Re-Tales #17: Going where the music lovers are

Is combining a record store with a hi-fi dealership a radical idea? Maybe not: It could be a way to reel in new, music-loving hi-fi customers where they're most comfortable, in record stores searching for music.

Brick-and-mortar hi-fi dealerships need customers in their stores—now more than ever following pandemic closures. The hi-fi industry's long-term survival depends on bringing in new blood. New, music-loving customers might begin as casual listeners. In time, a few will advance to full-blown audiophilia; everyone has to start somewhere.

Why shouldn't their first experience with better sound happen when they walk into a record store—or when, after shopping for records, they wander next door to an adjacent hi-fi dealership and ask to listen to one of the records they just bought?

I recently spoke with two dealers who show and sell hi-fi equipment in record stores. The two share some common ground, but they're located in different markets, take different approaches, and—for the most part—serve different kinds of customers.

Barry Perlman owns Supervinyl, a record store cum hi-fi shop in Los Angeles. He has been in the retail business since he was 17 years old. You may have heard of one of his companies: He co-founded the Lucky Jeans brand in 1990.

Perlman has always loved music (footnote 1). He opened Supervinyl about a year and a half ago in Hollywood, on N. Sycamore Avenue near Santa Monica Boulevard, a neighborhood where many new businesses are opening: cafes, restaurants, fashion boutiques. Foot traffic is increasing. The store is near the Record Plant recording studios and XM Satellite Radio's broadcast offices, so Supervinyl gets walk-in traffic from people in the music industry.

Local traffic also walks in to BEK HiFi, a hi-fi shop in Allentown, Pennsylvania, that shares a dual storefront and some interior space with preowned vinyl specialist Double Decker Records.

Thirty-something Erik Konigsberg—EK—manages BEK Audio, a business his father Barry—that's the B—founded as a home-based dealership in 2005. Since 2013, BEK has rented space in a partnership with Double Decker, which opened 25 years ago.

"I get a lot of walk-in traffic," Konigsberg said; he told me that about 20% of his sales come from walk-in customers. He also estimated that 70–80% of Double Decker's record customers at least take a peek into his hi-fi room. "They are at least intrigued enough to look over, to see my stuff," he said. That starts conversations. "The interesting thing is, it's repeat business," he told me. "There are a lot of people getting into vinyl, the vinyl craze."

Perlman had wondered why record stores don't sell audio equipment—something better than the Crosley players occasionally seen for years in record stores—so he decided to do so himself. From the outset, he planned for Supervinyl, which focuses on new vinyl, to carry turntables.

Perlman told me he doesn't consider himself an audio dealer—at least not in the usual sense. "There are already a lot of good audio stores in L.A.," Perlman said. "We're sort of an outsider on [the audiophile scene]." Supervinyl is first and foremost a record store. "We sell lots of cool records and boxed sets, and [we] sell gear to complement that. It feels a little different" than a dealership.

Supervinyl has a small listening room where Perlman demonstrates select McIntosh components. He also sells Rega and Andover turntables, including an automatic model. He displays turntables—some of which local artists have hand-painted—displayed on round merchandise tables among LP boxed sets. He encourages touching. "People can try them out," he said.

Some newbies will get hooked; some won't. That's fine; the audiophile hobby isn't for everyone.

Konigsberg, too, wants to bring new customers into the hobby, but for him it's not just about newcomers: He enjoys building systems that appeal to seasoned audiophiles, to bring them back in, give them "a sense of joy and elation about music again."

Perlman has a personal connection to the equipment Supervinyl carries. "I've known McIntosh as a brand. I always aspired to it as a kid." He has also owned a Rega turntable for years.

BEK, too, carries Rega turntables. They also carry classic marques like Luxman and Harbeth, niche brands like Brinkmann and Simaudio, brands from nearby areas like DeVore, Oswalds Mill Audio (OMA), and Rogue. Konigsberg likes having direct access to smaller companies' designers. "I can ask them why they do certain things: 'What's your thinking behind this?'" he told me.

While Supervinyl's brick-and-mortar store is Perlman's primary emphasis, the store also sells equipment online—all the store's lines except McIntosh and Sonus Faber.

Perlman has spent some time in hi-fi dealerships. "It was never a real pleasant or friendly experience," he told me. "They'd have three records. They never played what I wanted."

Perlman wants Supervinyl to be different. He wants to get people involved and make audio "fun and easy to understand," to make it make sense for those starting out. "They sell Teslas at Century City Mall," Perlman said. "It's time for doing things differently."

Konigsberg doesn't sell online. "We want customers to come in." He, too, aims to make audio fun. "People are already intimidated by this hobby a little bit," he said. It's all about piquing people's interest, providing that first experience of better sound. Those demos he puts on are really fun for him, he says.

