Listening bars and audiophile cafes can trace their roots back to post-war Japan. The country saw a rise in demand for communal spaces playing music through top-notch equipment during the late 1940s and 50s.
Nowadays, hi-fi bars can increasingly be found in almost every corner of the world, boasting seriously impressive music systems in welcoming surroundings.
While these types of venues tend to serve a range of food and drink and function as normal cafes, bars and restaurants, the difference here is that the real focus is the music. The room layout and choice of hi-fi components should be tailored to suit the space and show the music in the best light possible.
We have picked out a handful of listening bars and cafes from around the world that we have visited or have on our wishlist. Got a better suggestion? Let us know in the comments below.
Waxflower – Brunswick, Australia
Waxflower is a self-described wine bar, which also serves food and local beers on tap. And it's also an audiophile listening space boasting some fine hi-fi equipment.
The bar’s music program, which features DJs and artists playing live on most nights, focuses on helping to curate an eclectic range of music that might not otherwise find a platform.
Waxflower had an issue with the visual identity of loudspeakers. Most models look like they either belong at home or on stage. What about an in-between? So, channelling their shared love of classic speaker designs such as JBL’s 4355 and the Klipsch Klipschorns, Pitt & Giblin created a bespoke loudspeaker system for the venue.
Each speaker has two 15-inch bass drivers, a 10-inch midrange, and a 1-inch compression driver, and is connected to a Hypex NCore integrated amplifier offering 1100W of power.
Speakers: Custom-built Pitt & Giblin speakers
Amp: Hypex NCore integrated amplifier
Mixer: Isonoe London hand-built Mixer - ISO420
Turntables: Technics SL1200 MK3D
Spiritland – London, UK
Opened in 2016 in King’s Cross, London, by Paul Noble, Spiritland is a cafe, bar, radio station and production company rolled into one venue, and created around a love of sharing music.
Matching food and drink with great music, Spiritland is a cafe during the day and a bar at night, all built with listening at the heart.
The system at Spiritland plays all day, every day. The venue put together a collection of top-class bespoke components built by Living Voice in their factory based in Long Eaton.
With DJ sets on most evenings and weekends, alongside regular album playbacks, Spiritland is a venue that can be experienced at pretty much any time of the day and throughout the week.
Speaker: Living Voice speakers and crossovers
Amp: Atelier du Triode valve amplifiers
Mixer: Brass panelled Isonoe rotary mixer
CD players: 2 x Pioneer CDJ-2000NXS2
Turntables: 2 x Isonoe modded Technics 1200 turntables, Kuzma XL DC turntable
Clutch Bar – Bangkok, Thailand
Situated on the second floor at The Warehouse shopping and art space in Bangkok, Clutch Bar is a listening space that features a pair of imposing JBL speakers mounted to the wall behind the bar.
The warehouse used to belong to a prominent business that specialised in gearing machines, hence the name of the bar.
Clutch Bar retains much of the old character and soul of the warehouse and its previous purpose. The space contains a few long sofas dotted around the bare concrete walls and building framework. It’s quite an open room but also appears quite cosy and relaxing as well. The focus is the bar, or more importantly, what’s behind it.
At either end of the wall behind the bar are the aforementioned beastly JBL 4350 WXA speakers bi-amped with a pair of McIntosh 2300 power amps. You'll also find a pair of Technics SL1200 turntables, plus a range of other sources, including Tascam reel-to-reels and a Nakamichi tape deck.
Speakers: JBL 4350 WXA
Amps: McIntosh 2300 Power Amplifiers bi-amped
Mixer: Alpha Recording System 9100B Mixer
Turntables: Technics SL1200 MK3
Other sources: Tascam BR-20 Reel-to-reel Recorder/Producer, Tascam 32 Reel-to-reel Recorder/Producer, Nakamichi 1000 Tape Cassette Deck
Unkompress – Berlin, Germany
Unkompress is a social space designed for enjoying an eclectic spread of analogue audio along with wine, beer, or coffee.
The venue has collaborated with an expert wine sommelier, sake sommelier, and mezcal author to ensure Unkompress always offers an impressive bespoke drinks menu – that should help ensure the music hits the spot.
The venue offers a range of events including album listening sessions, live podcast recordings, magazine and album launches, and DJ sessions.
Speaker: Klipsch Cornwall IV (a childhood dream and ode to Mancuso & The Loft)
Amp: Custom Elekit TU-8600S 300B Tube Amplifier
Mixer: Resor 2533 Discrete class-A rotary DJ mixer
Cables: Ojas custom RCA cables
Turntables: Modified Technics SL1200 MK2 (Custom RCAs, Isonoe feet), Nagaoka MP110 cartridge
Dante’s HiFi – Miami, USA
Described as an intimate and soulful space for music enthusiasts, Dante’s HiFi prides itself on being the first vinyl listening bar dedicated to “analog audiophile music culture” in its area.
Inspiration for the bar came to one of the owners, Sven Vogtland, while on a trip to Tokyo hopping around listening bars with the band Khruangbin.
The venue houses an extensive library of records from resident music director Rich Medina’s personal collection. The bar is open to the public, but if you find yourself wanting to book your favourite seat, there are membership opportunities available for reservations and exclusive events which take place at least once a month.
Speakers: Klipsch Cornwall speakers, Klipsch Spatial Fills and Subwoofers, Altec Lansing 5 Panel horns
Amp: Cary Audio valve amp / Line Magnetic
Mixer: MasterSounds Radius Four-Valve mixer & FX
Turntables: 2 x Technics 1200 on Isonow Isolators
Best hi-fi systems: CD, vinyl and streaming music systems for the home
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