A Visit to Chicago's Audio Consultants

Alan (left) and Simon (right) Zreczny of 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 neighborhood—I hope that reference isn't too oblique—Audio Consultants has several custom installers who have been with the company 30–40 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 ideal—the sax was too bright, highs could be metallic, and bass control was elusive—but 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.

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Comments
jmsent's picture
It's spelled Zreczny

Did Simon change his name or did you take down the wrong spelling? As for Audio Consultants, I had the privilege of working for Simon many years back at the old 517 Davis St. store. A true gentleman, extremely knowledgable on all things audio, and a business with the highest scruples. That his business has survived and thrived for this long, while all the others running at the time are gone is telling. Back in my day, Chicago's audio scene was served by the likes of Musicraft, United Audio, Victor's, Paul Heath, Pacific Stereo, Playback, and Audio Consultants. Now only Audio Consultants remains. Of course some new players like Holm and Quintessence have come in, but Audio Consultants remains the one with the longest history, a great mix of products, and a stellar reputation built on years of excellent service.

John Atkinson's picture
Re: It's spelled Zreczny

Thanks for the correction.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JasonVSerinus's picture
Oopsie

I asked, I wrote carefully, I misspelled nonetheless. My apologies.

audiocaptain's picture
Not Displayed At AXPONA (Abstaining)

We are really sorry that this company was not at AXPONA. We want every dealer to increase his market share through our events. I know they would have had a large number of new customers become interested in what they offer. 

We are very glad we could help those dealers who decided to be a part of the show. AXPONA has found that many dealers establish what equals 6-8 months worth of new business at our events. Maybe next year Audio Consultants can give us a try, we would certainly welcome this fine company. Steve Davis  

Et Quelle's picture
Nice place, but

You should still attend the audio show, guys!! Improve the bouncing of those soundwaves, maybedevil

blackwash's picture
A bit of an indictment

You mean with several hundred thousand dollars worth of equipment, they still couldn't set up the speakers properly?

Ye gods.

Axiom05's picture
Boring

Speaking strictly for myself, I am getting bored with the profiling of yet another astronomically priced system. I can't imagine more than a very small percentage of your readers finding this information interesting or useful. How about a system that is reasonably affordable (I realize this is not easy to define) and sounds wonderful. You know, something that people might find interesting and exciting? The system profile detracted from the intent of the ariticle to profile the long-established dealer.

MVBC's picture
Perversion

The perversion lies in the minutiae with which those prices are announced: $15,805 or $46,835 or $39,999 ...

High End porn! devil

JasonVSerinus's picture
Not really

The intent of the article was just as it reads: to report on the event at Audio Consultants. While it's clear that you would not have been among the people visiting their main listening room, I suspect you would have visited many of the rooms at AXPONA Chicago. I hope you've found information that interests you among the 90 some odd blogs we've posted, and that you are heartened by the emphasis on "under $5000" systems at the forthcoming SSI.

Audio nut's picture
Audio consultant

I have visited the Hinsdale location of Audio Consultants a couple of times. Maybe one day I will make it up to Evanston to finally hear a pair of Wilsons. I was looking for someone demoing a pair at Axpona, but could not find any. Anyway there is another audio store I have had some good luck with in the Chicago area, that is Saturday audio. They have a nice mix of budget and expensive stuff. I also remember music craft. I remember them having a going out of business sale. I was just getting into audio at that time.

Elvis1's picture
Quintessence

Quintessence has been around for 36 years, maybe not as long as our friends at Audio Consultants (46) but hardly a "new player" in the industry. Our good friends at Saturday Audio Exchange must then be considered puppies at only 31 years on the scene. :)

In any case Chicago has a rich history of long time real Hi-Fi shops, some of the big guys came and went but a few of us small guys have stood the test of time.

Dave W.

attilahun's picture
Customer

I've been a customer of audio consultants for 25 years, from my college system to my dedicated two channel rig to my whole house system.

Their breadth of product offering suits any budget, their service is legendary and their expertise is science and technology based rather than the salesmanship you find at many other audio stores. 

I can't recommend them any higher and suggest anyone who might be interested to check them out. 

Glotz's picture
Nice joint.

I bought my Maggies there a few years back, and I think their Upgrade policy is fantastic!

Purchase a pair of speakers and upgrade within one year, and the full purchase price is applied to the next pair you buy! Making meaningful system changes on a budget is amazing. 

Their used gear section is stacked with gear, and they cycle out much of it on a regular basis.  Not much of tube afficiandos, as I have never seen a single valve in the entire building. 

They do have a vintage vinyl record store down the block on Davis, and it makes it a nice diversion if one is picking up some analog upgrades. 

I like it quite a bit, but they really do need to remodel, if they had more room. 

itsratso's picture
no one could pay me enough to

no one could pay me enough to go in any of audio consultants stores. i have never been treated in such a rude elitist way in my life. quintessential audio is the best audio store in chicagoland, and great guys to boot.

blueingreen48's picture
Cabling Eats System

Let's see: 70K/speakers, 110K/digital source, 25K plus/analogue source, 63K/pre-amp/amplification and 135Kcables/power isolation.

Is it just me, or is there something wrong with the cabling being the single most expensive part of this system?

And since we know that a system can only play back what's on the recording in the first place, one has to wonder what top recording studios spend on cables. Are some high end consumers spending money on wires in an effort to retrieve what isn't there? 

weaselriot's picture
Doesn't Matter How It's Spelled

I am a long time customer. I bought my first gear there as a high school sophomore in 1969. Thorens TD-150 with Shure V15 Type II, Dynakit Stereo 70 (pair as monoblocks), Dynakit PAS-3x, followed a few months later with the original Advent Loudspeakers. I've been shopping there since, through their expansion in 1971 and their move to the current location in 1979.

 

My favorite purchase there was ADS L-810 studio monitors in 1976, still at the original location, but by that time expanded into the adjoining space. Years later on several occasions I inquired about upgrading the speakers. They said "NO WAY!", so I kept the L-810s until 2001. It was only then, when I decided to go to 5.1, that Simon insisted I must now change the speakers since he wouldn't be able to match the L-810s to speakers for the other channels. Compare that to other dealers, e.g., in the early days of CD, despicably telling customers that they had to upgrade perfectly good speakers to ones that were "digital ready"!

 

To this day, I still buy an occasional piece at Abt (they're not half bad, after all), but when advice is badly needed, Audio Consultants is still my choice. After reading some of the comments about ridculously priced high end gear, I should point out that I have never gone that route myself. Simon likes to say "we sell the Chevrolet as well as the Maserati". The staff there walks the customer through the best trade-offs and compromises toward arriving at the best budget-priced alternatives.

 

No matter the price level, carefully matching components to each other is of utmost importance. Also, the most critical component of any system is the one you already own, your listening room with its attendant acoustic issues. So bring some photos and measurements when you shop gear. Knowledgeable staff will help you get the most value for each dollar spent. That's where Audio Consultants comes in. And that's the REAL meaning of high end sound, not just dollars.

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