Listen before you buy a hi-fi, what a great idea

Today's hi-fi buyers rarely get to compare one speaker with another to see which sounds the best. That happens every day at In Living Stereo in NYC!

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

I sold high-end audio in New York City for 16 years before I started writing. Talking one-on-one with my customers taught me a lot about how a broad range of people relate to hi-fi. Those experiences influenced my writing, because I know firsthand that there's not a lot of agreement about what constitutes "good sound." You have to listen for yourself to really know if you love the sound. You might do that at a friend's house, but the best place to compare and learn what you like is in a hi-fi store

'Baby' and 'papa' Line Magnetic tube amplifiers at In Living Stereo Steve Guttenberg

I've blogged about In Living Stereo before, when it was a cool little hi-fi shop in New York's Greenwich Village, but they moved a few blocks south, and they now have a much larger store. It's big enough to fit an awesome record shop within the hi-fi store.

I recently chatted with ILS' owner, Steven Mishoe, about why he's still running a brick-and-mortar hi-fi store, and he said, "I do it for the fun of it. I'm a member of this community, I know all the shop owners, and I enjoy the interaction with people." He's 44, which makes him the youngest hi-fi store owner in Manhattan, and his shop's relaxed vibe reflects that. The brands he selects are, for the most part, from smaller, quirkier high-end companies, like Halide Design, EMT, Leben, and Shindo Laboratory. There's also a smattering of more familiar high-end brands like Dynaudio and Rega.

In Living Stereo mostly offers two-channel gear, but Mishoe also does home theater. He focuses on turntables and vacuum tube electronics, but there's a sampling of great sounding digital and solid-state gear on display. Mishoe explained his point of view by saying, "Mainstream high-end audio is off the beaten path, and I'm trying to get further off that path." There's a very definite music orientation to In Living Stereo, and just about every time I drop by I hear music I have to buy.

Record shoppers at In Living Stereo Steve Guttenberg

Mishoe has a fondness for companies that have something to say. He recently brought in Line Magnetic, a Chinese company building affordable electronics based on old Western Electric tube designs. Their baby amp, the Audio Mini 218 ($795), can drive headphones or speakers. I was happy to see the store has the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 speakers ($349/pair) I raved about last year. Complete systems start around $1,200.

The greatest thing about hi-fi stores, at least the really good ones like In Living Stereo, is that you can hear and compare Brand A with Brand B or C. If you call ahead and arrange for it, you can compare your speakers or maybe even your old Denon receiver with one of the store's tube amps. That way you'll know where you stand.

The record store stocks new and used LPs, and it's attracting a new stream of customers to In Living Stereo. If you're in or near NYC, and love hi-fi or vinyl, check it out.