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My first experience with a Boutique Audio Outlet

Rayman30

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I am currently on a work trip in Atlanta, its a big city so I google "Hifi Audio Shops" which showed the closest one being a place "Hifi Buys" so I took a trip there today after work. It was a hole in the wall, on the bottom level of a strip mall. When I walked in however, I was shocked at the immediate selection of headphones right in front of me (Pic below) they had a lot of Hifiman, Audeze, Focal, Meze and some rather unique ones as well, as well as an assortment of amps.

IMG_5300.JPG


The owner greeted me right away, really enthusiastic guy, who let me listen to a pair of Susvara on a dCS stack! which I had not heard of before. Unfortunately he forgot to tell me that it had an EQ applied, so I listened to the Susvara not stock for far to long.

IMG_5301.JPG


As I started talking to these guys about audio though, the more I started to wonder if they knew what they were talking about, not because they weren't professionals in the field with vast experience, but because there were no mention of specs, numbers, data or anything that would give me something quantifiable, they just gushed over how much the systems costed "The stand alone this is on cost 60K!" well that's nice. The guy was really eager to let me have a listen to this balls to the wall stereo setup, featuring tube amplifiers that looked like they costed more than a Mercedes each... Well I listened to a female focal performance, SsSsSSs uhhh that S region we all love to hate and hate to love. I asked him, I said "Would this not be better served with solid state" he was beside himself, he immediately said "I don't usually do this" then proceeds to turn the speakers all the way up with nothing playing "Do you hear anything" he said, well only slight hiss I replied. He the showed me how loud it was with some music tracks. This guy no doubt millions worth of gear, and his show piece was based on tubes? I even mentioned that this would technically have higher distortion than solid state, but he was not buying it.

IMG_5303.JPG



They treated me great, I got to audition all kinds of headphones I never otherwise would have. But.. I get the sense that this hobby can become dogmatic and rife with subjective analysis based nothing more than on emotions or superfluous high dollar woo woo nonsense, I already knew that, but today I got the first hand perspective and seen it with my own eyes.. and wow! :eek: but I certainly admire the passion. I almost bought a pair of LCD-2C, but have no way to get the giant Audeze box home.
 
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eddantes

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Nice. Seems like they treated you well. As to tubes or solidstate - it doesn't really matter - the heart likes what the heart likes. Was it a pleasure to listen to that system? If yes - thats because the net effect of the entire experience was positive, regardless of the SINAD of the system. I don't mind when people "like things" that I don't value - we all have "tastes"... I would, however, take umbrage with any quantitative claims made, that I knew they couldn't back up... But even there, only to make sure they dont go unchallenged - anyone can spend their cash however they please.
 

DVDdoug

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The owner greeted me right away, really enthusiastic guy,
I know what you mean... I know of a couple of restaurants that are run by the owners and you get a whole different feeling.

Audio is a tough business and (like a lot of other retail) a lot of people are buying online. But IMO it's always helpful if you can listen to headphones & speakers and try headphones on for comfort. Even better if they let you try speakers at home.

A long time ago I was wanting to upgrade my headphones so I went to a nearby (walking distance!) audio video store. After listening to some "better" headphones I decided to stick with what I had. They eventually died and I replaced them with something "similar" but I think the old ones were better. I have a couple more pair now but I don't actually listen to headphones that much...

"I don't usually do this" then proceeds to turn the speakers all the way up with nothing playing "Do you hear anything" he said, well only slight hiss I replied. He the showed me how loud it was with some music tracks.
Tubes aren't necessarily quieter than solid state and it's a tricky thing because it's really signal-to-noise ratio that's important. He's sort-of demonstrating that by showing you how loud it is but you really need an apples-to-apples listening test or measurements. An amp with more gain will generally have more noise when you turn it up and more gain doesn't necessarily mean more available power.

