Nowhere to hear speakers and amps anymore!

When I started buying stereo equipment in the 1970’s (yes, I’m old) in Seattle, there were many retail stores where I could hear and compare equipment. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1982 and found the same number of great stores until 2000 when they started disappearing and now there are none! There are plenty of Home Theater contractors, but I can’t find an audiophile store anywhere short of going to LA or back to Seattle! Is there an “audio desert” in my area? Seems like an opportunity for someone! Am I missing something? 


They are getting very difficult to find unless you are in a large metropolitan area such as LA or New York. Coincidentally, just yesterday I stepped into a Best Buy store to buy an iPad for a Christmas gift. I had not set foot in a Best Buy in many years. While in there I could not resist the temptation to walk over to the stereo area. To my surprise they had 3 separate listening rooms with much higher caliber components than I had even seen in a Best Buy before. Before, they only sold run of the mill stuff. They have stepped up their game it seems. The listening rooms were very private and very well done.  I don't know if all Best Buy stores have undergone this renovation/change though. You may want to give them a try.

Thanks. I guess they bought Magnolia Audio several years ago, but then I heard they dumbed/down the equipment to consumer stuff. Nice to hear of your experience. I’ll try it. 

The internet contributed to the near-death of the Brick and Mortar audio shop that you and I remember from the 70's.  If you want to actually hear and see a wide range of different high end gear, go attend one of the larger audio shows.  I am sure there is something not too far away from you, in LA or Vegas or somewhere else near the west coast, that somebody here could recommend.  Also, with the direct to buyer model adopted by some manufacturers there are greater opportunities to try stuff in your own home/system that you could return (sometimes with a restocking fee) if it doesn't work out for you.

 I guess they bought Magnolia Audio several years ago, but then I heard they dumbed/down the equipment to consumer stuff. 

Some Best Buys’ have the Magnolia section, but it’s not universal. I feel like Magnolia has been reduced - the selection and quality is nowhere near what it was at the University or Bellevue location. The level of knowledge of the salesperson is also very different from what we may have been accustomed to in the original stores. Still worth the time if you happen to be in a Best Buy that has a Magnolia section, but definitely not the same. 


aldermine OP: I could have easily spent tens of thousands in there yesterday on just one or two components.  What they're selling now is that high in caliber, but I already have more components than I know what to do with and have reached "audio contentment", but the temptation was definitely there!

@aldermine - Audio desert? I've lived in San Francisco since 1973 and just a few months ago auditioned (along with a few others) Marten speakers at Audio Vision in San Francisco. There is also Music Lovers Audio in both San Francisco and Berkeley. If you just do a google search, these and a few others will come up. 

The greater LA area is a beacon of hope…. but you got excellent advice from @larsman …. follow it and also consider appointment only dealers… 

Thank you, @larsman!  I appreciate that. I was searching for such shops that carried Rotel Mitchi and Accuphase and while Music Lovers doesn’t carry those brands, they do have an excellent assortment of speakers (including many out of my price range!). Again, thanks for the suggestion. Now I just need to make a 100 mile round trip! 

Last time I was in San Francisco (about 4.5 years ago), visiting my fellow audiophile cousin, we spent a day going to several audiophile stores in the bay area.

And it looks like they are still there.

I see:

Tone of Audio

Music Lovers


Future Sound

House of Music

Elite Audio

Audio Federation

While I am sure that list pales by comparison to the 70’s or 80’s, it is still pretty reasonable.

I used to live in Boston, and there was ONE high end audio store downtown, and a few in the suburbs.

Lechmere, CircuitCity, BestBuy were selling some high end stuff as well and as we know they are all gone. (BestBuy is hanging on by a thread)

I think today's landscape is similar, very few high end shops. Yes, if you live in a city of over 2 million, you will find probably 5-10 stores. But it will exponentially diminish with size. 

@simonmoon - House of Music, on Harriet St, is gone... Not sure about Elite Audio, but says Appt Only on their website.

By far the biggest in San Francisco are Music Lovers and Audio Vision (they have a pretty huge selection of all kinds of high-end gear). 

I always come across guys running small enterprises out of their homes. Most have made their money elsewhere and do this on the side to support the hobby and write off a portion of their home. 

