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ISC’s Guide to Audiophile Listening Bars Around the World
- Guide /
- hi-fi /
- jazz kissa /
- Listening bar /
A look into some of our favorite audiophile bars around the globe, old and new, from Hong Kong to Miami.
In recent years, hi-fi and listening bars have caught on outside its Tokyo origins with what feels like a new audiophile driven cafe or bar opening daily. Taking inspiration from Japan’s well-established institution of record bars, music and audio enthusiasts around the globe have been building unique spaces, creating environments that appeal to fanatics and casual listeners alike.
Some have taken a more Kissa-inspired approach, creating intimate pocket-sized venues to showcase a humble system solely used to play album sides. Others have created elite Mancuso-style dance floors to elevate the club experience. Whatever the venue size, we’re always excited to explore new places to discover music.
Below, a list of listening bars that have cropped up around the world.
Based in London’s Kings Cross district, Paul Noble’s Spiritland opened its doors in 2016 and still stands as one of the great new entries in the world of hi-fi bars. The cafe-by-day, bar-by-night venue was built strictly for listening, with an emphasis on in-depth musical programming showcased on their world-class Living Voice sound system.
Vinyl Factory did a quick gear tour if you’d like to peek at the goods, which include their custom Living Voice speakers and crossovers, Triode tube amps, a Kuzma XL DC turntable (!), Isonoe modded Technics 1200’s, and (not featured but a recent update) their custom 50kg solid brass paneled Isonoe rotary mixer. The brass beauty has an unheard of 120dB fader cut for complete silence and is capable of delivering +22dBm (power ratio in decibels ) at <0.0003% THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) (1Khz), rendering it (with even all the faders maxed out) nearly impossible to distort. The front panel is also covered in 10mm-thick brass that slowly decays under the acids of each DJ’s fingers, meaning “everyone that plays will leave their mark.”
Potato Head (Hong Kong)
Potato Head in Hong Kong is the second overseas venue by the Indonesian-based hi-fi / hotel family. Designed by Sou Fujimoto, the vibrant space offers a combo of Indonesian archipelago cuisine, cocktails, and of course, a dedicated “Music Room” for listening. The room is a discrete backspace with inlaid JBL 4355 speakers, an Alpha Recording System 4100 mixer with their 3500 crossover, and a pair of modded Technics tables. We also highly recommend checking their original Hi-fi offering, Studio Eksotika, in Bali.
Dante’s HiFi (Miami)
The Sunshine State gets its first listening bar with Dante’s HiFI, which opened last month in Wynwood. One of the owners, Sven Vogtland, said the bar was inspired by a trip to Tokyo where he jumped around listening bars with his friends Khruangbin. Hoping to bring a level of sophistication the Miami music scene hasn’t seen before, the partners enlisted the legendary DJ, professor, author, and music historian/collector Rich Medina to oversee the music. As for hardware, it’s a little hard to make out what they got powering the house, but the booth contains a new Mastersounds boutique Radius 4 valve mixer, and the bar appears to have a Line Magnetic tube amp paired with a fresh pair of Klipsch Cornwalls — with some Altec horns, to boot.
Tokyo Music Bar (Mexico City)
Mexico City’s Little Tokyo district holds the new hi-fi spot Tokyo Music Bar. Founded by Edo Kobayashi, the main objective of the space is to provide Japanese food made in Mexico on the same level as it’s served in its homeland. Tokyo Music bar appears to be modeled after the great Ginza Music Bar in Tokyo, sharing the same set of Tannoy Westminster speakers bookending the bar, identical McIntosh MC452’s for power and, of course, a beautiful collection of our favorite Garrard 301 turntables for the spinning.
Public Records (New York City)
Public Records opened its doors in late 2019 and is the brainchild of Brooklyn residents and partners musician Francis Harris, Shane Davis, and VanderWal. The venue features three unique rooms: a hi-fi record bar, an intimate performance space called the Sound Room, and an all-day vegan café and record shop. Working closely with Devon Turnbull of Ojas and Jason Ojeda of Global Audio Systems, the Brooklyn crew built one of the distinguished sound systems available to the public. With the team using a combination of custom Ojas speakers and tube amplifiers, Altec horns, and custom Isonoe mixers in both rooms. But the cherry on top here is the Sound Room, one of the most immersive spaces the US has to offer; it’s lined with perforated walls and built under the council of Arup, a company that’s brought acoustical engineering expertise to opera houses around the world.
Romano (Tel Aviv)
Located on the second floor of the historic Romano House, this restaurant-bar-lounge has a lovely wooden and analog feel with a vintage soundsystem designed by Eldad Bermanhuge. The system includes custom made 3-way speakers, Tannoy Little Gold Monitors, and eight Amplifiers, including fifty year old lamp amps. The plant vibe is great as well and, from the photos at least, there seems to be magic happening there throughout the day with local and international selectors playing on a classic Bozak rotary.
Goldline (Los Angeles)
Chris Manak aka Peanut Butter Wolf’s Gold Line bar opened up in Highland Park back in 2018. The vinyl-only, whiskey high ball on tap, hi-fi bar and lounge is located directly under the Stones Throws office and houses Wolf’s massive, all-genre vinyl collection that local selectors play from nearly every night. The McIntosh amp, Altec Lansing speaker, Bozak rotary mix soundsystem was put together by Kevin Carney of Silverlake boutique clothing shop Mohawk General Store.
The Little Jerry (Toronto)
We first got tipped to this pocket sized “Seinfeld” reference wine bar by our good friend Linus Booth of Séance Centre. The vibe is totally up our alley with local selectors sharing mixes and playing frequently on a sound system comprised of Klipschorns, a Condesa rotary, and McIntosh tube amps. The food looks great as well…
Rhinoçéros is the closest thing to a jazz Kissa west of Japan, with its ultra-simple concept: one turntable, two speakers, and jazz. No DJ’s here, with most likely the owners Benedict and Martina playing full album sides from their humble collection that focuses primarily on jazz. Serving up wine and drinks, the speakeasy’s proper emphasis is on intimacy and sound. At the heart of this cozy, secret music room is a pair of wooden Bowers & Wilkins speakers from 1976, a round Micro-Seiki Turntable from ’81, and a quad amp and preamp from the early seventies.
Bar Shiru (Oakland)
Our good friend Dor from Fault Radio recently linked us up with the good people behind Oakland’s Bar Shiru. The jazz-kissa inspired, vinyl-only listening bar is the first of it’s kind in the Bay area and focuses on jazz records played in their entirety. The sound system was built by Adam Wexler, owner of Resolution Audio Video, and is comprised of Line Magnetic amps and speakers, an Isonoe mixer, and SME turntables. Additional speakers from Devore Fidelity, Dynaudio, and Bowers & Wilkins are also used in the various listening zones in the space.
Brilliant Corners (London)
Chee Shimizu once stated of Brilliant Corners, “To have a place like this is the biggest change in years.” Opened by brothers Amit and Aneesh Patel in 2014, Brilliant Corners has established itself as one of the best around. Located in Dalston, the Mancuso-inspired bar and restaurant holds his iconic four point Klipshcorn system with Mcintosh amps, while serving up meticulously prepared Japanese food and natural wine. We also highly recommend looking into their Giant Steps project, a traveling world class soundsystem containing four Klipsch La Scala’s. Peep the system below:
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