Lightning Bolt

For more than two decades, Lightning Bolt has embraced barely controlled chaos as a secret ingredient and ear-shredding volume as an invisible third member of the band.

Legendary in noise-rock circles, the Rhode Island duo made its name by embracing underground principles and pushing them to extremes on both album and, particularly, in performance. Drummer Brian Chippendale and vocalist/bassist Brian Gibson frequently eschew stages in favor of setting up in the midst of the crowd on venues’ floor. They’ve also played kitchens and sidewalks, donned crazy wrestling and serial-killer masks during shows, and generally avoided anything related to convention.

While the group’s non-traditional thinking serves it well during anything-goes concerts—in which the element of surprise, frenetic tempos, and blaring decibels are the only givens—it obscures the band’s talents on album. Ever since its self-titled 1999 debut, Lightning Bolt has refused to record in a studio with proper high-fidelity gear, instead releasing lo-fi material that sounds as if it was captured in a cardboard box. Avant-garde aesthetics aside, the approach seemed to resemble unnecessary self-sabotage.

Peeling back the curtain on the collective’s tumultuous assault and manic array of fuzzed-out distortion, rampaging grooves, and free-jazz-inspired percussion, Fantasy Empire functions as a long-needed lightbulb moment. Recorded at Machines With Magnets studio, Lightning Bolt’s sixth proper album doubles as a deserved breakthrough for two musicians whose terrifying precision, intensity, and rumble can finally be heard full bore. Music that previously came across as a jet-speed muddle of thwacks, thuds, and turbulence now possesses honest-to-goodness detail and dynamics.

Volatile tunes such as the wood-mulching masher “Over the River and Through the Woods” and yowling stomper “King of My World” retain all the madness of previous work, yet also emerge as genuine songs with identifiable structures and (gasp!) textures—not simply abstract excursions into fury and pandemonium. Whether on the electric-can-opener riff that underlines the onslaught dubbed “The Metal East” or the berserk rhythms getting sawed off in all directions during the epic “Snow White & 7 Dwarves Fans,” Chippendale and Gibson maintain a focus and discipline that set them apart.

They’re also wise enough to realize the importance of breathing room, and balance the attack with decelerated intervals. Subtle additions, like loops and reverb, further contribute to the sense that Lightning Bolt has officially transcended art-project status and elevated itself to a band that’s now as good on record as it is on the stage—whatever the latter might represent on any given night. —Bob Gendron

Lightning Bolt
Fantasy Empire
Thrill Jockey, 2LP or CD

Order the Vinyl From Music Direct here:

Blumenstein Audio 2.2-Channel Speaker Package

The modest-looking speakers from Blumenstein Audio belie the capabilities contained therein.

We’ve reviewed the Seattle company’s Thrashers, speakers light on looks but heavy on ready-to-rock, garage-grade power. The somewhat more refined single-driver Orca Classic monitors, paired with one of Blumenstein’s Dungeness Classic subwoofers, impressed our staff.

Combining the new Orca Mini monitors with two of Blumenstein’s new powered Dungeness Max subwoofers takes the system to the next level. Having two subs in the 2.2-channel system—which starts at $1,800—augments the Orcas with greatly improved low frequencies. Though matching Orca stands are available, each subwoofer begs you to set an Orca on top of it (placing vibration-dampening material between the units, of course). And with separate enclosures, the subwoofers and monitors can be independently toed-in, and there’s plenty of room atop each subwoofer cabinet to slide the monitors forward or backward.

Hull and Rigging

Blumenstein offers its cabinets—made from nothing but wood, glue and finish—in either birch wood or bamboo. The latter option is available with natural, caramelized, or two-tone finishes. Blumenstein uses non-toxic linseed oil instead of varnish to give the wood a delicate sheen.

The front-ported Dungeness Max has a rectangular footprint of 7.75 by 11.25 inches, which makes it easy to slide in between furniture, and with a height of 22.5 inches, it can fit easily under a desk or table. The Max features a 25-watt built-in amplifier and Blumenstein says it will reproduce frequencies as low as 27 Hz.

