With the passing of Melvin “Mel” Schilling on January 14th, 2022, the world of high-fidelity music reproduction has lost an individual whose experience and expertise covered its entire history. Born in 1933, Mel entered the world of hi-fi in 1947, building amplifier and preamplifier kits while still in high school. Fueling his fascination for audio and its potential was a passion for music. He studied piano at the Philadelphia Musical Academy under the world-renowned Helene Diedrichs, and attended Temple University to further his musical education.
In 1952, Mel gave piano lessons to earn a living, continuing to do so until 1968 when he purchased the Lectronics retail store of City Line Center, Philadelphia. As the store was then-owned by Irving M. Fried, later of IMF loudspeakers and Fried loudspeaker fame, this began Mel’s personal relationships with hi-fi’s most prominent figures. Renaming the store Music and Sound around his initials (MAS), he ensured that “music” preceded “sound,” never neglecting this priority.
Music and Sound was a pioneering retailer, operating at the highest levels of service before the start of what is now regarded as the high-end audio industry. As the first dealer in the US for Audio Research Corporation (a brand which went on to dominate high-end audio), Mel’s association with its founder William Zane Johnson helped gain critical industry recognition for the then-unknown product line. His spreading the gospel also helped establish the acceptance and credibility of ARC’s tube equipment with masses of consumers across the country.
Mel similarly helped two loudspeaker companies, Magnepan and Infinity, to establish themselves as forces in high-end audio. Through his contacts with the owners and editors of various industry publications, he brought recognition to other unknown brands by arranging reviews and evaluations of their products.
In 1975, Mel moved to Los Angeles, where he opened another retail store under the name of Music and Sound of California. Despite some of the franchises he represented on the East Coast already having established dealers in L.A., Mel’s sterling reputation and credibility within the industry led these manufacturers to risk upsetting their local distribution in order to be included in the new Music and Sound.
Music and Sound of California attracted many movie and television stars and other high-profile clientele rarely recognized by high-end retailers at the time, and Mel once again presaged a demographic now common in the high-end audio industry. Music and Sound of California continued to help establish new companies and products within the marketplace, and even acquired one company, Electro Research, whose products Mel felt to be truly exceptional. Electro Research went on to produce such legendary products as the EK-1 preamplifier and A-75 amplifier.
Throughout its 13-year history, Music and Sound helped to pioneer the high-end audio/video industry and its products, while offering clients unique and invaluable guidance on product and system evaluation, delivered with one-on-one attention. Music and Sound continually set new standards for customer service, as hundreds of customer-recommendation letters attest.
Following earlier successful introductions, Music and Sound helped to launch the US debuts of other acclaimed brands, including B&W, Linn, Nakamichi, and many others. Music and Sound introduced the concept of high-end audio and video to thousands of consumers across the country and the world, who in turn passed their newfound love, appreciation, and knowledge down to successive generations.
In 1981, after the industry began to grow rapidly and cause more “experts” to enter the marketplace as so-called high-end dealers, the type of audio salon operation Mel had helped to create began to change character. He then chose to leave retailing, to start his own manufacturing and distribution company. Through Music and Sound Imports, he imported or distributed Alphason, CJ Walker, and Electrocompaniet, ultimately manufacturing his own MAS line of cables, turntables and tonearms.
As the 1980s came to a close, Mel saw digital technology and home theater bringing big changes to his beloved industry. At MAS, he embraced these changes and quickly began developing products to address them. He developed the then-revolutionary DCC-1 Digital Control Center, the first high-end preamp to address the oncoming “media center” concept. With its multitude of features including digital inputs and video switching capabilities, the DCC-1 quickly received much consumer and critical acclaim.
With digital technology continuing to evolve, Mel brought the concept of “Camelot” to high-end A/V, founding Camelot Technology, a benchmark-type company that could be relied upon to provide state-of-the-art solutions in any technological climate. While producing a variety of groundbreaking designs in the 1990s, such as the world’s first battery-powered DAC (the Arthur’ and phono stage (the Lancelot), along with the Uther balanced DAC, Dragon line of jitter reduction devices and The Round Table DVD player, Camelot also launched an extensive line of AC power cords, HDMI and USB cables, and accessories, that to this day continue to receive the highest acclaim throughout the ultra-competitive Japanese high-end A/V market.
In the early 2000s, Mel founded Xhifi, for the design and manufacture of computer, gaming, and portable audio and loudspeaker products for the next generation of consumer electronics enthusiasts. Xhifi’s debut product, the XDC-1 Multimedia Loudspeaker System, brought true high-end audio performance to iPod, PC and gaming console users.
Those who knew Mel on a personal level recognized in him a mentor whose decades of experience – from 78s to streaming audio and every format in-between – were a rich source of knowledge. I am certainly one of those who benefited from knowing him, and I would sit in rapt attention listening to his recollections of the “Golden Age” as could have only been recounted by one who was there. More than his willingness to share, Mel exuded warmth and wisdom that defines the Yiddish concept of a “mensch.” His passing deprives us not only of a fount of audio expertise, lore, and history, but of a precious link to our industry’s origins.
Contributions in Mel’s memory may be submitted to:
The Philadelphia Orchestra Association
One South Broad Street, 14th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Photos courtesy of Howard Schilling.