Get a room. Not a jibe to hurl at publicly over-affectionate couples but an entreaty to think beyond the hardware. An audio system doesn’t start and end with the metal and wooden boxes that make sound happen; there is a bigger box to consider – the room itself.
Those looking to relocate the movie theatre in the home have been wise to this for years already. Consideration of the space that surrounds numerous loudspeakers, amplifiers, screen and projector is buried in the language itself: home theatre.
Walk the seven (count ‘em) home theatre spaces found downstairs at The Life Style Store in Parramatta and ask yourself: what jumps out of the darkness? The screen? Then lighting and seating? However, the loudspeakers, subwoofers, amplifiers and media players are often as neatly obscured as the room treatments. Overblown bass could ruin that moment in Jurassic Park. Ditto the wrong lighting or an uncomfortable chair.
Life Style co-founder Vinod Christie-David walked me ‘round all seven rooms on a hot Sydney Saturday afternoon as part of the store’s 2016 re-launch. See here:
The take away? Everything in the room influences the viewing experience. Christie-David and his business partner John Kranitis don’t want to just sell boxes – a cliché, sure – but their self-imposed mandate is to talk about the room’s bearing on the enjoyment factor. In other words, the room matters!
What can the two-channel world learn from such thinking? We listen to music as mood adjuster. More seasoned audio journeymen know that the room’s audible make-up influences the music listening experience more than any component manufacturer could dream of.
The sound of a room influences how we feel as much as – if not more than – the music itself. Let that sink in for a moment.
Thankfully, expert audiophile status isn’t required to hear this for yourself. Out on the high street, a restaurant re-fit that swaps carpet for wooden floor might look better and be easier to clean but (untreated) it will undoubtedly sound worse. Packed out with customers, the dining experience becomes considerably louder and, as a direct result, more tiring. A similar fate befell this commentator’s favourite Sydney curry house some ten years ago. But one example of the real world tussle between visual and aural satisfaction.
Back at home, clap hands in a wooden-floored room. Notice the ‘ping’ echo? That can cause a room to sound ‘live’. Too much room liveliness will make us feel unable to relax. Lay down a carpet to dial down the echo and wash away the tension. However, over damp the room with soft furnishings and we risk a bloodless audio experience. Balance is the order of the day.
For the myopic, optimising the music listening experience is but a matter of acquiring the best sounding gear – job done. At this west-Sydney retail outlet, Vinod Christie-David begs to differ.
Despite fitting out the upper floor of the Life Style Store with hardware dedicated to music playback some twelve months ago, it’s only in the last few months that Christie-David and Kranitis ripped out and re-built the majority of rooms so that they better fall in line with the store’s philosophy, one clearly evident from the home theatres downstairs: a music room should not only sound good but look good.
The look of a room influences how we feel. Before a single note is played, sitting in here…
…will probably solicit a different feeling to sitting in here:
It follows therefore that the appearance of audio hardware and room treatments matters hugely to the overall listening experience. Their form, materials used and the finish applied all feed into the look – and therefore feel – of the room.
Are loudspeakers not pieces of audio furniture? And if required, should room treatments not complement each space’s visual aesthetic? “Yes” and “Definitely!” are the obvious answers if you’re John Kranitis and Vinod David-Christie.
Their Sydney store, one that also deals in car audio, is clearly no pile-em-high-and-shift-em-quick box mover. That said, a small selection of headphones and amplifiers as well as Denon HEOS, Bose and Sonos lay out the welcome mat to first-time visitors.
Upstairs, each new room has its own distinct look and feel: the PMC/McIntosh space is dark and moody and plays stark contrast to the Linn room that pushes a minimalist vibe, strong on softer tones and wood, the latter courtesy of Vicoustic diffusion and absorption panels.
At the far end of the hallway, two large spaces that run seriously high-end solutions both in terms of audio gear from Martin Logan, McIntosh (again), Sonus Faber and Audio Research, bespoke room treatments as well as off-the-shelf options from Vicoustic (again).
Caught in the middle, the first 5.0 Devialet Phantom system outside of Paris sits a clean space of white and off-white. They call it 5.5 because “each Phantom comes with its own subwoofer” which recent review coverage from yours truly confirms as true. One has to wonder if the Expert Series of amplifiers’ speaker corrective facilities, a feature that tops a long list of functional flexibility, makes selling multi-box packages that bit tougher? Ditto active speakers from Linn and Dynaudio.
Across the hallway a ToTL passive Dynaudio loudspeaker setup accommodates amplifier switch-eroos between Plinius, Audio Research and McIntosh (yet again).
However, the highlight for this visitor is the Vienna Acoustics room. Decked out with artworks from Gustav Klimt, dark wooden furniture and lower light, it feels more like an early 20th Century Viennese lounge room than a space to audition hifi.
Christie-David walks us ‘round right here:
As you’ll see from the video, what started as a simple shop tour as pre-amble to a full week’s re-launch events evolved into a thoroughly interesting conversation about hi-fi retail and promotion: the need to see store auditions as experiences that are both sonically AND visually strong; the helpfulness in reframing two-channel system building as more than boxes in a rack powering loudspeakers but as the creation of a pleasurable listening space. A philosophy underscored whilst chatting with Life Style co-owner John Kranitis off camera.
More power to ’em. This type of coverage isn’t normally DAR’s beat but in an age when hifi retailers are falling away at a rate of knots, it’s refreshing to see a store with laser-guided focus on more than just shifting units and the investment capital to bring a broader vision to life. Life Style Store’s room-centric angle might be slick in its delivery but it speaks volumes about the need to consider listener engagement as a function of more than just the hardware through which electrons flow.
Further information: Life Style Store