The Demise of the Hi-End Audio Store

Ok. So I've read hundred's of forum posts from a lot of people and one question keeps popping into my head. Where does everyone listen (test out) all of this equipment? I don't know about you but I live in a fairly populated area, Cleveland/Akron Ohio area, and while there are a few (and I only mean a few) high end audio stores in my area, there are limited hi end brands in those stores. Ten years ago that was a different story, but this is the reality today.

So while I want to listen to equipment I'm interested in (Jolida, Prima Luna, Silverline, LSA, the list goes on and on), there isn't the opportunity.

Does everyone really travel hundreds of miles to listen to new components or do you do your research and buy what you think will work and go from there?

Go to audio shows. You can be exposed to many different pieces,
and ask questions about what you are auditioning.

Develop a relationship with online retailers, such as The Cable Company,
who will allow you to audition pieces in your home.

Read audio magazines to learn about new products.

Seek out an audio club, where like minded enthusiasts meet
and trade information about what is/is not working for them,
and their experience with different pieces.
The idea a local store carried all you could ever want... IS A MYTH !!!
NO stores carried more than a few major brands.. and a few smaller ones.
Back in the 60's 70' 80's a local store had a limited set of brands. Period.
Starting in the 90s is really when everyone suddenly realized the internet allowed us to buy ANYTHING made.
That is when we became free to start wanting ANY brand..
Before that, it was what was available locally, or in the nearby big cities..
So I say 'get over it' not being able to audition any brand.. No one EVER could!!

I personaly was thrilled a local dealer went back to carrying magnepan. Becasue that meant i could listen to them.
Lucky for me he also carried Bryston. No onecarried the other brands of amplification I wanted to try...

As for now, we live in amazing times.. Stuff is available. ANY stuff you want.
Geez.. I live in So. California and within a 20 min. drive of 6, I repeat 6 hi-end establishments. 3 are brick and mortar , 3 are stucco and brick--they sell out of their homes. I'm probably leaving out a few. Two sell Wilson speakers-(do we really need two?)and all carry a whole slew of products.Yes I may be fortunate here but I mostly buy my stuff on audiogon.
Elizabeth is right. No one I know travels far and wide to hear something save for some audio show, and then everyone is always apologizing for the sound due to the venue.

Back in the day, salons carried only select brands that they liked or could sell and if one ever brought up another brand they didn't carry, the session could go sour real quick, especially if you didn't back down.

The way to go now seems to be sites like Audio Geek and Cable Co. and others who will send out a demo piece (using your CC as collateral) and all you'll be out of pocket for is the return shipping when you're done. If you ask me, that kind of widens the playing field as long as you're not demoing full range speakers and the like.

I'm still on the fence about demoing a Luxman SQ-N10 tube integrated from the Cable Co. myself.

All the best,
We here in NY have it good. There are very few brands that we do not have access to--even after Sound By Singer closed it's large downtown store (and reopened an appointment only location). Without any deep thinking, I count 10 high end shops in Manhattan alone---- all stocked with different brands. Add NJ to the mix with the likes of Audio Connection, GTT Audio, Audio Nexus, CSA Audio and others --and you've pretty much got the field covered. We realize how lucky we are.
I've been using the Audio Mart/ AudiogoN/ Audio Trader/ etc "buy 'n try" method for the last couple of decades. I do some research, and have come to know some folks whose ears I trust (non-media). In my opinion, there really is no substitute for listening to the piece of equipment in YOUR room, with YOUR gear and cables, using music that YOU are familiar with and YOUR ears.

For me, listening at dealers did not really give me much help. Whether I was unfamiliar with the room, other equipment or cables. Too many times I found that things sounded different at the dealers then in my home.
We here in NY have it good. There are very few brands that we do not have access to--even after Sound By Singer closed it's large downtown store. There are at least 12 high end shops in Manhattan that I can think of without any real effort---- all stocked with different brands. Add NJ to the mix with the likes of Audio Connection, GTT Audio, Audio Nexus, CSA Audio and others --and you've pretty much got the field covered. We realize how lucky we are.
So there you go. Nothing to complain about. I do relate to the OP though. Yes, they only carried a few brands. But a handful of hi end shops in a population of 200,000 or so covered the entire range, pretty well. All the best brands were represented. Carly Simon summed it up pretty well also.
Every year there are at least half a dozen audio shows spread out across the country (last yr NY, MI, FL, GA, CA, NV, WA, MO, CO, TX, DC) No one has to travel more than two states away to find at least 80-175 brands represented.

