AOM Logo April 1998


The Trenches
Blair Roger reports on high-end in the Canadian Pacific

The snow-capped 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.

Hi Fi Centre Listening RoomBack 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".

B&W 801s at Hi Fi CentreWe 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 theatre room.

Tannoy Churchill LoudspeakerIt 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 Churchill loudspeakers.

Alex completes 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 wonder.

Emerging from 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.

The Sound Room Listening RoomThe 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.


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