One of the best-known hi-fi store groups in the country, Audio T plays a pivotal role in the shaping of the tastes and interests of music lovers and audio enthusiasts in the UK. Starting way back in 1966, the company has grown from strength to strength over the years, and the 14-store chain is a cornerstone of the annual Bristol Sound & Vision show held every February.
We spoke to Kev Starkie, Audio T’s General Manager about the Audio T group, and his and the company’s take on all things music, audio, and video:
I guess a lot has changed since Audio T was first founded in 1966?
Well, England hasn’t won another World Cup since! Audio T has entered its 50th year this year and over that time, it has seen the products and trends of the Audio and Audio-Video industry change, and eventually merge into the diverse industry we see today. But as much as there is significant change, a lot stays the same, too: many of our staff have been with Audio T for more than 20 years and our directors have been around for more years than I feel comfortable disclosing! This gives us a unique view not only on the business in a wider context, but also on what makes a great system. All the products we stock have been chosen to give our customers the best possible experience.
What brands/products do you stock?
As a group, we keep a core range, but in each store the brands that we hold are products that time and time again we are asked for! So, in no specific order: Naim, Rega , B&W, PMC, Marantz, Chord Company, AudioQuest, Pro‑ject and Arcam. The models change from store to store, and we also have brands that are not shared as they fit an individual store’s existing customer base, so we can get the right product with the right customer.
What inspired you to get into the industry?
For most of us music is a big part of our lives even if we don’t realise it and I was so keen to get into it as soon as possible. I started work on Saturdays at a store in Bristol at the tender age of 14 as I was so young most of my time was taken up with fitting mains plugs to kit as by all accounts that’s all I was trusted with. The Directors, however, started way earlier than I did.What music do you listen to when doing a demo?
I have a specific track I use for set up, which is ‘The Ballad of the Runaway Horse’ by Jennifer Warnes (from Rob Wasserman’s Duets album), after which I have numerous tracks from acoustic guitar to full blown bass tracks to see if the system is well balanced and timing well.
What is the best piece of advice you can give to someone who is looking to improve/upgrade their system?
Start with what you have; by that, I mean speak to an experienced audio person (in one of our stores, obviously!) and let them help you ‘max out’ what you already have. This will show you where the weaknesses are in your system and save a lot of time and badly invested money making your system sing. It’s often best to let the experts deal with this, because it can be easy to make mistakes along the way.
Where do you see the industry going?
Only up! The love of music and film has never been stronger, and the multitude of sources mean you can listen, watch, and access the media you want, whenever you want, however you want it. Also, the build, reliability , and value of products on the market is the best we have ever had. The only downside is what to buy and how to integrate it into your existing set up, but that’s where a good store can make that simple!
Who has been your biggest influence?
I could say a music artist or a film director, but the real influence has to be my parents for playing music as a child and talking about film. The other major influence are the customers who over the years have pushed me to find solutions to their problems and by doing this and creating a great system for them, really gives you a feeling of job satisfaction.
Stereo or home theatre, or both?
I don’t think you can really say one or the other. Sometimes only a good movie will whisk you away for a couple of hours, and the next day blasting out Led Zep at number 11 on the volume dial is the only thing to get the blood flowing.
CD, DAC, or streaming, or all three?
They all have their place, so that’s a difficult one to pin point. If it’s an upgrade for both then a DAC is the simplest option.
Have you been a part of the vinyl revival? How?
The Audio T group has seen a massive uptake in turntable sales, from our basic deck at £150 to some very exotic models. I think the reason vinyl has become so appealing again is because its gives real ownership, being both tactile and visually stimulating: it sounds great, and the artwork and info on the record sleeves give the listener a real connection with the music. Back in the mid 1990s, I had a moment of weakness and sold my record collection and my deck! However, over the last few years, I’ve bought a new deck and (expensively) replaced most of the vinyl I once sold off for very little. Now with LP on the up buying what you want has never been easier, and I find I put an album on and listen to all the tracks, often finding a track on the record that I didn’t buy it for becoming a favourite.
What motivates you?
That’s simple! We love what we do and we are lucky to have been able to work in such a fun industry.
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