At audio46, the Audiophile Employees Know Best
Linger for hours or listen to the pros at this Manhattan specialty shop.
The first thing you need to know about Gabby Block, one of Manhattan headphone megastore audio46’s resident audio experts, is that she identifies as a musician, not as a salesperson.
But that’s not a liability to her employer at all.
It’s a huge asset.
“I’m a composer, and most people that work here are either musicians or audio engineers,” says Gabby Bloch, one of audio46’s on-staff reviewers. “If you’re going to be buying expensive headphones, it’s nice to have another audiophile nerd to talk to.”
In a time where shopping and streaming online is the popular choice, audio46 is a retail outlet that has adapted well to the age of on-demand. It has its own YouTube review channel as well as a free-standing reviews site called MajorHiFi.com — Bloch says there are a few journalists on staff as well, and a lot of the work they do during business hours involves updating MajorHiFi with reviews of new products.
As thorough as these platforms are, though, Bloch says that the most essential thing is to come into the store and try stuff out, especially when it comes to wireless headphones.“First of all, when you're buying wireless headphones you should probably know that they're never going to sound as great as wired headphones. The technology just isn’t there,” she says. “To get great sound, you’ll have to be willing to spend quite a bit. If you’re prioritizing sound over convenience, you’re going to want to go for a wired pair.”
To make the perfect headphone purchase, it’s all about weighing two factors, according to Bloch: taste and priority.
“I think people assume that the most expensive headphone is the best, but it’s all a matter of taste,” Bloch says. “Headphones are kind of like wine. It’s not necessarily about money, it’s about what you prefer. Do you like more bass, or do you want something more balanced?”
Unlike big box stores, audio46 poses itself as a listener’s paradise. The floor is filled with high-end amps and digital audio converters (DACs), allowing the customer to build their fantasy rig, pairing whatever headphone they’re considering with the best equipment. (Some headphones, especially on the luxury end, require more power than others). Audio46’s employees make a point not to rush people out of the store, and sometimes they find that certain customers will linger for two or three hours.
“I think people assume that the most expensive headphone is the best, but it’s all a matter of taste,”
“If I had known audio46 existed before I worked here, I would have come here all the time, just as someone who loves music and headphones,” Bloch says. “Everyone’s ears are different and it’s hard to find a place that lets you try on expensive headphones.”
All things considered, finding the right pair of headphones is a personal journey, a path that audio46 fixates on to a scholarly degree. As you can gather by viewing some of the YouTube reviews or scanning MajorHiFi, there’s no incentive for its employees to guide you to a particular product. While lots of marketing muscle is behind headphone offerings from companies like Beats and Bose, Bloch encourages customers to ignore the noise, especially when it comes to wireless offerings.
“The brands that we sell less of are the ones that put money into marketing and aren't necessarily great quality but they are very popular,” says Bloch. “Beats and Bose, we sell very few of them. We get a lot of returns on Bose. And Beats, they have great bass and sort of muddy everything else. They’re not great quality, but they’re just as expensive as other better headphones.”
That’s not true for every huge electronics corporation with money to spend on advertising. Sony, for example, has emerged as a great wireless brand.
“The Sony WH1000XM2, they’re a great pair and they’re one of our best sellers,” Bloch says. “Sennheiser is also great value for the money.”
A lot of people with skin in the wireless headphones game want a pair that looks cool—they see a pair of headphones as an extension of their outfit, something that they want to show off. Bloch says if that’s your priority, and you’re willing to spend around $200, you’ll absolutely be able to find something that looks cool. But for Bloch herself, aesthetics are low on the list.
“I think all headphones are beautiful,” Bloch says.
Corban Goble is a writer and editor based in New York City.