Open Wide—The Stereo Exchange Headphone Lounge Gala Celebration!

This all-day affair marked the opening of Stereo Exchange's Headphone Lounge on Thursday, July 31 in New York City. I arrived at 2:30 PM, and the celebration was in full swing, and when I first checked the time it was 6PM, the hours were flying by! The crowds never let up, and it was great to see a mix of old and young guys checking out the gear, donning headphones, fully immersed in the tunes.

While the overall number of brick & mortar high-end audio shops is in decline nationally, NYC has more than ever before. There are seven shops in Manhattan, but Stereo Exchange is the first to offer a wide selection of headphones, amps, and DACs, from entry-level to state of the art marvels. Other shops will surely follow suit.

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Stereo Exchange staff (L-to-R) Michael Toto; Ron Kain; and Dave Wasserman.

Stereo Exchange is one of the oldest shops in the city, but its sales guys are totally on board with integrating headphones into the store's mix of products. Three of them, Michael Toto, Ron Kain, and Anthony Rago, were actively involved in the planning stages for the Headphone Lounge, and now that everything's up and running the team is learning 140708_StereoExchangeOpening_Photo_CustomerHD800that selling headphones requires a very different approach than selling two-channel audio, home theater, or custom installations. Their passion and commitment to digging deep into headphones really impressed me, these sales guys know their stuff! Toto told me he's more laid-back with headphone customers, and once the headphones are on, and the customer's in the zone he just lets them be.

About a year ago Tyll and I wrote "Across the Great Divide: Can We Love Headphones & Speakers Equally?" questioning whether the two-channel audiophile community will ever take headphones seriously, but now it's happening, headphones are in the big leagues!

Stereo Exchange's owner, Dave Wasserman, picked his lines wisely, so his store stocks Aedle, ALO, Astell & Kern, Audeze, AudioQuest, Auralic, Beyerdynamics, Bowers & Wilkins, Grado Labs, HiFiMan, Master & Dynamic, McIntosh, Musical Fidelity, NAD, Phonon, PSB, and Sennheiser (some brands have been there for years). Wasserman went all out and built the Headphone Lounge to provide the best possible environment to demonstrate the gear. Outside the room, there are listening stations for a large number of headphones, and customers can plug-in their smart phones and music players. All of that adds up to a serious commitment for a NYC store, where sky high rents put space at a premium. The advantages for Stereo Exchange customers are huge, they get to try headphones on, judge comfort for themselves, and compare headphones' sound. Online retailers can't offer that level of service, brick & mortar headphone stores have the edge.

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Some of the headphones on display outside the Headphone Lounge.

The times they are a changin', and Wasserman knows that his more traditional high-end customers that sit on a couch ten feet away from a pair of speakers are trending down, but the market for headphones and nearfield monitors is booming. He said, "It's a whole 140708_StereoExchangeOpening_Photo_CustomerLookingnew thought process for me, I'm used to selling hi-fi, but that's not what the kids are interested in." He's coming up to speed real fast, but Stereo Exchange isn't entirely new to headphones, they brought in Phonon SMB-02 headphones a few years ago, and sold over 200 pairs the first year!

Stereo Exchange doesn't sell Beats headphones, so the sales guys have to introduce customers to brands they never heard of. Kain said it's sometimes an uphill battle to turn around folks pre-sold on Beats to consider the alternatives. Of course, it's one thing to talk about sound, quite another to demonstrate a better sounding headphone to show a Beats believer there are better ways to spend their money.

Toto and Kain were quick to acknowledge that Beats fuels the high-end market, especially here in NYC. You see people everywhere, on the subways, buses, parks, and at work wearing headphones, city folk needed a place to come and hear a wide range of headphones. Toto said this is just the beginning, he's hoping the store's headphone space will continue to expand.

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McIntosh MHA100 and Beyerdynamic T1...yeah, definitely not Beats by Dre.

I was especially excited to see a new name, Master & Dynamic, on the roster of headphone brands Stereo Exchange is carrying. The company is located here in NYC, and based on a quick audition of the MH40 over-the-ear ($399), and MH30 on-ears $349), I was impressed with their transparency. I spoke with Master & Dynamic's Scott Byrer and Drew Stone Briggs about the 'phones' extraordinary build quality. The hunky machined aluminum and stainless steel ear cups, and real lambskin covered ear pads have bona-fide high-end look and feel. The headphones have just come on the market, but they were in development for two years.

Stereo Exchange customers heard about the Headphone Lounge opening day celebration from the store's newsletter. One guy pointed out that a lot of older audiophiles with serious high-end home systems wind up with $100 or $200 headphones, and then wind up spending more time listening over headphones than their $20,000 hi-fis. He was speaking from personal experience, but he's starting to see the light, and is ready to buy serious cans.

