HiFi+ Meet Your Dealer - Carlo Marengo of Audio-philia
~ by Alan Sircom
Carlo featured in November's Meet Your Dealer article in HiFi+ Magazine. Here is that article!
We're constantly bombarded with negativity about audio and especially audio retail. Everyone in the store is over retirement age, shops that haven’t seen a lick of paint since the end of the Vietnam War, “Wanna know how to make a million in audio? Start with two million!” – that sort of thing. In fact, it’s complete nonsense, and there is a subtle revolution of new people starting audio companies and retail outlets of all types. Look around you… audio got exciting again!
Carlo Marengo is one of those spearheading this new revolution in audio, from his new store Audio-philia in Edinburgh. The store opened just a little over a year ago, and is already making friends; introducing new people to good audio, and reminding those with a few more miles on the clock why good sound matters. Scotland has a disproportionately strong audio scene, with some of the best dealers in the United Kingdom located north of Hadrian’s Wall. But even with such stiff competition, the best of the best still rise to the top, and Carlo’s passion is winning him and Audio-philia a lot of brownie points!
What Brands/products do you stock?
My aim has always been to offer something other than just well-known brands that you can find anywhere else. The best doesn’t always come from the biggest names, so I’ve also brought some less well-known but equally exquisite brands to Scotland for the first time; I particularly appreciate creations from artisans who focus their budgets on their products rather than on mass marketing.
When selecting a new brand, sound quality and build quality are of course my first consideration. I also believe that hi-fi products should give pleasure as beautiful objects, complimenting and enhancing your living space even when not in use.
Our core brands include: ART Loudspeakers, Brodmann Acoustics, ELAC, hORNS, Quadral, TAD Labs, Ayon Audio, Benchmark, COS, Encore 7, Exposure, LampizatOr, Lyngdorf Audio, NOVAFiDELITY, Questyle, Unison Research, AudioQuest, Fostex, Meze, Oracle Audio, Pre-Audio, Pro‑Ject, Ortofon, Hana, Albedo, Black Rhodium, DRAM, and KBL Sound. Recent
additions are Audionet, Audio-Technica, Blumenhofer Acoustics, German Physiks, and Thales.
What inspired you to get into the industry?
A lifelong love of music and audio reproduction equipment, sparked by my mother giving me my first radio when I was a young boy; she got the radio free as an advertising promotion for washing powder! I still have that radio here in the shop. Nothing beats the satisfaction I get from seeing someone being blown away by hearing a piece of music they love on a new piece of equipment; it reminds me of when I first got that radio.
When it comes down to it, a passion for music is at the heart of everything we do here. We each have different tastes – I love jazz and electronica, and have a preference for tube amps and open-sounding speakers; my sales manager Gary is a bass-head who lives for transistor amplifiers and subwoofers; Linda is a flautist who appreciates a system that can reproduce an authentic concert hall sound. We often challenge each other’s opinions, but that’s half the fun!
Who has been your biggest influence?
Me (laughs). Seriously though, trusting my own judgement and instincts has been really important. It would have been easy to be a ‘me too’ dealer, stocking the same brands as everyone else, but I really want to offer something different. If you come to Audio-philia determined to buy a Linn or Naim system, for example, then I’ll happily give you directions to the nearest dealer but not before I’ve offered you an alternative that I truly believe to be better.
I greatly admire Enzo Ferrari, a fellow Italian who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most recognised names in automotive history. His passions were racing and fast cars, mine are music and high-end audio. I recalled his determination through a decade of sacrifice as I prepared to open my own high-end hi-fi business – and here we are!
What music do you listen to when doing a demonstration?
We ask our customers to bring their favourite music on their preferred format wherever possible. These days high-res
audio streaming means that the choice of music can also be left to the last minute; often the best demo tracks are those that the customer feels like listening to right then and there.
As music fans, we love introducing our customers to something new based on their own tastes. Equally, we love discovering new artists and tracks through our customers’ music collections. Once you’ve reached that point in a demonstration when the discussion stops being about the hi-fi and is just about the music, you know you’ve got it right.
What is the best piece of advice you can give to someone who is looking to to improve/upgrade their system?
Think about what you want to change about your system and why, and be open-minded about how you can achieve those changes. Even small tweaks to your existing system can have a surprisingly profound effect. Building a relationship with a hi-fi professional that you feel comfortable with, and whose advice you trust to be impartial and honest, can be invaluable. Most importantly, trust your ears and your emotions. It may sound clichéd but really, if the sound doesn’t enthral you and make you want to rediscover your music collection, you’re wasting your money.
Which do you prefer: Vinyl, CD/SACD, or downloading and why?
I’m an analogue man. My preference is actually for reel-to-reel and I’ve loved seeing tape players making a slight comeback. The vinyl resurgence has also been great; nothing beats putting a record on a turntable, dropping the stylus and sitting back with an album cover to browse the lyrics and artwork, maybe with a
coffee or a single malt. However, I must say I’m very impressed with digital DACs from the likes of LampizatOr and Ayon, which are edging ever closer to producing sound with the effortless quality of a top end analogue source.
Is streaming taking over from downloading?
I definitely see streaming overtaking downloading in popularity. If you can have all the music in the world delivered to your listening room at the highest possible quality and at a reasonable price, then why not? We’re not going to stop stocking records and CDs anytime soon though! There’s a sizeable number of people who simply have to own a physical copy of their music. Several years ago there was talk of CDs becoming obsolete; that hasn’t happened yet. Also, vinyl has made a comeback. As a result, I think that both CD and vinyl will continue as healthy niche markets for those who want to collect physical media.
How do you see the industry in five years from now?
Music reproduction will continue to evolve and the industry will have to evolve with it. Five years ago, streaming high resolution files over the internet would have seemed like science fiction; now, it’s a reality. I’ve no doubt that in five years’ time we’ll be dealing with technologies we can’t imagine today. Maybe cables and interconnects will be obsolete and audiophiles will have nothing to argue about! More likely, improved battery efficiency could make mains interference a thing of the past. Lifestyle products will continue to dominate the mass market but there will always be people who ‘get’ hi-fi and for whom quality and choice will always be paramount – and we’ll be here to offer that, just as we are now.