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.
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.|
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 Montréal 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...