specialty AV Tag

The Religion Surrounding AV Gear

The Religion Surrounding AV Gear

It all started with a Sony OLED 4K/UltraHD display, one with Sony’s own AcousticSurface tech. That display, despite being visually brilliant, also was among the first that sounded audibly brilliant, all things considered. Was it as good an aural experience as having discrete loudspeakers? No, but it did rival the performance of most of today’s mainstream soundbars. The display was important to me in my evolution as an enthusiast because, for the first time, a display—a single piece of tech—served as an all-in-one home entertainment solution.


All-in-one solutions are nothing new to specialty AV or hi-fi. Many would likely argue that integrated amplifiers are all-inclusive. While I would largely agree, integrated amps still require the end user to have speakers, source components (in most cases), and a display, whereas the Sony required, well, a power cord. The 75-inch display—which is plenty big for an immersive

home theater experience by the way—was all that was required in order to enjoy my favorite films, new and old, via streaming. Oh, and it was “smart,” meaning anyone with vocal cords could operate it to its fullest potential.


I cannot stress what an eye-opening experience living with that particular display was. As good as its sound was on its own, I knew there was room for it to improve through the use of third-party speakers. Enter the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo. Not wanting to turn this into a Formation Duo review, what you need to know is this: These are lifestyle, powered speakers designed to work within Bowers & Wilkins’ own ecosystem, but are also compatible with the latest variations of AirPlay and Bluetooth.

While most displays have Bluetooth capability, and can be paired with Bluetooth-enabled speakers, the Sony’s Bluetooth controls allow for finer adjustments typically reserved for AV receivers and processors. It’s because of this that I was able to enjoy a truly seamless sound experience between the Sony and the Formation Duo. No delays. No hiccups. Just quality sound sans any and all cabling apart from power cables.


It was jaw-dropping, partially because it sounded brilliant but also because the whole setup experience was largely automated. The biggest decision I had to make was where to set the speakers themselves. This ease of use, lack of

clutter, and resulting fantastic performance was so impactful that my wife even noticed. Some months later, and this setup remains a staple in our home, and one she comments on daily.


Unfortunately, enthusiasts online are less enthusiastic about this setup and its implications—proving, once again, that despite all of our technological advances, we worship at the altar of gear rather than absolute performance. And that’s the truth, for I would put the Formation Duo/

The Religion Surrounding AV Gear

Bowers & Wilkins’ Formation Duo speakers

Sony combo up against any similarly priced setup and then some, and am willing to bet that most folks would actually prefer the sound of the Duos over traditional speakers, so long as they didn’t know what products they were listening to.


And that is the larger issue—one I know I’ve raised in other articles on this site—that as interest in specialty AV dwindles, are the hobby’s own supporters to blame? Because wireless and powered tech is being designed at a breakneck pace to give future generations products that they themselves feel comfortable with, and that speak to them. Problem is, these same products, like the Formation Duos, need current enthusiasts to adopt them as well, which isn’t happening. Powered, wireless, or smart products aren’t bad, or incapable of terrific performance; they’re just fighting against nearly 50 years of “tradition”, tradition that has become borderline religion for some. And it would seem that cutting ties with cables and excess equipment for many is akin to cutting ties with the Almighty Himself.

Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson is a photographer and videographer by trade, working on commercial
and branding projects all over the US. He has served as a managing editor and
freelance journalist in the AV space for nearly 20 years, writing technical articles,
product reviews, and guest speaking on behalf of several notable brands at functions
around the world.

How to Sell Specialty AV to Women

How to Sell Specialty AV to Women

In an era where it’s so easy to buy (and return) Internet-direct AV gear and smart-home products, specialty AV retailers and custom installers face the daunting challenge of figuring out how to get potential shoppers into their stores. It’s the same challenge that pretty much every brick-and-mortar store faces these days, but high-end AV retailers must deal with a second hurdle: When your industry still caters primarily to men, how do you avoid alienating the other half of the buying public?


I don’t speak for all women. I only speak for myself when I say that a trip to the specialty AV store sounds as appealing as a trip to the car dealership. In both cases, I’m going in with low expectations. I expect to be ignored or talked down to, to have all sorts of stereotypical assumptions thrown my way, and to be constantly pushing back against the upsell. If I can research and buy similar goods on the Internet and avoid that treatment, I’m going to do so.


We all know that sales is an art—the art of truly seeing the person right in front of you and figuring out how to sell specifically to them. Every sale is different because every person is different, so it’s hard to make generalizations on how to sell to anyone. But here are a few big-picture suggestions for AV/custom retailers to keep in mind when interacting with female shoppers—really, all shoppers.