The Orcas sport a single pair of binding posts on the back for banana plugs, spades or bare speaker wire. As a powered subwoofer, the Dungeness Max has a knob on the back that controls power and volume. A second knob below that adjusts the crossover point from 60 to 180 Hz. Then comes the wiring…

Blumenstein offers a few ways to connect the subs into an audio system; the easiest requires simply running parallel split sets of speaker wires from a single amp terminal directly to the Dungeness and the Orca;my biggest complaint is that the subwoofer binding posts are tiny, spring-loaded connectors, like those on my old NAD 3020 integrated amp. While easy to use, they’re so small that they limit the gauge of wire you can use.

If you have a preamp with line-outs and a standalone power amp, the amp will drive the Orcas directly, while you connect the Dungeness to the preamp using RCA cables. When using two subs, the left one connects to the left preamp line-out and the right one connects to the right line-out.

Diving In

With two standalone Orcas used as desktop monitors placed about two feet away, the sound is mighty impressive. The lone driver does a very good job with imaging, projecting convincing audio into the soundstage. During the Zero7 song “Destiny,” the Orcas present Sia Furler’s voice fatigue-free and with nuances that reflect the emotion of her performance. Other instruments panned far right and left float into the periphery, beyond the plane of the speakers.

Of course, a speaker this size does have bass limitations. With the subwoofer pair connected, low notes join the acoustic presentation. The ability to adjust the toe-in of the subs independently and the crossover point allows you to tailor bass response to your preference without affecting the Orcas.

With an Orca atop each Dungeness Max and the resulting columns about 10 feet from my listening seat, the Orcas deliver a convincing sonic image, with vocals remaining slightly warm yet highly believable. Compared to near-field listening, the experience is akin to moving back several rows in an auditorium. There’s a bigger overall picture, but with broader dispersion, the density and tangibility of the musical elements decreases. The Dungeness Max subs create solid and tuneful bass, but larger listening rooms—like mine, at 17 by 20 feet—might be a bit too much for them to tackle. In a bedroom, den or smaller-sized living room, they offer very satisfying bass, room-filling sound and a highly enjoyable overall musical presentation.

With a wide-dispersion driver, the Orcas are not too fussy with placement, and because they’re small, the speakers are easy to adjust. For the subs, you can employ simple tweaks of placement and volume to generate just the right amount of low-end augmentation for your needs. The combined system proves incredibly versatile and fulfilling. With hours of listening, I need to keep reminding myself that the Orcas start at just $500 per pair.

Yes, there are better and more resolving speakers out there. However, the efficient Blumensteins offer a very high performance-to-price ratio. By selling unnecessary components like speaker grilles and stands as optional accessories, Blumenstein is able to offer the Orca speakers at a very reasonable cost, allowing those on a tight budget to start with a stereo pair and then add subwoofers later.

For those with $1,800 on hand, the discounted 2.2-channel package is an especially good choice. While this system doesn’t offer the refined look some buyers may be after, the simple beauty of the wood finish will appeal to many, and the sound quality you’re getting for the price makes the entire system a major consideration.

Additional Listening

By Jeff Dorgay

As an advocate of single-driver speakers—longtime TONE readers might remember that I started out with a pair of Lowthers as my reference speakers—I find something totally beguiling about them, though they are often misunderstood, perhaps because of their deceptive simplicity.

You might think that the appeal of single-driver speakers is a complete no brainer, because they don’t have crossovers for the audio signal to contend with, but in my experience with single-driver speakers, the power you feed them is everything. Because these speakers have such a delicacy about them—and the Orcas are no different—picking the wrong amplifier will give you dreadful results. Much like with OTL amplifiers, the result is usually either magical or somewhat flat. And if you’ve had the latter experience, you didn’t do it right.

Interestingly, both sets of Blumenstein speakers I’ve heard here at the TONE studio have sounded incredibly good with the $90,000-per-pair Pass Labs Xs300 monoblocks I use as my main reference. They also sound spectacular with a vintage Harman Kardon A-500 integrated tube amplifier. Oddly, the 300B-based push-pull amplifier from Nagra does not produce magic with the Orcas, though the 845 SET monoblocks I have on hand do. And so it goes, my personal favorite amplifier for driving these exquisite little speakers is the SIT-2 First Watt amplifier (also by Pass Labs), which produces 10 watts per channel from a single gain device. (Look out for our upcoming long-term review for more details.)

