Recently, a seemingly odd move resonated through the UK high end audio world. Britain’s premium digital audio brand dCS announced that it was to hand over its UK distribution, sales, and marketing to international high-end distributor of note, Absolute Sounds. Prior to this move, dCS had been fiercely independent in its own UK sales and marketing, and Absolute Sounds had never distributed a ‘home turf’ brand, drawing instead on those pinnacle products from America, Europe, and Asia. At first glance, Absolute Sounds and dCS seem like strange bed-fellows.
Similarly, at first glance, neither side stands to benefit greatly from joining forces in this way. Absolute Sounds already has a very strong portfolio of digital products, whether from dedicated digital specialists like Metronome and ReQuest, or highly-prized digital products from broader audio electronics brands like Audio Research, Constellation, Copland, Krell, Jadis, PrimaLuna, Theta, and Wadia. Adding to – or joining – such a prestigious list could be seen as stretching things too thin. However, another way of looking at this would be to say this portfolio is like a Savile Row of some of the finest digital audio devices available today, and this is a mark of just how successfully dCS has been at integrating itself into high-end royalty.
If we are being totally honest, the UK has never been one of the front-runners in the high-end sweepstakes. Linn and SME aside, few British brands have a consistently strong showing in the high-end world. Even Naim Audio – so beloved of UK audiophiles – has only recently been considered a serious contender in the international high-end audio community, thanks to its Statement amplifiers. In fairness, when it comes to amplifiers, the UK’s ability to make outstanding medium power designs rarely registers among those who need hundreds of watts. On the digital side, dCS has been the virtually the only world-class high-end digital design pitched by the UK, and its recent rev 2.0 firmware for the four-box Vivaldi system truly lifts the brand to the pinnacle of digital audio (a review of the latest updates to Vivaldi is in the pipeline for later in the year).
In part, this connection between Absolute Sounds and dCS has been written in the stars for some time. In audio demonstrations all over the world over the last few years, dCS has been using Wilson loudspeakers (often with D’Agostino amplifiers) and Wilson Audio has often been demonstrating its loudspeakers with a dCS Rossini or Vivaldi stack (again often with D’Agostino amplifiers, and Transparent Audio cables). Sometimes the D’Agostino amplifiers are replaced with VTL amplifiers, but these systems have been in tight lock-step for some time. Surprisingly, this is not down to some back-office wrangling or a marriage of convenience; think instead ‘mutual appreciation society’ between dCS and Wilson. It seems logical that an increasing number of distributors who deal with one or more of these brands should work with the third leg of the tripod.
From dCS’s position, joining forces with Absolute Sounds makes good commercial sense. The distributor has a good team of agents and dealers in the UK, and head honcho Ricardo Franassovici is an extremely influential and founder member of the international high-end set, so some of those international distributors who didn’t notice that mutual appreciation society of manufacturers are suddenly that bit more aware of the compatibility of these brands. And from Absolute Sounds’ position, it gets to handle yet another of the world’s finest products in dCS, a brand that fits well in the distributor’s portfolio. Those Absolute Sounds customers with a pair of Wilson Audio Alexia, D’Agostino Momentum amplifiers, and Transparent Reference or Opus cables, are going to have noticed how good these sound with a dCS front-end, and now dCS is available ‘on tap’ at the same dealer from where they bought that system.
But why is this at all important, especially for those who have no connection with either Absolute Sounds or dCS, and for those who aren’t necessarily living in the UK? Well, it’s a sign of a more co-ordinated outlook by some companies. Here we have a series of connected but not necessarily competitive brands joining forces to rely on the same sales and marketing team, instead of ‘going it alone’. I suspect this is the start of something that might just spread beyond the UK, Absolute Sounds, and dCS. Typically, manufacturers in the home country have their own representatives unrelated to the reps used by an importer/distributor: the manufacturer will use a distributor outside of their home country, but not at home. By using a known distributor in the home country as well as internationally, the brand can concentrate on what it does best – the design and manufacture of high-performance products.
There is some small precedent for having a home-team distributor. Roksan (made in the UK) relies on UK importer and distributor Henley Designs to market, distribute, and sell Roksan’s turntables, electronics, and loudspeakers rather than appoint a series of reps to do the same job. More recently, Russell K loudspeakers appointed Kog Audio as its UK distributor, rather than go through the hassle of going on the road. The result is a more streamlined operation on the manufacturer’s part, even down to setting a truly international ‘one size fits all’ distributor price. Downsides are few: the local price might increase because of the distributor’s ‘cut’, but in a truly global marketplace, most brands don’t risk setting the local price too low because it makes the international retail price too high. And there is always the possibility that some of the pre-distributor dealer network has some kind of hissy fit, often for the sake of being angry about something. But most of these ‘issues’ are mere bumps in the road.
In theory, I’d like to see more of this taking place, with smaller manufacturers handing over their sales and marketing to larger distribution agencies in order to increase sales, instead of establishing a local network of reps who only have one brand to support. It might be the way to give some useful extra exposure to those really good, but virtually invisible, high-end audio brands who know how to make a great product, but completely fail to know how to sell it. And we can all name too many of those brands…
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