A few weeks ago, we published an article here at AudiophileReview.com that asked the question: in order to be a well-informed, seasoned audiophile do you have to travel? For many, the answer is "yes," as so many traditional brick & mortar stereo stores and regional AV chains have gone the way of the dodo. Replacing said retailers are often pretty mundane big-box retailers, non-audiophile-centric custom installation firms, and online retailers that, while compelling, can't offer that old-school and often very appreciated in-store experience.
A willingness to travel gives you access to a growing number of regional audiophile shows, like AXPONA, Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, Capital Audio Fest, shows around Los Angeles, Toronto, New York, San Francisco, and--if you're willing to make the occasional international jaunt, Munich. But if you don't have a ton of frequent-flier miles nor the budget to make so many trips in a year, you can get a lot done with one relatively affordable plane ticket to a big city such as Los Angeles and experience the best of what the city has to offer for people who are looking to invest in their audiophile systems as well as have a great time.
Audiophile Stores to See in L.A.
You might think that audiophile stores are second banana to home theater emporiums in Hollywood, and there was a time, especially on the Westside of town, that this was true. In more recent years, there are some new and nicely updated audiophile stores that are worthy of your consideration. Here are some of my favorites:
The Audio Salon (2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90404 310.863.0863) is located right by the new light rail line (yes, there is now light rail service in parts of Los Angeles) in Santa Monica's Bergamot Station art district. This by-appointment showroom is a big-dollar player, but Audio Salon proprietor Maier Shadi is likely willing to show off his fancy Wilson Audio, Meridian, Transparent, D'agostino Audio-based systems to interested audiophiles when they are in town.
Optimal Enchantment (522 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA 90401 310.393.4434) is about as old-school a stereo store as you are going to find anywhere in the country. Located in the heart of downtown Santa Monica and walking distance from some of the better beach-front hotels, Optimal Enchantment is an upstairs Hollywood audiophile (insert Simpson joke here) store focused very much on tubes and turntables. Find active displays of Audio Research, Vandersteen, and so much more.
George Meyer (4844 West Jefferson Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90016 310.820.1113) isn't a stereo store per se, but it is a place where you can take your audiophile gear to be repaired, which makes it one hell of a resource when you are in need. Located in West Los Angeles, George Meyer is a modern resource for many local and out-of-town audiophiles including HomeTheaterReview.com staff writers who sadly have broken gear and need factory authorized repairs.
Brooks Berdan is sadly not with us anymore, but his store's legacy lives on as we head east from the coast and a little bit outside of the newly revived downtown Los Angeles (110 West Olive Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016, 626.359.9131). This updated showroom is packed with Mark Levinson, Revel, Jadis, turntables, vinyl, headphones, and packs one of L.A.'s longest legacies for audiophile excellence.
Sunny Components (1370 East Cypress Street, Covina, CA 91724: 626.966.6259) is one of the city's newer and more exciting audiophile destinations. As our list continues to move east from the beach, this inland location offers more products and more square footage to actively display some of the world's swankiest audiophile gear and systems, such as Vivid Audio, Vandersteen, Jeff Rowland, CH, reference-level Audio Research, Meridian, and so much more. Store owner Sunil is a welcoming sort who would love to help you build your system if you stop by his location.
Hint: if you are in the market to make an audiophile upgrade, it is often a good idea to have some photos of the product that you might want to swap out for the dealers to consider. Perhaps emailing or calling ahead of time to let them know that you are visiting town is also a good idea in that the dealers know you are more of a buyer than a looky-loo (not that there is anything wrong with doing your in-store research). Lastly, many audiophile manufacturers don't like stores selling into other dealer's territories for obvious reasons; however, if you make the effort to fly to visit a store in person that is often a moot point.
Another advantage of buying from out of state is the ability to save tax, but warning for those buying electronics from out of the country, as your AC voltages are unlikely to work correctly and many of today's electronics simply will not work overseas. Lastly, for international buyers, your warranty will be in the United States, so if you need a repair, expect to spend heavily to send your component back here.
Where to Buy Audiophile Records in L.A.
Audiophiles still like to buy themselves some discs and Los Angeles has a few remaining hotspots to check out.
Record Surplus (12436 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025: 310.979.4577) is just one of those gems located in West Los Angeles not too far from Santa Monica. The self-proclaimed "last record store" isn't really the last record store in L.A., but I get their point with the death of Tower Records, Virgin, Aaron's, and so many other beloved music resellers over the years. Record Surplus as much of a hipster vinyl Mecca as they also sell DVD-Video titles and Compact Discs galore. With ample parking and a huge inventory, Record Surplus is worthy of your time if you are on the Westside looking for some new/used audiophile music.