When you get it right and you don’t tax the Orcas with Audioslave at maximum volume, you will be shocked at just how deep into the music these little speakers let you hear. If you aren’t going desktop/near field, I suggest a room about 11 by 14 feet or thereabouts.  Music that is more vocally focused, without massive dynamic swings, proves enveloping. The first Crosby, Stills and Nash album is absolutely dreamy, as is Yim Yames’ Tribute To. For that matter, anything mostly acoustic or with sparse vocals will truly blow you away through this system, which reveals just how much music is lurking in your favorite recordings.

Just as you wouldn’t drag race a 400-cc sport bike against a liter bike, don’t expect the Orcas—even with the subwoofers—to blast AC/DC at concert-hall levels. But with the right recording, these speakers will not only shine but also make you appreciate the journey more than you ever thought possible, especially for the price. If you’ve never had the single-driver experience, I can think of no better place to begin your journey than with the Blumenstein Orcas. You may never want to leave.

Blumenstein Audio 2.2-Channel Speaker Package

Starting at $1,800

In Search of the Ultimate Listening Chair

I’ll bet you have more than a few sets of great interconnects and power cords, but you probably don’t have a great listening chair. For the guys in the audience, this might be a good bonding experience to have with your wife or girlfriend. They will never see it coming when you say, “Hey, let’s go furniture shopping!” Seriously though, a great chair will not only make your listening environment more stylish, it will eliminate listener fatigue, which ultimately leads to more musical enjoyment!

I must admit to being a furniture snob. Many years ago, I dated a Herman Miller sales rep and while she never acquired a taste for KISS, I really dug all the cool furniture in her apartment. Hence, another spendy thing to be obsessed with and I want to drag you down with me.

The focus here is on the classics, from the 30’s to the 90’s, but we also threw one new chair in the mix. My only chair shopping rule is, don’t buy a knockoff chair (or a Louis bag), no matter how good it looks. While you can get fakes for half price or less, they are made of inferior materials and don’t hold up. Consequently, knock off chairs are worth nothing on the used market. A quick check of EBay revealed most of these chairs selling for about 60-80% of their sticker price and some of the really old ones (just like McIntosh tuners…) are going for more than what a new one is worth.

Are you sitting down? Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one.

If you are uninitiated to the designer furniture world, don’t worry. It’s just like music, find something you like and go for it. However, prepare to spend some money. We are talking $2,000 – $5,000 big ones for a great chair. Choose wisely and you will still have it 10 years from now (or longer), after many expensive power cords have come and gone.

Here are a few of my favorites – all are available at Design Within Reach. (  Fortunately, we have a showroom here in Portland, and they were kind enough to let us mull around, take pictures and ogle. If you aren’t comfortable buying something like this out of a catalog, they may have a showroom near you, and if you live in a major city, chances are good that Herman Miller, Knoll and the other manufacturers have an office near you as well. DWR usually has these in stock and ready to go, and should you have to wait, it’s usually less than a month. If you deal directly with Herman Miller or Knoll, be prepared to wait as long as 12 weeks, which is typical in the contract furniture world. And you thought waiting a week or two for that new amplifier sucked?

Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman by Herman Miller,  $4850 and up (finish dependent)

This is probably the most recognizable piece of designer furniture on Earth and quite possibly the most copied. Originally designed by Charles Eames and his wife Ray in 1956, this is one that never goes out of style. This is the chair I’m buying before there are any more expensive power cords in my studio. If you are feeling really loose with the Master Card, you can pick up the 50th Anniversary Eames Chair that features a Santos Palisander veneer.

What is that you ask? Well, back in the 60s, the Eames chair used to use a bit more exotic veneer, which made each chair completely unique. But HM is a very environmentally friendly company, switching to walnut veneer quite a while ago, however this made the chairs slightly more uniform. The Santos Palisander veneer is somewhat exotic, but is a harvested wood, so you can sit in the height of coolness and not worry about destroying the rainforests.

