Do we need specialist Hi-Fi stores?

Having spent many years in the Hi-fi business in various roles in retail, on the road as a manufacturer’s representative, and now with my own distribution company, I’ve seen much change in Hi-fi retailing. Manufacturers marketing and selling direct to the public, and the increased shift towards online purchases during recent CoVid19 restrictions has led some to once again sound the death knell of the more traditional specialist Hi-Fi retailer. I want to put the case for why we need them, along with the other routes to market. 

During those years in the business, I’ve demonstrated high quality audio products both in retail and then on the road and at shows for Mission, Tannoy, and now Amphion, Hegel and others within Auden Distribution. Loudspeakers are naturally the focus of attention in the system, when it sounds good, like it usually does, the loudspeakers are great, when it doesn’t sound to your liking, it’s the loudspeakers that aren’t good enough. It is natural to think this I suppose as this is where the audio emanates from and loudspeakers can make a huge difference to the character of the sound. These probably make it the most difficult choice when auditioning to upgrade your system so this is the category I’ll look at, but the same views apply in principle to most other Hi-fi purchases. 

There are of course several ways to go about getting information forming the decision and ultimately making the purchase. Direct purchase from the manufacturer, which is a growing channel, visiting one of the audio shows, or spending time with your audio retailer.  Direct from the manufacturer seems to me to be not ideal. Replacing an older loudspeaker with pretty much anything new in the right range will likely sound better. Great you might think, and I agree to an extent, but you haven’t had a chance to compare so how do you know you have made the best choice? Hi-fi Shows are pretty good for getting an idea of what is available and maybe making a shortlist, but again it can only ever be a guide. Reviews are part of the answer, indeed if you are buying direct they might be your only reference, we now have more “review” media than ever but reviews are by their nature the view of one person usually in one situation, so as valuable as they are, again they are a guide. So, what is the ideal? For most I would say read and watch reviews and visit shows if you can, it will give you a broad outline of what is available, then visit your hi-fi dealer. 

Which dealers do I suggest? How do you know a good one? I know the good ones from experience, but you can talk to the manufacturer, look at social media, and obviously the best guide is peer group recommendation. How do you know the dealer is giving honest advice and not forcing you down a particular road? Or are they in league with a manufacturer and getting a back hander for selling a specific brand? We are constantly told by the consumer press about those nasty retailers that we shouldn’t trust, but at some point you are going to have to accept the whole world isn’t trying to rip you off, and some retailers might  just be doing the right thing. That is the only way they will keep you as a customer and therefore stay in business. In our industry they have probably spent ages deciding which brands to work with based on what they believe to be the strongest offering in the various market sectors. This is not just about performance, they also need to know the backup is there if it is ever required, and they have the support in place from the supplier or distributor should they need it.  The best dealers also constantly question brands, especially when new products are released, and they don’t accept it is a good product based solely on the manufacturer’s other offerings. Just because a brand makes a star of a stand mount loudspeaker doesn’t mean their floor-standers will also be stellar. Being a distributor for various brands I like being challenged to prove the validity of my new products, it gives me confidence I am working with dealers that care about their customers and are not just after making a fast buck. For the customer, a good dealer does a lot of the initial spade work for you, and is constantly evaluating what they offer, they will let you listen to gear and then make suggestions based on your reactions, most will offer a home trial if it is appropriate.  

The CoVid19 restrictions have shown that business can be done remotely, but also the importance of the service and the face to face experience of visiting, discussing your requirements, and auditioning with the guidance of a good Hi-fi dealer. Representing brands via Auden Distribution I am very careful which retailers I work with, and together we want to give the best buying experience so you can be sure the retailer, manufacturer, and my company, all want to do the right thing for the customer. Not all our partners are traditional hi-fi stores in the way they operate as retailing is constantly evolving, but they all share similar customer focused values. Good business practice hasn’t changed and as with all the best companies they understand service for whichever route to market they utilise, be it in their store, showroom, or via their online shop. They help you make the best decisions, so you get the most enjoyment from your music as possible, and in the end that is what this is all about, enjoying your music.  

Please let me know if I can assist when you are considering any of the brands Auden Distribution represents, I’m happy to help if I can.