The New Sound of Luxury

OMA Showroom 8300

Skift Take

Sound is an opportunity area that luxury hoteliers haven’t fully capitalized on. But they are perfect places to create unique, rarified experiences.

The best luxury hotels obsess over just about everything: The sheets, coffee, temperature, and lighting. The fresh flowers each day.

Now, let’s talk sound: The best, most rarified listening experiences.

The world is starting to see the global cross pollination of listening bars and audiophile venues. These venues, like Lion, Bar Martha and Buy Back in Tokyo have long been obsessive about vintage sound: Think meticulously sourced Altec Lansing speakers, glowing McIntosh tube amps, and record players that cost as much as a small car. These spaces are often lined with record collections, and serve up whiskey and bourbon that is as considered as the equipment.

The trend is going global to venues like Spiritland in London, Eavesdrop in New York, and The Equipment Room in Austin. It’s not about DJ worship or piano bars. These are places where listening and the cozy crackling of vinyl on a nice system is the focal point of the night.

My experiences in venues like these have been differentiated from other nights out. There’s something special when you’re in an convivial environment and a necessary detail – the music – is front-and-center. Places that care about a necessary detail like this get other things right too. Obsession bleeds into other parts of the experience, to the visitor’s delight.

An Opportunity for Luxury Hotels

This is an incredible white space for hotels to look into and further develop. Imagine walking into a lobby and hearing a pitch-perfect track, reproduced in incredible fidelity like you were hearing music for the first time. It changes the atmosphere and heightens the senses.

Imagine retiring in the evening, not to a bustling bar in a lobby, but to a meticulously designed audiophile experience in a suite on the property where cocktails are poured and where the speakers and all equipment are works of art in their own right.

The Equipment Room, at the Hotel Magdelena in Austin, is a leader of the trend as envisioned by longtime local music venue owner James Moody.

Jonathan Weiss, who owns one of the best speaker and hi-fi operations on the planet, Oswalds Mill Audio (O.M.A), often hosts listening parties in his Dumbo loft. He told me the experience of people hearing a Fleetwood Mac track or track played from the original master is revelatory. It is what a true luxury traveler values: Rare and hyper-specialized experiences that aren’t available to everyone.

It hits the same sensory elements as a tasting course at Copenhagen’s experimental masters, Noma, but feels even more special.

As a 2017 New Yorker profile said: “O.M.A. designs and manufactures meticulous, beautiful, and very expensive machines for the reproduction of recorded music. The company’s headquarters are in Lehigh County, in Pennsylvania, in an old mill Weiss renovated for this purpose twenty years ago. Weiss…believes that most of us listen wrong…”If you don’t know what good sound is, trying to describe it like explaining the taste of salt,” he said recently.”

Hearing music on a beautiful sound system is a one-of-a-kind experience, and one that can fit into interesting hotels around the world. Not just the in-room speakers or the sound being piped in, but real, immersive, glorious sound that makes someone stop what they are doing and pay closer attention.

Investing in this space is an opportunity for actual differentiation: We listen to so much music from lo-fi files on sub-bad headphones. But the physicality of music, the clarity, and the emotion that it can drive is something truly sublime when it is framed and presented properly. It is also centering, and part of the broader movement of mindfulness and noticing the tinier details of daily life.

Innovation in hospitality is an arms race. Nearly every nook and cranny has been optimized. But when we look at the beauty and opportunity with rarified, premium experiences, luxury, hi-fi sound shouldn’t be overlooked by the next wave of hotel innovators and thinkers. It should be front and center, in its pitch-perfect glory.

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