Industry Viewpoint: Are Audio Dealers in Trouble?

Introduction by Paul McGowan, PS Audio:
Magnepan and its loudspeakers are legends in our industry. It was a pair of Maggies that Stan Warren and I used as a reference when, in the early 1970s, both of us started PS Audio. Over the years, Magneplanar loudspeakers have consistently been among my personal reference standards. They hold a spot near and dear to my heart and, I suspect, the hearts and souls of hundreds of thousands of music-loving audiophiles around the planet.

Wendell Diller, Marketing Manager, Magnepan:
I called Paul McGowan to ask a favor – “Would you let me write an article for Copper magazine?” (I promised to say nice things about PS Audio and Copper.)

Ideally, I would like Magnepan to have a magazine like Copper. If I could produce a magazine like that, I would. (Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.) But, I don’t have the talent or the time. Since we don’t have a magazine like Copper, the next best thing is to be a guest writer. And there’s a subject I’ve been wanting to talk about for some time.

You, Dear Reader, share a problem that PS Audio, Magnepan and everyone else in high-end audio is facing: where can a consumer go to listen to high-end audio products when US audio dealers are shrinking in number? How can listeners experience these products?

It is coming up on 47 years that I have been marketing Magneplanar loudspeakers. In the 1970s and 1980s, it seemed like high-end audio would keep going on pretty much as it always had. We still eat and sleep as we ever did, and like eating and sleeping, music has always been another fundamental human experience. So, it seemed reasonable that there would always be a stereo store in town and a certain percentage of consumers would always want something better to make their music listening more enjoyable. I could not see the changes that were coming.

Magneplanar 30.7 loudspeakers.

In the 1970s and 1980s there were relatively few high-end brands, and an abundance of stereo stores. Now, we have the reverse – and the situation is getting worse. I am really bummed out that one of our best dealers, Audio Consultants in Chicago, closed their doors on December 31st of last year. The trend seems to be going the wrong way.

Although there are some notable exceptions: I was a young man when Listen Up in Denver, Definitive Audio in Seattle and Audio Advice in Raleigh were very small stereo stores. Now, they, and some others like them, are very successful. But, on balance, many markets do not have a good high-end audio store that is focused on 2-channel music listening. And, in the markets where there is a good specialty audio dealer, the dealer cannot begin to represent all the excellent high-end audio products on the market today because there are so many of them.

So, Magnepan and many others must adapt to the changing market in order for you, the consumer, to experience our products. However, I don’t see any single solution that will work, whether factory-direct sales, internet sales, going to audio shows to see and hear products, or some other strategy. We are still searching for what will work for Magnepan and I am not confident that we have answers.

PS Audio has a vision of how they want to proceed and Copper is an excellent part of their strategy. I like the wide variety of topics in Copper. [Thanks – we take that very seriously and strive to build a community of shared interests. – Ed.] As a consumer, I am turned off by hard-sell marketing tactics. PS Audio realizes they must use a variety of marketing tools to win over consumers. (It helps to have a charismatic spokesperson like Paul.)

Here again, Magnepan comes up short. I am not a salesman. Nor am I charismatic. Just compare the videos I’ve done with this one from Cynthia, aka The Audio Belle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yApFSbHc8Qk

Some of my, ahem, “fans” in the audio chat rooms have suggested that I retire. Well, sorry, I am not going anywhere. My financial adviser says I can retire, but this is what I want to do in my retirement. So, Magnepan will have to find our own solutions to the plight of 2-channel audio distribution.

Ok, Paul, I said some nice things about PS Audio. Now, can I come back again if I need to vent some more?

Editor’s Note: We encourage manufacturers, dealers and consumers to weigh in on this issue. What are your concerns, questions and proposed solutions? We welcome you to share your thoughts in the Comments section below (you need to register for the site at www.psaudio.com) or contact the editor at [email protected].

Wendell Diller’s Bio:
Marketing high-end audio causes accelerated aging!

Wendell then…

Wendell now.

Magnepan, located in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, is the manufacturer of Magneplanar loudspeakers. Planar speakers use ribbon and quasi-ribbon drivers rather than conventional dynamic (cone and dome) drivers. Ribbon and quasi-ribbon drivers have ultra-low mass, for sonic attributes such as fast transient response, a 360-degree dipole radiation pattern and high resolution.