Ah, summer in Toronto. Searing heat,
high humidity, heavy traffic and construction zones as far as
the eye can see. What better time to escape the big city
in search of unfamiliar, small-town audio stores? So, one sweltering
afternoon, with CDs and LPs in hand, my wife and I set out westward
from our suburban Toronto office in the direction of Dundas, Ontario,
home of Mike Oddie's Alternative Audio. After just over
an hour of weaving our way along a handful of winter-ravaged
highways, and a few winding, hilly side roads, (of course this
travel time included the requisite stop at the local McDonald's
for a small bearing correction), we found ourselves in front of
Alternative Audio's store front, which was being keenly guarded
by Mr. Oddie's handsome black, standard poodle, Marcus (if basking in the midday sun is your idea of
keenly guarding!). After stepping over Marcus, we entered the
shop and, to my dismay, were greeted by a home theater setup.
Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against watching the Simpsons
on a 70" television in five-channel surround sound, but after
driving for over an hour in the stifling heat with broken AC,
I wanted to hear some good, down-home, two-channel, high-end audio
gear! Luckily, Mike came to the rescue and led us to two terrific
rooms which contained the stuff audiophile dreams are made of.
The room on the ground floor had loads
of great gear from the likes of Audible Illusions (the highly-regarded
Modulus 3 preamplifier), VTL (ST-150 amplifier), Townshend Audio
(Rock turntable), and Von Schweikert Research (VR3 loudspeakers).
The newly renovated downstairs listening room contained two systems
composed of gear from VTL (TL 2.5 linestage), Von Schweikert Research
(VR4 loudspeakers), Classé (CA-200 amplifier), Totem (Tabu
loudspeakers), Music Reference (RM-9 amplifier), Merlin (VSM loudspeakers),
N.E.W., EAD (T-1000/DSP-1000 digital front end), and Cardas.
Besides the components in these two systems, the rest of the store
contained a smattering of hardware from the likes of Castle, Alchemist,
Eminent Technology and Quad. Even Alternative Audio's used room
proved to be a source of unusual delight as I spied a used, but
immaculate, Reference Line Preeminence II linestage - a rare bird
in these parts.
The relaxed pace and small-town ambiance
outside Alternative audio were matched inside as well. Mike Oddie's
friendly, no-pressure attitude made us feel welcome and relaxed
throughout our two-hour visit. Most of this time was spent checking
out VTL's brand new TL2.5 all-tube, remote controlled linestage
(a review sample should be on the way soon), with some time spent
comparing it to the Audible Illusions L1 linestage (essentially
the linestage of the Modulus 3A). Since we'll be reviewing the
TL 2.5 in the near future, I won't say too much about it other
than to say it sounded promising and appeared to be beautifully
Unless called upon to switch components,
which he most graciously agreed to do, or to answer our questions,
Mr. Oddie left us to audition the TL 2.5 and L1 in the pin-drop
silence of his downstairs listening room, without the slightest
interruption. I can count the number of dealers in which this
has happened on half of one hand.
Throughout our entire two-hour visit,
Mr. Oddie displayed the utmost in grace, style and warm hospitality,
going so far as to offer to reimburse us for the cost of the parking
meter in front of his store!
I must admit that as we snaked our way
along the small country roads leading from highway 403 to Alternative
Audio, I was skeptical that those roads would lead to a world
class retail high-end audio establishment. What we found evaporated
that skepticism in a big hurry. I cannot recommend Alternative
Audio highly enough. It joins the exceedingly small set of retail
audio establishments that are worthy of the high-end moniker,
and it handily competes with the finest I've visited.
Although a bit off the beaten path, a few hours of driving is
a small price to pay for the level of customer service and the
quality of product lines and listening rooms offered by Alternative
Audio. If you live anywhere near Dundas, Ontario, I urge you
to stop in for a visit. Tell Marcus we say "hi".
-- Andrew Chasin