Nano Brooks talks in front of racks of records inside Hi-Fi Senpai on Saturday, Jan. 30. The shop includes vintage audio equipment and old forms of physical media. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Nano Brooks talks in front of racks of records inside Hi-Fi Senpai on Saturday, Jan. 30. The shop includes vintage audio equipment and old forms of physical media. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Permanent records: New shop gives old media local staying power

It was love at first listen.

Nano Brooks doesn’t remember the exact record, but he remembers the sound that got him interested in collecting records and audio equipment.

“I just remember the quality,” Brooks said during a masked-and-distanced interview.

Nano Brooks talks in front of a wall of cassette tapes inside Hi-Fi Senpai on Saturday, Jan. 30. The shop includes vintage audio equipment and old forms of physical media. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Nano Brooks talks in front of a wall of cassette tapes inside Hi-Fi Senpai on Saturday, Jan. 30. The shop includes vintage audio equipment and old forms of physical media. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

As impartial ears and audio experts can attest, analog formats simply sound different from digital formats. In the opinion of the sort of crate-digging audiophiles who helped propel record sales to a historic high last year and gave cassettes renewed relevance, physical media such as records don’t just sound different, they sound better, warmer, than CDs, MP3s or streaming options.

In any case, it was love at first listen when Brooks heard the music coming out of his friend’s high-fidelity equipment. He was hooked and interested in getting his own records and hi-fi gear.

[Meet Southeast Alaska’s amp wizard]

Brooks’ friend with the records and nice-sounding setup was Anthony Thingvall, who is now Brooks’ business partner. The two millennials — Brooks is 26, Thingvall is 27 —want to find new homes for old equipment and media through their shop Hi-Fi Senpai. Thingvall joined Brooks for a late-morning interview in the shop.

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Hi-Fi Senpai is envisioned by its founders as more than a place to buy records. They see it as a dedicated space to find receivers, amps, tape decks, cassettes, speakers and more; to hopefully celebrate Record Store Day; to have vintage equipment serviced; and to learn more about a hobby without worrying about gatekeeping that can sometimes intimidate newcomers.

Kaitlyn (left) and Tracy Forst (right) look through records at Hi-Fi Senpai on Saturday, Jan. 30. The two left with vinyl copies of albums by ABBA and Styx. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Kaitlyn (left) and Tracy Forst (right) look through records at Hi-Fi Senpai on Saturday, Jan. 30. The two left with vinyl copies of albums by ABBA and Styx. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

The shop’s name is tied to that goal to spread knowledge, Thingvall and Brooks said. In Japanese, senpai is an honorific that often refers to a person with more experience —often an upper clansman.

“We wanted to see Juneauites get into this industry as well,” Thingvall.

In addition to the shop being the place for a vintage preamplifier to get the tubes and attention it needs to help make things loud again or a classic turntable to get a tonearm replaced, Thingvall and Brooks eventually hope to stock some of the goods — such as needles and cartridges — that can help local audiophiles upgrade their gear or fix simple problems.

Anthony Thingvall shows off the insides of a Dynaco Pas tube preamplifier.

Anthony Thingvall shows off the insides of a Dynaco Pas tube preamplifier.

Thingvall and Brooks, who are plumbers by day, opened the shop located in the Mendenhall Valley in late January. They said early response has been strong, and Hi-Fi Senpai is still taking steps toward what they hope it will become.

On a recent Saturday, they were still decorating the business’s walls with posters signed by members of Rage Against the Machine, AC/DC and Motörhead.

“I can’t believe something Lemmy touched is on the wall,” Thingvall said.

Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire 
Anthony Thingvall (above) hangs a signed AC/DC poster inside Hi-Fi Senpai, a new record and hi-fi equipment shop in the Mendenhall Valley on Saturday. Top, Nano Brooks twists the dial of an oscilloscope — a device that uses electrical signals from sound waves to create images— while the oscilloscope shows an image that looks a lot like an exploding Death Star from “Star Wars.”

Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire Anthony Thingvall (above) hangs a signed AC/DC poster inside Hi-Fi Senpai, a new record and hi-fi equipment shop in the Mendenhall Valley on Saturday. Top, Nano Brooks twists the dial of an oscilloscope — a device that uses electrical signals from sound waves to create images— while the oscilloscope shows an image that looks a lot like an exploding Death Star from “Star Wars.”

While he worked, Thingvall wore a vest adorned with the sorts of band logos and pin that would suggest a reverence for the deceased Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister who helped shape heavy metal through his music and legendary escapades.

The shop keeps hours that allow the two to work their trade and is open in the evenings Wednesday through Fridays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on the weekends.

“It’s a business of passion,” Brooks said.

He and Thingvall said that love for records and old equipment makes it especially rewarding to rescue devices that may have seen better days from being thrown away.

“We want to save a lot of stuff from the dump,” Brooks said.

Nano Brooks twists the dial of an oscilloscope — a device that uses electrical signals from sound waves to create images— while the oscilloscope shows an image that looks a lot like an exploding Death Star from “Star Wars.” (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Nano Brooks twists the dial of an oscilloscope — a device that uses electrical signals from sound waves to create images— while the oscilloscope shows an image that looks a lot like an exploding Death Star from “Star Wars.” (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

So far, they said it’s been relatively easy to find things worth saving. While some of the classic gear on the shop’s shelves was found on online marketplaces, a lot of the items are local rescues.

People are so far happy once beloved pieces of equipment or music — a Marantz turntable, Pioneer receiver or especially crunchy Grateful Dead cassette — are going to someone who will appreciate it.

While devotees will swear old school physical media sounds better, it still takes up more space than CDs or ones and zeroes.

“Half of the people are happy to get their space back,” Brooks said.

• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

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