'Audio cafe' in Sim Lim Square draws audiophiles, coffee lovers

Miss Kristy Song is the founder of Zeppelin & Co, which has built up a steady following just three months after opening. Its open, casual nature made it a hangout for those looking for a place to meet.
Miss Kristy Song is the founder of Zeppelin & Co, which has built up a steady following just three months after opening. Its open, casual nature made it a hangout for those looking for a place to meet.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Amid the bright fluorescent-lit stores that line the corridors of Sim Lim Square, a shop with bare concrete walls and narrow windows that enclose a cafe on the second floor sticks out like a sore thumb.

But Zeppelin & Co is not just another establishment banking on $5 lattes in an iconic location to attract the hipster crowd.

Its founder, Miss Kristy Song, 35, wanted to open an "audio cafe" where customers, from newcomers to serious audiophiles, can have a quiet, comfortable place to test audio equipment.

This was borne out of her experience as a consumer looking for shops where she could take her time in a peaceful environment to find headphones she really liked.

"If I'm testing different headphones, I would like to sit down. And if I were to sit down for a while, I get thirsty and would like a drink. And since coffee and music go together, I decided to put both elements in the store," she said.

The store's cool, minimalist vibe, due to its concrete flooring, exposed ceiling and wooden furniture, stands in stark contrast to the rest of the mall.

"We wanted it to be industrial chic, not industrial shabby," said Miss Song. "Not every single shop selling headphones must be techy or geeky and look like it's full of stock on display."

The cafe section stocks fare that's foreign to the rest of Sim Lim Square - cold brew coffee from local brewer Made Cold, tea from Ette Tea, and cakes from local indie patisserie inthebrickyard.

It is equally selective on the tech front, boasting a range of audio products from consumer-level earphones and Bluetooth speakers priced below $100, to high-end Focal headphones and Astell & Kern digital audio players that run into the thousands of dollars.

The store attracts both audiophiles and cafe-hoppers alike. Sometimes, customers walk in the latter and emerge from the former. "We have had people walk in for a cup of coffee and leave with a brand new pair of headphones."

Zeppelin & Co - named after the classic English rock band Led Zeppelin - opened three months ago, but already has a steady following among audiophiles. Due to its open, casual nature, it has become a hangout for those looking for a place to meet.

"The best part was seeing people, hobbyists who didn't know each other initially, meet and come together in the store. They talk, exchange tips and become friends - and so we want to just keep this casual environment here where anyone can talk to anyone," said Miss Song.

One such audiophile is Mr Erei Chua, 19, a student from Nanyang Polytechnic, who has been frequenting the store on a weekly basis ever since discovering it two months ago. "It's the only place where I can step in, stay as long as I want, listen to music and also grab a coffee," he said.

Lester Hio

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline ''Audio cafe' in Sim Lim Square draws audiophiles, coffee lovers'. Print Edition | Subscribe