The Trenches: San José's The Analog Room
Andrew Chasin visits an analog oasis in Silicon Valley
By virtue of its proximity to the epicenter of the technology world, San José, California plays host to a surprising number of shops specializing in the high-end. Although a recent trip to this sun-drenched metropolis of nearly 800,000 didn't allow me time to explore all of the fine shops contained therein, the allure of analog drew me to a small, inconspicuous store dubbed The Analog Room, located in the city's downtown core.
Located in a small, unassuming house-like structure, bearing no sign of the store's existence, The Analog Room is the antithesis of garish and tawdry. Once inside the shop, the vinylphile is greeted immediately by a most beautiful sight - tightly-packed bins containing thousands of new, used, and reissued LPs. The Analog Room is, in fact, home to one of the best collections of vinyl I've seen since the dawn of digital. All the usual suspects are in plentiful supply - Mercurys, EMIs, Deccas, London Bluebacks, and Shaded Dogs, to name but a few, many in superb condition (a mint original Mercury Living Presence release of Paul Paray and the Detroit Symphony performing works by Emanuel Chabrier fooled me into thinking it was a reissue - that is until I caught a glimpse of its $200 price tag). The reissue houses, as well as those stalwart souls still releasing new vinyl, are also well represented here. Titles from the likes of Audioquest, Analogue Productions, Blue Note, and Classic Records were in great abundance. Besides feeding the habits of Silicon Valley LP collectors, The Analog Room also does a brisk mail-order business.
Although a great source of new and used vinyl, The Analog Room is also a source of other rare delights - namely turntables, tonearms, cartridges, and a plethora of analog accessories. Representing many of the analog world's finest, including Basis, Benz, Graham, Linn, Oracle, SME, Transfiguration, and VPI, The Analog Room is truly a mecca for the vinyl enthusiast. Rarely will one see such a wide array of analog front ends under one roof, all meticulously set-up and ready to audition.
The Analog Room's three small but inviting sound rooms housed systems of varying, but impressive, pedigree. The largest of the three rooms played host to both a VPI TNT Mk.IV/JMW-12/ and an SME 20/SME V, the lovely, Wavestream Kinetics monoblocks, and a pair of Avalon Radian loudspeakers. A focal point of this room was the nearly floor-to-ceiling, built-in record shelves lining the rear wall, stocked with some of the finest examples of the LP's golden age. Room number two contained a Basis 2500/Graham 2.0/Transfiguration Spirit combination, and a stunning Oracle Delphi Mk.V. This room also featured phono stages from E.A.R. and Acoustech, electronics from Sonic Frontiers (the Line and Power series), a Jeff Rowland Concentra integrated amplifier, and loudspeakers from Avalon. Finally, room three contained a variety of gear including a VPI Aries/JMW-10/Benz-Micro L0.4, a Basis 1400/RB300, Spendor loudspeakers, and a Naim CD 3.5 CD player, certainly one of the more analog-like keepers of ones and zeros.
Although I wasn't aware of this fact prior to my visit, The Analog room is owned and operated by one Brian Hartsell, avid vinyl enthusiast and well-known contributor to some of the high-end's most prominent journals. The shop also plays home to amplifier manufacturer Wavestream Kinetics, owned by designer Scott Frankland (formerly of Moore-Frankland Associates). While Mr. Frankland toiled in the workshop over one of his pyramidal tubed creations, Mr. Hartsell spoke candidly, cigar in hand, about his shop's philosophy and his views on the high-end industry. As our discussion shifted to music and its enjoyment through fine systems, it became abundantly clear that Mr. Hartsell's love of music transcended that of the playback gear itself. He spoke in terms of emotion and involvement, not signal-to-noise ratios and sampling rates. An audio retailer whose first love is the music - a rare bird indeed.
If you find yourself in, or within driving distance of, San José, California, I urge you to visit The Analog Room. Come for the LPs, stay for the chat and the sweet sounds that only stylus-in-groove can summon.
1416 Fruitdale Avenue
phone: (408) 971-6158, fax: (408) 971-7103
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, web: http://www.theanalogroom.com
Store hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00AM to 7:00PM, Pacific Time
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