I used to work in San Jose where it was possible to bring a CD into a stereo store and experiment with higher-end equipment. San Jose has engineers. We like to experiment while, at the same time, respect people's equipment as a direct result of working with expensive stuff ourselves. Nobody wants broken equipment. Alas I had no money then.
In NYC, where I work now, the only higher end store I know is the Stereo Exchange. But those clowns want control; they want to babysit the whole experience. Which I absolutely hate. Every little thing has to have a uppity sales person in tow.
What I'd like to do is experiment with a tube-preamp, tube-amp, plus some speakers. Is there such a store? Or a show? In particular I am wondering why, as I am given to understand, tube pre-amps are so critical to reasonable sound.