Listening 210: Guns N' Neuroses, the Life of a Used-Gear Specialist

Adam Wexler posing with a chorus line of (mostly) FM tuners.

During the years I lived in New York City and environs, I never learned my way around Brooklyn—something I now regret, given that borough's emergence as a hotbed of audio creativity: our industry's Laurel Canyon, so to speak. Such gone-but-not-forgotten brands as Futterman and Fi were manufactured there, and today Brooklyn is home to DeVore Fidelity, Lamm Industries, Mytek Digital, Grado Labs, Ohm Acoustics, and Oswalds Mill Audio. The list of audio luminaries who call Brooklyn home includes Herb Reichert, John Atkinson, Steve Guttenberg, Fred Kaplan, and numberless others.

In 2012, Brooklyn's Red Hook district became home to a different sort of audio company, one that filled a need so big that no one had actually recognized it before then: Stereobuyers (footnote 1), which is owned and operated by the youthful Adam Wexler, buys from audiophiles the gear they no longer want, freeing them up to buy something else—while at the same time offering for sale a great variety of used and vintage components, the likes of which we mortals could go all our lives without actually seeing.

520listen2.2

Just look at the woodwork on these Barque & Consonance M15-20 horn-loaded loudspeakers!

On a rainy day in early March, during the sort of disorienting weather that leaves one wondering whether we're heading away from winter or toward it, I took an early train from Albany to New York's Penn Station, where Adam Wexler picked me up for the drive to the fine old Brooklyn waterfront warehouse that Stereobuyers shares with a letterpress printing company. The building is on a sizable wharf: If you step outside and look due east, you'll be looking at the Brooklyn Ikea store; turn the other way and look to the northwest and you'll get a clearer view of the Statue of Liberty than can be had from Battery Park.

Step back inside and you'll see—forgive the cliché—an Ali Baba's cave filled with piece after piece that fired my imagination and coaxed my always-simmering acquisitiveness into something hotter.

How did this happen?
The atmosphere inside the large room that Adam has carved out for a listening space and the company's open-plan offices is the sort that I find instantly inviting: exposed stone walls, an incalculably high ceiling with exposed beams and occasional swaths of sound-absorbing fabric, lots of framed posters and photographs, and, whether intentionally or not, an artsy mix of dark corners and nicely done spotlighting. It was a strangely cozy place to be on a rainy day: Just 12 paces from that room, the warehouse door remained open, reminding me that another 20 steps from there would land me in the briny deep. Maybe land's not the right word.

520listen2.3

The system I heard during my visit was built around a pair of enormous JBL Summit L300 loudspeakers, driven at the time by the Marantz 8b atop the red rack.

I asked Adam how he came to make his living buying and selling used hi-fi components. "My dad had always had a cool hi-fi but wasn't neurotic about it: That's where my interest in equipment really came from. And then, in college, I somehow found Stereophile, and I found that there was more [equipment] out there than you see on the shelves at The Wiz.

"So, I was going to school [at Ithaca College] in Ithaca, New York, and there was an electronics store there that had a used-gear rack. It was around the same time that I learned about eBay, so I went back to that store and said, 'If I can move some of that gear for you, can I get a commission?' They said 'Yes'—and I never looked back.

"I then graduated from Ithaca College in 2001, and I got a job at Rabsons, a hi-fi store on Route 4 in New Jersey. I was just a stock boy there, but then I started moving some equipment for them—and then I got a job at Innovative Audio, in Manhattan, around 2003. And in the years after that, I began Stereobuyers and ran it out of my home for a number of years, with a storage space in tandem. And then I found this space, where I've been for eight years."

520listen2.4

A closer look at that especially mint Marantz 8b amplifier.

As it turned out, 2012 was an unfortunate year in which to open a waterfront business with a valuable and in some cases irreplaceable inventory: on October 29 of that year, Hurricane Sandy raised the sea level in New York City, flooding streets, tunnels, subways—and much of Stereobuyers' warehouse, which suffered tremendous losses.

