The Audio Doctor: Prescribing the Best of Everything

On the corner of Sherman and Sanford in the quiet, residential neighborhood of Jersey City known as The Heights, just a block from Leonard Gordon Park and two blocks from Pershing Field, there is a beautiful, old Victorian house. Standing a little taller than the other houses in the neighborhood, 112 Sherman Place, with its turreted rooms, stained glass windows, and distinct green and ochre exterior, has a proud, stately, almost royal, appearance. This is the home of Dave and Paula Lalin, their three children, their three pets, and more high-end audio components than you would ever expect. This is the Audio Doctor.

On a perfect, late autumn morning, Uncle Omar and I made the short drive from Downtown Jersey City to meet with the Lalin family for a little tour and a lot of hi-fi.

A self-described “gear hound,” Dave Lalin says he’s been interested in music and sound since he was about three years old. Like so many audiophiles, Lalin grew up with hi-fi at home: His father was an engineer and an audiophile. By the time he was five, Dave Lalin was spinning music on a reel-to-reel player. At the age of 13, he had acquired his first all-in-one system, a Fisher stereo with a turntable and two-way loudspeakers. At around that same time, he began reading hi-fi magazines, fantasizing about the systems he would someday own. He took on odd jobs—everything from delivering newspapers to performing magic tricks—in order to feed his growing addiction for hi-fi and music. Most teenagers feel a certain degree of angst and dissatisfaction for the world around them, but Lalin describes this time as his own personal “mid-fi hell.”

It wasn’t until he received his driver’s license and happened upon Audio Connection in Verona, NJ, that life began to brighten for Lalin. There, he met Hart Huschens (now of Audio Advancements), who introduced him to audio components he had previously only seen in magazines. “It was like a lightning bolt,” says Lalin. “That sounded like music!”

With Huschens’ help, Lalin began piecing together a better system.

Throughout college, Lalin continued working odd jobs and did his best to share his enthusiasm for hi-fi, helping many friends and acquaintances set up their own systems. In 1989, while searching for a job in advertising, Lalin walked into the old 33rd Street location of Sound By Singer and found a job selling hi-fi. He worked for Singer until 1996, then took a job at Innovative Audio, where he worked under Elliot Fishkin until 1999. A second term at Singer lasted until 2005.

With over 15 years of experience in the industry, Lalin decided to go out on his own.

Initially, his plan for Audio Doctor would be to travel to other people’s homes, listen to their systems, treat problems, and prescribe solutions for higher quality sound. “I didn’t plan on opening a store. The original idea was that I would bring the equipment to the customer.” But Lalin found that more and more customers preferred to visit his home, a point that corresponded nicely with his own beliefs in having extremely flexible hours, catering to the customer, and creating a high-quality event.

Lalin is especially adamant about that last point. “Shopping for something like this should be a fun experience,” he emphasizes. “And that’s one of the problems with the industry: The youth market has missed the point that high-end audio is a quality experience.”

When I ask him to tell me more about what it’s like to run a hi-fi shop from his home, Lalin confesses that sometimes he enjoys getting away from listening entirely, just zoning out in front of a television, but that he nevertheless loves his work.

“If a customer wants to set up an appointment at 6am, I’ll be here. If a customer wants to set up an appointment at 9pm, I’ll be here. My family is incredibly understanding.”

As we talk, Lalin’s daughter walks out from the kitchen with coffee that Lalin’s wife has just brewed. It’s one of the best cups of coffee I’ve had in weeks. “Starbucks,” Paula Lalin modestly informs us later.

Past experiences at both Sound By Singer and Innovative Audio are still heavily present in Lalin’s mind. He says his time spent working at those establishments helped shape his current philosophies. He insists that he’s taken the positive aspects with him, while learning from the negative.

“Walking into Singer, customers had so many options, but they weren’t always able to listen to everything. I took the idea of having lots and lots of gear, but added the flexible hours, emphasizing customer service.”

Walk through the front door of 112 Sherman Place and you first find yourself in a small, enclosed porch that on this day is flooded with sunlight and completely stuffed with high-end audio equipment: Linn, Rega, PSB, KEF, subwoofers, floorstanders, monitors, integrateds, DACs, cables, and more.

Walk into the main living/listening area and you’ll see two pairs of loudspeakers—Scaena Iso-Linear loudspeakers on one end, KEF Reference 207/2s (a favorite of Stereophile editor John Atkinson) at the other. Along one wall, you’ll see four racks of gear: amplifiers, CD players, and a lovely Roksan Xerxes turntable. In a corner: more loudspeakers. On side tables: table radios, of course, and iPod docks and remote controls and other accessories. On ledges, frames, and mounted on walls: room tuning devices of the controversial sort. (“They really work,” Lalin enthuses. “We can do a demo if you want.”)

