For music nerds like me, the digital revolution has been something of a double-edged sword. Streaming services mean I can carry my entire music collection in my pocket (piping it to Bluetooth headphones while out and about, or to a portable NFC speaker when at home), but the data compression that comes with all that technology turns Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue a kind of pale blue.
It’s the audio equivalent of diluting a 16-year-old Lagavulin single malt – the very dram that I was sipping at the end of my recent visit to Spiritland, a bar/restaurant that has been built around what is reportedly London’s most expensive, and indeed most impressive, music system. Here, the sound is as well-rounded as both the whisky list and the highly eclectic roster of guest speakers and DJs.
Jarvis Cocker, Depeche Mode, Mercury Prize-winning The xx and Roger Sanchez have all taken control of Spiritland’s £500,000 speakers (made by Living Voice), spinning vinyls on its £30,000 Kuzma turntable and changing tracks with its beyond-beautiful solid-brass mixer (made in collaboration with design agency Pentagram), while the intimate venue’s Spiritland Talks series has featured Nick Hornby (who brought Bill Nighy along as his guest), Booker Prize winner Roddy Doyle and an evening with Madness.
There’s also a mix of smaller music names who run specialist evenings, covering everything from jazz to psych rock, Afrobeat to disco, as well as one-off explorations of rare records (Radio 3’s brilliant Late Junction presenter Nick Luscombe presented a night of Japanese music in March) – and this is all accompanied by a sublime small plates menu overseen by Owen Kenworthy, formerly of The Blueprint Café. My highlights were the outrageously creamy burratina (£8.90) and the crispy ham hock with sauerkraut (£7).
This music mecca, tucked away in King’s Cross, offsets its state-of-the-art technology with pleasingly old-school, wood-panelled decor (I also admired the thinking behind the low-tech stand that the DJs propped their records on, which allowed each one to be snapped on a mobile phone and Spotified later). The aesthetics subtly transition into industrial-chic in the bar, where the extensive and informative whisky list flags up florals, fruities and smokies, and takes in everything from small-batch American bourbons (from £4) to the multi-award-winning 18-year-old Sun Yamazaki (£40), while the beer offering includes bottlings from two of my favourite craft brewers, Wild Beer (Pogo Pale Ale, £5.50) and Wiper & True (Quintet IPA, £5.50).
The venue also sells a range of vinyl and headphones, and has recently branched out by opening a dedicated headphone boutique in Mayfair, where all pairs (from £150 to £4,000) can be thoroughly road-tested in store before purchase: for me, this service shows how seriously Spiritland takes audio, and I recommend that all other high-end headphone retailers follow the lead.
My dream cans would be the über-refined Audeze LCD-4s (£3,599), a pair of overheads handcrafted in California from 30-year-old Macassar ebony and leather, which are as beautifully vintage-looking as the Sennheiser HD 800s (£1,099) are appealingly futuristic. Resembling two giant speaker cones, they feature the biggest transducers used in any pair of dynamic headphones, and turn a Kind of Blue into, well, a kind of vivid blue.