Where did you first hear a high-end audio system and become hooked for life? How did you discover that special component that elevated your system's performance to another level? Where were you introduced to new music that you now regard as essential? Or learn about some tweak or inexpensive accessory that allowed you to more deeply connect with music?
Chances are that all these life-changing events took place in a local hi-fi retailer's showroom.
The high-end audio dealer is the lynchpin of the industry. The dealer is the ambassador for good sound, introducing the uninitiated to the joys of high-quality music reproduction. The experience of hearing your favorite music wonderfully reproduced is one of those things that must be experienced firsthand. By providing that experience, dealers are a vital conduit for sharing our culture and our values with the current generation as well as the next ones.
Even if you're a seasoned audiophile, there's still no substitute for the advice and services of a skilled and caring dealer. The best retailers are long-term consultants, guiding you as your system evolves and improves so that each upgrade is a real step forward and not a lateral move that trades one set of compromises for a different set. I hear from so many music lovers who flail around, jumping from one component to the next without any overarching vision for upgrading the system. Your dealer can provide that vision, ensuring that your upgrade dollars are spent where they deliver the greatest return and longest-term satisfaction. It's false economy to buy discounted products on the Internet in the hope that one will deliver real musical benefits in your system. That approach leads to the revolving door of disappointment. Audio components don't operate in isolation; each product's intrinsic performance is just one element in a much larger picture, a picture that experienced retailers often see but consumers don't, simply because building musical systems is the retailer's profession. What matters is the final installed performance in your home, something that your local dealer is uniquely qualified to deliver. Some Internet retailers embody everything that's good about brick-and-mortar stores, and have knowledgeable and passionate salespeople that can guide you on your journey.
There are hopeful signs that high-end retailing is strengthening. Just this past week I visited Lavish Hi-Fi in Santa Rosa, California, for an event with GamuT Audio. The store occupies 10,000 square feet in the heart of the city's shopping district. Lavish had moved from a 400-square-foot location 18 months earlier, and seems to be thriving in the new space. I learned a few days ago that a new high-end store is about to open in La Jolla, California. And Hanson Audio of Dayton, Ohio, is opening a second location in Cincinnati. These three success stories have one thing in common: Their proprietors are all young, energetic, and have invested considerable financial resources in bringing brick-and-mortar high-end audio to their communities.
In his new book The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, author David Sax documents the reversal of the trend toward an all-digital world, from the resurgence of everything from vinyl records to paper notebooks, from brick-and-mortar retail establishments to photographic film. All over the world, in many businesses that were once thought to be on the verge of extinction at the hands of the digital transformation, people are finding the value of the physical over the virtual.
One way to expose new listeners to good sound, strengthen dealers, and help connect music lovers with each other is to build audio communities around local dealers. The Los Angeles & Orange County Audio Society is a spectacular model for doing just that. The LA&OC fosters a wonderful sense of community and connection around our shared passion. Of course, it benefits from drawing on a large population and many local dealers, but its success could be replicated on a smaller scale in dozens of cities — benefiting audiophiles and dealers across the country.
On a macro level, a healthy dealer base is essential to our industry. On a micro level, your local dealer may just be your system's most important component.