In Store: Loud and clear

No home is complete without a sound system, and for audiophiles, time at home revolves around those little black boxes. Intrepid shopper Martin Webb tunes in to the most stylish stereo stores.

Sexy stereo store SOUNDCREATE

Hidden in the second floor of an inconspicuous building on the back streets of Akihabara, SOUNDCREATE is among Japan's top hi-fi retail outlets. Specializing in Linn and Wilson Audio products and carrying a selection of the world's highest quality stereo equipment, this is an audiophile's paradise. Walls studded with mini-pyramid soundproofing and sleek speakers, CD players and amplifiers give the interior a space-age look. And if you're seeking for some sound advice, American staffer Michael can create the perfect combination of amp and speakers to match any musical taste, from Vivaldi to Van Halen. Once you've made a selection, sound it out by sinking into a comfy couch in one of the plush, playboy-style demonstration lounges. SOUNDCREATE offers a total front-room makeover service, so if you're feeling flush and take a liking to the designer furniture, you can buy it, too. A seven-piece set of Linn surround-sound speakers perfect for that home theater will set you back ¥489,000. The state-of-the-art LINN AV-5125 amp to drive it runs to ¥420,000, while an egg-shaped floor cushion, imported from Italy, rings in at ¥51,000. Bachelors, consider yourselves informed.

Open 11am-7pm Fri-Tue. 2F Fujiwara Bldg, 3-10-3 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3255-6281. Nearest stn: Akihabara.


Pre-loved speakers at aVAC

Imagine having a movie theater in your living room, where you can smoke, shout at the screen and even freeze-frame while you go to the bathroom. If you're a movie lover and have a few spare square meters in your pad, such luxury can be yours at aVAC. Walk through the sliding doors to a darkened room housing projectors, DVD players and screens that can be sampled in various combinations. Then take the elevator to the basement and wade into a bewildering array of speakers. Again, you can judge which model does justice to your favorite flick in the demonstration room. If your heart is set on a home theater system, but you can't quite cover ¥525,800 for aVAC's basic starter setup, head around the corner to their secondhand branch. Big discounts are available on all the essentials needed to bring the silver screen into your home. Here, the top-of-the-range Mitsubishi LVP-1 projector, recently discontinued, sells for ¥160,000. New or used, the gear at aVAC is sure to make your pizza and video nights the talk of the town.

Open 11am-8pm daily. 1F Hanabusa Bldg, 5-2-3 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3837-9745. Nearest stn: Ginza line, Suehirocho stn, exit 2.


Echigoya Music
Echigoya's stacks of stereo stuff

In a building seemingly dedicated to recycled items (used Louis Vuitton and Chanel bags and Japanese designer clothes are on sale on the third and sixth floors) is this treasure chest for the aspiring DJ, music producer or track maker on a budget. Turntables, keyboards, mixers and CDJ machines are all available new and secondhand. Pick up a new Technics SL-1200mk3D turntable for an unbeatable ¥42,000 or a used Vestax PMC-03A mixer for just ¥9,800. All previously owned items are given a thorough servicing by the long-haired, bearded and booted staff, all expert knob twiddlers themselves. There are also some great package deals here, particularly on semipro turntable set-ups with styluses and cartridges thrown in at rock-bottom prices. If it's rock, rather than electronic, rhythms that get you in the groove, move on up to the fifth floor, where the guitar and synthesizer section can set you up for some window-shattering jam sessions. The Hughes and Kettner Metroverv comes in at ¥29,800 and a Korg MS-2000 synthesizer goes for ¥69,000. For cheap deals on guitars, a better bet is Ochanomizu, but the Eric Clapton Fender Stratocaster (¥128,000) on display here is a pleasure to clap eyes on. With sound after-sales service and friendly advice, this little store really rocks.

Open 1-9pm daily. 4-5F Sun Forest Bldg, Fire Street, 1-3-3 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3464-0905. Nearest stn: Shibuya.


Hino Audio
Audio nerd heaven Hino Audio

Spread over three modest units on an out-of-the-way Akihabara street, Hino Audio specializes in custom-made equipment. It's something of a cliché to say that the Japanese excel at perfecting existing technology, but that's just what this shop is all about. The Speaker Craft department stocks clever pieces of Japanese engineering in odd shapes and sizes, most of which are modifications of classic speaker blueprints. Audiophiles can also buy parts and build their own models, or buy into some audio history with the Hyuger Autograph. First developed in 1954 and still a highly sought-after item, these floor-standing speakers made from Finnish birch and teak go for ¥2.5 million per pair. The ultimate item to get audio nerds drooling, valve amps, are also in stock at the shop, which is run by Japan's leading valve amp expert, Kurata-san. The most popular model, developed by the in-house R&D team, is the Single HK300BS priced at ¥398,000. The Sound Gallery stocks parts for specialists but has some fascinating contraptions resembling B-movie sci-fi lab equipment. Items accessible to the average buyer occasionally crop up, but Hino Audio is worth checking out—if only as an Akihabara institution and curiosity shop.

Open 10am-8pm daily. Amp-ten: 1F Daiwa Bldg, 2-23-9 Kanda-sugacho. Tel: 03-3253-4709. Speaker Craft: B1F Shibasaki Bldg, 2-23-1 Kanda-sugacho, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3253-5743. Sound Gallery: 1F Nomura Bldg, 2-23-10 Kanda-sugacho. Tel: 03-3253-5222. Nearest stn: Akihabara.

Photo credit: Anatole Papfilippou

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