Quality and Elegance at In Living Stereo
In Living Stereo is located at 13 East 4th Street, one door down from Other Music and just across from where Tower Records once stood tall. It's a great place for a hi-fi shop. To get there, you might take the 6 train to Astor Place, where you will climb right into a blur of so much height and movement and memory.
You've been here, on this corner, a million times before. There is the familiar Cube sculpture, standing in the middle of a busy intersection like a homeless person, surrounded by all sorts of traffic and spinning slowly, slowly, on one tired edge. The old Carl Fischer Building with its enormous black clock is lost, however, behind a shiny modern tower that reflects the blue sky, the summer white clouds, commuters in workout attire, students with bloated backpacks heading to Cooper Union, punk rockers in studded belts and tattoos.
In the old days, you would have continued down St. Marks Place to the Grassroots Tavern where Sean and Eileen and Erica are waiting. You would share so many pitchers of Budweiser and baskets and baskets of salty popcorn; you would wonder about the man with the unusual bulge in his pants; you would pat the smelly old dog on his soft head; you would listen to the story of the gray cat that had been tossed from the roof only to bounce from the awning and onto the sidewalk and into the bar, never to leave again; and you would play every song in the ancient jukebox, hoping to impress Erica with some bit of knowledge of something.
Or you might continue on to the 4th Street Bar where the kids are playing Buck Hunter with an unusual zeal and expertise, and where you met Erica for your first date. Was it even a date? It was late July and she walked into the air-conditioned bar, soaking wet and radiant and hesitant, having been caught by a mid-afternoon summer thunderstorm. You kiss her on her cheek, close to her right eye.
Today you will walk along Lafayette, keeping Joe's Pub on your left, where you have seen so many showsnone of which you can rememberwith many different people who are no longer in your life. You'll turn right instead and you'll see it. In Living Stereo is located at 13 East 4th Street, one door down from Other Music and just across from where Tower Records once stood tall. It's a great place for a hi-fi shop. Inside, you'll be greeted first by Roscoe. His hind legs seem to give a little as he pushes himself forward to sniff at your pants. Further into the narrow store, to the right of a row of floorstanding loudspeakersDeVore Fidelity, ProAc, Regaand leaning against a glass display case is the owner, Steve Mishoe, tapping at some keys and vaguely smiling.
Steve is laidback on the verge of seeming aloof, but you can tell he is happy to see you. He extends a hand and motions to the backroom. A single leather chair is set near the far wall. You sit down and to your right there is a collection of tube amplifiers, green and gold and beautiful: Shindo and Leben. On the floor, against the wall, a large, rambling stack of vinyl tempts. To your left, Verity Audio loudspeakers stand silent and poised. Behind you, in each corner of the far wall, Shindo CN-191 Vitavox loudspeakers stand proud and strong like sentinels in mahogany and gold. In front of you, the system waits, patient and exquisite.
The system: Verity Audio Leonore loudspeakers ($15,995/pair); Shindo Apetite integrated amplifier ($5500), with 6V6 output tubes, pumping 15 glorious watts per channel; Shindo Masseto preamplifier ($11,500) for its phono section; Auditorium 23 Hommage T1 moving-coil step-up transformer ($4695); and the sublimely gorgeous Shindo Player System Turntable ($25,000). A Shindo Mr. T line conditioner ($2000) ties it all together while a Box Furniture Co. D3S rack ($3700) keeps it sitting pretty.
The Black-Man's Burdon is now spinning on the 'table. "Have you ever seen this?" The gatefold opens to what might be the greatest scene ever to decorate an LP jacket. Steve Mishoe holds it open for me.
War is doing a version of the Stones' "Paint It Black" that burns and taunts. "How is it that I've lived my entire life without ever hearing this?" I ask.
"Ah, there's just so much stuff out there. You don't have to go back before, like, 1972, and you'll always have something good to listen to," Steve says.
He grew up in Syracuse, New York, where they had places like Clark Music and Gordon's Electronics, and he sort of just shrugs when I ask how he got into hi-fi. "I don't know. I always wanted to have the best stereo." Mishoe's older brothers had some gear, too, but they weren't as into it as he was. "I wanted better stuff than what they had." Later, in college, a roommate showed up with a Denon turntable and Moscode amplifier. "And, man, you know that was just war!" Steve laughs.