I have a buddy about a brisk 5 minute walk away from our Seattle home who runs a fantastic appointment only business. Think Dohman, CH, Kuzma, Magico, Wadax, Consternation, IDEON, Aurender…. etc…. 

Another appointment only dealer close to me in winter paradise in San Diego….

Seek them out in your neighborhood 

In RIchmond, VA, we are very fortunate to have a beautiful new audio store, Carytown Sound (, which just opened this fall. It has a nice range of equipment and an enthusiastic owner and staff who are very low pressure. Really a gem at this time when brick and mortar stores are disappearing. 

The disappearance of retail stores has been supplemented with the emergence of a vibrant online used market.  Do your research and buy used smartly, and if it doesn’t work out turn around and sell it for little/no loss.  In some ways it’s almost better because you get to hear a piece of equipment in your own room/system that’s often not possible through a traditional dealer, and you often get a 50% discount for your trouble.  I’ve had much success doing this, but it obviously works less well with things like large/heavy speakers.  


Thanks for posting that. I am two hours west of Richmond. I will definitely check out that place next time I’m in the area.

+1 regarding Music Lovers. Good selection, and incredibly helpful staff in my experience, anyway.

Be weary of Audio Vision. They literally charge you $250 if you want to audition any gear and you are only given that money back as a credit if you make a purchase within 90 days. Also, in my three or four times of walking in, each time was greeted with serious attitude.

They do offer a huge lineup of gear though, so if you know what you want and don’t want to deal with the trouble of going through an LA dealer, they might be a worthwhile option.

Brick and mortar retail audio is almost entirely gone, which is unfortunate.  You might have better luck at an audio show, like most of us. Try 


If someone is near Atlanta, there is still HiFi Buys in addition to the Best Buy locations that might have a Magnolia room


Those of us in smaller cities are without even a single brick and mortar showroom anymore. Just not enough market in areas with a million people to make it viable. 

It is truly an audio desert here in northwest Florida. It’s really sad. In addition to not having traditional brick and mortar stores, there are very few audiophiles, clubs, get togethers etc. My only contact with people of my ilk are forums like this which I’m glad to be a part of.

im in  memphis, tn

i got a hifi shop (halford loudspeakers) AND a record store (goner records) down the street. got another record store (shangri-la) 1.4miles away.

ive tried a fwe times but havent found any audiophiles interested in doing an audiophile club

I have 4 good stores within 20 minutes from my home in Portland, OR.

Stereotypes - Echo Audio - Audio Specialties - Chelsea Audio

You should be able to tell that we [audio lovers] are a small market.  Consider how many of your friends and relatives are interested in your rig.  And the smaller populated areas suffer more than metro areas.  I am 2.5 hours away from any sort of high end retailer, and even then they are limited in selection.

I feel bad for anyone who isn't near a major city.  The mid-market shops are gone.  I hope the big market showroom don't go the way of internal combustion car engines and manual transmissions.  

As an employee of such a store I can tell you that the vast variety of merchandise and easy access to information and opinions about it on the internet, and the ease with which consumers can cross shop, or worse, "showroom*" has made running a B&M store very, very challenging. The gear is costly to maintain for demo, retail square footage is costly, employing motivated knowledgeable people is costly, and everyone thinks they deserve a discount! The growth of direct-to-consumer (cutting out middle man profit) marketing with 14-30 day free home trials and free shipping, etc. has distorted the "value proposition" of traditional retail. No dealer can offer all that without a robust volume of sales and strong margins, and there just isn’t that large a market in any but the biggest cities...or the opposite...where real estate is cheaper, but customer density is low.

*Showroom...the practice of visiting stores to audition merchandise, but following up shopping for the lowest price among outlets not offering showroom facilities.


I think there has always been one or another in/near Harvard Sq. The best two suburban ones are still there, going on 50 years. I should have had a bumper-sticker: My car and my money go to Natural Sound.

Yes, buying stuff online and sending it back sucks. On the bright side, I found a cool candy store on the convoluted route to FedEx.


To be fair, I had no knowledge of all of them in the 90s, but I was pretty happy with the store on Boylston. There also used to be Tweeter etc. and I am always amazed how many audio companies started in the Boston area. The acoustic energy is tangible! 

@qwaszxxx - there is that about Audiovision, but the $250 charge will minimize people wanting to waste their time and effort setting things up but who have no intention of buying anything, so I'll cut 'em slack there.

