A Visit to Chicago's Audio Consultants
When a retailer entitles his two-day open house, "Innovations in High Fidelity," it's essential that his staff know their stuff. For Audio Consultants, there was no question. With four stores in the greater Chicago area, Audio Consultants is, save perhaps for Magnolia, the largest as well as longest established audio dealer in the region.
Audio Consultants was also the only Chicago area high-end store to abstain from exhibiting at Axpona Chicago. When asked why, Simon Zreczny, who runs the store with his son, Alan, replied, "I don't like to be at shows. I don't enjoy doing them. I'm happiest with my customers. I attend 50 live concerts a year, and I always see my customers next to me."
Zreczny seems to be equally happy with his staff. In an industry where audio installers turn over faster than Apples are picked in my neighborhoodI hope that reference isn't too obliqueAudio Consultants has several custom installers who have been with the company 3040 years.
So, in the "mother store" in Evanston, lives a door from the mother store's original location, which opened in 1967. Not that the "newer" store's interior looks considerably more contemporary. Upon leaving the residue of Chicago's latest 9" snow storm behind, I was struck by the layout's strange diagonals, the huge triangular glass counter in store center that harked back to an earlier era, and glaring TV screens whose images were anything but congruous with the refined jazz and classical music playing in the main listening room. To this eye, it was a strange and disconcerting jumble, and one that any practitioner of Feng Shui would have felt impelled to remedy.
As I tried to hold at bay fantasies that skeletons were hidden in back rooms, John R. Quick of Tempo Sales, US distributor of dCS, ushered me into the somewhat hidden main listening room. Beneath pallor-casting lighting, amidst décor charitably described as a cross between bare bones college dormitory and jail cell, I encountered a system of golden provenance.
Grab a calculator as we start with the dCS Vivaldi transport ($39,999), Vivaldi Upsampler ($19,999), Vivaldi DAC ($34,999), and Vivaldi Clock ($13,499). Add in the wonderful analog front-end of Viella 12 turntable ($16,500), Benz Micro LPS cartridge ($5000), and HRS isolation base ($2795)I'm not sure about the arm. Then move on to Boulder's 1010 preamp ($15,000), 2060 amp ($48,000), and 1008 phono preamp ($13,000).
How could we forget Wilson Audio's imposing MAXX3s ($69,500/pair), nor overlook the all-important Solid Tech equipment rack with spring suspension from Sweden for the dCS units and, for the rest, the wooden Box Furniture equipment rack from Brooklyn. Finally, Transparent Audio contributed Reference XL and Opus interconnects ($46,835 total), Opus speaker cables ($35,790/pair), new Reference XL digital interconnect ($33,950), and Reference Power Cabler and Reference Power Isolator ($15,805).
These premium brands are but part of Audio Consultants' starry line-up. Add in Magnepan, Bowers & Wilkins, Thiel, Michell, Pro-Ject, REL, McIntosh, Bryston, Ayre, Tributaries, Phase Technology, Clearaudio, AMG, and a host of companies whose headphones have found a home in each store's special headphone listening room, and you have quite the audio store.
As I entered the room, pianist Duke Pearson was holding forth on a 2007 Blue Note reissue of the Rudy Van Gelder-recorded 1967 classic, The Right Touch.  Next came Tina Brooks' 1960 classic, Back to the Tracks. The men who had showed up early for the March 7 listening session sure knew their classic jazz. (Confession: If I were to spend a week with these boys, I have a feeling I would too.) I can't say that everything sounded idealthe sax was too bright, highs could be metallic, and bass control was elusivebut the beauty of the music somehow managed to come through in spades.
Then we switched to the 4th movement of Channel Classics' new, native DSD hybrid SACD of Mahler's Symphony 1, performed by Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Despite a somewhat metallic tinge to horns and a lack of ultimate color saturation, the percussion had tremendous authority, if not ultimate control. As we listened to the first track from Patricia Barber's new CD, Smash, it became clear that less that optimal speaker placement had excited one too many pesky bass modes in the room.
Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings (above) soon entered to share some of his treasure of analog recordings. Note that, at Audio Consultants, there is no "Vinyl Renaissance;" the store's support for vinyl has remained constant over the span of 46 years.
With the grilles at last removed from the MAXX 3s, more color emerged. It also became clear that the analog front-end excelled in the presentation of air and color. As Chico Freeman performed "Peace" from his LP, Spirit Sensitive, I sensed that many of us in the room merged, as if we had finally come home.