Barcelona Chair by Knoll,  $5,427   (Matching Barcelona Stool, $1654 addl.)

Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for the 1929 International Exhibition in Barcelona, (hence the name) this is another chair that looks like a million bucks in your living room or listening room. A good friend of mine that used to work with John DeLorean at GM in the 60’s quipped that they had so many of these in the GM design department, they used to use them as saw horses!

For my money, they should have sent DeLorean to jail just for that!  But seriously, this is a mega stylish chair that photos do not do justice to. The cushion is hand made from a single Spinneyback hide and feels fantastic. A pair of these together makes a great, albeit expensive love seat that will look fantastic in front of your speakers.

Available in black or white, avoid the white one like the plague. It gets dirty immediately, and should you decide to make a seating change, no one will buy a used white Barcelona chair. Ever. Besides, black goes with everything!

LC2 Grand Comfort Petite Model Armchair by Cassina  $2,902 – $4,560 (finish dependent)

When they say Petite, they mean it. If you are larger than about 5’10” and weigh more than 200 pounds, you will start to feel cramped in this one, gorgeous as it is.  These were originally designed to be used on cruise ships, hence the compact size. Another design from the 20’s, The Le Courbusier chair and sofa have probably been knocked off more than any other. The sofa is about 7k, looking just like the chair, but with three cushions instead of one.

The height of modern design in its day, you will see this chair in a number of museums around the world as well as being part of the permanent collection in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. One of my fanatical car collector buddies has one of these in his listening room with his Bugatti parked behind it!

Womb Chair and Ottoman by Knoll  $1,036 – $5,043 (finish dependent)

Another Knoll classic, created by Finnish architect and designer Eero Saarinen in 1948, the womb chair was part of a design challenge to make a chair to curl up in. I can personally vouch for this as I used to fall asleep in my neighbors womb chair all the time.  This one does not offer the best positioning to listen to your system in, but it’s a great headphone chair!  Add a cool table from the DWR catalog or your favorite equipment rack and you can look forward to hours of headphone bliss.

The womb chair is available in black, crimson or pumpernickel and is fairly large, so it will require a good amount of space around itself not to feel crowded. The base features an extremely rich multi-layer chrome plating and looks right at home next to a stack of vintage McIntosh gear.

Flight Recliner, by Jeffrey Bernett  $2,125 – $2,595 (finish dependent)

Even if your taste is still more towards the traditional Barcalounger, you can probably use a bit of a style update. The Flight Recliner is a contemporary chair, designed exclusively for DWR in 2005 by Jeffrey Bernett, so this is the only one in the group that you can only purchase there.

The bonus feature here is that it is a recliner, so it can be a hifi chair or a TV chair!  It doesn’t get any better than this and it is available in four leather colors as well as fabric, with a lifetime warranty on the frame and suspension.

There you have it.  We all like to upgrade things, so I respectfully submit these five chairs, for your listening and lounging pleasure. No matter which way you go, a good chair or couch will really make your listening sessions more enjoyable. Just don’t spend too much cash on this stuff, or you won’t be able to buy any more power cords!

Issue 70


Old School:
The Harmon Kardon 730

By Jeff Dorgay

Personal Fidelity:

Aurender Flow

By John Darko

Cardas EM5813 Ear Speakers

By Mark Marcantonio


Arcam irDAC

By Mark Marcantonio

TONE Style

Winter Whites
By Monique Meadows

Ortofon DS-1 Digital Scale

Snap-on LED 2000 Work Light

GIK Freestand Acoustic Panel


Hello Kitty Fruit Roll Ups

Power Girl


Live: Lloyd Cole plays Portland’s Alberta Rose Theater
By Jeff Dorgay

Spin the Black Circle: Reviews of new Pop/Rock and Country Albums
By Bob Gendron, Andy Downing, Todd Martens, Chrissie Dickinson, and Aaron Cohen

Jazz & Blues: Anouar Brahem, Jack DeJohnette, and Mahanthappa
By Aaron Cohen and Jim Macnie