I paid the $250 fee but I knew I was going to buy something, which I did, and the $250 was credited towards that. And the fellow from AudioVision came by with these big heavy speakers when they arrived and set them up for me, so I'm good with them.

It’s a problem. For example, there are no high-end dealers with showrooms in my entire state, except for a sound-reinforcement company that has a small room with a few McIntosh components.  And unfortunately, traveling out of state is not an option.

So I wind up being forced to buy without any chance to audition, using reviews, spec sheets, and online forums as my only guide. For example, I just ordered an $11,000 amp that I won’t hear until it arrives (and breaks in a month later). I’m sure I’m not alone, since a whole heckuva lot of people don’t live in places like SoCal, NYC, or Boston.

Yes, I know that there are a few dealers that let you try before you buy, but I haven’t had great experiences with that. For one thing, shipping out here is incredibly expensive -- paying return shipping on an amp could easily run $300 -- and the one time I did return an item (some four-figure cables), the previously congenial salesman was so prickly about the return that I swore never to buy from that outfit again. I guess it’s different if you live in a place that’s less isolated.


Hey listen, if you live out in the hinterlands or the way outer burbs Goodonya! There are huge benefits to that. But then don’t complain that you have no high-end audio stores. You chose that life/location and as a result you don’t have the best restaurants, audio stores, etc. Deal with it, take the benefits you have, and just stop complaining that the world doesn’t cater to you because you chose to live where you live (and yeah, I realize the OP is in SF but apparently hasn’t done the least bit of research to find audio shops that are in his area — duh). Or go live in a city where they still have some good audio stores and pay the taxes that allow the places in the hinterlands to even exist because they suck much more from the government than what they pay (can u say Wyoming?). Either way, stop complaining. We all know brick n mortar stores are struggling and declining, so just stop stating the painfully obvious. I know, here come the flames, but that’s ok.

@cundare2 It would appear the entire high end audio industry has a consumer problem; their consumers can rarely touch, feel and hear their products before purchase which wastes untold time, money and, carbon on the part of everyone. The industry is (to my way of thinking) limiting its market to (1) those who don't care how much they spend and buy equipment based on how much it costs and (2) those who buy on the web and are willing to play the return game. Yet the conundrum faced by brick & mortar stores is fully understandable. I get it. But there remains a need to hear the equipment before purchase. A participant in this discussion mentioned a fee a store was charging to come in and listen. While not ideal, I think this is fair. I'd pay $250 for a day of listening if the store had every product I wanted to listen to. And while the problem would remain for those not living in large metropolitan areas, one solution would be for the industry to establish an association that would open listening stores in major consumer hubs. The goal would be to showcase every high end product while simply breaking even on their cost through the imposition of an entrance fee. As mentioned, I'd pay a price to compare all the great equipment and I believe others would also. I'm sure everyone has an opinion on this idea (good, bad or ugly), so let's open the flood gates for discussion...

@soix: Sigh. To be clear, I’m not complaining (at least I wasn't intending to), just summarizing the current situation, which I’m sure I share with many others. If you have a solution, let’s hear it. As for me, I’ve, um, adapted.

I simply research the heck out of any major purchase online & in personal discussions with product designers & company reps. Only after a trusted consensus emerges do I actually pull the trigger. That’s a lot different than the way things worked back in the 70s & 80s, but I’ve always been an under-the-hood kinda guy, so I enjoy the process. And when you’re talking about five-figure purchases it becomes easier to access people who are directly involved with the design & production of candidate products -- and who often have interesting, educated comments on the industry and the tech.

To some extent, the current situation is only quantitatively worse than the way things were when hi-end shops were plentiful. Even hearing components in a showroom didn’t reveal how they would sound in your own system, in your own room. And when it comes to latter-day product classes like power conditioners & cables, that’s now truer than ever. So even if I was surrounded by showrooms, the same problem would still exist, even if in mitigation. And I’d probably wind up choosing to do almost as much research, and flying just as blindly, as I do today.


@bob70 ”metropolitanism” as you call it is what allows “ruralism” to even exist, because rural areas can’t support themselves, period. The great irony is that the great rural areas that pride themselves on “independence” completely rely on the federal government and the big cities to exist whereas the larger metropolitan areas pay more into the government than they take. Use your stupid little 😁 emoji all you want, but it doesn’t hide nor negate that absolute financial and mathematical fact.

retail stores where I could hear and compare equipment

You can attend audio shows. I've attended RMAF, T.H.E. Show, Pacific Audio Fest, and AXPONA where I auditioned then purchased demoed speakers.  

