Saturday 11 May 2024

NYC Explorations: Audio46, Stereo Exchange, and dwindling audiophile stores.

New York - after the rain.

Hey everyone, it's nice to be back home on the West Coast after the trip to NYC. May is a great time to visit so long as one catches some nice weather! At least it's not too hot yet. I'm sure if it were not for the COVID pandemic, I would have visited much sooner; the last time was back at the end of 2015.

Let's see, as we await the final results to come in for the "High-End DAC Blind Listening Survey" (closes on May 15, 2024), this week let's show a few pictures from New York, and see if I had any luck finding some good audio to listen to 🙂.

Central Park - Bethesda Fountain

I stayed just west of Times Square so was mainly looking for audio stores nearby, preferably within walking distance. With a little Google Maps search, I was able to find this place:

Audio46 Headphone Store is a narrow storefront just east of 6th Ave along 46th St. I didn't take a picture of the inside but they have a nice range of higher-end headphones along the wall from Audeze, HifiMan, Sennheiser among others. Quite a bit of stock as well on other components like DACs, ear buds, wireless gear. It looks like they do a significant amount of online business as well.

Staff was friendly and quickly offered to demo some headphones for me using music on my phone played through the Chord Mojo 2:

I indicated that I was interested in hearing some of their planar magnetic headphones and the salesman brought out the open-backed HifiMan Arya Organic to have a listen:

Nice headphones. Comfortable plush ear pads. Feels solid in the hand. Seems to be reasonably easy to drive. Overall I liked the sound of these, there's good treble extension without overly harsh, deep punchy bass with some of the synthpop music I had on my phone.

At a lower price point, we have the Audeze LCD-X for comparison:

Noticeably more sensitive than the HifiMan, imaging also more forward perhaps added to by the thick angular ear cups. A harsher treble to my ears comparatively so I think some EQ'ing is needed. Also feels pretty heavy which might be an issue with longer listening sessions.

I know some of you are Dan Clark fans. Here's the Dan Clark Audio E3:

Closed-back headphones. Surprisingly light and much less sensitive than either the LCD-X or Arya Organic as I clearly needed to push the Mojo 2's volume a bit. It sounds a lot more "polite" (certainly as compared to the LCD-X) and I suspect the frequency response is probably more accurate than the others.

Based on just the brief auditions, the HifiMan Arya Organic sounded great and seemed like a nice balance in a number of ways including price, comfort, and weight.

I was offered a very good initial price for these headphones without haggling easily comparable to deals online. Overall a really good experience. If you're shopping for headphones, DACs and headphone amps, I was treated very well here by the staff, walking in from the street in a T-shirt and shorts on a warm day. (I know in NYC, a number of the "high-end" audio stores historically have reputations of being rude to potential clients.)

Chinatown NYC. Great food, good prices...

I'm sure it's not easy competing with the big online companies like Amazon or NYC native B&H:

Given the shift towards "head-fi" over the years, I can certainly appreciate what Audio46 is doing as a nice example of getting into a niche that's in demand with a business that's both in-person with a real store front that provides direct customer service alongside those essential Internet sales.

Nearby a few blocks away, I see that the large music instrument & pro-audio store Sam Ash is closing and "everything must go":

Sam Ash music store.

Looks like much of the inventory has already been sold off. 

Not really much for audiophiles although I did spot this Pioneer PLX-1000 direct drive turntable at the back which might be alright; looks like it's been used and would need a little cleaning/dusting. This sucker is built like a tank!

Pioneer DJ PLX-1000, somewhat used and dusty platter - $500 anyone? I'd personally haggle the price down further given the condition.

Grand Central.

Now when it comes to "high-end" audiophile stores, I guess it's no surprise that the landscape has changed over the years in North America (for Asian audiophiles there are places like The Adelphi in Singapore which is like a permanent audio show!). It looks like many stores have moved these days to a "by appointment" system. Many of the stores out here have shifted to this model as well. For example, back in 2015, I showed pictures from the storefront for Stereo Exchange:

Stereo Exchange, circa late-2015.

I wasn't aware until I read some comments online that since 2017, this storefront has closed and the show room moved to a smaller space. Here's what it looks like today at street level:

Clearly a much smaller scale compared to the wide-open storefront of yesteryears when they had many listening spaces. I should have done some research before coming since it was quite late in the day by the time I arrived and didn't bother calling or buzzing.

