The Hub: News, events, gossip - Sound by Singer to close

For the last quarter-century, there has been no high-end audio dealer in the world as well known as Andrew Singer, of Sound by Singer in Manhattan. From the junk-bond era through the last burst bubble of the markets, the megabuck systems sold by Andy Singer reflected not just the extremes and excesses of the high end, but of Wall Street itself.

On the 6th of August, Singer informed his vendors that "despite our best efforts, Sound by Singer has lost its lease and will be shutting down its showroom at 18 East 16th Street, New York, NY in mid-September." He did not state specifically that the company was going out of business, only that the company would "ponder our next move" after the completion of a clearance sale on August 21st.

Attorney Andrew Singer began his business more or less as a hobby in the late '70's, demoing systems in his mother's living room for a hardcore audiophile clientele. Singer left the practice of law in 1978 with the opening of the first Sound by Singer store on Lexington Avenue between 34th and 35th Street; his first employee was Steve Guttenberg, now well-known as an audio writer, reviewer and blogger.

From the '80's on, Singer's bearded visage became a common sight in full-page ads in audio magazines, most notably in Sterophile. Singer's advocacy contributed to the success of many brands, including Krell, JM Labs/Focal, and VTL. Perhaps more than any other well-known dealership, Sound by Singer was viewed as an extension of its owner, and that owner evoked strong reactions in those who knew him, and those who merely knew of him.

Singer's verbal facility, combative nature, intolerance of fools and imposing physical presence made him the subject of endless stories, some no doubt apocryphal. We may never know, for instance, if an amplifier really was shot full of holes following a dispute with its distributor.

The audiophile community is familiar with stories of Singer's alleged arrogance; the industry abounds with tales of hard-dealing and tough terms. Many who worked with and for Andy, though, are fiercely loyal.

"I think he was a great businessman," said Steve Guttenberg. "I was with him for sixteen or seventeen years, on and off, and always got along with him well.The thing most audiophiles don't realize is that retailing audio is hard work, and we worked hard there. The bulk of the time, I worked my ass off; every day was a race to get things done, and they just didn't all get done."

Guttenberg noted the changes in clientele that came as Sound by Singer grew from an audiophile hangout to a destination for the rich and famous: "in the early days, the customers really were exclusively audiophiles. In the last ten or fifteen years, I'm guessing three-fourths of the customers were rich people, not necessarily audiophiles."

John DeVore of DeVore Fidelity knew Andy Singer both as his boss and as one of his dealers. "I started in sales in '96, and worked there until about 2000, and tapered off as my company got up and running," DeVore said. "I always liked Andy, and still do. He was my biggest dealer, and when he called to tell me about the closing--well, that wasn't a conversation I wanted to have."

Strong opinions seem to follow most of Singer's actions, and they've followed the news of the closing of his store. Posts on an industry forum on CE Pro were less than kind; high-end legend and founder of The Absolute Sound Harry Pearson said the closing was "a fate richly earned and deserved."

What Andy Singer will do after the doors close for the last time at the familiar storefront on 16th Street, and he ponders his next move, remains to be seen. Some say that health issues and age mean retirement is likely; others speculate that Sound by Singer with adapt to the demands of the virtual marketplace and reappear as an online business. Efforts to talk with Singer have proven fruitless.

John DeVore offers a comment that will encourage some, and dismay others: "Hi-Fi is really in Andy's blood. I'd be surprised if he didn't come back."

Our next entry of The Hub will discuss still more changes in the world of audio retailing. In audio, as in the rest of the world, the only constant is change.


Sound By Singer has moved, and is not closed. Please see their new location here: SOUND BY SINGER,LTD. 242 WEST 27 STREET,SECOND FLOOR NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10001
Wow. It sounds like this guy would get more love if he went back to being a lawyer!
Many have weighed in on Andy's personality!
While i could not describe him as endearing i could say that he was a saavy businessman who might have taken some of his earlier personality from his days as a lawyer and mistakenly tried to affix that to his days in Audio retailing!!

i do not believe in kicking someone while they're down...Especially when medical issues are present and we have not heard the whole story...
Like i said, he has much to mend from his past but maybe now a clearly new vision of what and whom he needs to be into the future!
the megabuck systems sold by Andy Singer reflected not just the extremes and excesses of the high end, but of Wall Street itself.