There's a lot of craziness and nonsense in the "audiophile" community and the audio business. Realistically, most amplifiers and electronics are better than human hearing so it mostly comes down to amplifier and features, and maybe build quality and reputation. With amplifiers, sometimes noise is an issue but I wouldn't even bother looking at distortion & frequency response specs.

A lot of audiophiles are still listening to vinyl, which is technically inferior to digital not matter how much money you spend. It's OK to prefer the sound of vinyl, but technically it has weaknesses, especially the record noise.

Higher-end electronics doesn't necessarily buy you better sound and audiophile products are specialty items manufactured, marketed, and sold in small quantities which increases costs. Plus, a higher price makes an item more desirable in the audiophile market. On the other hand, audio video receivers are manufactured and sold in higher quantities and sold in a very competitive market so you get a lot more for your money.

The main thing with tubes is that it's way-way more expensive to make a high-quality electronics, especially when to comes to amplifier power. Tubes don't naturally "impedance match"* with speakers so the audio has to go through a transformer which is expensive if you want low distortion and flat frequency response, and more power means a bigger transformer, etc. Transistors and MOSFETs are naturally low impedance so you don't need an output transformer.

And with class-D amps you can an amazing amount of power at very reasonable cost and with very good energy efficiency (which means cheaper transistors & MOSFETs and smaller heatsinks, and possibly higher reliability because of less heat etc.).

With headphones, there is almost no correlation between cost and sound quality. You can see that if you sort the ASR reviews by "recommended".

With speakers, there is more of a correlation with cost up to a point. But I don't really know where that point is.

I read something awhile back where they were saying that audio retailers have to be competitive with component prices and then they make it up by selling you high-mark-up "upgraded" cables (which don't really sound better).


* You don't actually "match" impedance. The amplifier source impedance should be a fraction of the speaker impedance.
 

jhaider

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Alan’s a nice guy, but his audio taste is older. Pre-pandemic he put on some good events.

As for that room, I thought they were different Vandy speakers (blue?) the first time I heard it. There was an obvious lower mid coloration that I guess could have been the garbage amp* but I suspect was a poorly designed speaker. Stereophile measured a similar one and found a big lower mid resonance. Too bad he didn’t have KEF Ref Metas or one of the other really good speakers they carry in that room.

*I have zero respect for that amp company. At a Hifi Buys event one of their marketing dweebs prattled on about how the top material on the case affects the sound - from the outputs and just not when you hit it! If I hadn’t wanted to stick around to chat with Paul Barton I would’ve left.
 
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ta240

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I even mentioned that this would technically have higher distortion than solid state, but he was not buying it.
But, what does it matter if it is inaudible? If all amps sound the same then paying anything over the minimum cost per watt once the distortion is inaudible is just silly...?
I walked past a Gucci store the other day and was struck that not only are their ridiculously expensive but they are ugly too. I guess sometimes you pay more to get something that other people don't understand.

I read something awhile back where they were saying that audio retailers have to be competitive with component prices and then they make it up by selling you high-mark-up "upgraded" cables (which don't really sound better).
That is/was the model for a lot of businesses. That's why they would cling to your ankles screaming "Buy the extended warranty!!!" as you left with your new electronics. I remember seeing into the backroom at one Circuit City type store and they had a white board with how many extended warranties everyone had sold marked on it by their names. Back when new cars sold below invoice they made it up with overpriced add-ons or marked up financing.
I saw in another thread on here someone commenting that it was funny that people expected their super cheap purchases to last so that is how some companies make up for selling so cheaply, they make them even more cheaply and don't offer much in the way of follow-up service....
 

Duke

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I said "Would this not be better served with solid state" he was beside himself, he immediately said "I don't usually do this" then proceeds to turn the speakers all the way up with nothing playing "Do you hear anything" he said, well only slight hiss I replied. He the showed me how loud it was with some music tracks. This guy no doubt millions worth of gear, and his show piece was based on tubes? I even mentioned that this would technically have higher distortion than solid state, but he was not buying it.

