An intimate, triangular premises, wedged into the thoroughfare that links Regent Street to Savile Row, Spiritland (spiritland.com) is to music aficionados what nearby Davidoffs is to serious cigar connoisseurs. A natural progression from proprietor Paul Noble’s Spiritland (spiritland.com), a café and bar project over in King’s Cross built around a world-class sound system (which has just opened a new space in Royal Festival Hall), it’s a place where you’ll find headphones that reside at the apex of personal audio.
You won’t find diamond-studded earcups or other cosmetic embellishment here: what you’re paying for with the wares in stock at Spiritland is the kind of sonic richness, clarity and nuance that makes the uninitiated sit bolt upright when hearing the opening bars of their favourite tracks.
New visitors will quickly learn that there are more ways the one to create headphones that satisfy the needs of life’s most demanding audiophiles. The Audeze LCD-4s (£3,599) has a nano-scale diaphragm made from a NASA-developed material (it weighs less than the air it displaces, improbably enough), whose magnetic field serves up double the usual speaker power with exceptionally precise bass response and undetectable distortion levels. French brand Focal, conversely, believes that drive units having pistonic motion offers superior levels of resolution – hence their Utopia model (£3,499) which, being open-backed, offers more accurate reproduction (seals cause sonic reflections, resonances and phase cancellation).
So are these wares worth the outlay? Suffice it to say, give any of the offerings in here a try, and the blast-furnace intensity and resolution will blow the minds of punters used to ordinary cans plugged into iPhones.
“A lot of the headphone/personal audio world exists online, in forums and in reviews – there are very few places to go and hear all these fantastic pieces of equipment in action,” says Noble, who has curated Spritland’s selection of headphones personally, as well as its selection of High Resolution Audio Players and, indeed, the 17-year-old drop from Tokyo’s Nikka Whisky Distilling Co resting at a minibar at the boutique’s apex.
“The personal audio world, and in fact a lot of the hi-fi retail world, is a taste-free zone, particularly when it comes to retail spaces,” Noble continues. “We wanted to build somewhere where the quality of the room and the listening experience was matched to the beauty and performance of incredible equipment. The whole experience – including the location, the staff and the packaging – is designed to be closer to that of buying a luxury watch than any kind of audio gear. You can trial every piece of equipment before you buy, and demo them one next to another – all with a nice whisky in your hand.”
Two or three enthusiasts commonly come in together, apparently, to peruse Spiritland’s high-res music library (expect only lossless formats such as Flac in this, an Mp4-free zone) and take and compare notes, while headphone enthusiasts who own a large portion of what’s on offer, and are looking to fill the gaps in their collection, are another typical visitor.
Meanwhile, a tip for layman visitors: ask to be hooked up to an intimate live recording – Tom Waits’ Nighthawks at the Diner, an “Unplugged” classic or any number of post-war jazz sets – and the feeling of actually being in the room is truly overpowering.