I could not read past this sentence. You gotta' be kidding.
Boy, from what I have read on this and other sites I sure hope that Mr. Singer gets visited by four ghosts real soon.
The legend of Andrew Singer's arrogance is founded on fact, not just myth.

Some years ago, upon delivery of a new Conrad-Johnson Premier 17LS Mark 2 from Sound By Singer, I found a cheap black plastic OEM remote inside the box - not the C-J metal gold anodized one. When I called and spoke to Singer directly about this issue, through some convoluted logic it became my fault. He must have been an effective lawyer because I actually began to question myself, "Could this be my fault?"

In the end, I had to get the C-J factory in Fairfax, Virginia involved.

During my undergraduate years at Georgetown University, I made several trips by Metroliner to NYC. I recall that when asked what I wanted to see, Sound By Singer was an actual destination.

Yet, it does worry me that this landmark store will not be around. It worries me even more what dealing with him through internet sales will be like. The internet - one of the last bastions of scoundrels.
Andy was always kind and patient with me for 25 years but I have also seen how he treated others who walked into his store and yes, his hubris and arrogance caught up with him but I will greatly miss him and his store. A great and profound loss. I wish Andy nothing but the best life has to offer and thank you.
I had the opportunity of visiting Sound by Singer this Summer. My reception by the sales force was much less than favorable. They were all standing around drinking coffee, and had no interest in auditioning a few pairs of speakers for me. Little did they know I was carrying a AE black card. How do run a business like that? No surprise they are going down. I feel no sympathy for them what so ever based on my impression.
AZ twins: audio is full of ex-attorneys. Not an accusation, just a comment. Ironically, most manufacturers I know NEED a good attorney.

Srwooten: what, think that was over the top? Eh, maybe. One gets carried away on occasion.

Davt: Four ghosts? Weren't there only three?

Bird: Sorry to hear of the issues. Scoundrels on the internet? I'm shocked, shocked I tell you!

Pookie: thanks for the kind comment.

Gomer: thanks for the not so kind comment!
I use to see and read the Sound by Singer ads in Stereophile; I liked them. I always hoped that one day I would go to New York and visit that show room, perhaps even make a hard deal and purchase something. What bothers me more about the closing is that I hate to see any business in these times have to shut their doors. As a worker and a consumer, that saddens me, I wish him luck.
Audiogon-bill, don't forget Jacob Marley. As seen above there are those that had positive experiences with SbyS and remember those with enough fondness to weigh in on a positive note. Jacob was the first ghost and expressed his concern for his old freind, as some others have done above and no doubt will continue to do. In all seriousness, I am sorry to see this business end. I really hold dear the good old fasioned brick and mortor audio store and hate the idea of them laying down with the dinasours.
Chief--I hate to see anybody close, doubly so when it's someone as influential as Andy.

Davt--got it. I wonder who the Marley would be in this story?
I went into the store a couple of times, and was always amazed about how condesending that group could be. I figured the first time I had hit it on a bad day, but every day appeared to be a bad day.

At one point they were blowing out Transparent cables for 50% off, so I bought a bunch. In comes the CC bill, and they're full price - umm, what's going on here? "Oh, you didn't say they were on sale" Say what?

Disgraceful business practices and mannerisms. I fully agree with Harry Pearson - "a fate richly deserved" is right. Glad to see them gone.
I met Mr Singer and had some short lived dealings with him a few years ago. What I can say is that I felt deeply sorry for him then, as I do now.

After a short while with him, I became immediately aware that a perfect brithday gift for him would be an acrylic box of slow moving flies, with which he could secure them one at a time and tie a sewing thread to each ones neck, allowinghim to observe them fly in tight circles restrained by the thread between his fingers. That would preceed his tearing their wings off, one by one, as they slowed down further.

I wiser man than both he and I once said: "The lowest state of a man is one wherein he feels the uncontrollable need to dominate another man".

Possibly through this understanding, those who read this can understand my sorrow for him.
Sno: dunno what to say. Sorry for the bad experience.