Did you enjoy listening to the system, or did knowing there were tubes in the signal path detract from the experience?
 
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Rayman30

Rayman30

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Did you enjoy listening to the system, or did knowing there were tubes in the signal path detract from the experience?

I am not saying I don’t like tubes, or that it wasn’t a good experience. I guess if I were spending a fortune on a system, I would want the best measuring gear, and tubes aren’t it. It was a fantastic experience regardless.
 

Waxx

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You got some tube gear that is actually good build and low distortion also. Off course solid state, and especially class D amps can do better, but the question for me in that case is, does it really matters in reality. For some it does, for others not.

I got all kind of amplifiers in my homel, tubes, class A and AB transistor, class D. And altough i recognise that class D is today on a very high level, i still prefer the colour of tubes of class A amplifiers, even if the SINAD of those is relative poor compared to class D. The harmonic distortion of those devices make me enjoy the music more. But i agree they are way to expensive for what you got, and i will never claim a tube or class A amp is technically better than a modern class D amp. It's old tech, but it works very well for the right purpose.

So my Prima Luna Prologue 4 (an older model), an very good low distortion push pull tube amp stays my main amplifier in my main system. I'm rather sure this amp would measure very good for a tube amp when Amir would test it (sadly i live on the other side of the world, and shipping it to him would cost too much). But at the end i don't care what people think about it here, i like it, and that is what matters. And the Class D amps i have (or may buy in the future), will be used in less important systems (ktichen, my diy lab), in spaces where space is an issue (car, ...) or for studio monitor use (where clean sound is absolute needed). It's not that they sound bad (like it used to be), it's just that they don't bring me the engagment in the music like a coloured amplifier. And yes, i like the fast evolution they made from noisy to super clean. It's good to have options and to have super quality amps for a small price.

And salesmen also tried to sell me more expensive tube amp models (VTL and Audio research amps), but i don't feel i need those, they don't sound better to my ears, they only look fancier and cost way more (4times the price of the sales price of a Prima Luna (actual model of what i have is the Evo100 power amp). They always try to sell where they gain the most profit on, and those are rarely the best deal you can get in their shops.
 
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Rayman30

Rayman30

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Alan’s a nice guy, but his audio taste is older. Pre-pandemic he put on some good events.

As for that room, I thought they were different Vandy speakers (blue?) the first time I heard it. There was an obvious lower mid coloration that I guess could have been the garbage amp* but I suspect was a poorly designed speaker. Stereophile measured a similar one and found a big lower mid resonance. Too bad he didn’t have KEF Ref Metas or one of the other really good speakers they carry in that room.

*I have zero respect for that amp company. At a Hifi Buys event one of their marketing dweebs prattled on about how the top material on the case affects the sound - from the outputs and just not when you hit it! If I hadn’t wanted to stick around to chat with Paul Barton I would’ve left.

He did show me a pair of Kef, they were tall with many drivers, he said they costed something ridiculous, looking it up they looked the Kef Muon, could have been an older model.
 

fpitas

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I am currently on a work trip in Atlanta, its a big city so I google "Hifi Audio Shops" which showed the closest one being a place "Hifi Buys" so I took a trip there today after work. It was a hole in the wall, on the bottom level of a strip mall. When I walked in however, I was shocked at the immediate selection of headphones right in front of me (Pic below) they had a lot of Hifiman, Audeze, Focal, Meze and some rather unique ones as well, as well as an assortment of amps.

View attachment 220992

The owner greeted me right away, really enthusiastic guy, who let me listen to a pair of Susvara on a dCS stack! which I had not heard of before. Unfortunately he forgot to tell me that it had an EQ applied, so I listened to the Susvara not stock for far to long.

