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If you’re an audiophile looking for a truly special experience, there’s no city more worthy of traveling to than New York City. Not Los Angeles. Not San Francisco. Nowhere can compete with the scope, size, and grandeur of The Big Apple when it comes to all things audiophile. There are a lot of people who are involved in the hobby who live in and around the city. Incomes are generally high to offset the high overhead. The physical spaces, both for stores and many residences, can be small but that’s understandable and can also be said about other top audiophile markets, such as Tokyo and Singapore.
One note: if you haven’t been to New York in a while, the locals will tell you that the audiophile retailer landscape has changed in recent years. Appointments are encouraged over in-store walk-ins, now more than before. Some audiophile stores have moved from street level locations to higher floors, but don’t worry — there are still a ton of really cool things to see and hear in NYC. And your wife won’t hate you if you plan a New York trip and bring her along, as there are so many things to experience in the City that Never Sleeps, ranging from Broadway shows to over-the-top shopping to world-class dining and spectacular hotels to cater to your every non-audiophile need. Just remember to bring your checkbook and your black card, because New York City, even for the weekend, isn’t cheap by any measure.
Audio Stores to Explore In New York City
The World of McIntosh Townhome [214 Lafayette Street, New York, NY, 10012, 212.364.0219] in SoHo isn’t exactly the “townhome” its name implies. It’s actually a five-story, fully loaded AV mecca packed with top-of-the-line McIntosh audio, D-cinema home theater, various Audio Research rooms, Sonus faber speakers everywhere, and so much more. You need an appointment, but the staff couldn’t be more welcoming. The front door looks like it was tagged by Banksy, so you really kinda need to know where you are going, but your Uber driver will hook you up. The townhome is used for events frequently and even has an indoor swimming pool. Go figure.
Lyric HiFi [1221 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY, 10028, 212.439.1900] is a true New York City audiophile classic. As one of the last big street-level stores, Lyric has some very serious audiophile demos from the likes of Wilson Audio, Magnepan, Audio Research, Bowers & Wilkins, GoldenEar, and dozens more. As a retailer, Lyric has understandably morphed into a bit of a hybrid custom installation business, as that comes with the times, but they are true to their audiophile roots.
Sound by Singer [242 West 27th Street, Second Floor, New York, NY, 10001, 212.924.8600] is the self-proclaimed World’s Best High-End Audio Store, so why not schedule a stop there on your New York audiophile trip? The location has moved from the store’s heyday, but it is more focused on doing high-end audio right at their new location. Krell, Aurender, CH Precision, Lumin, and other cutting-edge brands make up the showroom’s demo system. This is no custom installer or hybrid store — this is pure audiophilia.
Park Avenue Audio [440 Park Ave S, New York, NY, 10016, 212.685.8101] is another really good hybrid audiophile-CI store that has strong audiophile roots. Focal, GoldenEar, Bowers & Wilkins, McIntosh, ARCAM, NAD, and so many other brands grace the floor of this New York showroom. They have a high-end audio outlook on home theater, so don’t expect to find any mainstream brands here.
If you are willing to head over to the land of man-buns and craft-beer drinking hipsters in Brooklyn and you are into vinyl, check out The Turntable Lab [20 Jay Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11201, 718.858.9620]. Despite the name, the shop doesn’t have a singular focus, as you’ll find media as well as hardware and headphones all under one roof.
Audiophile Record Shopping in New York City
Just as the concept of physical musical media has changed drastically in the past ten years, buying said media in New York City is pretty different in 2020 compared with the past. Gone are Virgin Mega Stores, Tower Records, and the huge retailers that were so much fun in the day. What remains are well-curated, specialty music retailers that are a different kind of fun and worthy of your consideration if you are headed to NYC.
Also check out Stranded Records [218 East Fifth Street, New York, NY, 10003] as it is the reborn version of Good Records, which closed its doors in 2019. The store is part of a record label from San Francisco called Superior Viaduct. They have tons of specialty vinyl and even more used records for you to dig into. Plan to spend a little time at this Manhattan Gem.
A1 Record Shop [439 East 6th Street, New York, NY, 10009] is pretty much exactly what comes to mind when you think “traditional record store.: Hidden away in the East Village, this shop has been around for more than 20 years now and is just filled to the brim with vinyl for the collector looking for something special or a little off-beat. Be prepared to put your work in digging through the bins, but don’t be shocked if you get nicely rewarded for your efforts.