Amoeba Music (6400 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, CA 90028: 323.245.6400) picks up in the cult-following department where Tower Records left off years and years ago. Amoeba was in early on vinyl's revival, but also has hard-to-find records, zillions of Compact Discs, and more. Rumors of the store's demise have been greatly over-exaggerated, but they do have a very large physical space and it is hard to make a fortune selling used records and CDs these days.
The Record Parlour (6408 Selma Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90028: 323.464.7757) is a more boutique, vinyl-oriented Hollywood record store geared to the serious music collector. Not too far from Amoeba, The Record Parlour is a bit hipster but can be the source of a truly great find for those out on the prowl for something truly unique to fire up on their Linn LP-12 or VPI turntable.
How to Get Around Los Angeles Without Complaining About Traffic
The list of stores in this guide work from the beach in Santa Monica to the east and pretty much up and down the 10 Freeway. These retailers are best visited via a rental car (check out SIXT.com, as they rent respectable German luxury cars right at LAX with more reasonable prices than Hertz, Avis, and the like) or a ride-share option such as Uber. Timing of your travel is essential, as weekends are the best for the lowest volume of traffic on the freeways. If you are in Los Angeles during the week you are still perfectly fine if you follow my advice, as you will want to make your move to the east on the 10 freeway after 9:00 AM and no later than 1:30 PM to avoid some ugly traffic later in the day. Coming west isn't too bad until later in the day during a more traditional rush hour time starting at roughly 4 to 5 PM. If you are staying Santa Monica centric, the new light rail line can take you to The Audio Salon easily and a good number of other locations are mere walking distances from beach hotels. Please ignore the stupid scooters that are everywhere in Los Angeles these days, as you might just kill yourself on one or get run over by some Brentwood housewife in her Range Rover on her way home from Pilates.
Where to Stay for Your Audiophile Trip to Los Angeles
West Los Angeles has some pretty fantastic hotel options that range from reasonable to cost-no-object. In Santa Monica and walking distance from Third Street Promenade, the Santa Monica Pier, countless restaurants and attractions is the boutique hotel The Huntley. The rooms are New-York-small but the service is excellent and the ambiance is beachy-cool at a reasonable price most of the year by big-city standards. The views are fantastic and you are walking distance from an awful lot.
If you are bringing your significant other, the beach-front Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica is an excellent option. Larger, more luxurious rooms packing ocean views, an excellent spa, and walking distance proximity from nearly everything in Santa Monica makes Casa a great choice. If you aren't feeling a short walk, a Uber ride to trendy lunch spots and retail options on Main Street in Santa Monica and Venice Beach just to the south makes Casa a popular option for many reasons.
Cheaper than buying your wife diamonds to make up for the $30,000 you spent on speakers earlier in the day is a stay at what is very likely the finest hotel in America, The Peninsula Beverly Hills. With rooms often priced starting in the $700-plus range, this hotel is truly for special occasions and boy do they deliver. They will pick you up at the airport in a gorgeous Rolls Royce, arrange for your local travel and/or drive you where you want to go in the house car (also a Rolls). Their customer service is unlike nearly every other luxury hotel in the country. The property is an easy walk from the "Beverly Hills Triangle," which includes Rodeo Drive and all of the off-shoots that are lined with the finest shopping, dining, and entertainment options. Make it back from your audiophile shopping in time for a power lunch poolside on the roof of the hotel or, better yet, let your wife luxuriate in their over-the-top spa at The Peninsula until you make it back to take her to their stunning four o'clock tea-service. Even if you spent $3,400 on an interconnect to take home with you, a stay at the Peninsula will make you look like you are a sensitive, loving husband who put together a memorable trip to Los Angeles, not the cash-rich nerd in the need for an audiophile fix while on vacation.
Where to Eat in L.A., Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Beyond
In Santa Monica, a true classic is The Ivy By The Shore, which can be walked to from any number of recommended hotel options. No restaurant stays this popular in Los Angeles for so long without doing a lot of things right. The Ivy has countless healthy options, such as steamed artichokes, Cajun grilled swordfish, and cold-water oysters, but if you have the ability or willingness to indulge, The Ivy has the best fried chicken within hundreds of miles of town. You could also argue that their $26 cheeseburger is worth more than they charge. Ditto the $10 onion rings, as they are likely the best onion rings that you've ever indulged in (and there is enough to share with the whole table). Your Hollywood power-lunch (or dinner) would be perfectly wrapped up with a silky, ice-cold slice of key lime pie. Reservations are not hard to get and can even be booked on OpenTable.com.