When Stereobuyers suffered that interruption in business, Adam Wexler had a related business to fall back on. "When I left Innovative, I also started my other business, called Resolution Audio Video, which does automation/smart-home/high-end custom installations. Our most recent project was a custom installation for the CEO of Atlantic Records, Julie Greenwald; she wound up with a Bel Canto Black amplification system and DeVore O/96 loudspeakers.

"Another recent custom installation of ours was at Bar Shiru in Oakland, California, a hi-fi/jazz/vinyl bar. Those speakers were also DeVores, custom-built with front-firing ports, plus some Altec recreations from Line Magnetic. The system is all-analog: all-vinyl, no digital." Pressed for other examples, Adam demurred: His clientele are the sort where he's sometimes forced to sign nondisclosure agreements.

520listen2.5

Marantz 7 and McIntosh C 22 preamplifiers. The system I listened to used the former.

How does this thing work?
I asked Adam to describe a typical Stereobuyers interaction, and he replied, "People contact us online for a quote, and if we're interested, we make a reasonable offer—and if the owner is within a 90-mile radius, we go pick it up." (Adam has three full-time employees and one part-time employee in Brooklyn; he also has an "outpost" in Colorado.)

That seemed awfully straightforward to me, and I said so to Adam—who replied that he often deals not with audiophiles but with their loved ones: "For one thing," he said, "we get a lot of people, family members, who are survivors of people who bought expensive gear right before they died: They were ill and just wanted to hear the best before they go. Deathbed audiophiles."

520listen2.6

Adam pulls from the shelf a McIntosh MC-30 power amplifier, regarded by some as that company's best ever. Its output tubes are 1614 beam-power types.

Other, more colorful interactions are not uncommon: "One time, I was buying a system from an elderly woman on the Upper East Side whose husband was, sadly, not doing so well. We went to her place and purchased just about everything in the system. And while we were there, she said, 'Oh, there's a box of turntable parts you can have'—and she went and got it out for me. And among the items in that box was a gun. A loaded handgun.

"I told her: 'Er, ma'am, there's a gun in this box.' To which she replied, 'Oh: So that's where it was!'"

"We deal with a lot of audio hoarders, too. We went to one place—this is in Brooklyn—where the guy had said, 'When you arrive, the door's open, so just come on in.' It was an apartment, and there were boxes everywhere—but also security cameras all over the place. We heard him calling, 'I'm back here,' so we followed the sound of his voice, and here's this gigantically fat man in bed, naked except for a sheet over his crotch. He then directed us: 'Go into the kitchen, the third box in the second pile is the thing I want to sell'—and while we're doing this, he's watching us and correcting our movements. It was very uncomfortable." "But the majority of the people who sell to us are audiophiles who just want to move on to something else, and they don't want the hassle of doing it all themselves."

520listen2.7

A slightly less-well-known tube amp, the EL84-fueled SA-232 from Pilot Electronics of Long Island City, NY.

Adam and his team sell these components through Stereobuyers' eBay store, called High-End Audio Auctions. "We have sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 components," he says.

With the exception of components offered "as-is," items sold by Stereobuyers are backed by a 14-day return policy. (Full details are at highendaudioauctions.com, as are links to their items on eBay.) "We have a bench where we do all our testing, but we tend not to do major overhauls here. We find that that isn't best for buyers of vintage.

"This Marantz 8b [presently in the Stereobuyers listening system] is fully stock, never been touched. Could I go through and replace all the caps and claim that I made it 'better'? Yes, but I don't want to play God and presume

I know how the customer wants it—that's for the buyer to decide."

520listen2.8

Wilson Audio Sophia Series 1 loudspeakers share floor space with Vandersteen Model 5es, Auditorium 23 Hommage Cinemas, and other exotics.

How can you part with . . . this?
Knowing from personal experience the pangs of acquisitiveness engendered by some vintage products, and the remorse one feels when letting go of a particularly rare piece of gear, I asked Adam: Once you get hold of these things, do you find it difficult to part with them? "Ultimately," he said, "my passion to be an entrepreneur was to support my family—so that's what I think about when I find some . . . thing that I want to keep. My family is what keeps me on track. I may be an insane audiophile, but I have enough sanity to not go overboard.

"The only things I hoard are vacuum tubes. They're consumables and can't be passed around forever."