Note: I think I need more coffee before I can absorb your comment. Thanks, though.
Never met him, never went in the store, saw the ads in Stereophile. A presence and marketing force in the industry is, at least temporarily, leaving. Were these flush times others would rush to fill the void, these aren't and good, bad, or indifferent, he will be missed, for what he offered, like it or not.
In 1979 I bought a pair of large Acoustats sound unheard (thanks to TAS) at full list price from Sound by Singer and had them shipped to me in Boston. Problems ensued. For starts, they needed even more than the measly 200w/channel I could supply. There was other stuff too. Telephone calls were no help, although I can't recall to whom I spoke.

Several months later, in New York, I visited his Lex Ave quarters and asked to hear them properly. But Andy knew full well that I had already purchased the set, so I got the old brush-off. I persisted and finally was granted an audience -- but no assistance. He put on a record and disappeared.

Finally I sold the damn things for half price.

When I got into the audio business later, Andy served as an inspiration -- not to be like Andy!

No hard feelings though.

And here's a lovely PS -- that same day I dropped in to Lyric, the Rudest Audio Salon in New York if not in all Christendom, and was magnificently treated by Mike and Lenny. Who knew?

Thanks for the heads up, Bill.

Like so many stores with "thousands served" it is not uncommon to have a vocal response from all those that had a negative experience, or two at SBS :o).

Considering the 7 year arc of feedback I received from customers that shopped there as well as my own and other vendors experience, I would say the store was a major positive for high end. No matter which NYC store you mention, there will be complaints from anyone that felt slighted and I am sure there are a number given the volume of traffic through each store. Lyric even locks their doors to manage walk-ins and Innovative has changed a lot from the ultra-highend store that it was.

Yes, Andy could be difficult and I am sure earned some of the comments made. I usually found him honest, direct, sharp minded and committed to representing the best of HE Audio--ok and sometimes grumpy. I'll take those attributes over some of the other more problematic personality traits I have run into at some " other" dealers across the US.

Losing any top vendor that had as impressive an array of brands as SBS lessens everyone's choices, even at other less trafficked stores. It affects distribution, it shrinks the diversity of brands available to customers. Ultimately it limits choice and opportunity for exposure to great but maybe less exposed lines. How many NYC dealers support lines like Zanden, Soulution, VTL, VAC etc? Mention any NYC dealer on these pages and there will be complaints associated with them, whether Lenny, Elliot or Dave but having the four-horsemen as HE dealers in NYC was better than 3 plus a number of more boutique shops like Park Avenue Audio etc.

Before everyone starts celebrating the loss of SBS as a retail presence it might help to put it in proper context. Andy was committed to HE like few other dealers. He was not a video or commodity broker. It is a tough business and he was appropriately seasoned for it. I also thought the staff was mostly great, Mike Nadler, Bill O'donnell Ben, Ava and the crew were a hard working, knowledgable and generally friendly group.

I wish them nothing but the best in the future and hope it does not portend more difficulty for the NYC market, which for better or worse is a major artery of HE Audio in the US and overseas for distributed brands.


Shunyata Research
Uru: agreed, he will be missed.

Clark:"no hard feelings, though". Really?? Doesn't sound that way! Glad something positive came out of the debacle, though.

Grant: Thanks for clarifying the big picture. I agree with you that losing SBS is a loss for us all. And, hey--I like the guy. ;->
"the megabuck systems sold by Andy Singer reflected not just the extremes and excesses of the high end, but of Wall Street itself."