Not that Brooklyn is that much less expensive than Manhattan in terms of real estate, but it seems to be where some of the better record stores are popping up — perhaps because of the music-loving folk who live just across the bridge from Manhattan. Brooklyn Record Exchange [599 Johnson Avenue, Bushwick, 646.969.2030] gets top ratings from our audiophile readers who flock to this somewhat new East Williamsburg Brooklyn store. This well-organized shop is a larger version of Co-Op 87 and packs a lot of indie music and some very obscure vinyl for the more advanced collector.
How to Travel Like A Pro to (And While In) New York City
For those flying into New York City, the currently-being-renovated LaGuardia Airport gets you closest to the action, assuming you can get a flight into said airport. For those like me coming from the West Coast, the best flights go in and out of JFK Airport, but a 9:00 AM flight out of L.A. will get you to JFK in perfect time for rush hour through Queens. Plan for 60 minutes of brutal traffic, but you will make it to your hotel in time for a killer dinner later that night. Newark now host United’s Premier Service from L.A. and San Francisco, which used to go into JFK. These old Pan Am 757s were redone with many more First and Business Class seats than an older, traditionally appointed 757, so you can have lots of legroom (when was the last time you heard of that?) or even full sleeper seats. The drive in from Newark is no picnic either, as the tunnels can be jammed for hours in the mornings and afternoons. Plan your flights accordingly if you can and you will save on a lot of grief.
If you live on the East Coast, the Amtrak Acela high-speed train is brilliant. I have taken it from Philadelphia to New York and with three total stops it took about an hour from point A to point B. A First-Class seat that you could work from was about $150 per person, but by all means you can ride the fast train for less. For Boston, Philly, and Washington D.C. – the train is an excellent travel option.
True New Yorkers use their well-thought-out subway system to get where they want to go, but I am no New Yorker, having learned my New York chops later in life with a bit of a Hollywood bent. This means that I reach for my iPhone and dial in an Uber, which in The Big Apple is simply just never that far away nor are they crazy expensive unless you get into the Black Ubers, which I like because they are bigger SUVs and sedans, but more importantly are driven only by professional drivers with a limo license. I feel a little safer with that, so I’m willing to invest the extra $15 to $20 per ride. If I lived in Manhattan, I likely would have to give this habit up, but for two or three days, let’s live like big shots, no?
The hotel you stay in is another key detail that can make or break your trip. I recently went to a Sony event where they kindly picked up the tab for my hotel room right next to the event hall in Times Square. It was convenient, to be sure, but the room was so small that I had to decide what function I was going to do in the bathroom before I walked in, if you get what I am saying. Things change a lot in Manhattan hotels based on events in the city. I have had easily a dozen fantastic stays at the Parker Meridian Hotel midtown on 56th, which sometimes has nice rooms priced in the $350- to $400-per-night range. My favorite hotel chain by a country mile is The Peninsula, of which there are only three in the United States. Thankfully, one is in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue and 55th and it is a true five-star experience with better-than-expected New York service.
The Four Seasons in Manhattan is pretty roomy, but also very pricey, even compared to the Peninsula. The drama factor for the Mandarin Oriental in the Time Warner Center is high because its first floor is on like the 48th floor, so the views are stunning, but the service for this $1,000-per-night room was shamefully bad. Just spending a lot of money on a hotel in New York doesn’t guarantee you excellence. You have to dig a little deeper to find the true gems.
Where (and What) To Eat
If you dig a fantastic bagel with some schmear and cured fish on top, you need to make a trip to Russ and Daughters. We pay silly money to have them send us their good via Goldbelly 3,000 miles when in a pinch. Russ and Daughters is a great, foodie way to start your day in New York City.
Many suggest that a good slice is hard to find too far from the island of Manhattan, and while a matter of foodie contention, Lombardi’s in Little Italy often gets credit for being New York’s first pizza place. I don’t want to step into that controversy, but I can tell you their coal fired pizza doesn’t suck. It is well worth your time (and possibly wait) to see what the hype is about.
