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 shows—none of which you can remember—with 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 loudspeakers—DeVore Fidelity, ProAc, Rega—and 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.

I laugh.

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."

rvance's picture

Nice writing again, Stephen. I grew weary of the Forum Wars and came to your blog for some sweet relief, delivered, as usual, in spades. Mishoe's place sounds like an oasis of sanity. I can imagine you two grooving and wah-wah-ing into the night. You are building an incorruptible vault of great memories in New York. The city, the women, the music, the job that pays dividends past the paycheck- the friendships. These memories will keep you warm when you get to be my age and wonder what happened to all the longing and desire that kept you wired deep into the night and thirsty for more.

Trey's picture

Rats, that post made Nashville feel very, very provincal! Ah well, I will pour some nice stout and listen to The Apples In Stereo with the wife and eldest daughter before going to bed tonight! Cheers to you lucky souls in the big city!

RankStranger's picture

Wow Trey, If Nashville feels provincial then Melbourne, Australia feels positively, well... colonial. Don't get me wrong, I've travelled a lot and I wouldn't trade my home town for anywhere but NYC does sound like it has its charms ('course I wouldn't mind visiting Nashville too!)

tom collins's picture

don't get me started on cincinnati for provincial. we got nothing here. stephen, drink it all in and thanks for letting us live vicariously with you.best regards.

Peter's picture

Good luck to those guys at ILS- they are fighting the good fight.No discussion of that corner of this beautiful city, however, would be complete without mentioning that Art Blakey lived right around the corner from there, for many years- throughout the 80's and up to his death in the early 90's.Regards,

selfdivider's picture

Trey, sure the NYC is like no other place in the country with all the great options, both cultural & hi-fi related, but as for me, listening to Apples In Stereo with your wife & your daughter before turning in means your life is WAY more desirable than the majority of New Yorkers. Well done.

Rob Skuras's picture

i was in NYC on business a few years back, and just happened across ILS while on my way to Other Music.it must have been clear to the staff of ILS that i was an out-of-towner because they literally ignored me the whole time i was in the store. i tried to engage the staff in conversation once or twice, and they treated me like i was invisible. the 20 minutes or so that i spent in the store were awkward and uncomfortable and i felt like an uninvited guest.

Peter's picture

@ selfdivider-People in New York City have wives and daughters, and listen to records with them, too-Cheers to you and yours,Peter

Zeb's picture

Just a quick note to say that I really enjoy reading your blogs.Thanks and keep them coming :)

nunh's picture

I really love the honesty in your stories/ writing - excellent!Thanks

Yardboy's picture

Greetings from Blighty.Apropos of nothing (other than In Living Stereo seems my kind of place, and that going to valves from solid state is like discovering vinyl after the desert that is digital), keep an eye out for the new Califone LP, All of My Friends are Funeral Singers (out 6 Oct on Dead Oceans). The band's last LP, Roots & Crowns, is one of the best records of the Noughties (the vinyl sounds SO MUCH better than the CD it's quite alarming). The mp3 on Stereogum of the new album's title song suggests it may actually turn out to be the best record of the Noughties!Keep fighting the good fight.

Al Marcy's picture

I seem to be enjoying listening more and more. I recently reminded myself of listening to jazz on the world's greatest juke box in the west bank's most kitchy pizza place. But, a waitress at some other pizza place stole my heart. Life ain't fair, but, my stereo system is ... Keep On Typin'!

Brian's picture

I'm an entry level stereo kinda guy, I'm a married man living in the East Village. I have been inside ILS several times. I have been dissapointed everytime. I was originally looking for low end speakers (again entry level), rega's or the dynaudios that Steve carries. Unfortunately I felt like I was being rushed out of the store, so that greater attention can be paid to a high end customer. On a later date I was looking for cheap ($200) interconnects, when I asked why these over another brand, I was met with the answer "they're just better". I asked "how so", he replied "they just are better". I would have liked a better explanation then better, which I got from both Stereo Exchange & Sound by Singer. Mishoe remember, entry level consumers become high end consumers. Unless you don't plan on being in business that long.

nyc32's picture

I was in ILS a few years back and picked up a pair of totem lynks for surround speakers. The sales guy was nothing but helpful and very attentive. He showed me the high-end gear, which was clearly out of my price range then showed me the totem line. He answered all my noobie questions and was very patient. I had returned a few times more to purchase more totem gear, but alas all good things come to an end and they no longer sell totem. On the other hand stereo exchange treated my like a 3rd world tourist. BTW, I'm a NYC native born and raised!!!

skuras's picture

it's funny, because the same day that i got ignored at ILS i spent an hour engaged in great conversation with a salesman at stereo exchange. he was polite and pleasant and intelligent and actually talked to me for 60 minutes even though there was about 0% chance of my buying new stereo gear while in NYC on business.