View attachment 220994

As I started talking to these guys about audio though, the more I started to wonder if they knew what they were talking about, not because they weren't professionals in the field with vast experience, but because there were no mention of specs, numbers, data or anything that would give me something quantifiable, they just gushed over how much the systems costed "The stand alone this is on cost 60K!" well that's nice. The guy was really eager to let me have a listen to this balls to the wall stereo setup, featuring tube amplifiers that looked like they costed more than a Mercedes each... Well I listened to a female focal performance, SsSsSSs uhhh that S region we all love to hate and hate to love. I asked him, I said "Would this not be better served with solid state" he was beside himself, he immediately said "I don't usually do this" then proceeds to turn the speakers all the way up with nothing playing "Do you hear anything" he said, well only slight hiss I replied. He the showed me how loud it was with some music tracks. This guy no doubt millions worth of gear, and his show piece was based on tubes? I even mentioned that this would technically have higher distortion than solid state, but he was not buying it.

View attachment 220995


They treated me great, I got to audition all kinds of headphones I never otherwise would have. But.. I get the sense that this hobby can become dogmatic and rife with subjective analysis based nothing more than on emotions or superfluous high dollar woo woo nonsense, I already knew that, but today I got the first hand perspective and seen it with my own eyes.. and wow! :eek: but I certainly admire the passion. I almost bought a pair of LCD-2C, but have no way to get the giant Audeze box home.
As I started talking to these guys about audio though, the more I started to wonder if they knew what they were talking about, not because they weren't professionals in the field with vast experience, but because there were no mention of specs, numbers, data or anything that would give me something quantifiable

Honestly, their normal customer wouldn't know what they were talking about if they rattled off engineering data. It would simply disconcert them.
 

DSJR

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So my Prima Luna Prologue 4 (an older model), an very good low distortion push pull tube amp stays my main amplifier in my main system. I'm rather sure this amp would measure very good for a tube amp when Amir would test it (sadly i live on the other side of the world, and shipping it to him would cost too much). But at the end i don't care what people think about it here, i like it, and that is what matters.
Sorry to be mean, but the Prima Luna amps I've seen tested have frighteningly high output impedance and one that Stereophile measured had hf ringing to boot at around 45 - 50kHz. the former WILL quite heavily equalise the speakers connected to it, so if you're too used this equalised 'tone,' then going over to a solid state amp with flatter response into a typical loudspeaker, will be something of a shock and not necessarily a positive one...

Again, apologies...
 

MattHooper

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I am currently on a work trip in Atlanta, its a big city so I google "Hifi Audio Shops" which showed the closest one being a place "Hifi Buys" so I took a trip there today after work. It was a hole in the wall, on the bottom level of a strip mall. When I walked in however, I was shocked at the immediate selection of headphones right in front of me (Pic below) they had a lot of Hifiman, Audeze, Focal, Meze and some rather unique ones as well, as well as an assortment of amps.

View attachment 220992

The owner greeted me right away, really enthusiastic guy, who let me listen to a pair of Susvara on a dCS stack! which I had not heard of before. Unfortunately he forgot to tell me that it had an EQ applied, so I listened to the Susvara not stock for far to long.

View attachment 220994

As I started talking to these guys about audio though, the more I started to wonder if they knew what they were talking about, not because they weren't professionals in the field with vast experience, but because there were no mention of specs, numbers, data or anything that would give me something quantifiable, they just gushed over how much the systems costed "The stand alone this is on cost 60K!" well that's nice. The guy was really eager to let me have a listen to this balls to the wall stereo setup, featuring tube amplifiers that looked like they costed more than a Mercedes each... Well I listened to a female focal performance, SsSsSSs uhhh that S region we all love to hate and hate to love. I asked him, I said "Would this not be better served with solid state" he was beside himself, he immediately said "I don't usually do this" then proceeds to turn the speakers all the way up with nothing playing "Do you hear anything" he said, well only slight hiss I replied. He the showed me how loud it was with some music tracks. This guy no doubt millions worth of gear, and his show piece was based on tubes? I even mentioned that this would technically have higher distortion than solid state, but he was not buying it.

