.

      In my experience, running an AES signal yields a cleaner sound than analog. The analog signal is tinged with coloration and is hit with double conversions. I've tried a few high end DACs. None sounded as good as AES.

      One suggestion, if a may:

      Consider the 8341 with a subwoofer over the 8351. You'll get better LF at the expense of 1db SPL. The 8341 accommodates more DSP gradations to boot.

    4. Hey Arch, another great article - how do you do it man!?!

      I would love to try the Genelec's and DSP software.

      Starting with the Kii's, moving up the food chain, the D&D's have more controls to play with. The Genelec's have their own DSP software. The solution I am using is a Windows based DSP software program, like Acourate, or Audiolense, to custom design digital crossovers, perform driver linearization and time alignment, room eq, and excess phase correction.

      All approaches have their pros and cons, but it is great to see speaker manufacturers including ways to mitigate room modes with their products.

      May be the beginnings of stepping out of the dark ages into a realm of better sound quality, as the DSP is powerful enough and software sophisticated enough to realize a predictable and repeatable sonic benefit below 500 Hz. No matter what room or speaker...

    5. @guy happy to take suggestions. I'll check out the 8341.

      @mitchco Genelec just released a new monitor, the S360, with an accompanying subwoofer it might be a good time to ask them for some demo kit. I'd love to hear your thoughts on their SAM/GLM system.

      Additionally, I want to note that I really enjoyed your DSP book. It has persuaded me to try building my own powered speakers (HTM-12 from DIY Sound Group with plate amps) and use Audiolense / Accourate to build the cross overs. It should be a fun little project.

    6. @RD Cool! Thank you for purchasing my book, I am glad you enjoyed it. The HTM-12 is a modern adaptation of Zilch's (RIP) "Econowave" design from Audiokarma.It should sound really good! Especially if you get a chance to time align the drivers. Fun project is right!

      And thanks for pointing me to Genelec's new monitor. I have reached out to Genelec to see if I can get a review pair w/sub. Cheers!

    7. @Mitch:
      "Hey Arch, another great article - how do you do it man!?!"

      Late nights, coffee and an understanding family :-).

      Chat soon...

  4. which is the point of this article?! am I the only one who need help to understand? :D

    1. Hi Marietto,
      Bottom line... To check out the luxury warez :-).

    2. which is your real goal? make fun of them?

    3. No, not at all!

      I seriously mean it when I wrote that I liked the sound of the devices and it does give me joy to have a listen to and consider whether the gear could have merit. For example the Magico speakers certainly sound very capable and it would be interesting to learn about the technical capabilities like frequency response and time-domain performance; especially the smaller ones. Likewise I am impressed by Devialet and have heard the amps a number of times over the years at different places.

      Let's not be too cynical :-). Some things are truly crazy (eg. way overpriced ethernet and USB cables IMO) but I think it's fine to agree to disagree yet still engage and find common ground in other ways.

      I hopefully will be able to check out the Kii THREE the next time I visit.