I used to live in the SF Bay Area, but I didn't frequent SF itself. If you're willing to drive down to San Jose, I highly recommend The Analog Room, on Fruitdale Ave in San Jose. They carry ProAc. They also carry Sonus Faber, which I'd offer as an alternative suggestion.
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I would highly recommend both the analog room (they don't carry Sonus Faber but do carry proac and others...you can find Sonus Faber at Bay Area audio) as well as Saint Celia's. Saint Celia's carries Alon and I believe JM Reynaud and perhaps 3M. St. Celias is also outside of SF but an easy 30 minute drive.
Righin SF is San Fran stereo which sells B&W, Dynaudio as well as others.
I second the recommendation of St. Cecilia Sound Gallery in Heyward (http://www.scsoundgallery.com/). Brian, the owner, sells a fine selection of monitors, including the Reference 3A De Capo, Soliloquy, and Alon. The last time I was there, he had a pair of Silverline SR17s on sale, and I admit that I am partial to Silverline (I have Sonatinas myself).
Also over the bridge from SF is Music Lover's in Berkeley. They have Joseph Audio, Revel, and others.
As suggested above, I agree that The Analog Room in San Jose and Music Lovers in Berkeley are your best choices. have purchased equipment from both stores. If possible, I suggest you call both Retailers and arrange a time for your visit so they can set up what you want to hear. Good luck... cheers......
I purchased a Jeff Rowland Amplifier and ProAc 2.5 Speakers from The Analog Room. They were very helpful in both the equipment selection and listening process and I recommend the store. Of course, they have their likes and dislikes but I enjoyed working with both Brian and Scott. If you want to talk about it, please send me an email with your phone # and I will call you. thanks...
Bay Area Audio has some of the finest gear in the bay area - Thiel, Sonus Faber, Aerial, Krell, Audio Research, Martin Logan.
They are extremely helpful and allow you to listen for as long as you wish. I've been to all of the other places listed above, with the exception of St. Cecilia (I need to check them out. Sounds like a great place.) While they all offer some nice gear as well, I just wouldn't waste my time. There's nothing more frustrating than stepping foot in a high-end salon only to be met with rude sales people and no opportunity to audition...or just a very brief and poorly setup audition. I had this experience at The Audible Difference in Palo Alto. They carry some of the biggest names in audio - Wilson, Eggleston, Thiel, Revel, Vandersteen, BAT, ARC, Linn - but every time I've gone there I was brushed off and not given an opportunity to listen to anything. One time I asked if I could audition the Thiel CS-6s and they connected them to a 30wpc tube amp. They didn't have time to move things around and set them up properly. I listened to two tracks and bailed.
I agree with the positive opinions regarding Bay Area Audio. They have the best low-pressure listening experience I can remember in the Bay Area. They're knowledgable, friendly and go out of their way to help you learn. If there are not a mass of other people there, they're happy to let you listen all morning. Call ahead and they'll setup just about anything for you.
I also agree with the very negative opinions on The Audible Difference. I used to live in Palo Alto, less than a mile from them. More than once they left me with the impression that I just couldn't spend enough to make it worth their while to spend time with me. I was only spending ~$15K at the time, which in Silicon Valley during the boom years was apparently not that much. But that's their loss, because I still buy from The Analog Room and Bay Area Audio even though I live 2400 miles away. I didn't even go looking or those two places until AD proved that they didn't want my business. You might say that the "Difference" in their attitude was very "Audible" to me. Oh, and I've dropped another $40K or so since they pissed me off. These days that probably *does* amount to a real sale, even to Audible Difference.
And while I'm grousing, stay away from Magnolia Hi-Fi, also in Palo Alto. (Also about a mile from my house--what am I, a bozo attractor???) They have totally uninformed sales droids. When I'm spending this kind of money, I expect the sales staff to know more about your product than I do. One of their bozos insisted that a Krell KAV-300 was a "pre-amp" even after I pointed out that it was directly connected to the speakers and *had* to have an amplifier stage. I went there one other time and spoke with a different bozo, although he was somewhat less misinformed than the first one.