It is hard to argue that Katz’s isn’t the most famous deli in New York City, and they should be judged on the excellence of their pastrami sandwich, which is off-the-charts good. The place can be packed, and that sometimes off-putting NYC attitude is flying everywhere at Katz’s, but they make a fine pastrami sandwich — perfect for refueling after a morning of high-end speaker demos.
One of my most legendary rock and roll stories from Hollywood was meeting Keith and Mick from The Rolling Stones one night in the mid-1990s at the old Spago in West Hollywood Hills — right above the classic-old Tower Records. They assuredly were more interested in my 18-year-old, surfer-girl girlfriend, but when called over to their table by their long-time manager, the topic of conversation was the best restaurant in New York City.
Mick was adamant that it was “fucking Il Mulino” and was going to war over proving his point. I made a note of his enthusiasm and it only took me 11 years to get a table at this packed Italian restaurant in The Village. If you don’t know Claudio, getting a table can be tricky (but not impossible). I advise you to take very good care of my favorite tuxedo-wearing host. There tends to be three types of folk in Il Mulino: Banker-types, some Hollywood-types, and my brethren who wear Fila sweat suits to a fine dining establishment. The food at Il Mulino is that of Abruzzi, which is the area that make up the heel of the boot in Italy.
This means there are fish options, insanely tasty handmade pastas, and whatnot. I will warn you: the volume of food at Il Mulino is gigantic. Moreover, they bring out all sorts of goodies for the first 30 to 45 minutes, including marinated zucchini, the best two bread baskets that you’ve ever seen, homemade salamis, and a huge chunk of parmesan. Don’t feel bad about asking to split an order or to double check that you’ve ordered the right amount of food, as the Il Mulino staff is truly professional. For example, their roasted eggplant stuffed with crab and covered with an insane melted cheese is one of the best things that you’ve ever put in your mouth, but you likely only need three bites of it. For pasta, order three and have them split them on the plate for you and your guests, which they are more than willing to do. Dinner entrees like white truffle and langoustine risotto are too much to eat, but so good. They bring grappa complementary, and if by any chance you have room for dessert, their white wine poached pear stuffed with mascarpone is a recipe that I have shamelessly stolen for dinner parties at my home.
I took my friend Sandy Gross (co-founder of Polk, Definitive Technology, and GoldenEar) and our wives to Michelin Star-ranked Marea on Columbus Circle a few years back knowing that Sandy is likely the most enthusiastic (and picky) foodie in the AV industry. He had been to this Central Park South fine-dining restaurant before and had his concerns. When we were done with their hand-made pastas (we all shared), spectacular fish dishes, and creative wine solutions, he was converted — and that is truly high praise. Marea is very expensive but is a gorgeous experience with food that competes with the audio you heard (and maybe bought) earlier in the day.
Just like you have to muster up the nerve to get a demo of the $500,000 audio system during the audiophile portion of your day, I am going to recommend the dinner version of the same experience, which is at Eleven Madison Park. This is widely considered the best, most inventive restaurant in America right now. Like The French Laundry in Yountville, California or Alinea in Chicago, Eleven Madison Park is a “tasting menu” that is so good that the restaurant has been ranked number one in the world (and retired from) some of the top restaurant lists. The level of inventiveness is hard to describe. For example: they did a one ingredient dish at the table, which was a locally sourced carrot (with the stems on) that was perfectly seasonal and run through a meat grinder right at the table and served with a whole board full of spices and flavorings. The carrots alone tasted better than any carrot I’ve ever had, but was even more interesting with the spices and herbs. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that, when paired with an audiophile trip to New York City, might almost make your wife might agree to the insane purchase you want to make for your AV rig at home. Almost…
Other Non-Audiophile Entertainment Options in New York City
How about taking a walk by Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios, where some of the most famous records in the world were recorded? There are tours of Radio City Music Hall, which can be fascinating. You could also time your trip around one of Billy Joel’s monthly performances at Madison Square Garden. He still sells out every show he does, month in and month out. Another cool after-audiophile-shopping idea would be to see some live jazz at The Village Vanguard.
Let us know if you’ve ever traveled to New York City for audio and how it went. Native New Yorkers will certainly have a field day nitpicking my L.A.-biased views on The Big Apple, but you can’t knock them either. There are no stinkers on this list. Comment below.