"Younger generations in general have never heard what good audio can sound like," Konigsberg told me. "They're blown away. This is real. This is how music can be. 'Go tell your friends and your parents!'" Even in an online era—or especially in an online era—word of mouth is powerful.

It's mainly music that brings music lovers in the door. The opportunity to hear their favorite music on a good audio system encourages them to stay. A few of them will want to take it home.

Footnote 1: Launched in 1996, his company's Lucky Brand Foundation held fundraising events including performances from Jackson Browne, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, and others to support children's charities.

teched58's picture

You write: "Is combining a record store with a hi-fi dealership a radical idea?"

These days, just opening a record store by itself is a radical idea. And opening a brick-and-mortar hi-fi dealership? That's just insanity!

stereostereo's picture

I have been called many things during my life, including and not limited to insane, argumentative, brilliant (only once I think), brave and stupid. However passionate is the one I most cherish. I just opened a new retail hi fi shop that includes a lot of new vinyl for sale. Walk in traffic has been brisk, I have only been open 13 days, and vinyl sales have exceeded expectations. The first thing almost everyone, and I mean everyone says upon entering Stereo Stereo is, "thank you, this city needs this." How charming I must say. Maybe I am insane, but a happy insane at this moment.

tonykaz's picture

doesn't insane mean repeating the same experiment and expecting differing results ? Have you Opened other Stereo Shops ?

I wish you well !

I wonder if you had to sign a 3 year triple net Lease ?
Are you having a Ma-Bell wired Phone System with Legacy Advertising ?
Are you stocking all those Brands that you advertise ? ( there is some heavy money inventory in that group )
Do you have a Manager and a couple of employees ?
We're floating at about an 8% inflation rate now forecasted to increase. ( fingers crossed here ) What is your developed strategy for these changes ?
Your Retail Store looks nice but kinda empty, will 33.3 sales support rents ?
I just read an economic report on Youngstown and Pittsburg, it reads rather bleak .

I, myself, am from the Rust Belt so I'm wondering how you are gonna survive in that Market.

My heart is out there for y'all ! and hoping good things,

Tony in Florida

stereostereo's picture

This is my third stereo endeavor. Sold the other 2.
My lease is none of your business.
Yes I have a phone but I forgot the number.
I have some stock, mostly in Tesla.
I employ a record buyer and a part time junkie.
Sell lots of stuff.
I don't like clutter or dusting.
That's Pittsburg. I live in Pittsburgh.
I really don't care where you live, but thanks for lettin me know.
Thank you.

tonykaz's picture

Well, thanks for writing back.

I wish you well !

Tony in Florida

shawnwes's picture

Which ever it is I wish you well & think it's a great idea to sell vinyl, cleaning product and accessories such as sleeves if you're trying to sell gear to that world. If you're good at it there's not enough thorough cartridge installers either. Please ignore "Mr. Sourpuss I'm smarter than everyone else" comments - he seems to get off on posting those sort of comments.

tonykaz's picture

This Stereostereo just signed a lease enabling his Landlord to capture the Store's meager profit.

Opening a Wilson level Store in the Rust Belt is not well thought out.

Tony in Florida

Julie Mullins's picture

Congrats on opening your store—and for having the passion to do so. I think people are craving the human contact a B&M dealership brings. It sounds like things are going well so far!

stereostereo's picture

Thanks so much Julie. That is very kind. The early indicators are very positive. I am very excited as is the community. Strong traffic and interest; especially on social media. We are still only about 75% complete but happy with our progress. Thanks again for you support and interest.

JRT's picture

Regardless whatever else might be offered for sale at a brick and mortar retailer, today's consumers still need to hear headphones on their own heads and still need to hear loudspeakers well set up in suitable rooms, to hear the differences from among a wide variety of possible selections.

Reviews such as those published here are good means of bringing some worthwhile playback gear to the attention and interest of the readership. But the vicarious listening provided by reading a well written and well executed review is still not a good substitute for real listening to headphones and loudspeakers.

The business model may need some big changes (maybe value added resellers, or manufacturers somehow paying for brick and mortar retail support as something separate from sales revenues) but the listening requirements are not changing anytime soon. Real listening is still needed, and that still needs to be somehow facilitated.

Used vinyl LP record stores? Some very few consumers are interested in that sort of thing, but not me. I have some vinyl stashed away somewhere, but it hasn't been out of the sleeves since well before the turn of the century. Point being that a large inventory of used LPs is not going to attract me into the store. Good headphones and/or good loudspeakers well set up in a good room, that could be worth the effort of making the trip, as there is nothing available nearby here in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts.