As for that family: "One day, while I was working at Innovative, a guy came in from Pennsylvania who wanted to listen to a system. My sales pitch was always easygoing, so I let him take his time. The next day, an attractive young woman came in and said, 'My father would like to hear that system again'—he sent his daughter in to talk with me . . .

"And now we've been married for 14 years—and yeah, he did buy the system!"

520listen2.9

Stereobuyers' test bench is snugged away in one of their many storage areas.

As for Adam's own system: When he's at home with his family, they enjoy listening to records and watching TV through a combination of DeVore O/96 loudspeakers, Shindo Cortese 300B stereo amplifier and Corton-Charlemagne monoblocks, and a Shindo Giscours preamplifier, with a Garrard 301 with a Shindo platter bearing in a LignoLabs plinth, an EMT 997 tonearm, an EMT TSD 15 stereo pickup head, and an Auditorium 23 Hommage T2 step-up transformer.


Footnote 1: Stereobuyers, 481 Van Brunt St. Brooklyn, NY 11231. Tel: (718) 260-8948. Web: stereobuyers.com, highendaudioauctions.com, resolutionavnyc.com.

COMMENTS
John Atkinson's picture
Listening #210 was the very last piece of Art's that he wrote for Stereophile before he passed away from cancer on April 14. See Jim Austin's, Michael Fremer's, Herb Reichert's, and my tributes to Art at https://www.stereophile.com/content/art-dudley-rest-peace.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

MatthewT's picture

Is very saddening. This was asked before, but I don't know if there was a reply. Any chance of reprinting any of the Listener articles? Sorry if I missed an answer.

RIP, Art. You absence will be felt for a long time.

michaelavorgna's picture

From my way of thinking, Art helped shape this industry into a more humane form.

May he rest in peace.

Lars Bo's picture

I second that.

Art brought humanity. And Art was the leading voice of musicality, in his approach and reviewing of audio as primarily tools of musical enjoyment, and in his writing in itself. May he rest in peace.

Unquestionably, Art is irreplaceable. I do hope, however, that Stereophile somehow will be able to maintain a balance, and especially a particular integration, of the fields of science and musical spirit.

Jim Austin's picture

Unquestionably, Art is irreplaceable. I do hope, however, that Stereophile somehow will be able to maintain a balance, and especially a particular integration, of the fields of science and musical spirit.

So do I.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Jack L's picture

Hi

So impressive Art's swan song #210, showing no sign of his being terminally ill. Amazing!

Merci beaucoup (thank you) Art ! Adieu (farewell).

Jack L
Canada

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Thanks for the memories, Art .......

dial's picture

Thanks for the article, even if it makes me sad sometimes. The 2 Marantz are fantastic pieces of gear (the Mc is beautiful too). So uncool the brand became a sort of japanese Luxman.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Norah Jones lives in Brooklyn, NY ....... She has a new album coming out soon :-) ..........

Jeff Herbert's picture

This is an audio forum people!! Let's keep the conversation about audio. If you want to talk about other current events, there are plenty of places to do that. This was Art Dudley's last piece. Let show some respect.

John Atkinson's picture
Jeff Herbert wrote:
This was Art Dudley's last piece. Let show some respect.

Hear hear!

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

windansea's picture

How nice to hear Art chatting with a kindred spirit, as I'm sure he must have felt when he saw all that Shindo gear and a Garrard feeding DeVore. The only thing missing would have been some Altec Flamencos!

I hope that Stereophile will find some way to republish the entire Listener catalogue. I would pay for this. Surely this is feasible with some phone calls and agreements.

ok's picture

that this man talks to Art so much about bedridden and deceased audiophiles as well as about priority for one's beloved family..

low2midhifi's picture

In recognition of Listening #210, I offer the 1942 valedictory recording of Lilacs op.21-5 of Sergei Rachmaninoff, played by the composer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72xh91KTOOA

cgh's picture

John, thanks for letting us know. He will be missed. He is missed. Art really filled a unique spot for you all. Funny, in the email exchanges I had with Art, it was about guitar and luthiery, despite knowing him via audio.

Metalhead's picture

He knows EVERYTHING about music reproduction, gear, and how to use it.

