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Julie Mullins  |  Jun 24, 2024  |  2 comments
It's a truism in business—or if it isn't strictly true, it's at least a cliché—that you can't please everyone. But Mark Mawhinney sees everyone as a potential customer. He does his best to cover all customer bases, from old-school audiophiles to newcomers, from Boomers to Gen Z. "As long as they have two legs and two ears, they can be our customers," he told Stereophile in a recent phone interview.

Mawhinney owns and runs three businesses: Spin-Clean, the longstanding, inexpensive record-cleaning system; Northern Audio, a high-end audio dealership; and Music To My Ear, a record store that also sells some entry-level to mid-tier hi-fi equipment. The three businesses occupy the same building in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Business, he says, is strong.

Julie Mullins  |  May 17, 2024  |  5 comments
Over a long career, thinker and audio designer Barry Thornton has carved his own paths and formed his own opinions, broad views about how the universe works and how one thing connects to another. He applies scientific principles broadly, too: From action comes reaction, though it may not always be predictable. "Do something, and everything else starts to occur," he said of his endeavors. Longtime readers and seasoned audiophiles will recognize Quintessence Audio Group, a maker of hi-fi electronics in the 1970s and '80s. Thornton founded the company and served as its main designer. He has worked with companies including SAE (where he became Chief Engineer), ESS, Parasound, and Monster Cable. His journey eventually led him to Austin, Texas, where he recently founded Austin AudioWorks.
Julie Mullins  |  Apr 03, 2024  |  7 comments
Many audiophiles and serious music lovers are passionate about vintage. Vintage has become a popular "way in" to the hobby, especially popular among younger folks. Reasons vary. Many—perhaps most—are seeking more bang for the buck than you can get buying new. Others prefer classic sound and aesthetics: that special vintage vibe. At least a few inherit or receive vintage pieces from audiophile parents; others come across a beautiful bargain they can't resist. An important niche in our hobby thinks vintage equipment simply sounds better than the new stuff.

Not every vintage piece sounds good, however, and not every piece is a bargain. Some can be quite expensive. And most that aren't are in need of expensive refurbishment to look and sound their best. Even once restored, they usually require more care, maintenance, and patience than a new piece would require. It's a lot to take in for those new to the hobby.

Jeremy Irwin, owner and "stereo archaeologist" at the vintage-focused dealer Aural HiFi in Denver, has been there himself.

Jim Austin, Jason Victor Serinus  |  Feb 12, 2024  |  12 comments
Dear audio show exhibitors: This one's for you. As members of the press who have spent decades covering audio shows, we've developed a clear sense of what works for us and—we think—for other show attendees. We ask your indulgence as we share our observations about how to mount a successful exhibit and get the best coverage possible from Stereophile and, presumably, other publications.
Julie Mullins  |  Jan 16, 2024  |  8 comments
Before and since the pandemic, many traditional hi-fi dealerships evolved to expand the products and services they offer—into custom install and home integration, in particular. There has also been a bit of a multichannel/home theater resurgence.

Shifts in the market and personal interests led to changes at Adirondack Audio & Video, an established company with locations in upstate New York and—as HiFi Loft—in Manhattan. The company recently split into two separate entities. Under new ownership by a former partner/employee, just before Labor Day, 2023, HiFi Loft spun off from Adirondack and opened a new second location in Glens Falls, New York, about 45 minutes north of Albany. By all accounts, the separation was amicable, even favorable for each party.

Julie Mullins  |  Dec 27, 2023  |  5 comments
McIntosh CEO Charlie Randall, pictured outside the company's Binghamton factory in 2006. (Photo: John Atkinson)

To remain profitable, many hi-fi companies have outsourced production to faraway countries with lower labor costs. That, certainly, is a legitimate way of doing business. Yet many other hi-fi makers have chosen to work with suppliers that are local, regional, or at least domestic. There are good reasons for doing so, those manufacturers maintain.

Some of the advantages are obvious. Local labor may cost more, but shipping what they make is much cheaper.

Julie Mullins  |  Nov 15, 2023  |  4 comments
Photo by Lauren Coleman

New York City continues to have a rich hi-fi culture, but many of its fabled hi-fi shops have shuttered—think of Lyric Hi-Fi, which played a major role in the development of audio's high end before it closed in 2021. But recently NYC's hi-fi scene has experienced a bit of a renewal, with undertakings aimed at a wider, younger audience. One example is a new, niche audio showroom in SoHo, which opened in September, by former deejay and fashion designer, artist, and current audio craftsman Devon Turnbull.