Oh well... Maybe next time.

The Empire State from 34th St.

I'm sure we've all seen the gradual decline of audiophile stores in our cities over the years. One can just imagine the cost of running an audio store with listening rooms in a city like New York! Rent's prohibitive, cost-of-living to pay your salespeople reasonably would probably be quite high, and as noted above, when one could be competing with places like Amazon for AudioQuest cables (likely an example of a higher margin but "affordable" product), or B&H for amplifiers like those from NAD, these boutique stores are basically forced to cater to those willing to buy luxury brands and "exclusive" products. I can imagine for a certain clientele, this relationship with the dealer might be useful for set-up and advice down the road.

Alas that generation of classic audiophile proprietor who would have seen the hey-day of "stereo" component sales from the '70s to '90s is likely at least semi-retired or have passed on (recently Andrew Singer of Sound By Singer).

Here's a video of David and Ann Wasserman of Stereo Exchange after their downsize in 2017:

There's certainly a sweet nostalgia to the story and it's admirable how long this company has been around - 40 years is impressive perseverance catering to such a shifting niche market. I see Steve Guttenberg did a video of the showroom a few months back; yeah "Brick & Mortar is NOT DEAD!", but all across North America, the "mom and pop" audio stores are just a shadow of what they were.
“Heraclitus, I believe, says that all things pass and nothing stays, and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river.” - Plato (c. 400BC)
As time moves on and consumer demands change, while we can look back with nostalgia, I don't think there's anything wrong with transformation of the industry. These days, when it comes to guys' electronics purchases, advertising and commerce happens mainly on the Internet hence the growth of the number of reviewers and channels on YouTube. For some, there is the potential to extract a living not just from relationships built with the Industry, but also through residual affiliate sales, advertising "clicks", and also Patreon income.
[Full disclosure, I have affiliate links on this blog as well as advertising income for "beer money", it's easy to do, so why not?]
While not as good as having a local dealer nearby, I think the audio shows would be the only place where we can actually be in the physical presence of most of the luxury brands these days.

As for being the repository of information and advice, I'm of the opinion that the Internet has clearly become the best source for research, asking questions, and general discussions perhaps to the regret of certain Golden Ears who think they should have a larger voice. In particular, the increase in objective testing is now democratized more broadly as enthusiasts have access to equipment, providing us with the balance needed in an otherwise ocean of mere opinions.

This brings up thoughts around the role and utility of the "audio salesman". As brought up in this forum discussion, it's likely tough these days when high fidelity performance can be achieved without great difficulty to be a salesman/dealer who is honest, qualified (ie. good ears, well educated), and financially successful. Full honesty when it comes to "sound quality" could hamper financial success since one might not need to push luxury-priced, high margin items. And who know whether many of these guys have good hearing and "qualified" to render an opinion on sound quality - it's not like they or any of us go through mandatory blind listening or have standardized education/testing (like Certified Sommeliers, right? 😉).

We discussed in the comments last week that there's a younger generation interested in getting into the high-end audiophile advertising/sales game. Good luck to 'em. As usual, please, just say "no" to shilling of snake oil, OK?

I would love to meet the high-end audio salesman who's disciplined and honest enough to tell a rich luxury-oriented customer:
"Well Bob, I'm happy to sell you this beautifully made $600 2.5' AudioQuest Diamond USB cable. However, I need to tell you that in my experience this sounds no different than a good quality $20 cable I also have around here. You see, generally "bits are bits" and there will be no errors you can hear especially for short lengths. Your choice, my friend."
That salesman deserves an award! And also deserves respect from the customer as someone he can trust in the future. The customer, regardless of his wealth is not just a target to make a sale. Maybe give this a try with your local salesperson and see how he/she handles digital cables. 😏

Listening to hi-fi music reproduction is great, but it's not like listening to the real deal! Trinity Church Wall Street has been renovating their pipe organ over the last few years and it was wonderful going in for a listen while the organist was practicing before the evening service.

Trinity Church Wall Street

Beautiful graceful sound from those pipes. "Immersive" space as the notes reverberate through the chapel. As audiophiles, make sure we take the opportunity to listen to real instruments in real spaces in order to truly judge whether what we reproduce at home represents a reasonable simulation when listening to acoustic pieces.