August/September this year, I took a drive through Colorado and Utah and visited around 7 stores and manufacturers. Lots of pretty scenery too.

I was looking at DACs, got questions answered, lots of good feedback and knowledge on my trip. 

Denver, Boulder, Erie, Ft. Collins, Salt Lake City and Colorado Springs.

Next trip to the south in March, 2024. More stores and an audio show.

Los Angeles has a lot of audio stores. I was shocked at how many compared to the Bay Area, where I had resided before. 

Some of the Best Buy stores near Los Angeles are supposed to carry and demo high end KEF speakers, including the Blade. The Best Buy, walking distance from my home in Santa Barbara, is not one of those high-end stores.


When I was in college (late 70's) tiny State College, PA had seven audio stores. I believe that they are all gone now. I am fortunate enough that the Philadelphia area still has some terrific venues! M¥ longtime favorite, Quest For Sound in Bensalem, PA has reduced hours due to health problems of the owner. You can still see and hear some very nice stuff on Saturdays and by appointment. Audiolab in Morrisville, PA recently opened a new large facility with numerous showrooms and great gear. Both are in Bucks County about 20 minutes from my home and are easy to get to from Philly, North Jersey and New York. Ovation is a beautiful store in Wilmington, DE. One of my favorites is BEK in Allentown, PA. I can get to these in under an hour. Audio and Video Expressions is 1 mile from me and by appt.only as I believe is David Lewis in Northeast Philly. The Best Buy in Plymouth Meeting. PA has undergone the same renovation as described above. Nice new listening rooms and mid-fi to high-end gear. A few other Best Buys in the area still have Magnolia's in the stores, but the stuff is not as nice and it is difficult to actually audition the equipment. They have removed the dedicated salespeople from the Magnolia 's. When driving between one and two hours I can go to North Jersey. Audio Connection in Verona is a fantastic store and I have visited others including the Audio Doctor in Jersey City which is by appt, in the owner's home.

I can get on the PA turnpike and head west to Reading, PA (actually Sinking Spring) and visit the Audio Barn. Hi DEF Lifestyle in Harrisburg, Pa is about 2 hours away. They also have numerous rooms packed with nice stuff.I was able to visit HI Def and Stereo Barn more frequently when my son was in college in Harrisburg, They both became part of my trip when we visited him.

I also travel to the DC area on occasion, where my wife spends time working. I have enjoyed visiting Deja Vu Audio and Command Performance A/V in Northern VA.

I guess that I have been fortunate to live where I do and have the time (in recent years) to travel moderate distances. I do try to support these businesses with purchases.

@yyzsantabarbara Some folks have provided me with the names of Bay Area stores and dealers. Some dealers work from their homes (unappealing) and a few actually have brick and mortar stores but have limited brands. I have a Best Buy down the street with a surprisingly large selection and decent listening rooms. They even have dedicated (but young) staff. Not quite the experience I was looking for. @transnova is indeed fortunate to have so many old school stores near him. But I live in Silicon Valley and you’d think that in the midst of all this technology and wealth one could find a decent, old school store!  In fact, the San Francisco Bay Area has 8 million people and you can count on one hand (less than one hand) the number of real audio stores that are not car stereo or home theater oriented. 

don’t be afraid of stores that also do home theater. Some of the finer two channel stores also provide home theater service. probably part of the formula that has allowed them to survive.

don’t be afraid of stores that also do home theater. Some of the finer two channel stores also provide home theater service. probably part of the formula that has allowed them to survive.

sorry about the double post. If somebody knows how to remove one of them, let me know we’re doing it for me please, thank you

Even in large cities, there aren't as many shops. The idea of a dealer network has been successfully challenged by direct sales models, which diminishes the opportunities to audition equipment in a showroom. Some manufacturers at the high end have taken the boutique approach where they showcase their products along with a few partner company products. Bang & Olufsen does this. Magnolia is the largest seller, and even then, there are limited ranges of gear on sale: speakers by KEF, Definitive Technology, Martin-Logan, B&W, electronics by Marantz, Denon, but not McIntosh, at least not everywhere.