Well-known industry veteran Walter Schofield has been part of the audio community for over 40 years, having worked at leading manufacturers such as Linn, the Harman Specialty Group, SVS, and Emotiva. Walter is currently serving as the COO of Krell after accepting the position in September of 2018.That year Walter was also inducted into the Class of 2018 CE Pro Masters, an electronics industry award sponsored by CE Pro magazine. Don Lindich interviewed Walter about his life, career and the future of high-end audio and video.
Don Lindich: Please tell us a little bit about yourself! Where are you from, where have you lived and where are you now? And what are your hobbies outside the audio field?
Walter Schofield: I’m from Arlington, Massachusetts, a burb a couple of towns away from Boston proper. Since leaving, I’ve lived in multiple locations in around the Boston area. I now reside in Wakefield, Massachusetts, about 10 miles north of Boston, and previously spent a few years in Atlanta and Nashville for a couple of positions I’ve held within the audio industry. Outside of audio, I am very much into the history and mechanics of horology, completely enamored by those little engines on your wrist that have a couple of hundred moving parts and keep time. To think that there are examples that are a couple hundred years old and still ticking fascinates me.
I also have a lifelong interest in feudal Japanese history, and specifically the concept known as Bushido which is the honor system implemented by the samurai.
DL: Most audiophiles have a moment in which they became an audiophile, or started down the path that led them to become one. For example, in my own case I was a college student visiting a photo studio where a friend of mine was an assistant. The photographer was internationally known and quite wealthy, and had a high-end audio system in part of the studio. When my friend played it for me I was mesmerized by the sound, and as soon as I got back to school I started buying magazines, visiting hi-fi shops and buying equipment as I began what became a lifetime passion. Can you remember a moment or an experience that started you on your own path as an audiophile?
WS: My cousin Linda, who was about six years older than me, had a system and at age 10 or so she invited me to listen to Ten Years After’s A Space in Time album (featuring guitarist/vocalist Alvin Lee). I was amazed at how good the music sounded, and it was at that moment that I realized I needed to be associated with music in some way in my life.
That experience prompted me to buy a system at age 11, much to the consternation of my dad. I had worked a triple paper route over the prior few years and I had to convince dad that I should spend my hard-earned money on a stereo. He finally relented after my constant barrage, and we went to Tech Hifi and I purchased a Sansui receiver, KLH speakers and a Pioneer turntable. I drove my parents crazy for the next few years while listening to the system and I’m fairly sure my dad regretted his decision.
DL: What was the transition for you from audiophile hobbyist to audio professional?
WS: After working in audio retail for a bit at a Tech Hifi “Bargain Center,” a dear colleague of mine was purchasing a pair of Dahlquist DQ-10 loudspeakers and brought me to a high-end shop where I heard a Vandersteen/Audio Research/Linn system (speakers, electronics and turntable), and that trip cemented my journey into the high-performance audio world.
DL: Given that you work in an industry that revolves around music, do you play any instruments or perform in a band?
WS: One of the things that drove me to be involved in audio reproduction was the fact that I realized early on that I was a horrible musician. I dabbled a bit in a high school band, but I didn’t last long as I was truly not talented. Since I knew I needed to be around music, being in the audio business was my way to do so.
A few years ago I purchased an acoustic guitar and I’m trying to practice, but unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to dedicate to getting much better. I expect that in retirement, I’ll be one of those late bloomers with guitar in hand, driving everyone crazy with my obsession.
I’d love to make music, but I’m pleased to have the chance to provide the means to reproduce music with exceptional systems that bring people as close to the actual event as possible.
DL: You have held high-level positions in organizations from Asia, Europe and the United States, including the Harman Specialty Group, which at the time included Mark Levinson, Revel, Proceed, Lexicon and others. You have also been at SVS, Emotiva and Krell. As an American, what can you say about the cultural differences that arise in working in different cultures?
WS: I have had the pleasure of working with many different organizations, and I’m grateful to have had that exposure, which allowed me to better understand their cultural and business [perspectives]. At the end of the day, it is all about relationships, honesty, integrity and finding like-minded people to do business with. I’ve been blessed to find so many around the world that share that philosophy and we continue to seek like-minded partners for Krell.
DL: What are some of the favorite audio components you’ve owned? Do you have any that have remained in your system for an especially long time?
WS: Oh my, I’ve had so many wonderful components, it’s difficult to narrow it down. To name a few that have given me extreme joy, conrad-johnson and Audio Research electronics, Vandersteen speakers, an Oracle turntable and so many others. I have to say that the Krell components I’ve had throughout the years have been excellent, but of course I have to root for the home team!
