When I talk to someone from an in-wall loudspeaker company about the quality of their products, I generally have to take their word for it that what they’re saying is true. Even during a demo-heavy event like CEDIA EXPO, most in-wall and in-ceiling speakers are seen and not heard on static kiosks or “wall o’speakers” displays. Even the best attempts at a live demo are less-than-ideal, given the setting.
Greg Ford, President, Noble Fidelity.
So I had to laugh when Noble Fidelity president Greg Ford stopped himself short while describing the sound quality of his Attache Series of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers during a recent phone conversation. “I’m doing what everyone in this business does. I’m telling you how good my speakers are, but it’s all BS until you’ve heard the speakers.”
Faced with the challenge of how to offer a proper demo of his “very shallow line” of in-walls and in-ceilings, Ford came up with a creative solution. He designed and built wooden road cases for his network of independent sales reps. Each road case consists of two 34-inch high x 24-inch wide x 5-inch deep boxes with a 8-inch in-ceiling L-85 mk II speaker installed in the corner. Each box has reinforced steel corners and magnets and rubber feet to link them together, side-by-side, for carrying around. On the edge of each box is a standard left and right speaker connectors for linking the boxes to an existing system. The intent is to lay the boxes on the floor, face up, to simulate the effect of an in-ceiling installation. It’s a weird concept to wrap your brain around at first, but once you start listening to some demo material, you forget that the audio is emanating from the floor, and not the ceiling.
“You can’t walk into a store with an 8-inch in-ceiling loudspeaker that has a value proposition and demonstrate it, so we came up with the road cases,” Ford told me. “And the road cases lay on their backs on the floor and load into the room from the floor almost in an identical fashion to how they would load into a room from the ceiling.”
The road cases in “demo mode.”
But, again, it was all “B.S.” until Ford connected me with my favorite midwest rep, Don St. Peters, who loaned me a road case, and along with a set of newer L-85 mk IIs that have been slightly redesigned to accommodate frameless (bezel-less) round or square grilles, in-ceiling or on-wall (those were just to show me the excellent build quality of the speakers, as they weren’t installed into anything.) Featuring the exact same sonic performance as their predecessors, these newer models offers 24 neodymium magnets that are beveled (tilted slightly) for an even more flush-mount and firmly connected grille.
Having spoken with Ford a lot about the design philosophy and value proposition for his relatively young and very small company, I wanted to take a listen myself. Now that I had a road case, I could finally do just that. Admittedly, I’m no Dennis Burger or John Sciacca when it comes to waxing poetic about the finer nuances of a speaker’s sonic signature, but I do have a fairly trained ear and I know as well as the next guy how songs I’ve listened to for many years are supposed to sound.
After wiring Noble Fidelity’s road case to my very pedestrian surround processor demo rig, which was fed by my run-of-the mill Blu-ray player, I turned up the volume and listened to several familiar tracks. Vocals were accurate every time, and bass, while not overpowering, was quite sufficient for an 8-inch woofer. There was not one time that I thought, “Not bad for in-ceilings…” They simply sounded good, and honestly I forgot the speakers were sitting face up toward the ceiling.
Now that I can actually attest to the quality of these speakers, I'll pass along a little more information about Ford’s design philosophy for his relatively new (they debuted in December 2006) and very small speaker company.
Noble Fidelity’s redesigned L-85 featuring a flange-less grille design.
“It’s a very shallow line. It’s not a Volkswagen, Audi, Mercedes dealership sort of a line,” Ford said. “All we have basically is the Audi-priced product that perform like the Cadillac or the Mercedes. We don’t have two or three different grades. For each size or model, we only have one, and it’s absolutely what we consider to be the very best way to make that product.”
Learn more about Noble Fidelity’s speaker line here: www.noble-fidelity.com.
Ford told me that although there are “ways to make the product more expensive,” with cast woofers or air core inductors, for example, there’s no way to make it sound better for the price point. Ford’s standard for quality and value comes from nearly 40 years of experience selling hi-fi products. He’s likes to say that he’s been in the “hi-fi business long enough to have called it that.”
“I’m going to be 60 this year, and I got started in hi-fi probably when I was 14 years old,” Ford recalled. “By 1972 I was working in a retail store selling hi-fi. I grew up in a sound room, so to speak, with a speaker comparator and A-B demos.”
The Reno, NV-based brand has grown very slowly, Ford said, through a very targeted approach of working exclusively through a network of IPRO reps.
“I joined IPRO to specifically take my time and network with the type of reps that I thought were the right reps that had a similar history selling product to the type of accounts that I’m interested in building a line with,” Ford said.
Only about half of the 18 territories are covered at this point.
“Some of them are do pretty well and some have a hard time,” Ford said. “It’s hard to sell in-wall speakers. It’s hard to go up against Sonance and SpeakerCraft and Niles and TruAudio… these companies that have big multi-tiered programs and represent different product categories. We can’t do that. We only have a finite about of capital and we’re just making our way the best we can selling a value-proposition speaker with just a few SKUs.”
The travel case was one idea for helping reps sell Noble Fidelity’s in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. A very competitive sales margin is also a good hook. Such competitive profit potential is made possible, Ford said, by his fundamental belief in avoiding distributor and online sales.
Paul Epstein of Current Marketing is a Noble Fidelity rep based in Scottsdale, AZ, posing with Noble Fidelity’s road cases. Paul Epstein has been instrumental in helping get the road case message out to dealers.
“We only sell direct to dealers,” he noted. “So if a company becomes a dealer, they have a significantly protected sphere of influence with the product where people can’t buy it online or buy it from a distributor and go about undercutting them.”
It’s a small brand, for sure, but one that has a lot to offer a dealer that knows how to sell audio.
“To me the total package is having a fantastic sounding product that is a true head and shoulders above the competition value that a dealer can make money on and not have to worry about getting undercut on price,” Ford concluded.
Click here for a PDF list of Noble Fidelity's sales representatives.