I realize that doesn't replace taking one home for a week, it is an opportunity to listen and talk with the Rep. and see if they have a philosophy that gels with your own idea of sound reproduction.

Keep in mind that this is a hobby with limited appeal to most 7.3 billion people worldwide. You may have to put forth a little effort to participate.
Going to a high-end shop or show to listen is akin to test driving a car you plan to buy. It's something we do, but it means little. In the end we have to depend on information from the people that do it for a living. The professionals. Read, read, and read some more, decide on a guru / trusted friends, then take your chances.
I agree with Elizabeth on this one. The farther out in the hinterlands you are or were the fewer stores and items to audition so the internet is great. Hell, out on the prairie it's hard to find an audiophile much less a real live brick and mortar high end audio store. On the coasts the situation is probably different.
I'm fortunate that my work has me traveling all over the country on a regular basis. This gives me the luxury of being able to visit many different audio stores across the nation and listen to pieces of equipment that I otherwise might only see on the pages of magizines or on the internet.

Al. Wise
In my town, about 20 miles from New York City, we have a high end true audio/video shop, but we also have a large B&O retail store front at street level. The high end is on the second floor, mainly to discourage walk ins and has 'attitude' that is on par with Lyric/Singer in New York City. The B&O store has been around about ten years, the high end about 30 years. The town is fairly wealthy, and has a vibrant downtown scene. Someone going into the B&O store will get a very pleasant experience, oriented to customer satisfaction. Their demo's do not impress. I go to B&O often, never buy but just to remind myself why B&O is a better sales experience that has long left hi-end shops.
Thanks so much for all of your responses. I did not know that an option like "The Cable Company" existed.

Who are some of your most trusted sources for information?

Thanks again.
I personally go to hifi shops not to listen and buy equipment but to demo a system that the dealer has put together to try and impress. I figure that if i demo the most expensive and well thought out rooms it can give me a baseline to compair what I am hearing at home. My wife knows that when we go somewhere on vacation I am going to be heading to the local hifi shop before we leave. In Oklahoma we have a total of 1 in the state and all they carry is B&W and Classe. Quite honestly I agree with some of the others in that demoing gear to hear a specific piece is worthless. I hear guys all the time saying they went to demo an amp or pre etc, generally they are listening to a system full of all different components and they think they can hear the amp. Right lol
Not in order of importance but there's any number of online reviewers who will get back to you. Then there's Elliot Midwood of Acoustic Image who lives close by and like Hifigary said, if you live in an area where there are some salons or homes where they operate out of, relationships can and will develop.

Despite all I mentioned, your ears are the final arbiter. As much as I value what resources I've developed, I've found enough space between they and me that I end up trusting my own ears (and wallet).

All the best,
Here's an idea. Find out what stores are within a few hundred miles of you and take a weekend trip to fly down (Southwest Airline,etc.) fairly inexpensive. Stay a hotel nearby, contact the dealer and tell them you plan on coming by to audition some of their equipment. Make a weekend trip out of it. I live in the LA area. There really aren't that many stores that I really trust. So, taking a trip to Northern California or to San Diego is not a big deal for me. About 120 miles to San Diego and about 400 miles to Northern California. If I am thinking of spending a considerable amount to upgrade equipment, I will not purchase without listening first and most times won't purchase without it being demo'd in my system. My favorite store in San Diego has no problem allowing me to take home demo pieces for a week or so to audition. My point is make a list of the products you may be interested in. Get on-line and find out where the dealers are for those products and hopefully, they have more than one at their shop and make a weekend trip of it.
just a thought.