I say very few consumers are interested in vinyl because while in Dollar volume LP and EP combined sales exceeded that of CD sales in 2020 (YoY), that was the first year that had happened since 1986. And on a unit volume basis, 31.6 million CD sales still well exceeded 22.9 million LPs and EPs combined. New CDs are generally less expensive than new LPs and new EPs. And sales of all of that physical media is now eclipsed by that of streaming and downloads. Also consider that of a US population of a little over 330 million in 2020, many fewer than 22.9 million of them bought any new vinyl, as some of the few buyers bought many more than just one new album.

Jack L's picture


Sorry, not for yours truly.

Sorry, I did/do/will not "need" to enjoy home music with headphones, being a consumer.

Why? Anti-social! Never want to be considered like something else at home by our loved ones.

When we go attending a concert, we always without exception listen with BOTH our ears which both receive a mixture of music from the performance podium.

Listening music with a pair of headphones on our head, we are separating the mixture of music we heard from the concert into 2 L & R discrete channels, allowing only one channel of music to one only ear. Failing to reproduce what we always hear at the concert. Can headphone music still be considered high fidelity to the original music performance ???????>

So tell me why should I bother to spend (big) money & time for headphone music listening let alone being looked like ignoring our folks at home.

I would not classify such personal behaviour as being selfish. Yet...

Listening to both channels of music with BOTH ears is believing !!!!

Jack L

Julie Mullins's picture

...the listening requirements are not changing anytime soon. Real listening is still needed, and that still needs to be somehow facilitated.

I quite agree. Listening is crucial for getting a sense of what the equipment can do—and becomes increasingly important for more nuanced higher-end gear, room and system synergy, etc.
New customers also need to be able to have that listening experience—to hear what a good system can do for their music.

volvic's picture

I’ve become fascinated as of late with the Jazz Kissa concept out of Japan, where excellent jazz music, Hi-Fi, and coffee or scotch come together to form a gesakumptswerk of sonic pleasure. What better way to confirm our love of Hi-Fi with like-minded people coming together to sip a beverage and listen to great music through extraordinary gear. I believe this idea could be a variation on a theme to spawn other similar places where different music, equipment, and drink can introduce a younger generation to how music can and should be played. It’s nice to see Hi-Fi shops thinking outside of the box, their survival depends on it.

Jonti's picture

I'll never forget requesting an original press of "Ah Um" (Mingus) from among thousands of jazz records in a Sapporo jazz kissa the size of a single-car garage. The woman behind the bar carefully placed it on a monster of a turntable hooked up to an ultra-high-end system, lowered the needle, and zing! I heard it like I'd never heard it before: through the JBL Paragon while nursing a fine Nikka whiskey. The rest of the clientele (two old guys also with whiskeys, evidently not their first of the evening) nodded their approval and remained silent until the needle hit the dead wax.

Jazz kissas will probably survive in Japan for a few decades yet. Some close when their proprietors become too old (most are in their 60s or 70s now), but I hope that a younger generation will inherit and continue to manage these institutions.

The other side of the disc is that many younger proprietors everywhere from Tokyo to Barcelona already have their own "listening bars", which are the modern take on the jazz kissa concept. The music here is more fruity and current (typically house, ambient, techno, exotica), the drinks more wide-ranging (beer, cocktails, wine), and the clientele inevitably hipper (but not necessarily cooler!) and less male-dominated.

Both concepts are about sharing a love of music in a conducive environment.

Julie Mullins's picture

A few larger US cities now have listening bars that sound like variations on the Japanese "kissa" theme; I've also seen some in the UK, Italy, and elsewhere. Myriad ways to introduce people to better sound are welcome.

Jack L's picture


Yes, there are tons music listening bars all over Japan.

Being an addict to vinyl classical, & a stranger to jazz, I would jump on the sounthbound train from Tokyo City to Kawaski, the largest industrial city of Japan, still in Greater Tokyo. A 40-minute ride across 25KM track.

Why? Kawasaki is the home town of the world infamous (very expensive) Auido Note which custom-design/builds all-triode tube amps under the master mind of the late H. Kondo since 1976. How expensive? USD125,000 for 'Kegon': a silver loaded 17W+17W 300B power amp, of which I love the sound big bigtime.

Kondo-san used to operate a listening bar there, playing vinyl music with his very expensive triode amps. that attracted patrons from all over Japan & overseas visitors including yours truly. I don't know the bar is in operation after Kondo-san's unexpected death.

Jack L

volvic's picture

Done, will enter it on my to do list. As a huge classical music fan I do intend to raid their classical vinyl and sacd stores as well as seek the audio note ongaku kissa bar. Yes, those kondo amps were something special.

volvic's picture

I don't have many travel bucket lists, but Japan is undoubtedly one of them, raid their record stores, buy three vintage Grand Seikos, eat sushi and noodles till I drop, and go to as many Jazz Kissa places my stomach can handle. I love the concept and envy you for going there and listening to glorious music and great gear in a great atmosphere. The Kissa model might work for some retail stores here in North America. I know I'd be there every night listening and considering an equipment upgrade.