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Best Home Audio Store: Lavish alternative to Wheels of Steel 

Stereo Unlimited

Admit it: Your stereo is a bunch of nearly identical black or silver boxes stacked atop one another and wired into speakers that look a lot like your stereo. If you're getting a little bored with that look, maybe it's time for a chat with David Hare, owner of custom audio shop Stereo Unlimited. He merges high-end acoustics with distinctive style, starting with the store itself. Shopping here is like hanging out in Hare's living room with plenty of plants, big windows, and cushy chairs to sit in while he cheerfully plays you any of the hundreds of records piled on the floor. He carries components in innovative shapes like the "flying egg" U-vola speakers that hang from the ceiling like alien pods (U-vola.com) or a wide array of amplifiers with glass vacuum tubes on the outside that flicker at night with a pleasantly candle-esque glow. But the real showstoppers are the turntables. Most of them are carved from frosty white Lucite and encircled by translucent exterior belt drives that give them a look both industrial-minimalist and strangely delicate (see some examples at ClearAudio.de). Not that any of this comes cheap. These turntables will set you back anywhere from $900 to $30,000 for the top-end model, which features niceties like a bubble level built into the tone arm to keep it even. A set of six-foot-tall planar speakers -- freestanding flat panels that broadcast sound in 360 degrees -- runs around $2,000, as does a matched set of Italian retro-modern Synthesis Nimis amplifiers and speakers in bold red and white. But at least now your listening hardware will be as cool as your music collection.

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(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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