Buddha's picture

I'm waiting for the Shindo Laboratory Model: CN-191 to go on closeout.;)

Steve M.'s picture

You'll be waiting a while for that! Those speakers make me smile :)

andy_c's picture

Steve claims to object to things that are "not about listening". And yet most of the things he's talking about, such as "elegance", "make you feel at home", and "when you sit down to listen to music, you should feel like you've made it" are not at all about listening either. They are about image and status, not sound quality. What he's selling here are just fancy "lifestyle" systems (to coin a Bose marketing phrase). I'm sure they sound good, but I'm equally sure that much better systems could be assembled for less cost. Being an audiophile used to mean that you were interested in the best possible sound quality. "Elegance" and other lifestyle concepts don't even enter into that picture. I suppose people feel more secure around elegant components, so marketing to the insecurity of audiophiles does make good economic sense. And of course the WAF comes into play here.And all this flowery prose about "15 glorious

andy_c's picture

(BTW, the actual limit is less than the stated 1024 characters). What got cut off above is:And all this flowery prose about "15 glorious watts per channel" is hilarious!

Steve M.'s picture

You are certainly entitled to your opinion Andy but how can you be "sure" that you could assemble a much better sounding system for less cost? I don't understand how you can make that claim of certainty. How did you come to that statement? Have you compared equipment? I've certainly been around a lot of equipment and can assure you that in the end what I sell is absolutely about performance. The customer's who have bought systems from me in all but the rare occasions did so because the performance justified the cost to thm. And yes, they listened to other systems before coming to that conclusion. Many of my customers aren't wealthy by any stretch but they really enjoy music and music through a great system and found the investment worth every penny. BTW the elegance and smaller size of much of the equipment I sell is about form following function rather than lifestyle. The amps are of the lower wattage variety and do not require large unwieldy chassis. This doesn't mean they a

Steve M.'s picture

Sorry I got caught off as well. This doen't mean that they are inexpensive to build. They use in many cases very expensive custom tranformers and rare parts. They can be extremely labor intensive. Aesthetic likes or dislikes are personal and many people including Stephen like the aesthetic, in this case the Shindo equipment. My customers come from all walks of life and to suggest that their motivations and decisions are suspect because of some blanket statement is not fair. I would like to end by saying that I sell less expensive equipment as well and the criteria for it is the same for the highest end gear...Performance and Value.Thanks,Steve Mishoe

Alexander's picture

Judging from my experience with them last year, I didn't think they wouldn't last for too long in the business, especially in this economic climate. And I guess I was right. They need all the help they can get and getting featured here is no coincidence. I suspect they will be out of business within a year or two.

Dennis's picture

I'm a very loyal audio customer (my shop is on Long Island), but I have visited ILS many times (always treated well. Heard the Shindos for the first tme there-AMAZING gear-just musical. I go out of my way to buy from my audio guy but, my next upgrade, if I go tubes instead of solid state (Ayre MXR), it will be Shindo and will be from Steve. If you want rude, try Sound By Singer-I'd rather stick a fork in my eye.

Russell R.'s picture

I'm distressed by your comment Alexander. To predict the demise of a business, a man's creation and livelihood, is, to some extent, an attempt to hasten its destruction. Words have power. And I find your casual use of them and your opinion shameful.My experience of ILS is that it fulfills more than a commercial role in selling hifi. It serves a romantic role. I've walked in there and felt that I entered a kind of fraternity. Those guys don't know me, but they've been willing to let me listen and hang out. They've engaged me in conversation. They have opinions (I dont agree with them all). They seem to love what they do. It's man's domain. It's more than a store... and less. More in that it seems to have a social function for the truly dedicated audiophile. Less in that it's so intimate, more like a studio than a shop. I like that it's unique. I like that it's quirky. I like the equipment choice. And I'm going to keep going there. And I hope it thrives!

tom collins's picture

russell: i agree with you. what you say is similar to my experience with bmw motorcycles. years ago, the shops were small, mom and pop deals. there was usually some coffee going, some bike magazines laying around and a few old farts hanging around to talk bikes. the owners were always enthusiasts too. bmw corporate then decided they wanted dealers to look like disneyworld with huge showrooms loaded with merchandise and many bikes, usually with very high overhead and the kicker, they couldn't sell any other brand. so, a dealer either had to drop a million $ or drop the brand. so, no more mom and pops. now you have to buy coffee from a machine and its not comfortable to just hang out and they want/need to sell you something everytime you walk in. and the number of dealerships is drastically smaller. i hope that places like ILS continue to survive or we'll be buying from Best Buy and Walmart. that may be cheaper, but the experience is cheaper too. is that what we want in our hobby?