Text by Alison Culliford*, illustration & photos by Fabrice Fortin
In a world of crashing bottle-banks and traffic noise, where we cocoon ourselves in our i-Pod bubbles, the revelation of superior sound can be a doors-of-perception experience.
When a stereo-buff friend took me to La Maison du Haut Parleur promising an extra-sensory treat, a visit to an opium den would not have had a more profound effect. We sat in the sweet spot on two directors’ chairs, and Monsieur Gest delicately placed the needle on a record. An oboe began its plaintive song; a cello answered and as the orchestra swelled the music resonated in our very bones.
Closing your eyes, you are not just in the best concert hall in the world, but in the instrument itself.
Bruno Gest is a self-deprecating man, so much so that he would not be photographed for our feature. He has run La Maison du Haut Parleur for 34 years and is soon to retire, handing the business over to his associate Christian Robert and young employee Romain Aubry.
Inside the inconspicuous shop, a mass of boxes and electrical gubbins fills the front. At the back are examples of their speaker kits. Essentially they provide the boomers and tweeters, which they have sourced from the best manufacturers, and will put you in touch with a cabinet-maker who will construct the box around them. “Or if you’re into DIY you can construct it yourself,” says Gest. “Both options enable you to have a far better speaker for your budget that if you bought it from a major manufacturer.”
They also sell speakers from French specialist companies such as Focal and Atohm, and have a repair workshop recently patronized by a “very famous French actor,” though discretion prevents these gentlemen from divulging his name.
But it is the sound theater downstairs that makes this place unique and is where the Blakean moment can be had. With Monsieur Gest’s large desk on one side, it has a Doctor No’s lair feel about it. The secret weapon kept down here is the Aeria Système, two huge speakers with a monumental 1930s look, whose 85cm high bass block is topped by a hand-turned acacia wood horn reminiscent of a vintage gramophone.
“The form sweeps the sound outwards and the wood eliminates all resonance. It’s completely neutral,” explains Gest, who spent 18 years developing the system. This is true up to 120 dB, and led the tech-head critics of the review Prestige Audio Visuel to declare its rendition of a concert piano “belle à pleurer.” Its beauty is considerable, but it’s the sound that counts.
“Like everyone, we are just looking for the thing that pleases us. The MP3 generation has a different outlook, but there will always be people that appreciate this quality of sound.”
The problem is that once you’ve been transported by the Aeria System nothing else is good enough. It takes you to another world, conjuring dreams of a loft apartment with a single Le Corbusier chair from which angels will serenade you. If you have one, you can join the 1000 or so people in the world who have crossed the threshold into perfect sound.
Prices: Kits (from 78€), Aeria Système (6,000€)
Delivery time: 1 month.
Contact: La Maison du Haut Parleur, 138 Avenue Parmentier, Paris 75011
*Alison Culliford is a freelance journalist based in Paris: firstname.lastname@example.org