When audio business veterans wax nostalgic
about the glory years of hi-fi, I really can’t relate.
Having grown up at the tail end of LPs, my most
formative years were spent with tapes and CDs
and relatively cheap all-in-one playback units.
I’ll probably never live this down now, but my
friends and I judged the quality of a cassette tape
deck back then by how slow it opened when you
pushed the eject button.
This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t
relate, at least a little, to the passion many people
still have for high-quality audio. I was born with
very sensitive hearing, and as I’ve gotten older
I’ve learned to protect this valuable asset.
As a result, I can still identify bad audio very
easily. If there’s tiny hum or buzz in the room,
it’ll drive me crazy. It’s when it comes to the
finer points of high-end audio systems that I’m
at a bit of a loss. Ask me to “A-B” one high-end
system from the other and I have to fib a little bit
because they usually sound the same to me.
Once in a blue moon, however, I have a
transcendent auditory experience related to
high-quality music. The first time it happened, I
was meeting with a very small, high-end speaker
brand in one of the CES high-performance
audio suites, back before they moved to the
Venetian hotel. As I sat on a smelly sofa in a little
bungalow next to the 1970s-era hotel pool, the
two tower speakers in front of me reproduced an
orchestral music score that literally made every
hair on my body tingle. I can’t remember the
brand or the specific ingredients of the speakers,
but I can’t forget that visceral feeling. The second
time it happened, I was attending a New York
Pops concert at Carnegie Hall. The notes from
the orchestra drew me into the performance so
much that I wanted to lean in as close as I could
get to allow the music to bathe over me.
That brings me to the subject of this month’s
cover story, “Big ‘A’ Audio,” by associate
editor Lindsey Adler. The article’s premise
is that selling high-end audio systems isn’t as
straightforward as it used to be, “with many
homeowners distracted by the popular buzz
around soundbars and wireless speakers.” Yet,
as Lindsey writes, custom integrators still have
“plenty of opportunities to install high-margin,
high-performance audio products through
proper demos, flawless execution, referrals, and
by working with interior designers and acoustical
Selling a great audio experience always has
been about creating a proper demo experience.
If I only ever experienced MP3 music through
my Apple ear buds, and didn’t have those
memories from Carnegie Hall and CES to draw
from, then I’d have been none the wiser. It’s just
a matter of convincing your clients to sit down
and actually feel a musical or movie performance
in that unique way. Once they sense that tingle
on their skin, they’ll likely want to avoid feeling
that tinge of regret from saying “no” to owning
high-quality audio gear.