The Krell KSA 250 amplifier [first introduced around 1990 – Ed.] is still in my system, having just been rebuilt about a year ago, and I can’t seem to part with it. The other component that resided in my system for years, but unfortunately has departed, was an Oracle Delphi turntable with an SME arm and John Marovskis MIT-1 cartridge. I worshiped at that altar of that turntable for many years, a great combination of incredible industrial design and sound quality. I currently use a VPI Classic Signature for analog and listen to digital through my Krell DAC.
DL: Are there any specific products you helped develop or bring to market that you are especially proud of?
WS: While at Mark Levinson from 2005 to 2008, our team developed a full product line and plan. That lineup was released, SKU by SKU, right up until just a couple years ago. There were many Mark Levinson products that came out of that plan that were exemplary performers, and one in particular that was amazing-sounding, the No. 532 power amplifier!
I don’t want to build this up bigger than it actually was, as I just fell into it timing-wise, but I had the privilege of visiting with our partners at Harman Japan while they were fine-tuning the first JBL Project Everest DD66000 loudspeaker (now superseded by the DD67000). I was able to offer observations sitting alongside Ken Yasuda, the person specifically tasked with the voicing and development of that speaker. We listened extensively and forwarded our notes to the JBL development team. I’m not sure how many of my observations were actually acted upon, but it was very humbling to observe and be close to the development of one of the best speakers that I’ve ever heard.
DL: With portable devices, earphones and Bluetooth speakers such a big part of the market now, how do we get younger generations interested in high-performance audio and component systems?
WS: This is a topic widely-discussed and constantly with many in the industry.
So many industries or segments of industries have done an incredible job in messaging as to why people should spend their disposable income on their products. Wristwatches, automobiles, furniture and home decor, kitchen cabinets, appliances, and so many more product categories have succeeded in convincing consumers they need to spend a lot of money on these things, but we have done a poor job in our industry convincing people that having the world’s music and movie libraries at your fingertips is important.
Almost everybody loves music and movies, being an integral part of so many lives, and that is why I believe our industry has a huge opportunity to deliver the message that having an immersive audio or theater experience is of significant value to one’s quality of life. Krell has been working on plans to reach the younger generations that have not experienced this. Stay tuned.
DL: Krell occupies a place in the top tier of specialty audio brands. Where do you see the high-end segment of the audio industry going in the future?
WS: As we continue to deliver the message to a wider audience that exceptional-quality high-performance audio can deliver immersive experiences in your home, I have great faith that our segment of the industry will grow. There’s a huge opportunity to [give this] message to people that do not even know that this option exists. [Before COVID-19 hit], we knew that younger generations are seeking these experiences as they purchase more and more concert tickets, movie tickets and participate in live events. A big part of this is because they have never been aware that those experiences can also be available in their homes. I believe our industry has an excellent future if we can reach out via multiple channels to let people know this is possible.
DL: You have been to many trade shows. Even before the pandemic, the high-performance audio presence at CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) was in steep decline and when the show eventually returns, high-performance audio may be gone from it for all practical purposes. There has also been a lot of controversy regarding the AXPONA 2020 audio show and the way the show cancellation and exhibitor deposits were handled. What do you see as the post-pandemic future of trade shows, and if you were in charge of the events, what would you do to make them better?
WS: During the pandemic, we have learned a lot relative to social and digital media, and I believe many will incorporate these avenues into their prior marketing and sales knowledge.
I believe tradeshows will come back as they were, since many more consumers now recognize the importance of home entertainment in their homes due to the pandemic confining them. It has resulted in record sales of audio components for many manufacturers, and I believe that once the shows return we will entice many more consumers to attend.
We in the industry are all looking forward to getting back to trade shows as well, and the resurgence in interest and in having immersive listening experiences in one’s home during said pandemic will result in that much more excitement at industry events.
Regarding what I think could be better about trade shows – I would like to see a show that has a separate area that marries manufacturers with distributors around the world. In this area you would display your equipment, and if you needed a distributor in a particular country or region, you would hope that someone from that area slides by your booth and is looking for a product like yours. It’s speed dating at its best.
I envision a large hall with distributors set up alphabetically by country, and where manufacturers could approach distributors to have a no-pressure conversation to determine if there is mutual interest.
DL: So unlike others who have bemoaned the decline of brick and mortar stores and are wondering about the future of audio shows, you’re optimistic about reaching a new generation of high-end audio and video enthusiasts.
WS: If we as an industry can collectively reach out to people who enjoy music and movies in their daily lives, I believe the opportunity and potential is there to grow the industry for decades to come.