On the second floor of a strip mall just west of the 405 Freeway on Santa Monica Boulevard is a hidden gem that will blow your mind if you want to get down with some authentic Chinese food. Sichuan Impression (11057 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025: 310.444.7171) comes from the San Gabriel Valley where there are very deep Asian roots as well as one hell of a love for audio.
The food at Sichuan Impression is so good that they were ranked no. 60 of the new post-Johnathan Gold Los Angeles Times 101 Best Places to Eat in Los Angeles list just this month. A foodie friend took me to this not-very-good-English-speaking emporium and I was blown away by the stir-fried chili chicken and a crazy crab dish. If you are a little bit adventurous, you will not be disappointed by Sichuan Impression's West Los Angeles location.
There is no better place to lunch anywhere west of the Mississippi than Wolfgang Puck's Spago in Beverly Hills. Get this: unlike most celebrity chefs, Wolfgang is actually at Spago for lunch most days, and while the interior of this indoor/outdoor bastion of California cuisine is ever-changing and improving, you can go old-school and order any of the true classic dishes often with an approving nod from the best waitstaff that you will find. Order tuna cups for a starter, a salmon pizza with caviar, and perhaps the schnitzel (all off-the-menu items from the classic days of Spago by my old condo on the Sunset Strip, next to the now defunct Tower Records) and you are sure to get Mr. Puck's nod of approval. You should have a reservation for Spago but they aren't hard to come by, as the restaurant is pretty large and they turn tables all day.
Moving east, I once nearly lost a finger to my ravenous, pregnant wife upon trying to procure a bite of her freshly delivered pastrami sandwich at Downtown Los Angeles' James Beard Award Winning Langer's ( ). At Langer's they serve up what many consider to be the best thick-cut dead-cow sandwiches in town. You don't need a reservation, but you might wait a little while to get a good table. The service is predictably a bit surly, but that attitude is part of the charm.
Lastly, the most off-the-grid restaurant that my family can't stop making excursions too is Park's BBQ in Korea Town on Vermont Boulevard (213.380.1717). Rated one of the best Korean BBQ in Los Angeles by many trusted guides, you can cook up Wagyu bulgogi (marinated beef that you barbeque at the table), sewu gui (slightly sweet, marinated shrimp also grilled right at the table), and order up a pile of pig-laden japchae noodles and be very, very happy. Nearly every TV foodie from Anthony Bourdain to Andrew Zimmern to Phil Rosenthal to Roy Choi to David Chang to Eric Ripert have eaten at Park's. Their pyeongchang (all of the amazingly tasty free stuff that comes with the meal in small bowls) is amazingly good. When we go to Park's BBQ, we are often one of the only non-Korean families in the place, and that is perfectly fine with us. Park's is on the way east from the beach during a day of serious audiophile shopping and well worth the making a five- to 10-minute jaunt north to eat very well.
Other Attractions for Your L.A. Audiophile Trip
Other things you might do when in Tinsel Town include perhaps going on a tour of the legendary Capital Records Studio in Hollywood to see where Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, and pretty much everyone in Rock and Roll history recorded at one point or another. I've been in Studio A and the room has a special vibe that you need to feel to understand. This could be serious inspiration to buy more gear and plenty more music - I am just warning you ahead of time.
For audiophiles looking for the ultimate in acoustical and architectural design, maybe a trip to Downtown L.A, to take a guided tour the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall. Sorry, Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, there is no competition for The Disney Hall when it comes to both architecture and acoustics. Audiophile inspiration is a guarantee, even if just touring the grounds, as so much time, energy and creativity went into making this venue something to behold.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City is one of the most fun yet super-quirky museums that you will ever visit. They don't really tell you when they are open (or closed) which is part of the draw since 1988. They have all sorts of whacky technological displays that will without question appeal to the nerdy audiophile in all of us.
OK, there you have it: my audiophile's guide to visiting Los Angeles. There are so many other things you could do, stores you could see, places you could go, hidden gems to eat at, but this guide gives you a really nice start. Look us up when you are in town. Maybe we will meet you out at a record store or meet you for some Korean BBQ?