Check Your Bias

I was originally going to title this section “Don’t make assumptions,” but the reality is that salespeople have to make assumptions. It’s just part of the job. The question is, are you making assumptions that immediately dismiss or diminish the person who just walked through the door? 


I’ve worked in the AV industry as a writer and gear reviewer for about 20 years, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve been dismissed or diminished at trade shows, industry events, and specialty shops by pitch people who assume I don’t know tech. If I’m standing next to a man while getting a pitch on a new piece of AV gear, the chances are still quite high that a male pitch person will not make eye contact with me at all. He assumes I don’t know or care about the technology and won’t understand what he’s talking about. If he does look at me, it’s always when we get to subject of design—the nice finish, 

If a man and woman come into your store together, don’t assume he’s the gearhead and she’s the reluctant tagalong

the color options, the pretty buttons. You know, the kind of stuff a woman would care about. If I’m the only person getting the pitch, he usually tends to dumb things down to an offensively basic level.


Even if all your past experience tells you women don’t care as much about the gear, it’s important to check that bias before interacting with any new customer. If a man and woman come into your store together, don’t assume he’s the gearhead and she’s the reluctant tagalong who’s just there to make sure he doesn’t go crazy or pick out ugly stuff. Treat them as equal partners, enthusiasts, and decision makers, at least until their own words and actions demonstrate otherwise.

And if a woman walks into your store by herself, she’s there for a reason. Maybe it’s not to buy a $5,000 tube amp or a $20,000 pair of electrostats (or maybe it is!). The melding of AV, smart home, and advanced control technologies has created an incredibly interesting and diverse portfolio of luxury home products that can appeal to anyone, so you should want and expect to see more women checking out your showroom.


The fastest way to kill that potential sale is to talk down to someone. And the reverse assumption is also dangerous: If you assume a man has a high level of tech knowledge and bombard him with overly complex specs and industry jargon, that can be just as off-putting. I personally would have nothing but respect for a salesperson who asks me what level of technical knowledge I have before showing me a piece of gear. Do I want high-level tech talk, do I want to keep it basic, or do I want something in between? It shows me that this salesperson is actively trying to avoid assumptions and wants to know more about me.


Another way specialty retailers can avoid bias is by hiring a more diverse staff—and not just in the accounting or purchasing departments. You need females on the show floor and out in the field. Every year, I attend the CEDIA trade show, which is where custom installers see and receive training on the latest AV and home-automation wares, and the vast majority of them are male. The luxury AV market lags far behind other consumer electronics categories like computers and gaming when it comes to gender diversity (or diversity in general, to be frank).


Show, Don’t Tell

No matter how tech-savvy a person is, they probably didn’t come into your store to see a box sitting idle on a display shelf and get a rundown of the specs. They can get that on the Internet. They came to experience something, and if you give them a good experience, you’re more likely to earn that sale.


I’ve read a lot of press releases over the years, and I can confidently state that reading about a cool, new feature is never as effective as seeing that feature in action. You read it on paper and think, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” But then you see a demo in action, and you’re like, “Okay, that’s awesome. I want that.”

I think the need to experience products and systems in action is especially important for women. As I wrote in a story many years ago  for HomeTheaterReview.com, women generally care more about the result than the process. While men may enjoying digging into the nuts and bolts of the particular pieces in an AV or home automation system, a woman is more likely to be swayed by the experiential result of all those pieces working in synergy. Let her experience the luxury of a luxury home cinema system—where the push of a button on a beautifully streamlined touchscreen controller dims lights, lowers 

I think the need to experience products and systems in action
is especially important
for women

shades, and queues up the perfect music or movie. Show her the many ways smart home products and an advanced control system can work together all around the house to make daily tasks easier.


To quote myself, “The best salesmen are equally deft at selling the process to the man and the result to the woman.”


Ease Up on the Upsell

Trust is the key to building long-term customers, and for me and most women I know, nothing destroys trust faster than the upsell.


I go to the same shop every time I need to get my car’s oil changed, because it was the one place that didn’t originally push me to deal with 10 others “problems” with my car when I brought it in. Now, when they say I really need to replace a certain filter, I trust that it’s true. Likewise, I won’t take my puppy to the vet that’s always pushing their own upscale product line of food and supplements. Or the dentist who’s always pushing elective procedures my insurance won’t cover.


And I won’t shop at a specialty AV retailer where I feel like they’re always trying to sell me more than I need or want. I know profit margins are lean these days, but if you can resist the urge to upsell now, it could pay dividends from a loyal customer in the long run.