Much like Peter McGrath's Sound Components store in S. Fl. experienced tremendous growth & success during the 'Cocaine Cowboys' era in Florida!
Chaz: uh... Right. Thanks for the interesting comment. I'll mention it to Peter next time I see him!
It is really sad, and a sign of things to come.
I think eventually, all sales will be web based, and you will not be able to listen to any products, just read what the magazines want you to buy.
There were several mid-high end stores locally, but all have gone under since Best Buy moved to town.
We had a Circuit City also, but they have since moved on.
There is one mom & pop audio store left in town, and they are supreme rip off artists, or at least they think they are.
They carry Klipsch, Integra, Sony (god please don't get me started on Sony!).
I really miss the time when I could walk into a store and listen to KILLER Yamaha separates running Infinity Preludes and so on, and so on......
Now days, you either have to read, buy, or take someones word for the performance of products.
Thats what makes these sight so invaluable.
No bs here.
If it does not sound good, or theres no bang for buck, you won't find it on Agon.
Hate to hear about it, end of an era :(.
Trust me Peter McGrath knew he was a pain in the ass and chased off more customers than he would ever win over, but that was him, no better or worse than Andy. Quite typical of the early high end scene during those early days which in manys continue to manifest to this day. But I can be a major pain as well. I am the customer and I have the loot. I busted both these guys chops back in the day. If for nothing more than sh*t and grins.
I have personally had no experience with Andy Singer.However, when you read all of the negative comments about him and his store, even if a small percentage are true, then it speaks volumes about his concern for the customer, or lack thereof.
Many years ago, I was extremely insulted by one of my local dealers, I decided on the spot to never do business with him again...Before that I had spent thousands of dollars with him. So, the easy solution for me was to take my business elsewhere..which i did. In the intervening years I bought several systems and spent large sums on them.Interestingly it never occurs to these foolish dealers that at the end of the day, they are the ones that will suffer most from their actions.
Makes me wander if the people that needed to buy from Sound by Singer also ultimately voted with their pocketbooks.
I never met Singer nor his store personally, but it was almost impossible to miss their adds featuring exotic gear and a full-body picture of Andy, a little too much for my tastings, but that is me.

I have always realized that being an audio retailer is for the brave, passionate and devoted individual, and I admire such posture of embracing challenge and fate, on the other hand, I still think that this industry has evolved to a lesser speed that it deserves due to lack of creativity and imagination from both manufacturers and their distribution arm, it had to be an outsider company from a related industry to open their eyes and discover a HUGE market out there for listening and enjoying musical reproduction.

I wish this gentleman the best of luck and thank him for his courage and enthusiasm, one learns more about example than anything else.
Pep: I seriously doubt that all audio sales will become web-based. The web does make for a different sales environment which many brick and mortars have used to expand their reach and customer base. It ain't ALL bad, by any means!

Davey: No telling what the cause is. Thanks for your comment.

Ferrari: I'm used to more congenial comments from you. Now here's another one Peter will never let me forget. Thanks? ;->

2001:I agree with you. It's easy to criticize manufacturers, distributors and dealers, but it takes guts to take stands and put your money where your mouth is. Thanks for your comment.
No worries mercurial people such as Andy and Peter always manage to land on their feet. So there is no worry there. Fortunately there are people in the business such as Larry at Hollywood Sound and the Audio Center in Deerfield Beach,FL, that are a joy to work with and a few others out there as well. But for warts and all it is sad to see Sound By Singer to shut down. Although business models such as this have little or no value today.
Speaking of landing on his feet, the Singer website now announces Sound by Singer Direct:

I guess we'll see what that means in months to come.

Manufacturers, distributors--care to comment? Any inside news?
And why should that be a surprise - You gotta love it Bill - See they do resurface in one form or another.
My only experience was when visiting my sister in Manhattan around 1991. I was merely a prospective law student, not the full fledged lawyer I am now. I went into the store just to look. After all, SBS was the pre-eminent store in the U.S., and how could I go to NYC without visiting the mecca of high end audio?

The listening rooms at the time were separated by sliding glass doors. When I entered the store, the sliding glass doors to all the rooms were open. I went into the first listening room, and kept my hands behind my back for fear that someone might think I was going to play around with the equipment. No other prospective customers were in the store, and I did not ask any sales personnel for assistance because I did not want to take a salesman's time knowing I was just looking around.

After I walked out of the first room, a salesman closed the sliding to the next three or four rooms. Nobody was in them. For whatever reason, he clearly did not want me even looking around.

I very much doubt I was the only person who experienced that type of behavior. In a hobby that has difficulty attracting the newbie, it can ill afford to offend prospective members. I think SBS wanted an exclusive clientelle, was proud of it, and became a victim to it. I lament the passing of a high end audio store, but I really wonder how much SBS added to our hobby.
i have had a totally different experience at the store. i used a different startegy. however, i would say that auditioning a stereo system for the purpose of trying to decide whether or not to buy a component or , compare components is highly problematic.

i may be in the minority, but i feel that anything less than a personal audition in ones stereo system makes buying a component a crap shoot.

my strategy for singer:

1) don't stay there too long

2) make an appointment with a sales person to ostensibly audition a specific component.

