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Brick-and-mortar store demos 100 headphones

32 Ohm Audio is a different kind of "head shop," it sells headphones, headphone amplifiers and all sorts of related peripherals in Portland, Oregon.

32 Ohm Audio

Reading about the sound of high-end headphones on my blog is one thing, but there aren't too many places where you can actually compare the sound of top-of-the-line headphones before you buy a pair.

That's why Ken Ball started 32 Ohm Audio. The shop has about 100 headphone models on hand from AKG, Beyerdynamic, Denon, Grado, JH Audio, Koss, Monster, Skullcandy, Sennheiser, Ultrasone, and so on, as well as a large assortment of headphone amplifiers and digital-to-analog converters you can try out. Or you can just plug the headphones directly into your iPod or Zune to try them. You can't do that online, and face it, there's no substitute for an ears-on headphone audition.

It seems as if I'm always getting e-mails from readers asking about the difference in sound quality between decent set of $100 'phones and a top of the line $1,000 Grado or Sennheiser. I understand the dilemma, but all I can do is report what I hear. I'm thrilled there's at least one place where people can go hear them with their own ears. The store also sells custom-molded in-ear headphones from JH Audio, which 32 Ohm Audio can demonstrate before you buy--the shop work with a local audiologist who makes custom ear molds.

Don't get the wrong idea, most of 32 Ohm Audio's customers aren't buying $1,000 headphones, but because of the store, they know they exist. Ken Ball says the Grado SR 80i ($95) is, "Dollar for dollar, the best sounding headphone you can buy, they're amazing."

Headphone comfort is another area that's subjective, there's no substitute for putting a pair on your ears, and listening to a song or two to see how they feel. Sure, they might feel fine at first, but give 'em some time before you commit to buying them.  I'm sensitive to headphones that make my ears sweat, as the B&W P1's do for me. However, the P1 doesn't have that effect on everyone, so you can't know in advance how it's going to work for you.

32 Ohm Audio stocks close to 100 different headphone models. 32 Ohm Audio

It's also great to hear how a high-end headphone amplifier can transform the sound of a headphone--it's not a small change. The same applies to digital converters; at 32 Ohm Audio you can hear the difference. Bring your laptop in and have 32 Ohm set you up with a first-class headphone rig.

Ken Ball has a successful high-end business, ALO Audio, and this is his venture into retail. The 8-month-old store is still a work in progress. Ball says some of his customers buy gear to use at home with their computers. After all, a pair of decent headphones will blow away most computer speakers. And he says that some 32 Ohm Audio customers also use headphones with their home hi-fi systems.

The store services or expedites service for products it sells. If a headphone connector or cable breaks, there is no need for you to send it back to the manufacturer, 32 Ohm Audio will put on a new connector for $15.

It's too bad that 32 Ohm Audio has just one location, but it has a Web site where you can buy headphones. If you know of any other shops offering comparable selection, please tell us about it in the comments section.

32 Ohm Audio is located in the Hawthorne District at 4530 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, Ore.