Quality time: the new era of hi-fi listening bars

Quality time: the new era of hi-fi listening bars

This feature was originally published in DJ Mag’s May 2024 print edition, shortly before JAZU announced that it would be leaving its Peckham venue. The team have now revealed they will be opening a new space in South East London this summer. Learn more here.

South London’s JAZU belongs to a new generation of hi-fi audio bars. Inspired by the kissas of Japan, the venue boasts a purpose built sound system, designed to scale over time, with elm horn speakers, state-of-the-art drivers and a thunderous subwoofer that doubles as a lightbox. In the day it serves coffee and at night classic cocktails, alongside music from the owner’s personal record collection.

But when DJ Mag arrives one Saturday in March, Kay Suzuki is behind the decks spinning zouk, reggae and other 12-inches from his bag. Friendly faces greet us from behind the low-lit square bar which, we discover days later, belong to the owners. “We were really interested in trying to create this kind of quality that runs through each part,” JAZU boss Rosie Robertson tells DJ Mag, “trying not to drop the ball on any element, that was our wish for the space.”

The earliest kissas were listening cafes with high-end stereo systems run by jazz collectors, where records were played in silence, beginning to end. They grew in number over the decades, peaking in the mid-’70s, before dropping out of fashion. But now the concept has gone global. From Northern and Central Europe, to North America, Southern Africa and Oceania, hi-fi bars are all the rage. Though often cited as listening bars in the Japanese tradition, visits to a number of venues and talks with people in the audiophile field suggest this label might be a bit misleading. True, the speakers are high-end and lovingly kept, but that reverence for sound and a deep listening experience doesn’t seem to translate. How to explain this kissa-adjacent phenomenon?

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