Julie Mullins  |  Oct 25, 2023  |  1 comments
Often it seems we're living at a time of hi-fi–industry contraction—that expansion in retail, if it exists at all, is online, and the number of real-world dealerships is shrinking. But at least two California dealerships, San Diego's Alma Audio (top photo) and Pasadena's Audio Element (bottom photo), are expanding in the actual, offline world.

Why expand? For the reasons you'd expect. The two dealerships want to expand their reach and capitalize better on the advantages that brick-and-mortar retail affords, especially when it comes to selling more expensive goods. They are aiming to reach more people in new locations with a more personal, experiential approach—much different than reading specifications, looking at pictures, and clicking the "buy" button online. Both dealerships are aiming to sell higher-end stuff at their new locations—the kind of sales that don't work as well online—to new customers in new places.

Julie Mullins  |  Sep 06, 2023  |  0 comments
Phaenelagh "Nel" Lenard Burnett is an outlier in a most basic sense: She's a woman who works in hi-fi. For the past several decades—essentially all her adult life—she has immersed herself in running her father's audio business.

Her father is John Lenard Burnett of Lenard Audio, a veteran designer, researcher, and educator whose work has crossed over from recording studios, concert halls, and commercial spaces to hi-fi for the home. The Opal 4-way active loudspeaker system is the senior Burnett's signature product and serves as the foundation of Lenard Audio's hardware and strategic designs.

"When I was a baby, Lenard was the largest manufacturer and supplier of concert PA systems and guitar amps and so on in the Australian market," Nel told me. "Some of my very first memories are of me sitting on his workbench. That was one of my happiest places to be when I was a kid, literally sitting on his work."

Julie Mullins  |  Jun 18, 2023  |  1 comments
Many family-owned hi-fi companies have experienced generational leadership transitions over the last few years: Wilson Audio, Von Schweikert Audio, PS Audio, and VPI Industries, to name a few. In two of those cases, the founding father is still around. One of those is VPI Industries.

Harry and Sheila Weisfeld founded VPI in 1978. A succession plan? "Initially there really was none," VPI President Mat Weisfeld (above), who took over for his father Harry, told me. "They'd hoped to work to the last of their days. Unfortunately, my mom's days were cut short."

Julie Mullins  |  May 22, 2023  |  3 comments
Even if Darren Myers's name isn't familiar, you still may have heard—or at least heard about—hi-fi components he designed, including the PS Audio Stellar phono preamp, which garnered Stereophile's Analog Product of the Year Award in 2020.

After working on projects for Classé and Bowers & Wilkins, Myers was hired by PS Audio, where he ended his tenure as senior analog design engineer. Myers recently joined Parasound (footnote 1) following the company's acquisition by David Sheriff.

Julie Mullins  |  May 02, 2023  |  9 comments
Several traditional hi-fi dealerships have shuttered in recent years: NYC's Lyric Hi-Fi and Chicago's Audio Consultants are prominent examples. A few new brick-and-mortar shops have opened, but it's rare to see a next-generation owner breathe new life into a long-established dealership. Christopher Brewer (above) is doing exactly that with New England Hi-Fi.
Julie Mullins  |  Mar 22, 2023  |  10 comments
Probably the biggest group of audiophiles right now are still "Boomers": members of the "Baby Boom" generation, which by most definitions puts their minimum age at close to 60. Boomers are aging and won't be around forever. So bringing new blood into the hobby is more important than ever.

Younger people (post-Boomer generations) listen to a ton of music—but are they really listening? Are they paying close attention, or, as the cliché goes, is it, for them, all background music? Generational clichés are rarely accurate. Of course they actually listen. Enough of them are, anyway. And they hear more; their hearing is better.

Julie Mullins  |  Feb 22, 2023  |  2 comments
Those of us who aren't wealthy must often sell something before we can buy a new piece of hi-fi gear, and it's usually another piece of hi-fi gear. Selling in order to buy makes a great deal of sense because, after all, you only need one of everything (or two in the case of speakers) at a time in a two-channel system.

Another secondary-marketplace incentive: As I pointed out a couple of Re-Tales columns ago, the higher prices rise on new equipment, the more appealing pre-owned gear becomes.

Julie Mullins  |  Feb 01, 2023  |  14 comments
In last month's Re-Tales column, I discussed the impact the current economy is having on the hi-fi industry. Some hi-fi companies said sales have "normalized" after widespread, dramatic increases during the COVID years—which is to say, sales are down relative to their peak but still strong. Others have noticed customers biding time before making expensive purchases or opting to buy less-expensive equipment than originally planned. Yet, even in this risky economic climate, a few people are taking the risk and opening new brick-and-mortar retail stores.