Mishoe followed a group of friends from college to Manhattan and wound up with a job in stock brokerage, which he hated. Needing something new quick, he found himself at Stereo Exchange. Again, Mishoe was only there for a short while before he needed a change of scenery. Having studied graphic design in school, he was able to land a temporary position doing presentation work for Merrill Lynch, which bought him just enough time to plot his next move. He wrote up a business plan and applied for a loan.
In Living Stereo opened its doors just weeks before September 11, 2001. Mishoe was 32 years old.
"Damn, I'm 31."
"Time for you to open a hi-fi shop," Steve exclaims.
Steve opens a bottle of Brooklyn Local 1 and pours a glass for each of us.
"No, I'm only kidding. I don't recommend it. I mean, there were times when I was down to ten cents in the bank account. I would be praying for something to happen, and all of a sudden, someone would come in and buy a pair of loudspeakers, and it would be just enough to keep me going. It's all worked out.
"Do you like the brew?"
"Yeah, it's awesome."
"Good. But I want you to try the Armagnac."
Eric Burdon is growling and War is blazing. Our heads are moving back and forth to the music.
"The little Apetite rocks, huh? That thing is getting people excited again. They come in here and see it and want to know more about it."
When asked about how the current economy has influenced sales, Mishoe remains subdued: "Eh, it's been a little slow, but it'll turn around. I've seen this happen before, and it always turns around. I'm sort of a niche operation, so it's a little difficult for me to judge, but this is still America. We still want stuff."
The stuff that we want may be changing, though. Steve says customers are quelling their thirst by purchasing accessories and making minor upgrades. Meanwhile, he hopes an overall focus is shifting toward smaller, more efficient, and more elegant components, like the Shindo Apetite. Mishoe's "old-world philosophy" is tied closely to his beliefs that a music system should "make you feel at home," should engender a sense of pride and comfort, and will inevitably foster a sort of emotional attachment.
"I had a woman come in here the other day. She took a look at the gear and told me that it reminded her of her childhood. That's what this stuff is about."
And he bristles at the mention of enormous loudspeakers and high-powered amplifiers.
"That stuff's not about listening. It's not about enjoying. It's about showing off. What we're doing here is not about techno-design or fancy materials or extreme marketing. It's about quality and craftsmanship."
But Mishoe is comfortable with hi-fi being a mostly male endeavor. "I mean, it's the bachelor pad thing, too: Super-sultry for the smoking-jacket crowd with a Sean Connery air to it…" He smiles and assumes a certain posture. "I sort of enjoy the sexes not understanding each other."
He laughs and stands and goes to his stack of vinyl and selects Sam Rivers & Dave Holland, Vol.2. I've never heard this before either.
"I love this record. Ready for the Armagnac?"
Steve leaves the listening room for just a moment before returning with a 1973 Marie Duffao. "This is a brand new bottle." He hands me a small glass. "Cheers." It tastes of caramel and maple syrup, honey and smoke. "Isn't that amazing? Just a finger of it lasts forever. Just that little bit will last you all night."
It's sort of like Mishoe's philosophy on hi-fi: Quality over quantity, hard-won craftsmanship over modern flair, elegance over ostentation.
"That's what people want these days: elegance. It's all about elegance at this point. If you can find something that's really good, and not huge," he says, "you'll always find a place to put it. That's why I like simple tube circuits, rather than gigantic monstrosities. I don't want equipment that defines quality by a power rating. Quality isn't about power. Quality is about properly matching an amplifier to a speaker. You can put together an awesome-sounding stereo system and it doesn't have to be ridiculous or embarrassing. It should make you feel at home," he emphasizes. "When you sit down to listen to music, you should feel like you've made it. 'I can listen to my music, I can enjoy it.' All of this," he waves his hand toward the Leonores and the Shindos, "all of it, it should all be a work of art, but not at the expense of comfort."
The stylus finds its way to the run-out groove and Steve gets up from his seat with a smile. "We'll play one last thing," he says. "Spirit, which I really like. Listen to this."
The Audiophiliac, Steve Guttenberg, also recently visited In Living Stereo, and crowned it "NYC's hippest hi-fi shop."