3) do your listening and leave.

4) do your listening on a weekday (mon thru thuirs, afternoon when it is not busy.

5) try to avoid andy.

i was lucky. when i visited the store, on average, once per year, for a period of time, andy was busy. he passed by one of the listening rooms but did not engage in conversation.

i did buy an inexpensive component from the store.
MrTennis, what an interesting comment you say in #5..Try to avoid Andy.
What a pathetic comment to have to make; Frankly, I would have thought the one person you would have been glad to see should have been Andy, and conversely the other way around.(Andy should have been more than pleased to see you, a prospective customer!)
The fact that you wished to avoid him says volumes about his professionalism, IMHO.
The treatment that Jamesgarvin received was common place in many dealers. I myself have experienced this behavior and would then go out of my way to do two things..1) Avoid any future contact with these establishments and 2) Try and make sure that any other prospective customers were aware of the treatment that I received. Usually after some amount of time, these establishments would close their doors for good.
James, tennis, Davey: it's said to feel you have to actively AVOID the proprietor of a store. Generally, one seeks out the head guy. Sheesh.

Ferrari: We'll see.

Thanks to all of you for taking the time to comment.
I remember my Grandfater who was a Army Calvary officer in the Spanish-American War and later on in France in WW1. He took me aside one day, he said only two things happen in life. You either give a lesson or you get taught a lesson. Neither one of them are bad, because in the process you have learned something and it is up to you to make your decisions based upon those lessons.

He was not the easiest person to deal with as I recall, but you always knew the unvarnished truth.

Perhaps in this day and age there is still something to be learned from the lessons he spoke of. Those words have always stuck with me. Dear old Grand Dad was in my mind the John Wayne of his time. He passed in 1959 with full military honors and I won't forget that day in Arlington.

Just a thought in dealing with some of the folks we come into contact with today.
They had a lot of expensive gear on display and I noticed not all of it in good working order.

I suspect avoiding damage to expensive gear by customers just looking to be a big motivator for a shop like that.

I can think of two other larger recent NYC shops with similar practices of locking customers out of rooms with high end equipment. One of those also went under in recent years. I have not noticed that practice though in other smaller high end shops in otehre areas I have been in though FWIW.
i have no reason to doubt the many horror stories about this retailer, but remain confused as to how it could possibly have remained in business for 15+ years. who, specifically, is the market for haughty attitude and hostile service? is there some sort of nyc soup-nazi thing where it's considered kitschy fun to get some abuse with each purchase? inquiring minds want to know...
"Chaz: uh... Right. Thanks for the interesting comment. I'll mention it to Peter next time I see him!"

Bill, I'd love to hear his response! You should chk out the documentary 'Cocaine Cowboys', a fascinating tale that not only sheds a glaring light on the drug trade but is also a primer on the amazing growth of S. FL. from a sleepy gigantic retirement village to what it is today (good AND bad!). If you chk out the video you'll see how, at a time when the rest of the country was hurting financially, S. FL. was booming! Interviews with high-end jewelry, real estate, & car dealers clearly show how they were making incredibly huge amounts of money during this time. If McGrath didn't make profit, he'd have to be the ONLY high-end merchant that didn't! Plz don't misunderstand, him and all the rest weren't doing ANYTHING illegal by selling their goods, but the truth can't be denied.

Be forewarned, this movie makes 'Scarface' look like a Disney cartoon!
Thats what makes these sight so invaluable.
No bs here.
If it does not sound good, or theres no bang for buck, you won't find it on Agon.
Hate to hear about it, end of an era :(.

Pep21....I noticed you just joined the site this month.Hang around a bit,I think you might change your mind!!!
Mapman, I would have no issue with a salesman lurking around to make sure I did not break anything. I'd do the same thing. But I would simply remark that I am there to answer any questions you may have, and heck, since there are no other customers around, if you want to hear something, let me know. That lets me just look around, does not piss me off, but gives them the piece of mind nothing will be broken. Win win.
Couple of years back I came in to some money and was in market for some exotic electronics and so I called and simply said: I want to buy these cd combo, preamp, phono, and monoblocks and I am ready to send a cashier's check. No BS and let us negotiate ceratin discount and give me the final total price. I don't know who answered (May be it was Andy!) but they said okay it is retail price plus shipping. I asked No discounts? He curtly said: if you want discount go someplace else! We are talking six figures plus deal here and he said (practically) it is his way or get lost. The whole conversation took less than few minutes! May be I needed to be a bit more tactful and may be to his credit, may be he thought I am pulling his chain

Brooks Berden would have been all over his heels, graciously, to make this deal happen

I was glad I did not fly specially to NY for this!

