I visit Reference Audio new HiFi dealership in Essex
There is a full video created for my visit to Reference Audio in my YouTube channel, to watch it click here
I found out that there was going to be a new high end HiFi dealer opening less than an hours drive from my home and I was overjoyed by this news. Firstly its great to have a new dealer to go and see that will undoubtedly stock brands I don’t know and that will give me new audio experiences and who doesn’t love them. Secondly and I think more importantly its a sign that, in the UK at least the HiFi and AV industry is doing well and passionate individuals are willing to risk it this big with a large brick and mortar store with a big product portfolio such as Reference Audio.
Reference Audio are based in Witham in Essex, their showroom is a lovely venue, with 15 of their own car parking spaces and 5 different sized demo rooms including a dedicated home cinema room. Their product portfolio is extensive featuring a lot of British brands like Chord Electronics, Fyne Audio, PMC, KEF, Bowers & Wilkins, Kudos, Exposure, Cyrus, Monitor Audio, REL and others. This extends further into international brands of very high calibre like Gryphon, Marten, YBA, Nagra, Avantgarde Acoustic, BAT, Plinius, McIntosh, TAD, HiFi Rose and if that wasnt enough there are more, lots more.
Stocking this many quality brands is a real sign of Reference Audio’s intent and its run by two passionate audiophiles in Adam Curtis and Bob Stares. Adam is a younger man full of passion drive and charisma. Bob Stares is a long time audiophile of over 40 years of buying HiFi and his current personal system is pretty darn special.
Me – I have had a little nose around and a cheeky listen to some of the systems, nice! I definitely feel like a kid in a toy store but what I would like to know is how do you go about selecting the brands that you want to have in your dealership?
Bob – It was always our intention to stock products that define the very best in audio reproduction regardless of price but of course that is also the ambition of most other HiFi dealers so we had to be selective, not tread on other dealers toes and also work with like-minded manufacturers and distributors. That was sometimes harder than you might imagine because manufacturers and distributors were initially rightly sceptical of our ambition and capability but what convinced most of them to want to support us is this fantastic building and location and seeing just how much time, effort has been invested in Reference Audio.
Even so we still must be selective because it’s just not possible to stock all brands. I feel that we have succeeded in our ambition but of course there are other brands that we would love to stock but for various reasons it isn’t possible right now but we will always be on the lookout for new brands to join our portfolio.
Me – There is a lot of expensive esoteric HiFi available here that not every can afford, who are your target customers?
Everybody who comes to see us is welcome and we can assemble systems from £1,000 to well into six figures. Of course, we all have different financial abilities and priorities in life, HiFi is a hobby to most but to some that hobby becomes a passion and that’s what we want to sell most at Reference Audio. It’s all about passion and not just the equipment and certainly not the price. But the occasional oil baron is always welcome to drop in.
Me – I have had totally different HiFi dealer experiences in my life some much better than others ad the World is what it is, very ecommerce driven. How do you see the HiFi dealers role and responsibility why would a customer want to come and build a relationship with Reference Audio?
Bob For me and Adam Reference Audio is something different, neither of us have been in the industry very long and both of us have been building our home systems for many years. I am a registered Architect who decided to retire in 2019 and Adam comes from the Motor Trade. For any business making a profit is essential to its survival and something we will both manage professionally but it’s that word ‘passion’ again that best defines us. Our role and the role of reference Audio and indeed other retailers is to allow customers to experience that passion and to see and hear music reproduction as they may never have experienced it before. Hopefully the equipment we have selected will allow customers to do just that and where better to do that than at a specialist dealer who can help customers along their audio journey.
Me – You have got a brilliant facility here, can you tell us a little bit more about the different rooms and what they are designed for and do you have any plans for open days when times allow that? I really miss open days and HiFi shows.
Bob – Reference Audio has 5 dedicated listening rooms and 2 large show areas with each having a purpose. On the Ground Floor our main demo room, our Reference Room, is where the larger equipment is on display and ready for audition. The Room is approximately 10.8m x 5.5m and has been designed to showcase larger systems suitable for larger than average rooms. Also on the Ground Floor is our dedicated Cinema Room which at 7.2m x 5.5m is large enough to showcase our 7.1.4 surround sound system complete with ceiling mounted Sony projector and 4m screen and in-wall and on-wall speakers. The room will eventually also accommodate Dolby Atmos surround sound.
On the First Floor we have a large show and display area complimented by 3 domestic sized demo rooms. Two of these are dedicated to 2 channel audio and at 5.5m x 3.35m and 5.0m x 2.95m have been designed with more traditional UK living Rooms in mind and have been set up for that purpose. The middle upstairs room is set up to accommodate a more domestic sized AV Room with an OLED TV instead of a projector and screen. But this room is also set up for traditional 2 channel audio in a square room 4.2m x 4.1m.
We will be arranging open days in the New Year working in partnership with manufacturers and distributors to offer customers and visitors something special where they can get first hand experience of brands and the equipment those brands design and manufacture while being able to ask the experts.
We also have 15 off road private parking spaces to help make customers visiting Reference Audio feel safe and relaxed from the moment they arrive.
Me – I was hoping never to ask this again but COVID is still an issue going into 2022, how is that affecting things for you and is it ok for customers to come and see you?
Bob – We are of course very mindful of the need to protect our staff and customers from COVID, and we will follow all Government guidelines. But we are not a High Street shop and most of our customers will be coming to see us by prior appointment making it much easier to follow guidelines, limit numbers and keep everyone safe. COVID is continuously changing and so will we, keeping everyone as safe as possible whilst extending and refining our passion for music and audio reproduction long into the future.
Me – One last question when you work in a trade does it ruin the hobby for you?
Bob – I guess this is a yes and no answer. It does seem that many people working in this industry don’t have permanent systems set up at home, perhaps because they are surrounded by it every working day. But for me and Adam this is not the case, we were both dedicated HiFi nuts long before setting up Reference Audio and for us the home system remains an important part of everyday life. I probably listen to more music at home than I do at work
Me – What system do you have at home?
Bob – My system changes often but is now reasonably stable. I purchased my first HiFi system in 1975 from a dealer called Speakers Corner in Walthamstow and it comprised of a Dual turntable, Armstrong 600 series amp and tuner, a Tandberg Cassette deck and Celef Monitor speakers.
Today I have an Innuos Statement Streamer, PS Audio Directstream DAC, Gryphon Essence Pre and Power amps and Marten Mingus Quintet speakers. I also still use a Meridian 200 series CD Transport and Tuner from the early 90’s and have two Reel to reel tape decks in use. I could write a book about all the equipment I have owned in the last 45 years.
I have great respect for Bob and Adam and what they looking to achieve with Reference Audio, I think they have created a great venue where audiophiles and customers can benefit and I am sure they will be very successful. If your looking for some new HiFi and your Essex based or nearby give them a call and arrange to go and see them you wont be disappointed.
Their website with full how to contact them is here