There are few things worse than a well informed Bozo, right Blw? ;-)
Add another positive vote for Bay Area Audio and a negative one for The Audible Difference. BAA was responsible for a fair portion of my early education in audio (Audiogon gets the blame for most of the rest...). The staff at BAA has *always* gone out of its way to be helpful. Even better, they even let customers just wander around and look. Very relaxed, comfortable environment. This is a shop I *want* to buy from.
The Audible Difference is, IMO, the other end of the spectrum. Like Blw, after numerous auditions (there and elsewhere) I had $15K in equipment picked out, but it wasn't worth their time to close the deal. To be fair, the last salesman that waited on me busted his butt waiting on people while his "peers" hid out in the backroom. My hope is he eventually found a position where his work ethic was better appreciated and more profitable, too.
There *are* a number of good shops here, but these two stand out.
No mention of Century Stereo. They used to be great back when their shop was in the ghetto. Now that they've opened their "state of the art" shop in Saratoga, it's not the greatest place to go. Plus their listening rooms are horrible. Nice home theather though....And I suppose therein lies the problem.
Oh...You also can't listen too loud 'cuz the folks from REI next door will come over and complain. Yep, they shoulda' stayed humble in the ghetto.
But, if you HAVE to listen to B&W and or Revel, you're still better off here than anywhere else that I know of.
Dan, you are right on the mark. When Century opened in El Paseo in Toga, I thougt, great, some high-end near my home. But, alas, another HT emporium. Guess I can't blame them if that's where the money sits. But you're also right, the rooms SUCK, the staff is about as knowledgeable as my dog, and they don't even try as hard as ole Arrow. :-)
There is another place just down the row called "Paradise". Much smaller, much more limited product line. Again, they focus on HT but the guys there do offer some help in two-channel, are freindly, but know little beyond their product line.
True enough 4yanx. I stopped in there one time to see if I could get a listen to a pair of Soliloquys and a pair of JM Labs monitors. The salesman wanted me to listen to them through an HT receiver. When I told him I was only interested in 2-channel, he tried to hook them up to a SimAudio integrated that was sitting out in the hallway. I guess I was supposed to put the listening chair out near the cash register!! I told him if that was the best he could do, then forget it. He seemed befuddled. I had forgotten about that place.
Take me back to the days of Elite Audio in Saratoga and Sound Goods in San Jose. They both carried some excellent gear had INCREDIBLY knowledgable sales people and were fun places to hang out. Bay Area Audio is the closest that I know of to the "old days" of hi-fi.
One more place to stay away from is Stereo Unlimited in Walnut Creek. I stopped in there to listen to some Magnepans. I figured that they HAD to be better than the only other BA Maggie dealer I know of (The Audible Difference). Was I ever wrong! The owner(s) sell their own aftermarket cables that are connected to everything. They also connect these funky tweeters to most of their speakers to increase the "ambience" or some such thing. The guy even wanted to demo the 3.6s with the speakers setup facing eachother. He said that it "sounds more like real music". When I finally convinced him to set them up in a more traditional orientation, he had his son drag them into position. He manhandled the speakers, leaving the external crossover hanging off the back of the speakers, dangling by the homemade wire and then dropped them onto the hardwood floors. He even bumped the 20.1s that they had sitting off to the side with the foot of the 3.6. I just cringed. On the plus side...they deal strictly in two-channel and carry some interesting tube gear such as Viva.
I went to Harmony Audio. They were great! I spent 2 hours in a room without interruption auditioning the Totem Mani-2's, Model 1s, and B&W N805'2. Frank and Smitty were generous with their time and information. Only several speaker lines represented, but if you are interested in these lines, well recomended.
My Comparison of the Above-Mentioned Three Speakers