Listening bars – (Re)birth of the cool

Imagine being able to end off a day by meeting mates at a bar where a high-end audio system was the main attraction… Too good to be true? That’s exactly what listening bars offer.


Spiritland is an undeniably cool group of venues in London – King’s cross, Mayfair and the Royal Festival Hall, to be exact. On their website, in pride of place, is a list of music reproduction equipment installed at the venues that would make even the most adventurous audiophile drool.

Living Voice loudspeakers take on speaker duties, with Atelier du Triode amps and a selection of reel to reel, vinyl and digital front ends. The Mayfair branch has a headphone bar – one can only imagine the cans on offer there.

The concept of listening bars originated in Japan (where else) and has spread to cosmopolitan cities in the West. The common thread that links these venues is an audiophile system that takes pride of place – playing all day every day.

Music Room

Hong Kong’s famous Music Room in the Potato Head is an architect-designed, no-expense-spared example of a listening room. This beautiful space boasts a selection of thousands of vinyl albums, spun on the ubiquitous SL1200s, through a moth watering selection of McIntosh electronics to a set of iconic blue-baffle JBL pro monitors.

Bar Shiru

Almost unbearably cool, Bar Shiru is in Oakland, California. Interestingly, Line Magnetic speakers – LM 812s (a replica of the Altec Lansing Iconic design) – front the system. Devore O/93s also due occasional duty – all driven by the formidable Line Magnetic amplifiers – LM 12 for the big speakers and a LM 34IA for the more sensitive Devores. A Parasound A-23 is on hand to take over in the case of potential tube failures, though.

Line Magnetic also supplied its Phono stages, and an alphabet soup of VPI, SME and JMW make up part of the vinyl reproduction system. Bar Shiru uses a customised rotary mixer, for DJs to present an exquisite mix to customers.


Bridge, one of the iconic Listening bars in Tokyo, Japan, uses Rey monitors – similar to the massive Kinoshita monitors famously stored in the now-defunct Bop Recording Studios. Although a list of equipment is difficult to source, it’s obvious that much of the kit is custom, and a gigantic selection of (non-dance music) vinyl is spun whenever possible.

As a place for friends to meet, a listening bar is an audiophile’s dream. Who knows – maybe one that will grace South African shores soon.

One Reply to “Listening bars – (Re)birth of the cool”

  1. Great concept Sean. So far so good.

    I was aware of the Japanese music bar but had no idea about the UK spin-off.

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