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With the steady decline of traditional high-end audio shops, one growing counter trend are distributors who either deal direct or in some instances open up a brick-and-mortar location of their own. Bernard Li of Canadian distribution house Charisma Audio recently opened a by-appointment-only showroom in busy Richmond Hill just north of Toronto. As there isn’t a Charisma Audio dealer in the area, Bernard’s showroom doubles as retail location where he also carries products not distributed by Charisma plus a growing selection of recordings predominantly on vinyl some of which I understand aren’t available elsewhere in southern Ontario. Further on the vinyl subject, Bernard intends to focus heavily on analog gear as this is one area that’s lacking broad expertise in the Toronto area. While many dealers do carry turntables, cartridges and tone arms, few can properly set them up. There’s more than a handful of sordid tales I could impart in that regard.

Bernard has carefully recreated the pleasant warm inviting ambience of a home rather than that of a typical hifi shop where prospective customers may audition Charisma’s complete range of products. One can book an appointment, bring some recordings or even a component or two and spend a few hours sampling various products in a relaxing pressure-free environment. Complementary beverages are provided. I can think of a few retail shops in the Toronto area that have about the warmth and ambience of a brick factory with rooms crammed full of products, salesmen breathing down your neck plus a steady stream of customers coming and going to further disrupt any meaningful audition.

Putting aside my reviewers’ cap for a moment (the one with the little propeller on top), I’ve known Bernard for several years. He is among the most genial of distributors. Obtaining review samples is painless, queries during the review process are answered almost immediately and he has a knack for finding little known or unusual brands for the North-American market which are always of interest. Furthermore check out his website. How many distributors do you know who maintain as comprehensive a website as Charisma Audio does? This sort of thing screams attention to detail which is sometimes sorely lacking in this industry. In my experience anyone who puts this level of time, money and commitment into the little things generally also creates a more positive experience for the customer. I can think of a number of distributors who frankly... I don’t know how they stay in business or why a manufacturer would consider them to represent their products in the first place. But that’s another story.

When I recently visited Bernard’s showroom, he had two setups that impressed me not only sonically but also aesthetically. One room featured a nice relatively affordable system consisting of ATD Capriccio Continuo Admonitors, Audio Exklusiv amplification, phone stage and Well-Tempered Lab Simplex turntable with an EMT cartridge. A Shanling disc player and Calyx Audio 24/192 DAC handled digital while a GigaWatt PLC and Madison Audio Cables rounded out the system. Check out the cool-looking room treatments from Portuguese Vicoustic. Most acoustic treatments tend to fail miserably in the wife acceptance test. No here. I thought these products more resembled decorative wall art than acoustic treatments. Furthermore I heard both rooms pre and post treatment and the effect was revelatory. I hope to explore Vicoustic further in the coming months.

The main room featured ATD Capriccio Continuo Admonitors with the matching Submonitors (review nearing completion chez bon-bon), Audio Exklusiv’s cool-sounding P3.1 full-range electrostatic speakers, Audio Exklusiv amplification, Calyx Audio’s awesome Femto DAC, Scheu Diamond turntable with Reed tonearm and EMT cartridge, more Shanling, Audio Space amplifiers and a lovely Revox reel-to-reel deck. While Bernard was still in the process of fine-tuning his showroom, what I heard was promising. I believe any audio hobbyist in the Toronto area would find value in paying Charisma Audio a visit. If you wish to check out Charisma Audio’s complete line, call/email Bernard Li and book your appointment.

Charisma Audio website