I come from that bygone Hi Fi retailing scene in the UK where people would walk into our tiny upstairs single room store in Cambridge and be played one of six pairs of speakers hooked up to a comparator through an NAD 3020 amplifier.

The only record we had to play was Fleetwood Mac Rumours … every nuance and note of that track 'Dreams' is etched into the fibre of my mortal soul, yet I can still play it today and be transported back to that time and space.

As ever with the rose tinted imbue of time travel by music it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand the record recalls the sweetness of my friends and relationships of those days of seeming simplicity in Cambridge in the early eighties ...

But then when I listen more carefully to the music and myself responding, I am assailed by those doubts and fears of a young man in his early twenties conflicted by the uncertainties over his career and selfsame relationships in the November bleakness of Thatcherite England. Music is powerful like that …

Loudspeakers are important ...

More than anything else in the Hi Fi scene they are the device that acquire the gravitas of cult branding over and above their physical reality. The US brands in particular with the wonderful gullible strength of their home market have created an aura around their prime loudspeaker products that empowers into a synergy with the culture of their music.

In the eighties on the corner of Market Sq in Cambridge we sold AR, Kef, and Mordaunt Short. Occasionally the sale of a pair of exalted Quad Electrostatics would pass through the store, but the business never had the space or money to actually stock and demonstrate them.

So when I came to Australia and found work in a local Hi Fi business it was a shock to discover that the speakers were perhaps the least important brand of that particular business exercise. The speciality of the house was a brand called DDK that were literally glued together out of cheap components locally and sold to match the cabinet that the systems were stacked in.

This was the 'White Van scam' combined with 'Hi Fi as furniture sold' to a non-enthusiast largely new Australian demographic in Northern suburban Melbourne. Sansui rack systems with multiple equalisers or Marantz Gold were the mainstream with Yamaha “Natural Sound” the top end … always with DDK loudspeakers. Unsurprisingly the speakers had a 90% gross profit at retail and the primary options were whether or not to have a glass inlay. The 1.5m tall DDK FS120 was the “Dominator X1” of the shop floor.

The commissions at 8% of gross profit were occasionally spectacular …

However the business was doomed to fail … and it did repeatedly … it only took a customer one glance in a Hi Fi magazine, one step inside a real Hi Fi business, or one listen to a friends proper combination of kit for a customer of those speakers to realise something was rotten in their state of audio.

In my time at that retailer it went from selling DDK cabinet speakers almost solus to purveying Mordaunt Short and Yamaha NS1000M’s …

The business is still extant in Melbourne under a derivative name and after several different fiscal iterations. In a real sense it is testament to the tenacity, grit, and adaptability of the owner that it has passed through the decades with such continuity.

Carlton Audio Visual is a very different type of company. We have been here since 1991 and … love loudspeakers …

Any one who visits us and gets past the first three areas into the myriad of spaces that dot the block here in Lygon St will realise that we have a deep seated obsession that goes beyond the norm of sensible retail practice into that territory where principles and passion coincide to lead us to stock  ... by Australian standards ... an unprecedented range of loudspeakers.

That dosn't mean we are internally consistent by the way, we each who work here have our own preferences and if asked what we like will give a number of quite different answers. But that's the point .. we want our potential clients to choose what they like not simply force sell them on a product monoculture.

I am often in that situation where a Hi Fi business proprietor visits us and comments … sometimes the commentary is adversarial and to other people … sometimes it is to my face.

Very few people get the guided tour … and only one or two literally have ever had the full Monty of all our places of niches and crannies and byways and highways …

Carlton Audio Visual is an absolute rabbit warren … we actually have twelve working demonstration areas across five premises. We have an equal number of storage areas offices and workshops. I have jocularly suggested to erstwhile competitors that after I have had them killed that I will have no problems hiding the bodies in our nooks and walls.

The thing that always gets to them is just how many loudspeakers we have …

Very occasionally some of them will love it and will launch into technical anecdotes of their prior relationships with those speakers. Mostly they look at me with a garnering horror of just how much capital is tied up in these things.

To me loudspeakers are the star stuff of a Hi Fi shops very raison d’étre. Without loudspeakers there is only a fraction of a good reason for a Hi Fi shop to exist at all.

There is a prevailing view that actually offering choice of this nature to your hard earned potential clients is destructive to the end game of making a sale … the theory is that what you should is to concentrate all of your efforts into just one or two brands and “sell the shite” out of them.

This theory pertains to the impression managed demonstration of a loudspeaker as being a single point episode to match a particular price point, and that all you need to do is to have a “good’, “better”, and “best” demonstration to sway a client to transactional completion. Thus by a business like ours having such a choice we actually confuse and disable what should be a one stop process.

You may recognise the Bose business model in this style of purveyance. Or The Big Picture People in a Melbourne context …

We believe that it is our mission on the other hand to bring as many quality options to the table of our client’s choice as we can afford to show, thus they have that proper opportunity to experience and select something that will suit their own proclivity.

That doesn’t mean we bombard a potential buyer with hundreds of arbitrary transducers. It means we listen to them very carefully and qualify their preferences and then proffer an appropriate demonstration.

If we can provide them with caffeine … or alcohol or pot as required … (no that’s illegal isn’t it?) to aid their choice then only too good.

Fundamental to being able to sell many brands of loudspeaker is having this innate love for them. If you don’t have some music in your soul and a way of really seeing into the hearts of your clients own musical appreciation you won’t ever be in the game of dealing with loudspeakers at this level.

(Thanks to the wonderful Charles Rodrigues for the cartoon header to this blog ... his wickedly biting satire graced the pages of "Stereo Review" from 1958 through to 1999 ... Julian Hirsch wrote excellent technical reviews in that publication that I followed avidly from 1961 until 1998. It lives on as the New York based "Sound and Vision" magazine that remains an excellent critical reference for enthusiasts: www.soundandvision.com )