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Record Store Review: In Living Stereo

May 28, 2013

Nearly six months ago I visited Other Music in the East Village, noting its great location just east of Broadway above Houston and below Astor Place, its good selection of new and used indie releases, and its generally cool atmosphere. While I don’t always come out of OM with the biggest haul, and its prices leave a lot to be desired, there’s something about that place that has me coming back again and again both prior to and since that visit in December. Strangely, I’ve never written about the store that I’ve come to think of as its refined little brother – In Living Stereo. Also east of Broadway above Houston and below Astor Place (actually, right around the corner from OM, on Great Jones Street), In Living Stereo – like its big brother – is not dusty or overcrowded, keeps good tunes spinning at all times, and is generally a nice piece of the East Village record store scene. As a result, its a store I frequently visit (even for just a few minutes) whenever I hit OM.

Downstairs, new vinyl table, stereo equipment through the glass

Downstairs, new vinyl table, stereo equipment through the glass

It wouldn’t be fair to judge In Living Stereo as a record store. Their main focus is to be “NYC’s premier store for high end stereo equipment and accessories.” Despite their strong and eclectic vinyl collection, I often get the feeling that the records are an accommodation to their clientele, something to pass the time while mentally considering whether to invest in remaking your home theater. The atmosphere – with its well-maintained hardwood floors, spaciousness and cleanliness – is one that reminds you where you are – that is, a place to purchase a high-end luxury good, not a home for record store bargain hunters. You won’t find any crates lying idly around at In Living Stereo. That said, on my last two visits I’ve had the pleasure of being helped by store employee Ramsey Jones, who appears to have taken upon himself the role of the store’s record guru. Jones personally goes through each record, examining it and pricing it (and listing it on Discogs) before putting it out on the shelves. Spend more than a few minutes there, and Jones’ easy-going and stylish manner will convince you that the vinyl is in good hands and taken seriously in this store.

Head upstairs for more

Head upstairs for more …

Used vinyl upstairs

… Used …

That’s important, because what In Living Stereo lacks in quantity it has to make up for in quality. On the main floor the store hosts two tables of records – one for the latest new records (no more than 100), another for the latest and greatest used vinyl picks (no more than 200). One could easily flip through these two collections in under 15 minutes, but it would still amount to a satisfying record store visit. The store is pretty good about carrying the latest rock, indie, and hip-hop/R&B releases, all at prices a few dollars lower than you’ll find at Other Music, so while there’s no guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for, it’s always worth a shot. There’s a good bet that if it’s not obscure they’ll have it in stock. (In the past year I bought the latest from the Alabama Shakes, the Drums, the Hives, and Jack White here, as well as sealed vinyl from MGMT, Mudhoney, and Titus Andronicus.)

... and new

… and new

Upstairs you’ll find the bulk of the records, though still not a terribly large collection. The store is set up like a loft apartment, with the records overlooking the stereo equipment. There is just a single aisle with records situated to the left and right – new vinyl along the wall, used vinyl opposite. There are several hundred records (sorted by category, then alphabetically) with pop/rock by far the largest category, though nearly all other genres of music are represented. Most used records are in the $7-12 range, competitively priced by NYC standards, but the odds of finding a unique used record here are low. Given more than a few minutes to spend in the store I will venture upstairs, but more often than not my purchases come from the main level.

Bottom line: For a stereo equipment store, In Living Stereo has a really good record collection. It’s not worth a special trip just for the records, but given its convenient location you shouldn’t have to make one. Stop in for a few minutes any time you’re headed out to Other Music (right around the corner) and see if you can get that new album for less. Despite the small selection, the main floor is where it’s at.

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Quick stats:

  • Sells used, new, or both: Both
  • Genres: Rock/Pop (Indie), Rock, Hip-Hop/R&B, Jazz, International, Country/Folk
  • Non-vinyl for sale: CDs, box sets, T-shirts, music magazines, concert tickets
  • Selection: 6 out of 10
  • Price: 9 out of 10 (new records); 7 out of 10 (used records)
  • Atmosphere: 9 out of 10 (Bonus point just for Ramsey – I mean, he’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s brother! Dude definitely has some stories to tell.)
  • Ease of browsing/shopping: 8 out of 10
  • Used vinyl condition: 8 out of 10
  • Yelp rating: 5 stars (Most reviews are for the stereo equipment aspect of the store, but the one reviewer who focused on the record shop gave it 5 stars as well.)
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