The first time I heard a tube preamp/amp I was FLOORED. So much so that I own six old fashioned no good sub-par tube gear played through sub par electrostatics and God Forsaken modified Horn systems. Somehow I survive.

Mr. Dudley sure got it. May he rest in peace

SpinMark3313's picture

I enjoy the banter, but yes, I understand your point.

Anton's picture

According to some, vintage gear can’t compete with the modern playback gear, yet the same era was responsible for our finest recordings.

So, they could record them, but not play them back.

Got it.

Think of all the information that was lost to their Neolithic wires!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

During neolithic era lamps were not connected with wires :-) ......

Relayer's picture

I particularly like the flickering shadows.

teched58's picture

This is NOT a criticism of Mr. Wexler. It's more in the way of a question, which is that I don't see how he can make enough profit on ebay to support his business (remember that he's paying employees and rent, too).

Ebay is an extremely efficient price-discovery tool. As a result, items will basically sell for roughly what previous comparables have brought. This means thin margins. The only way you can really get more margin is is you acquire the item that you're planning to sell on ebay for well under its true value. So I'm wondering if perhaps he gets his profit by buying the equipment for 10% to 20% less than market? Perhaps he can do that (and is entitled to it) because he's offering his customers a service -- that is, he's enabling them to avoid trying to sell it themselves (e.g., on ebay or Audigon) -- and so taking a slightly lower price is well worth it to the seller, who is likely unfamiliar with both high end audio (i.e., if the equipment belonged to a recently deceased spouse) and the auction market.

Personally, having spent a lot of time on these platforms, I don't see how one can make a fulltime living at it. Not to mention the hassles of packing and shipping heavy and fragile equipment and dealing with complaints and returns.

My guess is that Wexler makes his money to live from his installation business (Resolution Audio Video) and that the high-end buying/selling is more about his love for our hobby.

The business model of Blackie Pagano, who has a high-end audio repair business in Brooklyn, seems (slightly) more viable. (Though margins there must be tight, too, being heavily dependent on making quick and accurate diagnoses and repairs). And his shipping hassles are worse. Jana did a very nice video about him in 2017 (search for "Blackie Pagano: Audio Artisan" July 10, 2017.

HansRamon's picture

maybe you are on the path of enlightenment ? maybe there are other ways then digging a hole in the ground, that pay off?

tonykaz's picture

I did it for 3 years as B & K Imports and Esoteric Audio.

Mostly, it's a loser of a business.

I've been looking, since 1985, for a Audio Retailer that remained consistently profitable, something like StereoExchange and Mr.Wasserman or Mr. Singer that the Audiophiliac worked for.

None of today's Audio Retailers show any sort of what I would identify as success. I suspect that they know and love audio but not much else.

Even outstanding Manufacturers like Schiit or PS Audio are only modestly successful. I'll contend that if Paul McGowan was a Chevrolet Dealer in 1982 he would've progressed into a giant Dealer Network by now.

Which helps explain why there are so very few useful Audio Dealers nowadays. ( unless we accept Magnolia as a useful High End outlet )

I remember William Z Johnson of AudioResearch flying 'his own' Plane on Dealer visits. The Wilson guy had an Italian Sports Car. The flashy Krell guy wore thousands of dollars in Clothes. Mark Levinson today works out of a small shop in the Mediterranean somewhere. Ivor at Linn is doing OK but he's not any sort of Giant Success.

Even my old pal Ray Cooke of KEF was only modestly successful unless you consider the respect he earned.

Audio is our lovely little hobby, it embraces and encourages our neurosis and psychosis. It's a place where personalities like Mr.Dudley can thrive without ever having to worry about being 'overpaid'.

Stereophile has 'Lifestyle' Robb Report type writers but for the most part it's jammed full of loquacious fellow travellers bursting with things sharing, it's the most exciting and interesting reading I have. Still, it reports on an Cottage Industry that is more a compelling love than an Acountant's profit generator.

Audio will survive because folks aren't in it for the money.

Tony in Venice

HansRamon's picture

are absolutely 100% sure about that?

tonykaz's picture

Sure?

there is no certainty in our little world, other than the outrageous prices charged for Phono Cartridges ( which cost pennies to make ) and Record Players selling for the price of Automobiles.

