Digital Convergence/Comments on Retail

Well, it looks like we're doing it. For years I've wondered how to tie in our Apple computer dealership to high end audio, and it looks like we now have good reason to proceed. Products aimed at the music server market are becoming more available from mainstream manufacturors like Blue Circle (USB Thingee) and Wadia (iTransport).

We take inquiries every day now on the subject and audio has become a part of our business, with lines like Audioengine (amazing value) and Vuum. And so we're building a high end 2 channel section and a mid to high end video section! Both should be good sized stores in their own right, with at least 1000 square feet each. Some of the people we've talked to are Bel Canto, the afore-mentioned Blue Circle, Nuforce, PSB, Reference 3A, etc. Our focus will be exclusively on digital; we won't sell turntables, much as I like them.

We will offer services around the digital lifestyle, such as LP to digital, CD to Hard Disc, HIRES download to disk, and such. We will take trade ins (happy to get them!) and sell used product as well. And of course we will sell Macs as digital music servers., not CD players. We believe we are with the trend, with media becoming more and more network sourced as opposed to physical media such as CD's and DVD's.

Some of the things I've learned here on Audiogon from audiophile consensus will be incorporated as well. We will have in home demo of equipment, as long as we have a demo product to offer. To avoid any complications with this policy we will charge a minimal fee for the trial, fully refundable with any purchase of audio hardware anytime. This allows us to offer the home trials, but covers us from abuse if the customer is one of those 'borrow from a dealer and buy online' types.

We will demo pretty much everything we sell, just as we do now with Macs.

We will work with our customers to maximize value. IMHO, there is just way too much overpriced audio gear in the marketplace. Primarily this is a result, I believe, of less sales volume coupled to a diminishing customer base as one result of the pricing, with growth taking a hit as well. Representing value will likely be a difficult sell to our existing customers, so we intend to attach a lot of service to the products. As well, we will seriously look at products from companies coming out of the computer audio crossover space, such as Audioengine. We believe we will find value there as the computer industry is well known for the tiny margins we nessessarily have to deal with. The idea of selling any larger product with a 20% profit margin or higher almost feels larcenous to us! Hello cables!

Because of our financial resources, and the existence of a functioning and profitable existing business with systems infrastructure in place, we will be able to provide more service and resources to our clientele for audio and video. We have a lot of experience as retailers and will be professional in our dealings with customers. Indeed, one of the reasons we are expanding into this space is the perceived lack of these services from many existing high end retailers, which, in our region anyway, tend to be smaller, marginalized dealers with limited resources.

I welcome comments on our new undertaking, and specifically request that you help provide a road map that would meet your needs from a store such as I've outlined above.

I thank you in advance and greatly look forward to your perspective!
It does feel like we're finally getting to the point where "convergence" is truly happening, so I'm glad if there is somebody trying to adapt a retail model to the new era. I would certainly like a retail destination that is not Best Buy-like, and I would certainly like to be able to point friends who are not as audio-obsessive as I am to a source. I recently recommended the Audioengine speakers to a friend who wanted a "better" iPod music experience - he thought he'd found the greatest deal on Earth.

Anyway, not much advice, but good luck and I'm rooting for you.
If Audioengine is your idea of good sound (nice cheap but pretty lousy bass but good as entry level student speaker) then you really need to get some serious active speakers rather than toys for kids.

My first choice as a very high end active speaker for the most discerning Apple crowd (who are obviously quite style conscious) would be the Genelec 8050A's in WHITE - these would match the MAC gear very well and they are absolutely world class speakers used by the highest end audio professionals/studios.

Other good lines are old classics like NHT SOO/MOO.

The whole Genelec two-way line is available in white

George Massenburg uses 8050A speakers as do many famous studios where all the biggest name artists go...Click on Blackbird Studio "C" for a tour and you will also note MAC's everywhere...
Good for you! Where were you two years ago? Sounds like you already have a roadmap. I like that you'll have an in-store system. If you let customers demo at home, even better.

The hard part is getting a PC source feeding a DAC to sound as good or better than a transport feeding a DAC. We're at a point where USB (or USB converted to I2S) from a PC into a DAC is the same or better than the best transports feeding a DAC. It took many months of research and trial and error before I got to this stage. It would have been great to have had a knowledgeable retailer to go to. It takes the right setup, otherwise the sound is just mediocre.

My advice, which is worth what you're paying for it, is to help customers implement systems that
- 1) are not dead ends (file formats are not proprietary, tags are portable to other programs, unlimited scalability of storage and location of storage, etc.);
- 2) have wireless remote control;
- 3) have the least amount of jitter possible into the dac (a soundcard or SPDI/F directly into a dac doesn't compare well implemented USB); and
- 4) have media software that does bit-perfect ripping and bit-perfect playback.

Not sure if you're looking to get that complicated. But if you're planning to cater to audiophools, you'll need to provide solutions that work with their existing dacs without losing sound quality. On the otherhand, if you cater to the masses who'll just plug into a receiver, that's obviously much easier and you'll make more money.

My final advice, since you asked, is to sell Empirical Audio interfaces, because they do #3 better than anyone (let the slings and arrows fly) :o)
If you want to be at the leading edge of digital playback,
I suggest you take a look at the products PSAudio has under development:

Rather than Bel Canto, Blue Circle and Nuforce, I'd look at Bryston and TacT electronics. For speakers, I'd get the PMC line.