Meet Them Where They’re At

Of course, the above suggestions are moot if there are no women to sell to. If you can’t get the female shoppers to come to you, consider taking the experience to them.


Specialty retailers will sometimes host listening events, where they invite people in to hear a hot new product. In my experience at these events, the audience is almost entirely male, and the demo usually takes place in a small, dark room in the back of the shop. This might be an effective way to appeal to the audio enthusiast, but you may need to think outside that box in order to get your product offerings in front of more women.


Consider partnering with a local gallery to show off both art and tech together. Or do an event at a local home goods store, where you can demo how custom home automation and smart products can improve your kitchen, living room, etc. Even getting a booth at the local street fair or farmer’s market to highlight some of the more basic products in your line can help get your name out there. Sometimes you have to start small. As I mentioned above, it’s all about building trust, and that might have to happen one smart speaker at a time.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the 
AV editor at Wirecutter (but her opinions here do not
represent those of Wirecutter or its parent company, The New York Times). Adrienne lives in
Colorado, where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough
time being in them.

Can the Beauty Industry Save Specialty AV?

Can the Beauty Industry Save Specialty AV?

What if I told you the sky wasn’t falling. That AV enthusiasts weren’t dying off in droves due to old age and that young people didn’t only value convenience over quality? What if I told you that? Would you believe me?


As a fellow member of the AV press for going on 20 years now (OMG I’m freakin’ old), I have been party to the slow decline of what was once a flourishing hobby. For the past few years, specialty rags and manufacturers alike have been arguing over just what exactly the cause of their demise has been. Was it the housing bubble and subsequent financial crisis? China? Or Amazon that killed specialty AV? While compelling arguments could be made linking all of the above to the current sad state of affairs, I argue another point—that specialty AV continues to die by its own hand.


The problem with specialty AV—of which I lump audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts alike into the same overarching category—is that for all its so-called technological advancements, it lacks the imagination to go where its customers are. Ahh, but Andrew, you’re going to say the Internet, and plenty of companies sell their wares on the Internet. To which I say, there is a very big delta between making your products available and “selling” via the Internet. A lot of companies do the former, but outright fail at the latter.


Going back to the AV press for a moment, they are or continue to be destined to fail because the entire business model rests upon the same handful of people continuing to support the same handful of topics that are then devoured by the same handful of enthusiasts. Much like a snake eating its own tail, the “meal” can last for quite a while, so long as there are no distractions and the snake is allowed to just keep on eating. The problem is, over time, the snake will tire and either stop 

eating and choke to death, or spit out its own tail and slither on to greener pastures. Both scenarios are occurring, in real time, before our very eyes, as once great bastions of the medium continue to publish on borrowed time. Stereophile and Sound & Vision, I’m talking to you.


So where is this greener pasture? Well, it’s on the Internet, but it doesn’t take the form of an online store or the like. It’s in the power of video—more specifically, brand influence and marketing. My fellow writer, Dennis Burger, recently wrote an article entitled, “D&D and the Decline of Traditional Media,” in which he talks about how viewers no longer need to rely on the major networks or studios for their personal entertainment. Beyond entertainment, content creators are 

showing advertisers, manufacturers, and consumers alike just how much power they hold and how much sway over the conversation and our buying decisions they have. In turn, we’ve begun to realize the same. For together with our favorite influencers or personalities we can collectively prop a company up . . . or tear it down.


Case in point, the makeup/beauty community all but lives on YouTube, and as a result influencers on that platform churn out broadcast-quality content regularly, turning teens and young adults into millionaires and celebrities. Any one of these YouTubers can make or break a product in a single video—be it sponsored or not—and if they “make it,” the rewards are otherworldly. We’re talking millions of dollars earned in the span of minutes.


Now, you may be thinking audio/video is not makeup, and you’d be right, but in some ways they’re one and the same. Both genres play heavily on our emotions. Both try and sell you a lifestyle. Both can get very expensive indeed. But one is inclusive. The other resists change at every turn. Care to wager which is doing better?


This is the difference between making your wares available on the Internet and truly selling, in earnest, on the Internet. So to bring it back to my opening statements, it’s not that the sky is falling, and that specialty AV is dying; it’s just that those in charge have failed to read the tea leaves in time to save themselves. But rest assured, despite the establishment’s best efforts to kill it, specialty AV will live on. And the brands that start aligning themselves with other brands, personalities, and influencers now will be the ones left standing when the dust settles.

Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson is a photographer and videographer by trade, working on commercial
and branding projects all over the US. He has served as a managing editor and
freelance journalist in the AV space for nearly 20 years, writing technical articles,
product reviews, and guest speaking on behalf of several notable brands at functions
around the world.