Walk into a smaller den and you’ll find more loudspeakers (floorstanders and bookshelf models), cables, accessories, and what Lalin calls his own “wall of sound”: perhaps nearly 50 individual components—tubed and solid-state amplifiers, CD players, DACs, a Rega turntable….The racks stand taller than Lalin himself. “I would have more, but I’m short. I can’t reach any higher,” Lalin laughs.

The system here is highlighted by a pair of brand new KEF R700 floorstanders. Lalin refers to these as “Baby Blades” because they contain much of the technology found in KEF’s impressive flagship design. The finish is exquisite and the $3800/pair price tag makes them even more interesting. “This is definitely the coolest of the R Series,” Lalin says. “If you can find something that’s affordable and sounds great…that’s cool!”

Clearly, when it comes to gear, Lalin has no single, simply defined allegiance. “This is my ‘all-purpose-anything-goes room.’ It’s like a lab. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all philosophy. I’m trying to achieve the best of everything.”

As Lalin steps carefully behind the wall of gear to swap inputs, I find myself contemplating the many components, the rows of loudspeakers, the tangle of cables, the stacks of accessories. I imagine that Lalin takes comfort in all this, but have to wonder if certain customers would find it overwhelming. I think of how I might do things differently: Wouldn’t it be nice to offer just a few, carefully selected product lines and create a more elegantly appointed atmosphere? It would certainly make things simpler, but Lalin doesn't seem very interested in simplicity. Or maybe it's just that his idea of simplicity is a little different.

“At this point, I’m pretty much done [bringing in new lines],” Lalin admits. “I’m going to narrow my perspective to components with digital inputs and networking capabilities. That’s sort of the new panacea—high-quality products that are convenient and user-friendly. That’s really cool!”

We’ve just listened to “Bed of Nails” from Wild Beasts’ outstanding album, Smother, through the KEF R700s, Exposure 2010S CD player and matching integrated amplifier (approximately $1300 each). The KEFs only have about 15 hours on them and I wonder if they could use a little more time. As the music plays, however, the sound improves, becomes more relaxed, more open, more coherent. I know the sound of the Exposure pieces well because they’ve been my references for several years. Now Lalin switches to the new Unison Research Unico Primo integrated amplifier ($2295) and CDE CD player ($3895). This combination presents a large leap up in drama, scale, richness of color, and overall physicality. Everything has grown in size; it sounds like we’re listening to bigger speakers. I’m at once impressed by the Unison Research gear and annoyed by my Exposure components; I find myself wondering how I might afford the Unico.

In the larger room, through a system comprising KEF Reference 207/2s, Chord CPA 5000 preamplifier and SPM 650 monoblock power amplifiers, an Esoteric K-03 disc player, and Kubala-Sosna cables, we listen to several tracks from Sharon Van Etten’s upcoming album, Tramp. The sound is clean, clear, dramatic, effortless, compelling, and big. The CD sounds far better here than in my own system, better than I thought it could sound.

Omar reaches for a copy of Kip Hanrahan’s Desire Develops An Edge, an exquisite and adventurous album released in 1984 by Hanrahan’s wonderful American Clave label. (Search for every record released by American Clave and buy them as you find them; you won’t be disappointed.) Desire Develops An Edge features inspired performances by Jack Bruce, Teo Macero, Steve Swallow, John Scofield, Jerry Gonzalez, Arto Lindsay, Puntilla Orlando Rios, and a host of others. The music and sound are equally passionate and vital.

Lalin’s Roksan Xerxes turntable, equipped with a Benz LP-S moving-coil cartridge on a Basis Vector tonearm, goes into a Manley Steelhead phono preamp for an impressive analog rig. Listening to “Sara Wade,” the quick, natural transients and warm, tight, physical bass combine for a sound that beautifully represents the emotion of the music. At one point, when the drummer pairs forceful kicks to the bass drum with delicate taps on the ride cymbal, Omar and I look at each other and nod, immediately impressed by the system’s excellent sense of touch and portrayal of nuance.

Toward the end of our visit, Lalin finally expresses a preference for a specific kind of sound.

“If you want to really recreate an experience,” he says, “the music has to sound real. A system should try to balance musicality with realism, and I lean toward realism. It’s like this place, my home, this store—I want people to be able to listen to this gear in a realistic environment.

“I work for the customer,” he continues. “My job is about creating relationships with people. This is my home, but it’s also the customer’s home. I’ve turned my house into a store,” he says with a smile.

“I love having people over.”

To make an appointment with the Audio Doctor, call (877) 428-2873.