Also while in New York, of course make sure to check out the live theater scene! (I was able to catch a couple of shows.)

Thought I'd pay this guy a visit when in Lower Manhattan...

Listening to Boris Blank's new album Resonance (2024, DR8 Stereo, DR13 Multichannel/Atmos) this weekend. Atmospheric electronica, nice spatial envelopment on "Ninive" and "Time Bridges". A more gentle album than most of his previous work.

Breakfast scene in Westway Diner, Hell's Kitchen - birthplace of 'Seinfeld'.

Hope you're all having a great May thus far and enjoying the music, dear audiophiles!

I'm planning to unblind the "High-End DAC Listening Survey" next weekend, friends. Get me your results in the next few days - by Wednesday May 15th. The result of this listening test would be well beyond the level of evidence of YouTube listening videos at the very least. 😏 Let's see as an aggregate of audiophiles beyond just the opinion of a few, what is heard, or not heard...


  1. I rely on this blog. Re: loss of Hi-Fi stores. As the cost of transportation (in particular driving to-and-from physical stores) get worse... I wonder if direct manufacturer-to-customer sales will become the norm. Examples: Schiit Audio Limited (moving the whole operation from CA to Texas?!); JDL Labs (Illinois).

    1. Hey there Paul,
      I think for sure the manufacturer-direct model makes sense these days. Companies like Emotiva, Benchmark, etc. have also been in this game for awhile.

      Some audiophiles might not like the idea, but with the technological progress over the last few decades resulting in many high quality devices being made these days, many consumers I think recognize objective testing will allow us to check that the device performs to a reasonable standard, and then the home listening assessment will determine if we keep the device based on how it looks, the usability, touch-and-feel of material quality. I think this is good enough for making purchasing decisions without audio showrooms. Magazine reviews and YouTube videos can be entertaining and put the word out there.

      In order to cover costs, fancy showrooms need to cater to more exotic luxury brands where the margins are higher to justify the middlemen.

      Hard to imagine the cycle reversing and us seeing more specialized audio showrooms with high-end gear going forward. Across the board with high tech gear, we don't see specialized stores any more. Few computer stores for example run by geeks; these days we're looking at big box retailers like B&H selling a range of products for a physical business model that actually makes money.

  2. Come to Chicago. Mom and pop stores are not dead and they are still around. Quintessence Audio is one I can think of. They will let you bring in a lunch and sit and listen. They are the type of shop that let's the equipment sell itself and are very knowledgeable. A real joy to visit. They also have big rooms at AXPONA.


    1. Cool Botrytis!
      It has been years since I've been down in Chicago. Maybe I should make a trip down there for AXPONA one of these days.

      Sounds like a really laid back place to allow listening while eating lunch 😎. That's one way to combat the stuck-up complaints we've heard over the years about some of these stores!

  3. I'm glad you had a good time in New York. I came her for grad school 40+ years ago and liked it so much I stayed. If I had had time to make sure it's still in business, I would have recommended my favorite China Town dim sum restaurant for Saturday brunch. (Restaurants come and go around here even faster than audio/video stores.) Next time you visit, for a concert in a truly huge space you might look for something in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine ( And I'd recommend a snack afterwards at the Hungarian Pastry shop across the street.

    1. Nice Mike,
      Next time I'm in NYC, will make sure to reference this post to check out the cathedral - didn't know this was the world's largest Gothic cathedral!

      Yummm, the pastry shop sounds great as well and always interested in some good dim sum. :-)

  4. Holler if anyone wants to meet near Chicago. I can host - I make a mean pulled pork and it is a chill situation - I INSIST. The way I roll.

    I know where SOME of the shops are at - WE CAN FIND THE OTHERS!!


    1. Sounds good man! Will let you know when I'm down where you are. :-)

  5. your report is great! loss of Hi-Fi stores is a worldwide crunch.

    1. Hey Aasffg,
      Hopefully in the next year or 2 I'll get a change to go back to Singapore. Would love to spend a day out at The Adelphi again and compare how it's like these days after the pandemic. Hope the mall there is still going strong.

      Wondering where you're located...