Panfish, how's Audio Craft in Cleveland? I've passed it before when visiting the city on business. Have you heard the Golden Ear speakers? They are supposed to be a dealer.
listening at a dealer will not tell you what a compoent sounds like. you need to get the component installed in your own system.

you may need to travel, or deal over the web.
Check out the Capitol Audiofest, this summer,
just outside Washington, DC.
You can fly down, or drive, and stay in the host hotel at a discounted rate.
I believe this is a perfect setting for you. It will be much like
a major car show, except test drives are included, and encouraged...
So, you can both listen, and learn!
Buconero117, that sounds like Summit!
In a small town where I lived there was a store that sold Audio Aero, Rega, entry-level Marantz. and Proac. Auditioning equipment in an artificial in-store environment proved to be of no value, it never sounded the same way as in one's own home. So, buying on internet used and reselling what didn't work was the only viable option. Ironically, after many years of merry-go-round, I ended up with my final system of Marantz Reference and Proac, bought on internet new and at a very good discount that the local dealer could never touch. So, go figure...
Buconero117--I've been to the second floor and, sadly, it is as bad as you say. But I have had much better experiences at the other NJ high end dealers. Some will let you take the gear home over the weekend for an audition in your system, which takes the guess work out of the equation. Having said that, several of my purchases over the past few years have been dealer direct (with a thirty day trial) and I have been happy with that approach since I get to buy new (with warranty), get to try first (because you really need to know how a piece of equipment sounds in YOUR room and system) and get to save money (because bypassing the dealers gets you more for your audio dollars).

I too feel your pain. Luckily, I travel on business and take every opportunity to seek out a B&M operation in every town/city.
I'm with John on this one home is where it's at. I've been Agon for 12 years now and the combo of buying used gear and trying it at home, or borrowing pieces to take home from my local retailer has served me well. Pretty sure that over the years of buying and selling here I have pretty much broken even from my original purchases and along the way tried many different pieces. It's fun, not really that hard to do, and there is no telling what a piece of gear really sounds like until you get it home. That being said having a good retailer nearby is a huge plus and I am blessed to have Deja Vu Audio nearby, plus a few other decent stores in the DC area.
Buconcero, Rcprince, Dodgealum,
I also visited the second floor as they advertised Wavelength Audio products.
I was cheerfully greeted. Upon my query about Wavelength, was brought over to see their Brick Dac. When I explained that I was actually interested in amplifiers, the salesman said "we don't carry those" and walked away.
I was the only costumer in the store at the time.
Needless to say I ended up buying two pairs here.
I am now a very happy, multiple return costumer, here.

The Soundstation Bartlesville OK is another excellent store in your state

Good Listening

Since the hi-end model shifted to making a lot of money off each unit from making a decent amount off more units, stores can only operate in places with a large amount of fools with a lot of money. In the USA this means the financial centers like NYC, SF and CHI.
Nice one, Schubert. So all those who shop at hi-end stores are fools with a lot of money? Pretty broad brush, I would say.
Friends, we are a dying breed, ageing and falling in numbers. Shops, high or low end, can only be supported by a customer base, it is tiny. Take a look at the magazines, they were sold in the 100's of thousands in the 70's. I think it was reported recently that HiFi+ had a worldwide sale of 6 or 8000, that's all. I know they have an online version, but the market is tiny.
Paradoxically we have more and more brands, often selling a few high cost units a year, built by hand, to order.
These numbers, this market, can't really support expensive, bricks and mortar stores. Even in large conurbations, I do'nt know how they survive. In Minnesota, where Great Northern Sound was, till it closed, sadly, you do'nt really have a passing trade.
Then we'll die. And the people who remain can listen to MP3's, view the world through their I-phones and eat at McDonalds. I leave them to it and wish them the best of luck.
In NYC. amomg Wall St and Forex traders, 50 K is an impulse buy. In Mpls. to young MBA crowd it requires thought, the average young Mayo Doc wil burst out laughing
Schubert, "the hi-end model shifted to making a lot of money off each unit from making a decent amount off more units"

This assertion is 100% accurate.

