Downtown stereo store caters to lovers of the warm, round analog sound of old
Note: This story was amended to reflect the correct name of the business, which is InvestmentAudio.
Mere seconds after the first side of a jazzy, all-instrumental James Brown album from the late 1960s concludes playing, Richard Hayes makes a rapid beeline across his shop to turn the record over and lower the stylus on the first groove of side two.
His dedication to hearing the near-seamless play and warm, enveloping sound of a two-sided vinyl record indicates how seriously he takes sound, music and the vintage equipment through which he prefers to listen to them.
Hayes has turned his audiophilic passion into a mini-career with InvestmentAudio. He and his business partner Chris Stout opened the store last September in half of the former Akasha jewelry space at 12604 S.W. Farmington Road, just west of Watson Avenue.
A brick-and-mortar extension of an online business theyve run since 2010, InvestmentAudio focuses on pre-digital, analog-based home stereo equipment turntables, amplifiers and receivers, tape decks, speakers manufactured mostly from the early 1960s through about 1980. Hayes, who also works in a retail sporting goods store, buys, sells and with the help of on-site engineer Todd Wilson refurbishes the equipment, which goes from a couple hundred dollars for an older, lower-end stereo receiver to $1,500 or more for a top-of-the-line Marantz model. He also has an impressive cache of well-preserved used vinyl records for sale.
While the shops low-key ambience is opposite that of a Best Buy or similar big-box sound store, InvestmentAudio is far from a dusty, kitschy shrine to outdated technology. Customers of all ages, hailing from far and wide, clamor for the equipment Hayes sells.
Our core customer is probably 40-plus, but we have a real strong market with young guys, hipsters, you name it, he says. They want this stuff. They dont want the new.
Devn Hayes, Richards wife and de facto business assistant, says one customers teenage son was so enthralled with the stores turntables and vinyl records, his parents bought him a record player for a graduation present.
Its just fun to see how they can actually touch these things instead of just hearing about turntables and records and stuff, she says.
Hayes, who admits to having a digital surround-sound system in the living room the couple rarely uses, sees 1970 to 1980 as the golden age of the hi-fi. Thats when analog technology was best equipped to capture the warmth of studio-recorded sound, before what he describes as the bright some would say brittle sound that digital technology brought with it.
After 1980, they started putting in integrated chips, which changed the sound, he says.
Hayes is diplomatic, yet matter-of-fact about the difference between old and newer sound technology.
Its a warm sound rather than the new stuff, which is bright and hard to listen to for a long time, he maintains. The digital signal is very sharp, as opposed to the analog signal, which is more rounded.
In his educated opinion, a clean, well-preserved vinyl record played through a mid- to high-end Marantz analog system is about the purest way to listen to recorded music from the past 60 years or so.
Vinyl through one of these units is the best, he says. You do get improvement by putting a CD through (analog stereo). A lot of new stuff you buy has digital-to-analog converter units inside.
While believing analog warmth trumps digital brightness, Hayes recognizes that some equipment has improved in quality since the late 70s.
Were going back in time as far as equipment, but the same is not as true with speakers, he says. Speakers have definitely gotten a lot better. We carry kind of a mix, with newer speakers and good stuff from the old days.
Hayes certainly understands the portability and other benefits that make digital MP3 files and programs such as Apples iTunes so wildly popular. Theres nothing wrong with listening to music on an iPod or iPhone, he maintains, particularly if you have a dedicated analog system somewhere at home ideally in a room set up exclusively for listening.
The portability that MP3s have made available has just revolutionized music, he says. Whats unfortunate in the process is, with an MP3, you dont hear what youre missing. Just like before, theres a certain number of people who dont particularly care about the quality of sound, while others care a tremendous amount.
Although he sells more equipment than actual sound, Hayes recognizes the products are simply a vehicle for enjoying musics true essence.
Thats why I started in the business in the first place. Its all about the music, he says. When it comes to reproducing the music, a true music lover is just not going to be happy with MP3 files, an iPhone and a pair of headphones.
Its one of those things, he adds. Once somebody hears the difference, theyre smitten. Its hard for them to go back.Add a comment