A good audio dealer is hard to find. A good new audio dealer is almost impossible to find. But Criterion Audio, based in a village just outside of Cambridge, UK, is just that. Having opened in the last couple of years, the company has already gained a reputation for a friendly and professional atmosphere, a well-stocked portfolio of brands across almost all audio sectors, expert demonstrations and installation services, and a willingness to think beyond normal audio dealer confines. Most of all, however, a dealer is only as good as the people who work there, and Criterion has chosen wisely: their staff are not simply salespeople, but also keen enthusiasts and music lovers. We spoke with Criterion Director Mike Cunningham, Senior Sales Consultant Bill Darby, and Sales Consultant James Williams about how they got to where they are.
What brands/products do you stock?
MC Linn, Naim, Cyrus, PMC, Clearaudio, Moon, Devialet, Pro‑ac, KEF, Focal, QUAD, Spendor, YG, Boulder, Raidho, Vitus Audio, ATC, Sonus Faber, Stillpoints, Chord, The Chord Co, TQ, Nordost, Grace Designs, Audeze, Abyss, Sennheiser, Grado, Beyer, Burson Audio, Graham Slee, and Isotek.
What inspired you to get into the industry?
BD I have been interested in hi-fi and the quest for better sound since I was at school back in the early 1980’s. The Linn LP12 was something I aspired to and not long after school, I got a job working in a local hi-fi shop and then a year later I worked for a higher end showroom who were Linn and Naim dealers.
MC A fascination with electronics and ‘how stuff works’ combined with an enjoyment of music and dealing with (most) members of the public.
JW A passion for sound, and my father’s influence.
What music do you listen to when doing a demo?
BD Mostly rock, pop, and Jazz from the 1960’s onwards. I’m not a classical music listener myself.
MC My personal taste is rock/electronic biased, but I’m open to listening to anything good. I have a selection of go-to tracks, but it’s the customer’s preference.
JW Whatever the customer likes, but personally, Heavy Metal, Electronic, anything congested/challenging.
What is the best piece of advice you can give to someone looking to improve/upgrade their system?
BD Do your research but most important is to visit a dealer who has good demonstration facilities and can guide you properly to making the right purchase. Always listen before you buy, use reviews as a guide only, and trust your ears!
MC Consider where you’re heading with your system before making any upgrades to prevent heading into a hi-fi culde-sac, and in these times of upgradeable electronics, don’t forget the loudspeakers can usually only be changed, so digging a little deeper here can often help financially in the long run.
JW The Source is the source. Your speakers will do as they’re told!
Where do you see the industry going?
BD At the moment we are seeing it go in various directions, streaming is becoming ever more popular, and we are seeing new people looking at hi-fi because of the vinyl revival. One thing is for certain: the sounds that you can achieve now with good hi-fi is outstanding.
MC Honestly, I think it’s contracting, meaning dealers need to react to their audience more than try to steer them ‘their way’. Streaming and premium online music services seem to be convincing the listener back towards good sound quality now that storage and broadband speeds are cheaper/more available.
JW More deeply down the digital route.
Who has been your biggest influence?
BD I think my days back in the 1980’s with Linn and Naim. They paved the way for higher quality sounds and a certain way of achieving them.
MC Ummm, I really don’t know!
JW My Father.
Stereo or home theatre, or both?
BD Home theatre is fun and I really love a movie played on a good theatre system, but I aways had a love more for two-channel stereo.
MC As a business, it was a conscious decision to begin as exclusively two channel, and set the showroom up accordingly. We’ve since found that our customers like the fact that we focus on hi-fi. Never say never though, and I enjoy home cinema, but good performance can be had for a relatively modest cost these days and is well catered for by online retailers and high street stores, which we’d struggle to compete with.
JW I appreciate both, but it’s two-channel for me.
CD, DAC, or streaming, or all three?
BD All three!
MC Streaming (with emphasis on the DAC).
Have you been a part of the vinyl revival? How?
BD I started way back when vinyl was king. I have always said you cannot beat a good vinyl system, and I’m so pleased I’m introducing new people to good sounds again – those who are buying vinyl for the first time, and those that have had it are returning to it again.
JW Yes! I bought a collection of vinyl with the intention to build a high spec turntable around it.
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