Audiophile Pressings: Grateful Dead , and Two from Don Henley
By Jeff Dorgay

Gear Previews

GamuT M2250i Mono Power Amps

Dali Epicon 8 Speakers

Octave HP 700 Preamplifier

Wireworld Pulse Cables

Naim Mu-So

Gryphon Kalliope DAC


Conrad-Johnson LP125sa+ Power Amplifier
By Andre Marc

GamuT D3i Dual Mono Preamplifier
By Rob Johnson

MOON by Simaudio Neo CD Transport
By Mark Marcantonio

EgglestonWorks Emma
By Jeff Dorgay

Glanz Tonearm
By Richard H. Mak

From the Web

VPI Classic 2

Ortofon 2M Black

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett makes it virtually impossible to listen to her outstanding full-length debut while doing something else.

Forget about experiencing it as background noise, or even texting as it plays. You could call it one musician’s foolproof way to defeat attention-deficit disorder and today’s easily distracted, multi-tasking audiences. Yet Barnett isn’t out to change the way people listen by pulling a stunt. Instead, the magnetic pull of her Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit owes to a savvy combination of witty songwriting, evocative melodies, concise arrangements, and sly deliveries that comes around too infrequently in an ego-centric age absent creative gatekeepers.

Akin to the most memorable “Seinfeld” episodes, the Australian native showcases a knack for transforming common occurrences and everyday thoughts into meaningful observations and deep think pieces. She conveys insightful outlooks and brainy details in rambling albeit simple, conversational turns of phrases that wouldn’t be out of place at an unassuming neighborhood pub. Free of excessive jargon and forced irony, Barnett refreshingly avoids satirical postmodernism. She’s also not solely preoccupied by love or 21st century dating—or, at least, not yet so permanently scarred that she fully gives into the topics—expanding her outlook toward larger issues encompassing human interaction, integrity, responsibility, and self-worth.

Via rhymed couplets and snappy descriptors, Barnett possesses the relatable consciousness of a smart novelist. And through her tangle of stripped-back pop hooks, deadpan singing, and bounding garage-rock grooves, she exhibits the gruff appeal and winking humor of a rough-around-the-edges bartender—a profession she knows well, having worked full-time in a Melbourne tavern until February 2014. In her off hours, the art-school dropout utilized honed her artistry, headed an indie record label, and cobbled together enough songs for a succession of self-released EPs reissued last year as The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. Critically acclaimed appearances at major music festivals followed. Yet none compare to her achievements on Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.

Placing a fresh spin on the adage “leave them wanting more,” Barnett reshapes the apparently ordinary into incidents infused with aha moments, unexpected revelations, and candid admissions. Seemingly plain on the surface, her vignettes skirt obvious conclusions. She challenges anyone within earshot for their undivided attention on the album-opening “Elevator Operator,” which skips along to a contagious beat and Barnett’s matter-of-fact sing-speak vocals that begin the second the song starts. In less than three-and-a-half minutes, she sketches vivid profiles of two characters to the extent their habits, moods, and identities are fully formed. An aptly surprising ending clinches the tale, which ostensibly involves routine and shallowness but goes further to address expectation, awareness, and perspective—themes that course throughout the record.

In Barnett’s universe, features often seen as trivial signify larger concepts. Cracks in the wall and patterns on the ceiling beget revelations about a relationship in “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless In New York).” Communicated with equal parts spunk and bite, Barnett’s backing band curls snake-like rhythms around her half-lazy, half-droopy singing. On the country-folk strummer “Deprestron,” she both flips the script on the charms traditionally associated with suburbia and confronts swept-under-the-rug circumstances connected to property sales. In the process, Barnett assails not only real-estate customs that encourage buyers to bury history, but myriad practices and procedures that cause people to lose sight of feelings and responsibility.

Indeed, the singer employs understatement and nuance to imply there are serious costs and consequences connected to habits that remain out of sight and behaviors taken for granted. “Dead Fox” grapples with environmentalism, waste, and consumption as Barnett contemplates fruit sold in the market, trucks that pass by her, and animals slaughtered for her food. “Kim’s Caravan” is similarly subversive, its slowed pace and echoing distortion indicative of the song’s weighty meditations on culpability and exploitation. As she does many times on the album, the 26-year-old utilizes simple notions—and identifiable situations—to express broader points in astute manners.

