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Positive Feedback ISSUE 61
Xtreme Record Day LA
Every day is like a record store holiday in the Astor household! Sadly though, nearly all of my record purchases nowadays are made online. "Traditional" brick and mortar record stores have, in large part due to the soaring commercial rents in this vast metropolis of New York City, gone the way of the dodo bird. The few remaining stores have for the most part, little or no stock of note (or anything of value is auctioned off on eBay). Princeton Record Exchange, once known for being THE place to shop for used LPs, is but a shell of its former self.
So what's a diehard record collector and audiophile to do when there's no hometown stores to visit on Record Store Day? Jump on a jet plane and fly 3000 miles cross country to Los Angeles? Well it just so happened that I was going to be in Los Angeles on April 19th and 20th receiving a Lifetime Award for Personal Training and had coincidentally arranged, without realizing at the time that it was Record Store weekend, to stay over Saturday and Sunday. Talk about hitting the Lotto! Of course, I didn't know which stores to hit on Record Store Day but luckily wheels came in the form of Sanji Warnasuriya, a Facebook audiobuddy and brethren vinyl lover (he's just taken receipt of a Grand Prix Monaco turntable), who generously took time out of his schedule to show me a few of the LA record and audio hotspots.
First Stop - Amoeba Records, Sunset Blvd., LA
As I was staying at the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd, there was no better to place kick off the day's festivities than Amoeba Records! Proudly proclaimed as the "Worlds Largest Independent Record Store," Amoeba was jumping by the time I arrived in the early afternoon. For those non-Angelinos, Amoeba opened their first store in Berkeley back in 1990 and eleven years later, launched a branch in Hollywood. Ameoba features a broad selection of LPs that definitely favors jazz, rock and soundtracks genres. Though quiet while I was visiting, Amoeba is also known for its in store concerts by leading artists.
Apparently, people began lining up at Amoebas at 2:30 AM on Record Store Day, some eight hours before the store's opening. There was controlled mayhem in the rock 'n' roll aisles with customers standing several rows deep to browse the new and used record bins. When I went to checkout, the line extended all the way to the back of the store. Luck was on again on my side as the 20 some odd cash registers made short shrift of this line!
Oh yes. The record haul consisted of a few Riverside, Columbia and Contemporary jazz LPs along with a sealed copy of the Classic Records 45 rpm Clarity remastering of Sarah Vaughan. Now those Project turntables for sale were awfully tempting but….
Second Stop - Sunny's Home Theater and Music Systems
After a quick stop for a bite at a local Mexican cantina, it was onto Sunny's Home Theater and Music Systems in Covina, CA. No, this wasn't a record store but a great time was had by all nonetheless. The proprietor, Sunil Merchant aka "Sunny," opened, after many years in the electronic business, Sunny's Home Theater and Music Systems in 2003.
Sunny's store sports a treasure trove of fine high-end audio lines including speakers from Wilson Audio, TAD and Martin-Logan, electronics by Boulder, Mark Levinson and Audio Research, digital from Boulder, Ayre and Wadia, turntables by Spiral Groove turntables and cables by Shunyata and Transparent Audio. In fact, Sunny consistently ranks as one of the top Wilson and Dynaudio dealers in the US and lives by the motto, "Got to take care of every customer!" In contrast to the oft encountered adversarial relationship (rivaling the early days of MLB owners and MLBPA) between high-end dealers and audiophiles seen on the East coast, Sunny is a breath of fresh air "seeing audiophiles as gatekeepers," and, "when treated well and taken care of will result in sales." In fact you'll also find, in contrast to many East Coast audio stores, Sunny (as well as many other LA high-end stores) hosting LAOC Audio Society meetings, "as audio societies help spread the word." Or as Sunny says, "it's up to us to spread the word and the enjoyment associated with high-end audio."
After the usual audiophile banter, Sunny played for me one of his favorite systems with the TAD CR-1 speakers driven by the recently released Audio Research 450 wpc. DS450 solid-state amplifier. Needless to say, the sound was everything one has come to expect from Audio Research and TAD: Clean, dynamic, good resolution and great imaging. Thanks to Sunny for being such a great host!
Third Stop - Brooks Berdan Ltd. And Brian Berdan Records, Monrovia, CA
So far, the day's scorecard read one record store and one high-end audio store stop. And the long day's journey ended up in a tie as the final stop was an awesome record store within a high-end audio (or vice versa depending on your point of view)! For those non-Californians, Brooks Berdan (the store) has been in business for some 25 years, no small feat in the high-end audio industry. Brooks ran his first store out of his home but within a year, had relocated to an 1100 sq. ft storefront at their present day location. Eight years later, Brook took over the right side of the building and then a year and a half ago acquired the remaining part of the property with the intention of opening an audio museum. Then sadly, Brook passed away and his son and partner Brian took over running the store.
In the end, the audio museum plan didn't prove practical and Brian instead opted to, "move forward and grow in the modern era while maintaining the core of the business established by his dad." Brian's intent was also to continue the "Berdan standard" by being, "more things to more people." Thus the record store/high-end audio store concept was jointly developed by Brian and his two partners and long time music industry veterans Joe Ramsey and Sean Sprinkel as a means to, "draw and educate people about high-end audio." Now, isn't that a novel idea! And what better idea than to host the store's grand opening on Record Store Day and invite his customers (and yours truly) to an after hours gala replete with a wonderful barbecue attended by a number of audio luminaries such as Jim White of Aesthetix and Norman Schied of Sumiko. When I left for Long Beach around 8 PM with my editor Dave Clark, the party was still going strong and apparently people didn't clear out until 2 AM in the morning (as they say, audiophiles should pack their toothbrush before leaving home!).
Brian's store was chock full of mouth watering gear at all price points. What obviously intrigued me was his "big rig" featuring the Wilson Audio X2 Series 2 (with XLFs on the way) speakers powered by VTL's monstrous, 800 wpc Siegfried Reference monoblock amplifiers along with VTL's 7.5 Series 3 line stage, DCS Paganini stack and Burmester PLC (also on static display: Burmester 911 Mk.3 amplifier).
Next door also caught my eye with the Wilson's Sasha speakers, Grand Prix Monaco turntable outfitted with the Tri-Planar arm and Benz LP-S cartridge and the 450-wpc VTL 450 Mk. 3 amplifiers (note the Jadis electronics in the background!).
Not to be forgotten was the grand opening of the adjoining record store filled to brim with new and used jazz, classical, rock and other music genres from labels such as MoFi, Speakers Corner, Classic Records, Japanese reissues, etc. My record haul: a couple of Speakers Corner's Verve reissues as well as a used MoFi copy of Alan Parson's I Robot (I've been dying for quite some time to do a shootout between the original release vs. the Classic Records and MoFi reissues!).
Last Stop - Food and Music with Friends
Last but not least, a big shout out to my editor, Dave Clark, for picking me up at Brian's store and providing wheels back to Long Beach as well as dinner with Carol Clark at a local Thai restaurant followed by a great listening session to some of the day's catch.