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AURALiC Taurus Mk2 headphone amp, Vega DAC, and Audeze LCD-XC Headphones.

Then I spoke with a customer who had just auditioned an Audeze LCD XC for the first time, and he was jazzed, "You pick it up, and it feels really solid, and sounds awesome too. The sound doesn't feel like it's shrunk down, it's almost live." Another new to Audeze customer was puzzled about why he had a comfort issue with the LCD X, but not the LCD 3. This same guy was also considering the Beyerdynamic T-1, but he wasn't impressed by the Sennheiser HD 800. He currently has AKG 701s at home, I think he's leaning towards the T-1.

Grado Labs' National Sales Director John Chen had a big smile on his face, he was knocked out by the energy of the crowds, but our conversation soon turned to the new "e" Series Grado headphones, which I think are significantly better than the "i" Series line. Right now, the factory is struggling to keep up with demand.

140708_StereoExchangeOpening_Photo_JulieGlickThen I ran into my old friend, audiologist Julie Glick. She works with a lot of musicians and celebrities from her Manhattan business Musicians Hearing Solutions. I've reviewed a lot of CIEMs over the last ten years and Dr. Glick's impressions have consistently resulted in the best fitting and most comfortable CIEMs in my collection. Whenever we meet I pepper her with tech questions, and then ask about the big shots she fitted since last time we spoke. I remember her telling me when she fitted Springsteen's band, Jimmy Fallon, and this time her latest adventures with Howard Stern. She met him five years ago when his over the ear studio headphones were squishing his glasses too much, and fitted him for CIEMs. Stern behaved himself and didn't make any lewd remarks, he was a perfect gentleman.

Stereo Exchange is just a few blocks away from the New York University campus, so it won't be long before hordes of students are dropping by, checking out the cans. I have a feeling Stereo Exchange will soon be selling truckloads of Grado SR80es!

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Inside the Stereo Exchange headphone lounge.

Editors Note: Thanks so much for checking this out for InnerFidelity readers, Steve. I know I'm very glad to hear that Stereo Exchange has made the move, and I hope we see many more retailers getting on the bandwagon.

I shot Dave Wasserman an email to ask for his brief impressions, these are his quick comments...

It was a very exciting event! We were busy the entire 8 hours. My guess is over 300 consumers walked through the doors.

My observations were that it was a younger crowd than we generally see but there was a good representation of all ages. Most of the consumers were eager to try as many headphones as possible and to try them with different headphone amps and DACs. Many consumers had never been to Stereo Exchange so they were completely unaware of the types of products that we carried. At one point, one of the more expensive set of B&W speakers were turned on and that sound elicited a very positive reaction. The Mcintosh components made people ooh and aah.

All in all, a lot of fun and great exposure for Stereo Exchange as a resource to demo all components related to headphones.

Thanks Dave, and best of luck! I hope New York InnerFidelity readers will consider a visit to Stereo Exchange to have a look see...and listen.

COMPANY INFO
Stereo Exchange
627 Broadway
New York, NY 10012
Ann@stereoexchange.com
(212) 505-1111

COMMENTS
veggieboy2001's picture

I really had a great time...blown away by my 1st Audeze demo (LCD-X)and was greatly impressed with the Master & Dynamic / ALO set up... Tyll should definitely take a listen if he gets a chance (IMHO). A great idea to have this event!

Claritas's picture

I'll tell my pals about it and check it out next time I'm back in town.

Rohan's picture

The event wasn't the first time I been to this place. When I first visited the place it was a bit empty. It honestly looked like more of a high-end home audio showroom than an audio store. They had few Grados but only the ones that came with 6.3mm jacks. This time around the place is quite lively, bearing more stuff to see and try. Though I felt weird when it seems like I was the youngest person on the event.

I, too, was very excited to try my first Audeze, the LCD-XC. It was a very nice experience, albeit heavy. Due to my limited time I only managed to talk to the reps of Master & Dynamic and AudioQuest. The Master & Dynamic headphones were really nice, especially the over ear one. Kinda wished the Momentums had pads that big. Sadly, the prices are very tough to swallow. The AudioQuest rep talked about their popular DragonFly and his views hi-res audio. He made good points about the direction of pushing higher quality files but I'm still at the naysayers side of the debate until everything is scientifically proven.

Overall, Stereo Exchange is a nice place. However, they need to provide a better headphone auditioning experience. Their main competitor is B&H, which provides 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapters to headphones that needs them. Not to mention more headphones overall. If they manage to do that, then they'll certainly earn new customers.

Oh, and I'm that Amperior-toting kid on the second picture, just inspecting the lovely HD 600!

TheAudioGuild's picture
Claritas's picture

Not anymore.