Barnett also understands how to have fun. She takes shots at indecisiveness and facades on the catchy “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party,” ringed with driving guitar riffs, nasal accents, and spunky vibes. During the spring-loaded “Aqua Profunda!,” the singer dizzily recounts an encounter with an attractive stranger at a swimming pool and wraps anxiety, desire, embarrassment, and disappointment up into one hilariously sincere two-minute story. And on the tongue-in-cheek “Pedestrian at Best,” Barnett lashes out at pretense, sanctimonious, and presumption with savage impact.

At its core, the stomping song recalls the rawness, insistence, and volume of mid-period Nirvana, the group whose chords Barnett learned when she first picked up a guitar. If Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is any indication of the Australian singer’s trajectory, countless young upstart musicians will be sitting at home and using Barnett’s work in the same way during the years to come. -Bob Gendron

You can purchase this here from Music Direct:

And you can stream it at TIDAL here:

OPPO HA-2 Headphone Amplifier Flyby

We just popped OPPO’s HA-2 headphone amplifier out of the box and it’s a beauty. Here’s a quick peek.

Looking more like something Q would give James Bond to trounce an enemy than a piece of consumer electronic gear, the HA-2 goes a long way at upping the style points and decreasing the nerd points for portable audio, and that’s a wonderful thing.  I know that big wad of gear, rubber banded together with all the cables hanging out has always been a conversation killer when I’ve been on a plane.

With a Sabre DAC included, two gain settings and convenient charging options, the HA-2 joins OPPOs growing fleet of awesome, yet affordable line of gear.  Watch for a full review in Issue 71 of TONEAudio.

More tech info here:

Hi-Fi Centre Grand Opening

February 27, 2015 proved an unexpectedly warm and sunny day in Vancouver, Canada – the perfect foreshadowing for an equally stunning experience that evening at Hi-Fi Centre’s grand opening celebration. With a veritable Who’s Who of audio experts and equipment on hand – along with live music, food, and drinks – the event felt more like a mini-version of the Rocky Mountain Audio Festival than a store-opening party. Representatives from AudioQuest, Auralic, Bowers & Wilkins, Bryston, dCS, McIntosh, Totem Acoustic, Transparent Audio, Vienna Acoustics, and other manufacturers were there to answer any questions about their products. And of course, we enjoyed the chance to meet many local hi-fi enthusiasts. Clearly, Hi-Fi Centre has built a loyal customer following.

During my tour of the facility from Igor Kivritsky and opportunity to talk with him about the new space, it didn’t take long to realize the magnitude of work culminating in this celebration. The explanation requires some backstory.

Hi-Fi Centre in Vancouver, Canada, has remained a family-owned business since 1984, when Igor’s father, Alex Kivritsky, founded the store and began selling audio equipment. As Igor describes the history of Hi-Fi Centre, his father invested a total of $30,000 – the cost of many one-home hi-fi systems the store sells today – to lease the original 1,600 square foot location and purchase inventory. Working seven days a week for two years, Alex and Igor built upon the store’s humble roots.

Over time, the store space expanded in the same way a patchwork quilt does. Many improvements took place over time, continually maximizing the materials and space available. Igor remembers fondly the day in 1994 when the business next door, a leather jacket retailer, moved out and allowed Hi-Fi Centre the opportunity to expand to 4,500 square feet. Eventually, Alex transferred to Igor the store’s helm, and together they continued to build their business. Beyond Igor’s own family, Hi-Fi Centre’s 10 employees are like extended family. Half of them have remained with the company 10 or even 20 years. With that much experience under their cumulative belts, customers can be assured of helpful and knowledgeable advice.

As growth continued, though, one challenge remained consistent. Their showroom resided in an older building which was never designed with acoustics as the priority. Sonically retrofitting that space remained a tall order. After much consideration about further improvements possible at the old location, the family ultimately decided to break with the past. They wanted to establish a new location, built from the ground up, to give customers a fantastic musical experience and to showcase the full sonic potential of each piece of equipment they sell.

