Despite the tendency of many to run down the UK audio industry as being out of touch, there’s much to applaud in its continued success
Two things struck me as 2014 started. One was the emergence of figures from Britain’s leading luxury car manufacturers, Bentley and Rolls-Royce, showing they had record sales in 2013 and are still expanding, with plans to invest and take on more staff to meet demand.
Yes, both companies are producing products most of us will never be able to buy, and both are owned by parent companies outside the UK, but this is British expertise and skills, delivering a very good contribution to the nation’s exports – 90 per cent of those Rolls-Royces are sold abroad, and the Bentley figure isn’t far behind.
Meanwhile, Indian-owned Jaguar Land Rover is enjoying similar success: Jaguar sales up 15 per cent year on year, and Land Rover breaking all-time records, leading to even greater expansion of British production, more investment and more jobs.
Things to celebrate, then – but, in stark contrast, there’s been little love shown for the British audio industry of late, with the internet haters sharpening their keyboards to mock the efforts of some of our best-known brands in producing models designed to expand their portfolios, and thus their worldwide appeal.
Anything with a price-tag much beyond three figures is, according to the deriders, grossly overpriced and intended only for footballers and Russian oligarchs; and, rather in the manner of the baying crowds who know better than their clubs’ managers or players how a game should be tackled, it seems everyone on the internet audio forums now knows exactly where all our big names are going wrong.
A case in point was Naim’s recent announcement of its Statement amplification system, built on the grand scale – with power output and price to match – and launched with teaser videos, moody photography and an exclusive preview at a trade show in the USA. Before the great and the bad of the internet even knew what the product was, a groundswell of criticism was growing; when the $200,000 system was actually announced, the hatred was ratcheted up to fever pitch.
But why? The system is so expensive it’s unlikely you’ll ever afford it, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing; and if you’re a fan of the brand, the mere arrival of a ‘halo’ product doesn’t make your existing set-up rubbish, or mean the manufacturer has abandoned you and the rest of the faithful. Why not celebrate the enterprise of the company in making a product that, yes, may only ever be bought by those with massive bank accounts but will also attract attention to the brand, stimulate sales further down the range and enable the company to survive and grow?
Developing high-quality hi-fi, like building luxury cars, is something we do well in the UK and something for which we’re still famed worldwide. Those grizzling about Linn’s £50k Exakt system, announced a few months back, or the company’s 40th anniversary ‘whisky barrel’ Sondek, overlook the fact that the latter’s limited run was snapped up by worldwide distributors, while the former is still attracting interest and discussion when very few have yet heard it. Yes, many of our other well-known brands may now be in foreign ownership but there’s British R&D behind the products; and the mere fact they exist is testament to the cachet of the likes of Wharfedale or Quad, sufficient to ensure foreign investors continue to support them when otherwise they may have vanished.
Britain still has much to offer the world audio market. If you want more evidence, loudspeaker manufacturer PMC is just moving to a new ‘country house’ headquarters, giving it space to expand sales and R&D to meet growing export markets; new British audio companies continue to be founded; and Meridian is celebrating 25 years of digital speaker expertise with all-new Special Edition versions of its DSP8000, DSP7200 and DSP5200 models, complete with new electronics and drivers – amazingly, it launched its D600 digital active speakers back in 1989.
Sounds to me like an industry worth celebrating – and supporting.