Even though New Gear is being offered at astronomical Prices, these manufacturers seem to be struggling and Dealers don't seem to be growing, expanding, re-decorating, or showing any typical signs of consistent success.

Used Record Stores are still shabby re-sale shops in low rent neighbourhoods. ( which is fine with me )

Automotive dashboard audio electronics is the Gigantic and dominant segment of the Audio Industry, 10x to 20x times the size of Home Audio. Car owners typically have a stereo in their Car that's better than the music player in their home ( which usually is the flat screen TV with tiny built-in loudspeakers ) while their Car Music System is a close-cousin to Mr.Kal Rubinson's Music in the Round multi Speaker system with engineered Amplification that any consumer can operate and enjoy.

Automotive Audio is affordably priced and comes with a complete listening room that can easily be moved to any location. Some of these pricy Automotive systems are Robb Report Luxury Lifestyle levels that cost about the same as one of the High End's Planet Reviewed record players. ( Mecerdes S Class )

Tony in Venice

ps. I carry my own superb Audio system in my Shirt Pocket which was inspired by Mr.JA as I saw him touring an Audio Show with such a rig. ( one of the Astel players ). I also own numerous vintage and current pieces of Stereophile Reviewed devices going back to the 1985s including numerous Koetsu.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I saw JA1 the other day wearing Apple AirPods, picking up some beer ..... He was also buying some lottery tickets ........ Just kidding :-) .......

HansRamon's picture

what a beautiful world you describe ! ( can you meassure it with hifi gear?)

tonykaz's picture

Why bother ?

Memories of a Past Life need to remain pleasantly vague or they might turn dark and painful.

Tony in Venice

HansRamon's picture

but this a tempttation, who can resist dark and painful if the obtion is only pleasantly? (theoradical question can a mercer (gray or not) sleep in a canal?)

tonykaz's picture

I've heard of Barge people hitting heads on ceilings of canals, falling overboard and eventually being found. Is death sleep?

My wife has our Mr.Dudley now sleeping until Armageddon whence he will return to a Paradise Earth. Hmm.

I already live in Paradise and don't need to fall into that deep sleep.

Tony in Venice

HansRamon's picture

what we know: they drink wine in heaven/paradise, that is probably very good wine (as well as there probably are lots of different wines, but always good) maybe when it comes music/hifi, its probably the same....very good quality (f.ex. s/n (infinte) db). are you going to install a turntable in that vehicle of yours? and what did your wife do?

tonykaz's picture

No, turntables need records which take up 8,000 cu,ft. of organized storage space.

I can fit the world's vast music collections in my shirt pocket without sacrificing any fossil fuels.

I haven't touched my lips with booze since Aug.7th,1999 ! ( last century ) That was after consuming 5,000 fifths of Vodka in just over a 15 year period. phew.

My wife is a Minister that promotes Life after Death, Armageddon and a Paradise Earth. I am NOT a True-Believer. I don't even believe in Vinyl ( any more ), Vinyl promoters are much like my Wife the Minister: promoters of what they consider a better life.

Tony in Venice

HansRamon's picture

sorry to hear about quitting drinkin', how come you have made such a stupid decision?

tonykaz's picture

Everyone eventually quits drinking. No exceptions.

The money I've saved because of silly impulse buying while dizzy is important.

Tony in Venice

HansRamon's picture

consider a tesla (the car ) and lp/record/vinyl/grammaphone + trailer to keep records and solar panels?
evt. quit drinkin must be the day one die, to immidiately start again in the (hopefully) good place. (that said some people actually drink to much..aswell as some people eat to much. beer and wine is healthy pr.def.)

tonykaz's picture

I was the too much

far too much

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Some of the hi-end audio retailers diversified into home theater business during late 90's and early 2000's ........ That helped them sell more speakers, more amplifiers, more wires, receivers, processors, TVs, projectors, screens etc. etc. ...... They still continued to sell hi-end audio gear ......... Many of them are still in business :-) ........

tonykaz's picture

Still in Business ?

yes !

They're trying to continue selling home theatre for rich people's McMansion basements.

