If you were standing in front of the skinny townhouse on West 17th Street in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, with its concrete facade dotted with slim, office-like vertical windows, you’d have no idea just by looking at it that behind its towering bronze doors is a five-story wonderland for audiophiles.
With its doors officially open as of September 21, the House of Sound is a one-of-a-kind, 11,000-square-foot audio experience center dreamed up by hi-fi company McIntosh Group, which calls it “a thoughtfully curated multi-sensory townhouse that highlights the group’s brands and premium audio innovations.”
That is an understatement. The House of Sound features several beautifully furnished and acoustically designed listening spaces where you can go, have a drink, and listen to a range of state-of-the-art audio systems made up of a selection of the McIntosh Group’s high-end components, including McIntosh’s own iconic, glowing blue-faced amplifiers, speakers by Sonus Faber, Pro-Ject Audio turntables (with Sumiko cartridges), components from Rotel and its subbrand Michi, and more. And it’s open to the public, by appointment.
We were given a personalized tour of the townhouse that, with its furnishings provided by luxe Italian brand Baxter, feels more like a comfy residence than an audio showroom — which is entirely the point as you can’t actually buy anything there if you wanted to. (That’s not as weird as you think — major tech companies have done the same thing in New York City, too.)
“We’re not selling. We don’t sell here,” Dave Mascioni, McIntosh Group’s global director of brand marketing, told me. “We provide experiences for folks that will ideally eventually find their way to our many, many dealers throughout the world.”
So, let’s talk about those listening experiences. With five floors, the House of Sound features a big home theater, two small and cozy listening rooms, two larger open reference listening spaces, and a rooftop space kitted with Sonus Faber outdoor speakers, a hot tub, and a great city view (it also uses this space for events).
The home theater demonstration was absolutely bananas. Set up on the main floor, the multilevel room features a 9.16.4 sound system driven by a combination of 19 McIntosh amplifiers and a range of Sonus Faber Arena custom installation speakers that includes 16 subwoofers, 10 of which are lined up beneath the massive screen. The demonstration included a video of a live acoustic performance from Eric Clapton playing Layla that sounded as high and wide in the soundstage as it surely sounded in the concert hall it was recorded in. It was so lifelike, I think we clapped after the song was over.
We then watched a 6-minute clip from Denis Villeneuve’s Dune that was prefaced by a Sonus Faber rep, in his thick Italian accent, saying: “What you will hear now is the wave that will arrive to you.”
He wasn’t kidding. The 10 Sonus Faber Arena S15 subs were truly ground-shaking. Clear, defined, and expressive, they rumbled the seat beneath me, prompting me to ask if the couch I was sitting on was outfitted with an under-seat woofer.
It was not.
The rest of the system consisted of four in-ceiling Arena 10 speakers and six Arena 20 speakers, with two on each side and two rears, and the six remaining S15 subs also in the back. The immersive surround sound experience was easily better than any movie theater I’ve ever been in, and we only watched that short clip.
The two large reference listening rooms on the second and fifth floors were equally impressive from a pure music-listening perspective, with each perfectly acoustically calibrated to their rooms and outfitted with comfy couches you could basically live on. Again, McIntosh and Sonus Faber gear is the focus, with an array of Pro-Ject and McIntosh turntables and ample vinyl records, as well as hi-res digital music streaming via Roon, providing the music.
Of the reference rooms, however, the bigger of them on the second floor was truly breathtaking, as it features a set of McIntosh’s flagship XRT2.1 floor-standing speakers, which stand 7 feet tall and deliver 2,000 watts of power each. Driven by a total of 8,000 combined watts from several McIntosh amplifiers (our demo was only pushing a measly 200 of those watts, though), the total cost of this insane setup is, they told me, around $270,000. Needless to say, in the large room we were in, the sound was breathtaking, and as spacious, clean, balanced, and noise-free as you might expect.
The remaining listening spaces, two cozy smaller rooms on the third floor labeled “Disco” and “Jazz,” provide a much more down-to-earth, intimate experience much closer to what most people would have at home. A McIntosh setup with Sonus Electra Amator III bookshelf speakers is in the Disco room while Rotel and Michi (a newer subbrand of Rotel) amplifiers and Sonus Faber Olympic Nova III floors-tanders are in the Jazz room. My excellent tour guide, Sonus Faber’s global taining manager William Kline, curated the music, was kind enough to let me spin a copy of OK Computer that was serendipitously sitting on the sweet McIntosh MT2 Precision turntable.
Additionally, the homey townhouse also has a full-featured kitchen, a dining room area that features a vinyl library and lineup of Pro-Ject turntables and headphone amps, an outdoor terrace, and a bedroom. I mean, you could actually live here
From my personal perspective, being guided through some of the world’s best-sounding audio equipment by the people who know it best is somewhat moot, because this price point is far, far beyond my means. “If your stereo system costs less than your daily driver vehicle, you are living your life wrong,” Kline joked. But even though I am not the target market, those who are, aspire to be, or are just into hearing and learning more about high-end audio can book an appointment and get an amazing experience that you can’t get at the dealer level. In fact, Mascioni told me that many of their dealers around the world have taken inspiration from this experience-based setup in their stores, and the Group has aspirations to open more House of Sound locations globally.
“We created the House of Sound to bring to life McIntosh Group’s core design principles across high-end sound, versatility, and longevity for not only our tried-and-true brand fans, but also as a way to convert music and film lovers into audio enthusiasts,” said Daniel Pidgeon, CEO of McIntosh Group. “There’s something about closing your eyes and indulging in pristine sound that sticks with you. We hope through our immersive product experience hub, we can create that spark for people that makes them want to invest in premium audio equipment.”
The McIntosh House of Sound opened today at 357 West 17th Street, New York. Prescheduled personal tours can be requested by visiting houseofsoundNYC.com.