Vinyl and vintage audio equipment find their groove in new store

In a society enamored by the next newest thing, there are still people who like their books on paper, prefer their thank-you notes handwritten, would rather talk to people than interact with bots, and like their music on vinyl records, played on a turntable through a pre-amp and amp with real visible tubes, housed in furniture specifically made to hold audio equipment and heard through speakers the size of an apartment refrigerator.

The folks in that later group are fueling a re-discovery of vintage equipment and vinyl records and raising the hopes of Aural HiFi, a new store on South Broadway’s Antique Row that rehabilitates old stereo equipment for a legion of ardent audiophiles.

Aural is owned by self-described “stereo archaeologist” Jeremy Irwin.

Irwin’s entry into the world of HiFi was unintentional. The Michigan native was living in Genesee in 2016 when he discovered that the former owners had left a pair of speakers in a storage space. After some research, he discovered that the abandoned Infinity RSii speakers were special.

So, he decided to strip and refinish the cabinetry and hunted for missing internal parts, which led him to audio specialists in an online forum called Audio Karma, where likeminded enthusiasts mentored him. Those enthusiasts included a Boston audio equipment dealer, Brian Salazar, whom Irwin says was instrumental (no pun intended) in his appreciation of HiFi equipment.

Irwin – whose primary vocation is advertising — then began accumulating audio equipment, traveling around the country, doing his own version of “American Pickers.” That led to him opening an “audio boutique” in Globeville two years ago, selling mostly online. Last November, he moved into his storefront on South Broadway in a cavernous space formerly occupied by an antiques dealer. It features several stereo set-ups and shelves of audio components and vinyl records. If they aren’t enough to take you back to an earlier time, the orange shag rugs will.

The store features a workspace for a staff of seven, who restore and repair electronics and cabinetry and photograph and ship equipment advertised on the store’s website,

The interest in stereo equipment coincides with a rebirth of the vinyl record and an aesthetic – largely driven by Millennials, Irwin said — that values the look and sound of a HiFi setup. “People seem to like the idea of equipment that adds to the aesthetic of their space, that has permanence, and is built to last a lifetime or two,” Irwin said. “It’s becoming more mainstream and is growing in awareness, and therefore popularity. Most people just have never seen – and definitely haven’t heard – anything like this before, and when they do, it’s hard not to fall in love.”

Vinyl itself has been around for more than 100 years and has been used to make records since the 1940s. By the ‘70s, vinyl was the standard format for music recordings. But it started to decline in the ‘80s as digital formats took over, and seemed doomed for obsolescence by 2006, when Tower Records went out of business.

Skip to a couple of decades later. Vinyl sales in the U.S. increased from 21.5 million units in 2020 to 41.7 million units in 2021, according to MRD Data. The Neilsen company says sales of vinyl records have grown by 260% since 2009. By 2020, sales of vinyl records exceeded sales of CDs, according to Ciao Amore, an online arts magazine.

“Vinyl is a ritual, an experience,” Irwin said. “People like the act of taking a record from its sleeve, putting it on a turntable, hearing the needle drop and simply immersing themselves in listening to music. They savor the music, just as a wine-lover savors wine or a bibliophile savors a book.” And just as a book lover would hardly invite dinner guests to enjoy an after-dinner snifter of brandy in the library to see what books she had recently downloaded, so, too, do audiophiles enjoy having sight, feel and hearing stimulated by something other than their iPhone.

Some audiophiles also believe the sound from vinyl is superior to digital music, and Irwin claims even an untrained ear can tell the difference. “Tube amplifiers impart a level of distortion that we translate as warmth,” Irwin said. “But not all audiophiles are the same. Some want music that’s ultra-real. It’s the same as the difference between people who like movies on film and those who like them digitally – some people want to see the pores in skin; others don’t. And that’s what separates the audio world, too,” he added.

New digital streaming devices are challenging vinyl for audiophiles’ affections. Some devices are capable of streaming super high-quality audio files – uncompressed ones, as opposed to CD and MP3 files, Irwin said. He added that most people who are streaming on typical consumer devices use services that adjust the quality of the audio file based on the speed of the internet connection. The difference in quality is like the difference in quality between a CD and a standard radio station to an audiophile’s ears.

Irwin said his customers fall into two general categories: Audiophiles attracted by the nostalgia of HiFi (“their dad would never let them touch his system,”) and younger people who “see and hear the equipment and realize the possibilities of audio as art.”

Among the former is Jack Farland, a Denverite who restores classic cars. As a teenager, he started “investing” in high-end stereo equipment. He built his own speakers, started playing around with equipment and “never got out of it.”

“I became obsessed with chasing the best possible sound,” he said, which, so far, has led him to have a special room in his house near Conifer dedicated to listening to music. It has four sets of speakers and six amplifiers, the most expensive of which cost $16,000. “That’s cheap compared to a lot of others,” he said. He has two more set-ups in his Tech Center condo. Both set-ups are composed of restored equipment, some of which came from Irwin’s shop.

On the flip side, Farland, who in the mid-‘90s bought the entire 10,000 album stock of a defunct Englewood record store, now prefers to hear his music through streaming services. He uses a digital-to-analog converter built in to one of his amplifiers to achieve “HiFi Wifi.”

“It sounds pretty amazing,” he said.

Restored equipment isn’t inexpensive. Irwin says a turntable, receiver and speakers can be had for around $500. Something that enters the realm of “sounding special” can run from about $2,000 to $20,000. “It’s like the difference between a $10 guitar and a $100 one,” Irwin said.

Farland knows of one enthusiast who spent $250,000 just on a turntable for his $1.2 million system. That may be a record (pun intended).

Aural is at 1438 S. Broadway, Denver. It’s open Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m. 720-432-0373.


A very short primer on HiFi equipment:

Amplifier: Powers the speakers and amplifies the sound.

Preamplifier: Allows multiple sources (cassette player, CD player, reel-to-reel, streaming device, turntable) to be connected to the amplifier.

Receiver: Amplifier, preamplifier and tuner in one.

Integrated Amplifier: Amplifier and preamplifier in one.

Turntable: Device for playing vinyl records

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