Igor chuckles at times as he describes the process of making the new store a reality. While he tells the story in a humble and lighthearted way, it’s clear that a lot of thinking went into the new 5,000 square foot layout. His first challenge was finding the right location. Igor describes his first encounter with the new location as an immediate attraction for “a shell of a building with columns that were actually in all right places – like a blank canvas!” Seeing the theoretical potential, he then set to the more difficult task of designing the layout.  Igor jokes, “I’m no architect,” but for several weeks, the FloorPlans Pro iPhone app served as his constant companion on the commuter train to and from work, helping him turn his ideas into tangible plans. He also jokes about the many hours he spent wandering around Restoration Hardware stores in search of new ideas to make the vision a reality.

His first goal was to make the store feel less like a retail space. As he put it, “I wanted it to feel more like a living space than a listening room — not just a space for audiophiles, but for entire families.” Experiencing the store illustrates the extent to which he achieves his goal. It’s clear they pulled out all the stops to optimize and future-proof their retail space. In addition to large open spaces near the entry, four acoustically-optimized listening rooms are nestled within the facility. Each room features comfy sofas, dim lighting, and an uncrowded layout despite all the gear within. It’s easy to forget you’re in a store. The only hint of the outside is a porthole-like window in the door of each listening room. Like being on a ship under the water line, the room is very comfortable on the inside, so being on the other side of the porthole has, um, very little appeal.

Blended among each room’s comfort-leaning amenities is specific treatment for the best acoustics for the space. Igor describes emailing his room dimensions and photos to Vicoustic, having them determine the ideal solution for each space, and taking the leap of faith that their results would meet his expectations. Ultimately, it exceeded them. The resulting room treatments look rather like modern art, with form equally important to function. According to Igor, $10,000–$15,000 dollars in audio treatments grace each room. He sees the expense as a long-term investment since it allows the audio gear within to reach its full sonic potential, and lets customers hear what the equipment is truly capable of.

Beyond the listening rooms, the store offers a hands-on wall of headphones, an additional wall dedicated to turntables, a home theater space, and an enormous glass case for viewing cartridges and other small items. Additionally, a large space in the front of Hi-Fi Centre is inspired by the Bang & Olufsen store design concept, creating the open and inviting feeling of a museum. In all, the store offers a very engaging customer experience throughout, and Igor indeed succeeded in meeting and exceeding his own design goals.

While Hi-Fi Centre sells fantastic home theater solutions, Igor notes that their team’s sales focus today still echoes the roots of the company: two-channel stereo systems. Once a customer chooses a system, it is part of Hi-Fi Centre’s service to deliver it, set it up, and help place speakers for the best sound. As Igor puts it, “Before we leave the room, we want to know everything is working right, and the new owners have a smile on their face.”

I asked Igor if he experienced any systems or rooms which were particularly difficult to set up. In response he provided a personal story. Early in the relationship with his girlfriend (now his wife) he decided to surprise her with an upgrade for her old boom box. He carefully set up the small integrated amplifier and placed the speakers into the room where they offered the best sound. When she arrived home, Igor got a reaction he didn’t expect. She was not happy about the obtrusive nature of the large system in her small apartment. With their relationship in the balance, he pleaded for her to put in a favorite CD before passing a final judgment. According to Igor, she soon had a huge smile on her face. Similarly, he finds many Hi-Fi Centre customers reluctant to have speakers jetting out into the listening space after setup, but more often than not, the best possible sound wins out over the small intrusion in living space.

Igor’s eyes twinkle as he shares a postscript to the story. He describes his wife’s discerning audio insights today. When the married couple moved into a bigger home, she wanted larger and more resolving speakers. After listening to the newly set-up household system, she paused, then pointed at the temporary bare-wire speaker cables being used. Hearing sonic limitation, she said, “And when do we get the real speaker cables in here?” It seems audiophile genes run throughout the family.

If you’re in the Vancouver area, be sure to drop by Hi-Fi Centre, meet the team, and check it out for yourself. You’ll be glad you did! – Rob Johnson