Audio Arts may be NYC's newest high-end audio shop, but you can tell it isn't really competing with the more established stores in the area. You see, the others carry a mix of high-end and mainstream brands to cater to the broadest possible market, but Audio Arts' Gideon Schwartz only sells products from the most esoteric manufacturers. That said, the services all of these NYC brick-and-mortar shops offer--side-by-side auditions of audio components and hands-on customer service--can't be duplicated by online retailers. Maybe that's why despite astronomical rents, NYC high-end retailers aren't just surviving, new shops are coming on the scene.
I worked in the high-end audio business for a long time, but I have to admit most of the brands sold at Audio Arts were unfamiliar to me. I like Schwartz's adventurous approach, and that he's seeking out companies deserving wider recognition. In high-end audio the very best products can come from the smallest of companies, building no-compromise gear. Listening at the shop I was impressed by the musicality of the sound, and the build quality of the gear was state of the art.
There's a definite European presence to the brands represented in the shop; as well as a sprinkling of rarefied components from other lands. There are more vacuum tube than solid-state electronics, and more turntables than CD players. Schwartz only sells two-channel gear; you'll have to look elsewhere for home theater systems or the latest iPod docks. Most of Audio Arts' speakers are above average in efficiency, so they can make a big sound with just a few watts.
Schwartz imports Holborne turntables; Ensemble electronics; Stenheim, Voxativ, and Zellaton speakers. Audio Arts is the exclusive U.S. dealer for some of these brands.
The store's clients aren't necessarily experienced audiophiles, but they all love music and are interested in getting great sound at home. The store recently sold a nice system to a former race car driver who now plays trumpet. The man wanted a hi-fi that could accurately reproduce the sound of a trumpet, which is a surprisingly difficult thing to do. He found what he was looking for at Audio Arts.
I got the feeling that Schwartz really enjoys the process of turning people on to great sound, even when it stretches out over hours and hours. There's no substitute for hearing the gear you're interested in buying. Complete systems start around $10,000, but individual components are less expensive. Audio Arts isn't located in a storefront; interested parties need to schedule an appointment to visit the store.