View attachment 220995


They treated me great, I got to audition all kinds of headphones I never otherwise would have. But.. I get the sense that this hobby can become dogmatic and rife with subjective analysis based nothing more than on emotions or superfluous high dollar woo woo nonsense, I already knew that, but today I got the first hand perspective and seen it with my own eyes.. and wow! :eek: but I certainly admire the passion. I almost bought a pair of LCD-2C, but have no way to get the giant Audeze box home.

I guess it's up to you to decide if you find such an experience disconcerting, off-putting...or perhaps fun.

I always appreciated the opportunity to listen to gear at a dealer, including gear in crazy price brackets I could never afford (and the dealer would know this). It might be some hyped flavor of the moment speaker, or some crazy set up with tubes and a wild horn design speaker, or whatever. If it was a super expensive system I got to sit down and say "Ok, show me what you got." It was no skin off my nose if I thought the sound was sub par or didn't appeal to me - it was fun testing it out. And occasionally I heard astonishing sound.

As for dealers generally, I never gave any credence to anything a dealer said. Honestly it was essentially white noise to me. That's because if I was shopping I would have done my research well before coming in, knowing what I want to hear (usually) and I knew what I was going for. So it was just "let me listen, that's all I need, no sales pitch required."

There were some obnoxious salesmen to be sure who just couldn't turn the pitch off, couldn't shut up, and I tended to not return to those stores.
Fortunately I also found some very chill, very friendly dealers who "got" the fact they didn't have to blather, would just set up what I wanted to demo, and leave me be.


(And..btw...as DVDdoug pointed out: the audio store business is very tough and I was always mindful of that. I never wanted to just jerk around a dealer and use his store for hearing gear where he would be under any false impressions. I was usually in a store because I was very serious about buying if I liked what I heard. On the other hand, when it came to hearing gear I didn't have intention to purchase or couldn't afford, that situation was made very clear so it was up to the salesman if he wanted me to hear it. In fact once in a while it 'worked' and through hearing something new I became interested in that product).

Perhaps you'll get a nice demo in a store some day that is more invigorating than puzzling.
 

Waxx

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Sorry to be mean, but the Prima Luna amps I've seen tested have frighteningly high output impedance and one that Stereophile measured had hf ringing to boot at around 45 - 50kHz. the former WILL quite heavily equalise the speakers connected to it, so if you're too used this equalised 'tone,' then going over to a solid state amp with flatter response into a typical loudspeaker, will be something of a shock and not necessarily a positive one...

Again, apologies...
Hey, it's a tube amp, those have always a high output impendance. And the hf ringing is far out of our hearing range so it does not matter. Off course it does not measure as good as a class D or even a class AB transistor amp, but i don't claim that. Read my post again!!!
 

DSJR

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Hey, it's a tube amp, those have always a high output impendance. And the hf ringing is far out of our hearing range so it does not matter. Off course it does not measure as good as a class D or even a class AB transistor amp, but i don't claim that. Read my post again!!!
I was trying to bring to attention (or remind you) that getting too used to the Prima Luna will cause error in judging other amps which don't act as a graphic equaliser on your speakers, that's all. The ringing shows iffy design and despite the fact no human can hear 45kHz, (any more than we can reliably detect better SINAD than mid 70's I suggest as we get older unless the speakers are incredibly efficient) other tube amps don't do this (Take a look at Radford Revival for example, which seem carefully designed and built).

The sense of added air, space and so on is a personal thing, but the equalisation effect is easily audible in this instance. You may well be happily aware of this, but many people aren't and get sucked in. I'd suggest many dealers haven't a clue either, as all the old-uns like me who came to this via tech reviews in the early 70's have now long retired and probably cut their teeth at the beginning of the subjectivist era (I accept the US has a different timeline here).

Enjoy your amps - and I sincerely hope you also enjoy learning more about them as well :) Peace!
 
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