Blair Roger reports on high-end in the Canadian Pacific
Rocky Mountains that dominate Vancouver from north to
southeast seem so close you can touch them. This part of
Canada has topography that is spectacular and varied. Islands,
with names like Gabriola, Galiano, Saltspring and Saturna,
beckon to the west with the rainforests of Vancouver Island
lying just beyond the Strait of Georgia.
I had the great
pleasure of visiting this pocket of natural beauty in
mid-March just as Spring was at its peak. My assignment: visit
three of the city's audio salons with the purpose of reporting
on the state of high-end in Canada's Pacific Rim.
First on my
list was the Hi Fi Centre at 578 Seymour Street,
Vancouver. It is located only a couple of blocks from the
Financial District, near trendy Gastown. I enter what appears
to be a rather small shop and ask the salesperson if I can
talk to Alex. "Certainly," he replies. "And,
who may I say is calling?" Moments pass, then I am led to
Alex Kivritsky's dark, businesslike lair, a room that fairly
exudes power and prestige. He graciously extends his hand
across the desk, regards me gravely and asks in a deep
middle-European accent, "And what can I do for you?"
As I explain my mission, he rises and nods and we walk out
into the middle of Seymour Street, where he directs my gaze
upward to the facade of number 578. Alex tells me that he
opened his shop at this location fifteen years ago. In another
era the building had been the hub of the diamond trade. "The
address was well known to all the high-rollers in the city",
he adds. I sense a trace of nostalgia.
inside, Alex explains that the shop expanded in stages, taking
over adjacent stores to the north as their leases expired. At
the same time, he upgraded the quality of his equipment lines.
The four new demonstration rooms have been professionally
designed and executed, and have an air of sophistication. The
front room replicates a generously proportioned and upscale
entertainment room decorated in light earth tones and bleached
wood. The technical focus is on a pair of ProAc
floor-standing speakers flanking a simple, black steel
equipment shelf ripe with Naim gear and garnished with
a Rega Planar Three turntable. "ProAc and Totem
are niche products for us," he comments off-handedly. I
ask how many Regas he sells per year. "About a dozen. We
carry them as a courtesy for our customers".
peer briefly into a smaller room designed to represent a
sanctuary for weary parents. Imagine the scene: subdued pot
lights, a wall of bookshelves and a hint of home theatre or
stereo music. It is not yet ready for the public. Behind this,
an eighteen by twenty foot cavern meant to be a dark, private
space where a solitary audiophile can contemplate the deeper
meaning of it all. The only furniture I recall is a
five-footed leather and rosewood easy chair with ottoman that
is standard issue in every New York psychiatrist's consulting
room. Major gear here: B&W 801s and every model of
YBA pre-amp, amp and monoblock imaginable. In the
crepuscular light, I spy some recent vintage conrad-johnson
Premier tube amps tucked away on built-in shelving. This room
affects me with a simultaneous feeling of relaxation and
exhilaration. I have an inkling of what it must be like to
drive a Bentley. Alex mutters something about tubes not
selling the way he would like, and we move on to the home
is a relatively generous space and sumptuously furnished in
sophisticated printed fabrics and subtle colours. The indirect
lighting is dramatic and heightens the aura of glamour. A
feeling of closure is provided by an imposing pair of Tannoy
the tour with a glimpse of his stock room which is certainly
capable of handling any sudden demands for YBA, Naim or ProAc
gear. We return to his office where he muses about the future.
He seems to have an unmistakable affection for Jadis and
Cabasse as he says, "French with French is a good
combination." We are interrupted by a call which he takes
over the speaker phone and I see another side of Alex
Kivritsky. He chats playfully with a lady requesting his
continued support for an annual auction which will benefit a
medical cause. He jokes, teases and charms with a promise to "come
up with something." Totems? Premier Eights? Tannoys? I
my reverie, I realize that my parking meter expired long ago.
A few last words and I dash off to my next stop. I head west
and then south about eight blocks and easily find the shop
situated on the edge of the business core at 1305 Burrard
Street. It has the busy atmosphere of a better mid-fi store at
lunch hour and I ask for Lee Fitzgerald, Manager of Home
Stereo and Video. An affable, casually dressed fellow
appears after a few minutes. We talk about Audiophilia Online
Magazine and he cheerfully shows me around the store, starting
with the Bang & Olufsen room. "We sell quite
a lot of B&O," Lee says, "primarily for the look",
and he readily admits that it's "a lifestyle product."
I can see that Lee is busy and we move quickly from room to
room. There is the de rigueur home theatre room with some new
Proceed AC-3 equipment and Lee comments that they are "really
into high-end video cameras." I notice a display area
full of NAD, Bryston and Sony gear. In
the middle of everything I confront the incongruous sight of a
pair of Martin-Logan Quests, Pass Aleph 5 and
Anthem Pre and CD1. I ask permission to take a snap
and Lee complies: "No problem, anything you want."
He suggests two other shops that I should visit which he
describes as "real high-end." We shake hands and I
step out into the glorious spring sunshine.
third stop is in the Kitsilano neighborhood: The Sound
Room, 2205 West 4th Avenue at Vine. Parking is free at the
supermarket on the west side of Vine and a good thing too, as
I spend nearly two hours at this shop. Paul, the owner, is a
bit reticent at first, showing me their introductory lines:
Cyrus and Mission. Then we move on to the
industrial strength room at the back: Krell, BAT,
Sonic Frontiers, Dunlavy, and Genesis.
I broach a couple of questions and Paul speaks eloquently at
length about building upgradeability into a customer's system.
Then on to the mystery of making home stereo sound like real
music (hint: speakers that suffer from dynamic compression are
bad, bad, bad). Then a real gem: Paul says that, in his
opinion, a 15 amp dedicated line will beat a power conditioner
any day. Then we touch on his nostalgia for JBL horns, Marantz
7s and 8s, Decca cartridges and Thorens 124 turntables.
Speaking of turntables - there are none here. I leave feeling
relaxed and informed.
While Vancouver does not have anything like the plethora of high-end stores in Toronto, London or New York, the shops are friendly and, more importantly, have knowledgeable sales staff. If you are a resident of Vancouver, or, are one of the multitude of visitors, be sure to visit all three. Good sound and conversation awaits.
|Copyright © 1998 Audiophilia Online Magazine|