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COMMENTS
MikeOx's picture

As a professional burglar, I'd like to thank Mr. Mejias for listing the homeowners name, ADDRESS and a list of various items I will use when I eventually burglarize his home.

Thank you Mr. Mejias.

Patrick Butler's picture

Mike, you could get the same information by contacting the store.  Why wait for an article in Stereophile to tell you about opportunities in theft?  You really need to work on your work ethic.

audiodoctornj's picture

Ha Ha Ha, really Mike,

That sentiment could be directed towards any retail establishment.

What Mr. Mejias, didn't feel it was necessary to mention is that there is always someone who is home,  two of my three pets are German Shepeards  who are only nice when we tell them to be, and are very protective of us and our property.

We also have a state of the art security and survillance system, not to mention there is a Police Bar 50 yards from my door, and the Police Station is two blocks away.

Thanks for making it easy to trace you down, Mike, enjoy the holidays.

audiodoctornj's picture

It was a pleasure having Mr. Mejias and Uncle Omar here. We had a great time showing them our shop. Unfortunately, we only were able to play Stephen a few of our systems, he didn't get a chance to hear our big Conrad Johnson/Scaena rig  or demo the new Meitner MA 1 and Naim NDX DACS,  both of which sound superb.

It has been quite a journey getting to this point, building a world class high end retail store and custom installation business is not an easy thing and this is especially true with the world wide slow down since 2005.

I have had some luck in finding and working with many outstanding vendors. One of my core philosophies is finding new and exciting products that represent state of the art performance at real world pricing.

I am very excited by the new Merrill Williams REAL Turntable which is a radical rethinking of how to combat and eliminate the problems of vinyl playback. The REAL turntable is  claimed to offer the performance of $25,000.00-$50,000.00 turntables for  $7,100.00. Time will tell if the table is indeed that good, but knowing Mr. Merill's reputation for building some of the world's best turntables I can't wait to hear it.

The new Meitner MA 1 Dac is another product that reaches stellar performance at affordable pricing and the new Unison Research and KEF products are stunning to look at and incredible sounding.

I am looking forward to another visit from Mr. Mejias; it was just so much fun!

Please call first for an appointment, if you want to visit the shop. Thanks everyone.

jeffca's picture

What a great way to run a hifi store... do it in your house! And, yes, when I read the first paragraph I thought, "Great to let everyone who wants to do a B&E know where the good equipment is!"

Cool joint, but I'd hate to have drunks knocking on my door at 2am wanting to show their friends what real audio sounds like!

As to this Mejias character, he has about the worst taste in music going. If you have a cool name and put out a crappy CD with a bunch of techno bleeps & blurps on it to a simple house beat, he thinks you're the coolest thing that ever came down the pike.

Mejias, here are 4 names for your to do some research on: Allan Holdsworth, Porcupine Tree, Planet X and Ra. And, may be, if you want to hear something fun and bluesy, Albert Collins doing Too Many Dirty Dishes, you miscreant.

jeff

audiodoctornj's picture

Hey Jeff,

Thanks for your concern, howerver, I don't open my doors to just anyone without an appointment first and second I HAVE TWO VERY LARGE GUARD DOGS, I also am a member of the NRA, draw your own conclusion.

I hate to disagree with Jeff, however, the Records and CD's that Mr. Mejias, brought over to my shop at least on this go around were really good, this new artist from Jersey City, Sharon Von Etten was absolutely  fantastic; kind of old world female blues artistist meets today's best female alternatrive rock.

And the other rock record featuring Jack Bruce on vocals was also very enjoyable. Music as with anythingelse is a matter of taste.

 

volvic's picture

Stephen, so nice you visited and shared with us. I have always coveted a Xerxes since I picked my Linn LP12 over the Xerxes many years ago and replaced it with a VPI HW-19/SME combo, I am always curious as to hear owners of Xerxes share their experiences with the table.  Would Mr. Lalin be willing to share?

Nick

audiodoctornj's picture

 

Dear Volvic,

I too have been a Roksan fan for many years hence I always wanted one.  I bought my table long before I was a retail store, for my own usage.  The original Xerxes was found by Andy Singer and I sold the table when I worked there. The Xerxes was a huge improvement over the Linn LP 12. The problem with the original Xerxes was it was difficult  to keep the  Xerxes in  proper alignment.

The later Xerxes 10 and 20 models fixed many of the problems with the original Xerexes and offered even better sound.

The Roksan gets the pace, rhythm and timing down where many other tables with more mass seem to sound less energetic, and to my ear,  much less involving.

The world of analog falls into really two distinct camps: high mass and no suspensions, or low mass tables with a suspension.

If you look at a turntable as an isolation system each class has something going for it and you will get numerous audiophile arguments, on which design is bette

I am awaiting a brand new turntable design that may truly be a huge breakthrough in vinyl playback, the Merill Willams REAL Turntable.

