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High-Res Audio Still Has A Way To Go In The Retail Perspective

Las Vegas – High-resolution audio still has a very long way to go before it achieves mainstream success, according to a panel of retailers battling in the trenches trying to sell the higher-quality sound to a mostly unknowing public. The four detailed their experiences during the “Hi-Res Audio: The Retail Perspective” seminar held during International CES last week, part of six Hi-Res Audio workshops backed by The Digital Entertainment Group (DEG).

The panelists included Hugh Fountain III, central operations manager of Bay Area Music Lovers Audio; Brian Hudkins, CEO, Gramophone in Maryland; Phil Murray, marketing and e-commerce VP for Denver’s Listen Up chain; and David Pidgeon, chairman/CEO of Dallas-based Starpower Home Entertainment stores. The moderator was TWICE senior editor Joe Palenchar.

Of the quartet, only Fountain was effusive about the sell-in for higher-quality digital sound, attributing it to a pool of nearby wealthy audiophiles (Silicon Valley).  He noted his stores do a large analog business, and when they demonstrate high-performance digital music, “customers flock to his stores like seals.”

The others were far less sanguine, detailing many of the obstacles they faced. Brian Hudkins lamented the fact many in the high-res audio world were still speaking Greek to consumers, overwhelming them with jargon, and that there was still a lot of confusion about what high-res audio actually is — and why people should buy it.

In order to win over consumers, all felt in-store events and demonstrations were the best antidote to the confusion and help nurture the new sound formats. “Events are the No. 1 driver for us,” Hudkins said. David Pidgeon specifically thanked Sony for sending in trainers to his store expos, who did compelling demonstrations of high-res digital audio.  The other panelists concurred. Training of sales people is also vital for growing the business, the executives said.

After the four spent time in retailing’s weeds, Phil Murray stressed that the category would continue to struggle and not reach critical mass until Amazon and iTunes offered high-resolution audio to their gigantic global customer bases. None of the panelists had any idea when this might happen. Fountain remarked that if the demand was there, the two behemoths would sell high-resolution downloads. Growing that demand was the challenge, and everyone in the music ecosystem, including artists, had to push for higher-quality sound. Neil Young’s efforts behind his Pono player was a perfect example of a rock star telling fans to listen to his music the way it was meant to be heard.

David Pidgeon offered a flash of optimism, pointing to 4K video as an example. He said that three years ago, 4K was just a buzz phrase on the show floor, and now at the 2015 International CES it was a very real and growing business. “Video is very different than audio, of course,” he said but all elements of the industry came together to push the superior-than-1080p format. He and the other panelists were hoping the same thing would happen for high-res audio.