Sound Advice / Tweeter Stores Shut Down in a Dumbed Down Marketplace
Based in Dania Beach, Sound Advice was founded as a
single store in 1974 and was allegedly partly bankrolled by $100,000 in
laundered cash from a marijuana smuggler with ties to the gulf beaches of Pinellas County. The company later went public
until being acquired by Tweeter for around $150-million in 2001. After two filings for bankruptcy in less than
one year, all 94 Tweeter / Sound Advice stores have officially closed down as
of today. This marks the end of an era for a company I once respected and even
admired as an example of how a true audiophile store should operate, at least until Tweeter took them over and ran them into the ground. Of course the recent economic downturn only added wood to this already hotly burning fire of badly managed corporate takeover.
Ever since I heard my oldest brother's Hi-Fi system as a child, I was an Audioholic. The movement of the woofers, the smell of their paper cones when you first entered the room was intoxicating to me. I knew as I grew up, I'd have to have my very own system just like that, well…. maybe a little better. Of course his took a sound quality hit when I pushed in all the dust caps but that's another story.
So as the years went by, I window shopped at the local department stores and on occasion I'd happen into a real high end Hi-Fi shop. Most Hi-Fi shops didn't want kids hanging around their store, especially a smart-aleck like me that usually knew more about the products on sale than the salesmen that worked there. Many of them were by appointment only as if you were shopping for a new Benz. Sound Advice was one of those few shops considered to be "approachable Hi-Fi". They had good brand diversity without the elitist attitude, and catered towards a bigger audience. They brought high end to the mainstream much like Sam Adams did with their micro brewed beer. I enjoyed the fact that Sound Advice managed to keep knowledgeable sales staff on hand with whom you could have an intelligent conversation about the products. They also stuck around, so you would also be greeted by the same people on your next visit.
In fact, during my college years, I befriended one of their top salesman in Clearwater Florida who managed to convince me to get a Yamaha flagship integrated amp that was a bit beyond my budget. He took the time in their demo room to allow me to properly A/B it next to a lesser model. I was so hooked that my next step was upgrading my 10 year old JBL LX series speakers. This sales guy actually came to my house to hear my system in my room before recommending various speaker options. I knew he really had a passion like me when it came to the "fundamental rightness" a well matched system should have when playing back your favorite music. We were both amateur musicians and had an anal retentive gift for picking apart flaws in audio equipment. Little did I know, years later that passion would encourage me to pursue a career in audio by launching Audioholics.com.
Regional electronics dealer Tweeter, scheduled to close its doors December 7, on Tuesday suddenly closed down all its stores. Six hundred employees at 70 stores were fired immediately. Many employees are still owed back pay, and some customers are still owed merchandise that has already been paid for, according to The Boston Globe, which cites five unnamed store managers and executives.
As the years went on, I noticed a change in how Sound Advice was doing business, particularly when Tweeter bought them. It seems the corporate machine watered them down similarly to how Klipsch did so with brands Aragon, Acurus (both of whom are now out of business) and API (aka Mirage, Energy, Jamo etc).
They lost that "personal" feel that inspired me to frequent the shop and pluck down my hard earned cash. They also had a much faster employee turnover as I rarely ever saw the same salesman retain a position at the company between my semi annual visits. My friend moved on to greener pastures and upon his exit he also told me that the industry was changing. The diehard audio salesmen were being replaced by trunk slammers that had little to no experience, didn't attend professional educational training, and their sole motivation was a paycheck.
When I heard Sound Advice filed for bankruptcy, I didn't think much of it other than a restructuring of the company and a way to get out of bad lease deals. Sadly I was wrong. Today marked a day that will live in audio infamy. All of the Sound Advice / Tweeter stores have officially been shut down. To my disbelief, I even tried called a few of the local Sound Advice stores and either got disconnected phones or endless ringing with no voicemail. As of this afternoon their website was unavailable as well.
As the reality of this news sank in, I had few reactions:
- The place where I began my path of audio upgraditis is now a distant memory
- This marks a significant shift towards the Internet sales model so many manufacturers historically have shied away from but lately have become lukewarm to
- The A/V world has just gotten dumbed down a bit more
Combine this Dumbing Down of Audio and the continuing closure of Hi-Fi shops and you're left with chain department stores where you can buy cubed speakers and overpriced Monster cables from a pimply-faced teenager while simultaneously shopping for a new dishwasher.
Well maybe it's not as bad as I am portraying. There are still many small Hi-Fi shops out there that I am sure are flourishing. But it does seem that this will further move the masses towards mediocrity. Hopefully many of them will embrace the online community and learn to research, buy online, and set up their own systems. Regardless of the long term impacts, today marks a sad day in the audio world for me as one of my favorite Hi-Fi shops is now officially out of business. I feel bad for Hi-Fi consumers that aren't Internet savvy and who now have one less outlet from which to get their local audio fix. I guess it's time for them to move on, or start wondering when their local department stores will add food items and detergent to their product selection so it can be their one stop shop for everything. The death of these stores in my opinion elevates the trend of the Dumbing Down of Audio.