In the Trenches: Audio and Music in New York City

[Another very popular article from our archives, this one from our ‘In the Trenches’ series. It was a great trip! – Ed]

Wow! New York City. Just like I pictured it. With skyscrapers and everythang! With apologies to Stevie Wonder, I could well imagine a person’s initial impression of the Big Apple. Bewilderment and confusion, maybe? For me, there is an excitement that touches just about everything in the city, especially its rich cultural heritage. It’s the only place on earth I feel completely energized while giving me the feeling that I am truly at the center of the world. My many trips to Manhattan have been primarily for music business, so it was with the greatest of pleasure that Andrew Chasin and I found ourselves in NYC for the purely selfish act of promoting Audiophilia Online Magazine and checking out the local scene for “The Trenches” series.

Day One

Circumstances beyond our control (don’t ask!) prevented us from flying down together. So after our respective smooth landings at La Guardia and Newark we met up at A Classical Record (547 West 27th Street), among the best, but certainly the most expensive, of rare LP shops [now closed - Ed]. Charming proprietor, Albert ten Brink, gave us the Cooks tour. The photographs do not do justice to the magnificent collection of records housed in the three rooms. Thousands upon thousands of rare and out-of-print LPs are graded and filed carefully for the well-heeled audiophile and music lover. Andrew and I escaped with Visa cards somewhat the worse for wear. A Classical Record is a must visit for any lover of classical vinyl.

A short ride to 18 East 16th Street brought us to legendary audio salon, Sound by Singer. Starting out in a basement nearly twenty years ago, lawyer Andy Singer now presides over splendid showrooms with a staff of eighteen – rather a lot for a high-end audio store. The location and building’s façade are absolutely first rate. Andrew and I did not announce our affiliation wondering if guys off the street would receive polite and ready service. We’ve all read numerous accounts of the deadly cocktail of New York angst mixed with high-end attitude. I’m sure there is some truth in the rumor but, happily, not on this occasion. Mr. Singer was very accommodating and had a kind word for us before we introduced ourselves, after which, we settled in for an hour-long chat about the audio business, with a special emphasis on the difficulties of purveying high-end wares in New York City. It made for a very pleasant afternoon.


Andy’s store has many lines (too many, perhaps?) that are displayed very well. We had a chance to listen for a while – Avalon Acoustics Radians played exquisite Schubert cello music (Mischa Maisky on a Phillips recording) helped along by the Audio Note CD3, Krell FPB 600 power amplifier and the superb conrad johnson Premier 16 preamp. For a confirmed vinylphile, I could have walked away with this digital system and lived a happy life. It was superb.

You want a turntable, arm and cartridge? You’ve come to the right place! Analog gear was very well represented with lines such as SME, Basis, Rega, Linn, Forsell, Benz, Graham, Grado, Clearaudio, Immedia, and Lyra! Other lines carried by Singer include VTL, Verity Audio, Theta, JM Labs, Cary, Lamm, Sonic Frontiers, Audio Physic, Cardas, Muse, EgglestonWorks, and Transparent Audio.

Visually, Sound by Singer rates as one of the two finest stores I have seen, the other being its primary NYC competition, Lyric Hi Fi (1221 Lexington Ave). The location and frontage of Lyric are spectacular. We used the same introductory protocol with Lyric as we had with Sound by Singer. After being buzzed in, we walked around and observed excellent listening rooms and well-displayed equipment. After introductions, a very pleasant salesman showed us around the different rooms. Sadly, the General Manager was not so pleasant [this guy was SO rude! Thoroughly unpleasant – Ed]. Andrew realized that this gentleman had recently been the focus of an unpleasant exchange in a highly-regarded print magazine. We presumed his obnoxious way with our magazine came from the once-bitten-twice-shy school. Begrudgingly, he allowed us some photographs, but the tape machine was verboten!

Sound was good in several rooms. The huge Genesis I speaker system made fine music with Burmester everything. The German Burmester gear looks spectacular with price tags to match. When walking into the room, the manager told us we were about to hear the finest sound reproduction in the world. He was wrong. Other rooms included equipment from Revel (the new Salon loudspeaker), Magneplaner, Levinson, B&W, Classé and Jadis.

During the evening, Andrew and I attended a seminar given by Balanced Audio Technology’s Geoffrey Poor, and hosted, superbly I may add, by Innovative Audio (150 East 58th Street). Innovative is located in the basement of the Architects and Designers building. It’s a neat place, beautifully appointed with a gentlemanly approach offered by the sales staff – they were obviously proud of their new digs having recently moved in (another Innovative store is located in Brooklyn). The evening belonged to BAT, but during the break, I had a chance to peruse the other rooms. I think B&W have made some serious investment with their new “Nautilus” series of loudspeakers – they could be found in Manhattan, Scarsdale and White Plains! The look of the 801s was suitably Alien-like, with a powerful and imposing presence. They sound good, too. Other lines maintained by Innovative include Jeff Rowland, Meadowlark, McIntosh, Sutherland, Nordost, Spectral and Wilson Audio.