Audiocraft in Cleveland is pretty decent. They used to be very heavy into McIntosh but it looks like they switched to other brands. I need to get over ther to listen to the Golden Ears for sure. Audiocraft used to have a few stores and carried a much wider variety. But that was years ago.

There is another store I heard of within the last week called Don Better Audio. He actually carries some rather unique product.

Thanks PBNaudio, I will have to check them out at some point.

I think you're words really sum up the situation. I never thought it would come to that but life goes on.
Chayro, well said.IMHO given the state of music today, an Ipod is overkill.
In the 40 yrs I've been an audiofool, I've never understood why anyone who doesn't listen to acoustic jazz or classical music bothers with audio in the first place.
I know if not for Bach, Brahms , Miles etc this old retired teacher would never had made the sacrifice my modest 15K system represents to me.
I have personally gone into several stores, in several states. It always amazes me at how uninterested most of the salespeople are in helping a walk in customer. The stores are like ghost towns. It is not like they are too busy to answer my questions. I think in today's market, the audio shows are your best shot. I don't know of any store who can afford to stock multiple brands of ultra high end gear, when it may take months to sell! Turning your inventory is key to staying in business.
Yeah, it was kind of profound at that. :)
the future is manufacturer's going direct, selling their wares on the net.

dealer networks add a layer of mark up.
I think I remember seeing pictures of some stores somewhere in Asia with boxes of hi-end stuff stacked on the shelves the way Staples does it - but instead of Dell and HP, you have Audio Research and Sonus Faber. I don't remember the brands exactly, but that's the gist of it. We're not used to that marketing model in the US, but hey, why not?

Also, Mr. Tennis - I'm not sure that direct marketing will lead to significantly lower prices. Look at ZU, for instance. I beleive the speakers were the same price for dealers and direct. With the direct marketing model, the manufacturer takes on additional responsibilities that necessarily drive up costs.
Chayro, based on your pictures, I remember a USA manufacturer telling me years ago that 75% of their market was in Asia. I always found it ironic that we Americans tend to buy Asian gear while the Asians buy American gear. I guess it's all about something foreign and exotic. :)
Could be that rich asians tend to be better educated and more cultured than rich americans.
"Could be that rich asians tend to be better educated and more cultured than rich americans"

Or it could not be. It's more likely, just as it is here. A few love music and Some (most) want it for the status. Same reason oil rich, middle eastern princes, own dozens of exotic cars in a country with ten miles of paved roads. Moral? People with money will spend it!
The first high end dealer I went to recommended I just buy what he had. I thought it sounded okay but was curious about what MORE could I get. Was I missing out on something better? Was my Holy Grail just around the corner at the next high end shop? He warned me about going to endless stores as I would just get confused.

He was right.

Then again, before the internet, I would have just bought an Onkyo from the same store I purchased my Panasonic (which died after 12 years). Would have been too stupid to realize I wasn't getting something very good if it wasn't for the internet =:-0
The way I view a B&M operation, it is only as good as the owner wanting to succeed.
Happy Listening!
I agree with much if not all said above. There's only a few hi-end stores in the Philly area. And I think the difficulties mentioned above about working with B&M shops is no less true here. The old days when I could hang around a store and just listen, learn and schmooze are no more.

Today I read a lot, especially the many comments and experiences of audiophiles right here on A'gon. I take with a grain of salt reviewer article when I see every free space loaded with equipment ads. Sometimes I feel the reviewer is just advertising for his sponsors. In the old days J Gordon Holt's Stereophile "booklet" did not accept advertising. Not so today.

So I guess my approach is read as much as I can, buy pre-owned, try and keep what I like, and sell if not, or if I want to try something else. I find that I don't lose a lot of $$ on resales if I stick to top grade gear like ARC.
Bifwynne, I spent years listening at high end stores and ARC was my favorite. Now I have PrimaLuna with NOS tubes that I like even better, although I must add, you have to buy the high priced tubes to bring it up to the level of ARC.

This is just something else to consider if you like ARC, also the sound is a little "fatter" is the only way I can explain the difference, and I like "fatter".
One reason I'm off tubes, buy a 2k pre and then need 3k worth of NOS tubes, which likely as not, are fakes anyway.