|For the last quarter-century, there has been no high-end audio dealer in the world as well known as Andrew Singer, of Sound by Singer in Manhattan. From the junk-bond era through the last burst bubble of the markets, the megabuck systems sold by Andy Singer reflected not just the extremes and excesses of the high end, but of Wall Street itself. |
On the 6th of August, Singer informed his vendors that "despite our best efforts, Sound by Singer has lost its lease and will be shutting down its showroom at 18 East 16th Street, New York, NY in mid-September." He did not state specifically that the company was going out of business, only that the company would "ponder our next move" after the completion of a clearance sale on August 21st.
Attorney Andrew Singer began his business more or less as a hobby in the late '70's, demoing systems in his mother's living room for a hardcore audiophile clientele. Singer left the practice of law in 1978 with the opening of the first Sound by Singer store on Lexington Avenue between 34th and 35th Street; his first employee was Steve Guttenberg, now well-known as an audio writer, reviewer and blogger.
From the '80's on, Singer's bearded visage became a common sight in full-page ads in audio magazines, most notably in Sterophile. Singer's advocacy contributed to the success of many brands, including Krell, JM Labs/Focal, and VTL. Perhaps more than any other well-known dealership, Sound by Singer was viewed as an extension of its owner, and that owner evoked strong reactions in those who knew him, and those who merely knew of him.
Singer's verbal facility, combative nature, intolerance of fools and imposing physical presence made him the subject of endless stories, some no doubt apocryphal. We may never know, for instance, if an amplifier really was shot full of holes following a dispute with its distributor.
The audiophile community is familiar with stories of Singer's alleged arrogance; the industry abounds with tales of hard-dealing and tough terms. Many who worked with and for Andy, though, are fiercely loyal.
"I think he was a great businessman," said Steve Guttenberg. "I was with him for sixteen or seventeen years, on and off, and always got along with him well.The thing most audiophiles don't realize is that retailing audio is hard work, and we worked hard there. The bulk of the time, I worked my ass off; every day was a race to get things done, and they just didn't all get done."
Guttenberg noted the changes in clientele that came as Sound by Singer grew from an audiophile hangout to a destination for the rich and famous: "in the early days, the customers really were exclusively audiophiles. In the last ten or fifteen years, I'm guessing three-fourths of the customers were rich people, not necessarily audiophiles."
John DeVore of DeVore Fidelity knew Andy Singer both as his boss and as one of his dealers. "I started in sales in '96, and worked there until about 2000, and tapered off as my company got up and running," DeVore said. "I always liked Andy, and still do. He was my biggest dealer, and when he called to tell me about the closing--well, that wasn't a conversation I wanted to have."
Strong opinions seem to follow most of Singer's actions, and they've followed the news of the closing of his store. Posts on an industry forum on CE Pro were less than kind; high-end legend and founder of The Absolute Sound Harry Pearson said the closing was "a fate richly earned and deserved."
What Andy Singer will do after the doors close for the last time at the familiar storefront on 16th Street, and he ponders his next move, remains to be seen. Some say that health issues and age mean retirement is likely; others speculate that Sound by Singer with adapt to the demands of the virtual marketplace and reappear as an online business. Efforts to talk with Singer have proven fruitless.
John DeVore offers a comment that will encourage some, and dismay others: "Hi-Fi is really in Andy's blood. I'd be surprised if he didn't come back."
Our next entry of The Hub will discuss still more changes in the world of audio retailing. In audio, as in the rest of the world, the only constant is change.