Oh well, I will remember his usual two-page-King-of-the-hill ads though
I wanted to re-terminate three tonearms to xlr and was advised to speak with Brooks...
I called, THREE TIMES, and was told he was out and would return my calls which never happened!

Is he, like Andy, one of the "big dogs"? Yes, but that's no excuse for poor business conduct whether it be for service, sales, info etc.

Just seems to me that karma comes around...sooner or later...:-)
R.I.P. Andy et all!
Ferrari: great story. Thanks.

Map: If they're gonna do that, why not just have a security guard like they do at Tiffany?

Loom: dunno what to tell you. Never been that much of a masochist, and been in audio too long to put up with nonsense.

Chaz: I live in Florida. Don't need to see a documentary; the political campaign ads make 'Scarface' look like a Disney cartoon.

TP: C'mon, don't discourage the newbies!

Garvin: that makes too much sense to work. Thanks, though.

Nil:Somehow, I don't think it was Andy. ;->

Thanks, all for the great comments.
TP: C'mon, don't discourage the newbies!

Not discouraging anybody,just stating a fact!!!!
Azjake, This is unlike Brooks. Ask for Brian ( his son) if Brooks is not around. Although I have not talked with them in at least a year. hopefully they are still around and in business!
Never met Andy and his boys, but appears I have met his kind before. Thought I would take a newbie buddy to one of the nicer shops in my area. Was treated like trash. Made me feel like a fool. My friend confused. That is why so many of use Agon.
I'm with Daveyf, every person is a perspective buyer.

Attitude has no business when someone is shelling out their cash, whether hard-earned, or given.

It takes years to establish a good reputation and less than a minute to lose it, there are other dealers.

Probably a good idea to live in a gated community with a security system for restful sleep.
Rule #1: View every person who walks in the door as a potential customer.

SBS did not follow rule #1. Even in NY city, this rule still applies!

Go to Goodwin's. I believe they really love audio there. I always felt they did everything possible to make my visit very positive.
I know Andy, I like Andy and I respect Andy.

If you were to look at the number of audio writers, importers and manufacturers who have worked with and for Andy (some for several years) you would find that, singularly, amazing.

Andy had a huge investment in audio product and expertise. The number of sales staff and support staff was at the very least double of any other North American audio store. I spent time with he and his wife and many of his customers (customers that could actually afford and did actually purchase audio products - what a thought) they also adored him for his customer service and attention to detail. His persona, to the public, was partially self-manufactured and believe me when I say that it was a good thing.

Andy was and is a businessman who made a huge investment in a city with the highest costs and survived through the toughest of times in the worst of markets and the most difficult of consumers. I know of no importer or audio maker that, in times good and bad, would not have begged to have been available in his store (and I did see one speaker maker beg, literally beg, to be there it wasn't pretty.)

He will always be Andy. I respect Andy.
as long as you're the exclusive purveyor of a desirable product, there's nothing intrinsically wrong or irrational with a no-discount/no-haggling policy. lexus and range rover built their brands this way (although they too have sucumbed to economic times and softened their pricing policies). however, to succeed with this approach, a retailier needs to be fanatical about customer care and service--look at lexus's consistently top rankings for buying experience. in audio, i firmly believe there will always be a place for fancy, full-price bricks and mortar stores--there's still a lot of moneyed people who prefer to shop that way--but i trust that these retailiers have never had to work harder and smarter to survive.
"however, to succeed with this approach, a retailier needs to be fanatical about customer care and service"

I second the thumbs up on Goodwins High End. Solid advice and over the top customer service, regardless of where one buys in be it entry level or the most esoteric. That's why after 30+ years still going strong. Well done Al Goodwin and continued success.