This is the first turntable that I am aware of that uses a plinth designed to totally absorb and dissipate all vibrational distortion  from the record and cartridge by employing a unique composite plinth made out of rubber.

According to Merill this  unique composite material absorbs all energy feed into it turning that energy into heat, and for the first time you can accurately hear what is going on in the groove.

I ordered one of these tables based on two reviews, and knowing George Merrill’s work personally  for years, his concepts in the original landmark Heirloom table which came out in 1982 were employed by almost every major turntable manufacturer in the last thrity years, Merill was and is a pioneer in understanding that we are dealing with the movement of energy in a vinyl playback system, and all aspects of a table's design must deal with either supressing or eliminating all vibrational energy.

Mr. Merill says his new REAL turntable, at $7k  is far superior sounding to the Merill/Scalia MS 21 turntable which was a $24k  Stereophile Class A rated turntable which Michael Fremmer reviewed favorably last year to earn the table its rating.

So Volvic, I will let you know after I receive and run in the table if the REAL table is really as good as all these people are saying, if not I might just end up back with another Xerxes or an Oracle which is another turntable I highly recomend.

volvic's picture

Mr. Lalin,

I remember a few years ago at the Mtl Hi-Fi show Tourrag Moghaddem was tearing a strip into me for picking the LP-12 over the Xerxes, when I mentioned the sagging plinth he said it was supposed to sag a little which I always found unconvincing.  That said I told him the fully decked out Linn back then plugged through Bryston electronics and the large Maggies sounded better than the Xerxes.  Since then I have removed the Linn chip out of my head, Roksan have fixed their reliability issues and the new Xerxes looks oh so beautiful (looks are important to me and for the wife factor).  I am keen to hear it again but with perhaps an SME tonearm or Graham rather than their own tonearms, have a sneaky suspicion the Roksan arm is the weak link.  As for the Oracles I used to own the second generation Alexandria in the late 80's and while it sounded very nice getting the suspension to say afloat was always a chore and the quality of construction was never up to the same level as the Linn; leaking bearing, paint flaking off clamp and plinth.  That said even though I swore never to buy another turntable with springs I still find the present and previous generation Delphi to be oh so beautiful and it sounds magnificent.  I can't wait to hear the REAL  results, look forward to your thoughts.  In the meantime best of luck in all your endeavours and thank you for allowing Stereophile in your home.

cheers

Nick

gadgetgirl's picture

Thanks for sharing this profile with your readers. It's helpful to learn about new retail models and novel approaches to servicing customers.

haroon's picture

 

In Jan 2011, I was looking to audition KEF 207/2 and nobody was carrying them in NYC or MD area. Even the dealers told by KEF did not carry them. Then we found Dave, who not only had these but was very flexible about day and hour of audition. I visited the place with my wife and it was like if we were visiting a friend. When we left the place we both had same opinion about the place. No typical sales push, No typical salesman, “Can you hear this, this….” (In 2008, dCS people forced me to believe that upsampling is better at a NYC shop and I went along to get some peacful listening) and a really magical sound for well known tracks.

For the first time, I can connect to such page in Stereophile and it is very well deserved for Audio Doctor.

J.Z.'s picture

Cutlines, please guys. This is my favorite magazine and blog in the whole world, but you kill me with all these pictures and no cutlines. 

Princebaba's picture

While looking to audition an AMR CD-77, I came to find that Dave was my local dealer. Soon after contacting him, and discussing my musical and sonic preferences, I arranged an audition. I was plesantly suprised to find the AMR and other comperable players on hand. After hearing the unit in his store, Dave offered me the opportunity to hear it in my home insisting that this was the only true way to see if a component would enhance my system. After describing my present system, we arranged a time for Dave to come by with the player. He also suggested a couple of other items that he felt would enhance the system and I thought that as long as he was there, I should make the most of his time and expertise. The player turned out to be just right, and the other suggestions are now on my wish list. Dave went out of his way to ensure my purchase was right, and to build a relationship that I hope will last for many years to come. 

glennQNYC's picture

The Audio Doctor is arguably as polar-opposite from big-box as can be... I absolutely love the place. 

I think it should be noted that Dave has even more demo spaces than the article apparently had the ability to 'print.' He makes use of a surprising number of nooks and corners in the place to display (and listen to) different possibilities. 

The Audio Doctor place is a truly great resource for anybody looking to actually (gasp!) listen to the gear they are about to invest in; or share Dave's commitment to audio (and video) nirvana. If you ever step foot anyplace near Metro-NY, it is certainly worth the time to schedule a visit with The Audio Doctor.

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