Audiophiles – are THEY hearing something WE are not?

Beneath the most unremarkable houses lurk the most remarkable sound systems. Alexis Petridis investigates.

In a room off the hotel lobby, I find Steve, a building contractor from Essex, who has devoted his spare time to assembling the most deranged-looking hi-fi system I’ve ever seen.

The speakers have something resembling the horn from an old gramophone on top of them: they’re called Acapella High Violons and you have to play music through them continually for 14 days to “break them in”. They sell for £40,000 a pair. (This makes them Acapella’s entry-level model: its top-of-the-range speaker costs around £350,000, looks like someone nailed two tubas to a mid-Eighties Habitat shelving unit and can only be used in rooms over 131sq ft.)

His turntable has two platters, one on top of the other. The bottom one spins round in the opposite direction to the one on top: apparently it’s designed on the same engineering principle as the counter-rotating blade of a helicopter. There are only two in the UK, possibly because its recommended retail price is £30,000. It’s sitting on top of something that looks remarkably like a Black & Decker Workmate bench. It turns out that this is because it is a Black & Decker Workmate bench.

Someone hands Steve an album and he puts it on, and it becomes apparent that, however crazy his system looks, that’s nothing compared to how it sounds.

The old line about great hi-fi making  .....