Geoffrey Poor’s presentation was energetic and articulate. The main thrust was to introduce the new VK-20 and VK-40 preamplifiers, which he did via the BAT VK-D5 CD player, two BAT VK-60 power amplifiers bridged as monoblocks and Wilson Audio MAXX loudspeakers. Sound was excellent, identifying the rich yet articulate sound of the BAT electronics and the clarity of the Wilsons.

Day Two

The morning took us to the other Lyric Hi Fi (146 East Post Rd) store in White Plains, about thirty miles north of Manhattan. Although a plain Jane in relation to its big sister, the store’s atmosphere was certainly less patronizing and the manager made us feel very welcome. The lines were the same as the Manhattan store, displayed in two rooms.

It is just a short drive from White Plains to Scarsdale, where the Listening Room (495 Central Park Avenue) is located. The outside of the store is quite unassuming (located in a drab strip mall) compared to the glitz that greets one upon entering. Their motto is “High end without the attitude”. Truthful to be sure. The owner, Ron Mintz, took time to explain his lines carefully and showed us around the well designed rooms. It was here that we heard some vinyl (VPI TNT) through Genesis 200 loudspeakers and powered by a BAT VK 500 power amplifier. Sound was lifelike and big, with the virtues of vinyl being enjoyed by both Andrew and me. Other lines include Meridian, Sonus Faber, Thiel, Theta, B&K and more.

Later, in Manhattan – Gryphon Record Shop (233 West 72nd Street) was as special as I had remembered [now Westsider Records]. Knowledgeable manager, Raymond Donnell, was keen to discuss our magazine and records in general. The collection, while not as rarefied as A Classical Record, is still very fine and a little cheaper. Records are filed by conductor or solo instrument, which suits the musicians among us. The audiophile in Andrew preferred the filing system by label as used by A Classical Record. I guess the view of rows and rows of red and white EMI spines was just too overwhelming for him! For me, too. We escaped Gryphon with several hundreds of dollars worth of LPs. The good news – all the records we bought from all the stores were in as-advertised condition.

The evening was spent most pleasantly in the company of Myles Astor (publisher of Ultimate Audio magazine) and his wife Lisa Astor (columnist for Ultimate Audio and Stereophile). After a superb Japanese dinner in the Bronx, we spent several hours listening to their wonderful home system (Martin Logan Requests, VPI TNT Mk. IV/VPI JMW-12 tonearm/Parnassus D.C.t cartridge/VPI Synchronous Drive System, CAL transport/Altis DAC, conrad johnson ART preamp and Premier Twelve monoblock power amplifiers, Transparent Reference XL tube interconnect and loudspeaker cables). Super sounds (including the latest and not-so-greatest 24 bit 96 kHz releases) and discussion were interspersed with munching on cheesecake. It seems that publishing in either print and electronic media have the same ups and downs. We all agreed, however, that our passion for audio has not diminished over the years. Continued success in the print world, Myles and Lisa.

Day Three

My day was spent walking around the Metropolitan Museum of Art and attending a New York Philharmonic matinee. As usual, the Met was amazing and can always be counted on to produce some glorious exhibits. “Calligraphy from the Ottoman Empire” was as rich and vibrant as the exhibit sounds, as was “Jade from Costa Rica”. The musical instrument collection was of special interest to me – Segovia’s guitars and William Kincaid’s platinum flute were but two highlights of the permanent exhibit. And what can one say about the collection of nineteenth century European art? Stunning!

Andrew and I met at the fountain at Lincoln Center to catch the Phil’s matinee. Leonard Slatkin conducted Samuel Barber’s Capricorn Concerto and Haydn’s Symphony No. 99. The soloists in the concerto were excellent but the orchestral accompaniment was rough and ready, as was execution during the Haydn. Interestingly, the opening piece was a string trio by Beethoven! That it sounded so refined was a testament to the superb performance by three young ladies of the string section rather than the cavernous setting of Avery Fisher Hall. Why don’t the Phil move to Carnegie Hall and be done with it?

After the concert, a walk through the park (looking beautiful in fall foliage) set up a flying visit to the Jazz Record Center (236 West 26th Street). More high prices, but a superb collection of rarities nonetheless. Andrew wants to revisit this collection, and soon! A Mingus “Six Eye” and the introductory album of Wayne Shorter were two of our small, but very cool, stash.

Day Four was spent in the very pleasant company of Harry and Sheila Weisfeld, of VPI fame. It was very refreshing meeting two very unassuming and charming audio personalities. They joined us for lunch at the superb Hotel Pierre, where the food and service were impeccable.

Harry is a brilliant designer who has maintained a thriving analog business for twenty years. The business started with his 16.5 record cleaning machine and is presently at the latest versions of the Aries and TNT turntables. Forever the tweaker, Harry has many new ideas up his sleeve and is looking forward to bringing them to market. In this issue, Andrew gives you a glimpse of his upcoming full review of VPI’s brand new Synchronous Drive System – a first look anywhere.

After lunch, we spent several more hours talking in the magnificent confines of Andrew’s suite at the Pierre. The view from the twenty-eighth floor was magnificent. With the excitement of the NYC Marathon in full swing, the view grand and the talk audio, what more could you ask?

After such a tremendous trip, we have booked to return to New York City in the Spring, where we will get to record stores in Greenwich Village, audio stores Stereo Exchange, Cello, and Toys in the Attic, as well as take a factory tour of VPI.