Those home theatre's are mostly un-used as people stream to their cozy Study's built-in 4k 50" with Sound Bar but they mostly end up captured by Fox or MSNBC or CNN political daytime dramas.

Tony in Venice

ps. in their 3 car garage they park 3 new Lease cars with fabulous music systems.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I forgot to mention, many of them are also in headphone and headphone associated gear business ....... They sell headphones, in-ear phones, headphone amps, hi-end headphone cables, portable players and even headphone stands :-) ........

tonykaz's picture

I did Bricks & Mortar, it's dull and exhausting. The Landlord makes the money.

Yellow Pages chokes by contract.

Parking is just as important as Product.

An Absolute Sound Reviewer kills most sale possibilities because folks believe them more than their own ears and reasoning. Conclusive reviews are Poison. ( especially coming from HP and his minions )

Gear being reviewed is typically different than gear delivered to Dealers ( or at least sounds far different in a Salon Show Room ). I've carried numerous products that all had differing tonal qualities between the very same model. There are a few Manufacturers that review 100% of their Output for consistent High Performances. ( none of the Chinesium Sellers try to do this, they Drop-Ship from a central Facilitator/contractor. I suggest staying with Manufacturers that answer the dam phone!

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Some of these 'brick and mortar' audio dealers, are also doing internet sales with sales people talking on the phones with customers :-) ........

tonykaz's picture

Yes, the Smart ones with one foot in the 21st Century are having back-rooms that eBay Audio Gear.

Still,

Many Manufacturers keep tight control of thier marketing and will not allow NEW sales from OUTSIDE the Dealer's Territory.

Any Manufacturer embracing Internet forgoes Bricks & Morter Dealers who require exclusivity in order to invest in Brand infrastructure . A Macintosh Dealer cannot dilute the market by selling Discount on eBay.

Some Brands, like Audioquest or Monster, have such tremendously low Manufacturing and Marketing Costs that they can easily accommodate competitive internet prices changing with demand . ( buyer still pays shipping even if shipping is said to be FREE )

Internet with fast shipping is the only logical path forward.

Of Course: we need reliable reporting from our Audio Journalists instead of the cardboardy & stale reporting that was pervasive in years past. ( and still exists with the Super expensive Lifestyle audio gear ).

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Yes ..... Some well known audiophile brands keep tight control over internet sales ....... Some internet retailers don't sell some brands, if there is a local dealer ...... Also, they don't sell them any cheaper than MSRP ....... Some well known audiophile brands want their 'brick and mortar' retailers to survive :-) ........

supamark's picture

I worked at eBay for almost 2 years in what is basically the returns dept. (high value returns and appeals - worst job EVER, so much complaining and getting yelled at, left it in Jan this year), and from looking at his eBay site it's easy to see how he does it. He does probably 200+ transactions per month (he's got ~2k feedback in last 12 months, not everyone leaves feedback), he's "top rated" and likely has a store subscription so paying under the 10% standard cut to eBay and since top rated w/ free returns has feedback and some returns related protections.

He also has a separate equipment buying biz - he's looks to be doing a modified consignment model buying the item outright but certainly at a discount (my guess is 25% to 30% below market) and then assumes the risk of selling. A lot of people are willing to pay the vig to avoid all the hassles.

Selling on eBay is real work and hard work if you want to succeed but it's quite do-able. I learned a LOT about it listening to sellers complain about (mostly their own fault) problems on the platform. The keys are knowing your market, having a reliable source(s) of items at good cost, working your butt off, and giving good customer service (and being able to nip problems in the bud quickly, including problem buyers) - so a lot like succeeding in any business.

HansRamon's picture

i've got a feeling that wexler's personal audio gear (devore and shindo) in most cases are not completely wrong....does he know what a d/a-converter is?
best regards to a shop like that....

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It is a device used in an automobile exhaust system, also known as catalytic converter :-) ......

HansRamon's picture

thought so, all that talk about 0 and 1 was just a fantasy or imagination.

b1gh1g's picture

Bogolu Haranath,
hardly ever relevant, hardly ever amusing, smiley emoji regardless.
Please stick to the subjects. Please.

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