“Laurence Armstrong is Managing Director of Henley Designs Ltd, one of the largest independent hi-fi distributors in the UK. Henley Designs was formed as the result of a management buyout of Ortofon UK in 1997 and they now supply UK retailers with some of the world’s most recognizable hi-fi brands, including Pro-Ject Audio, Ortofon, Audio-Technica and Roksan.”
Total mistake, I was made redundant from a sales role in a carpet shop and was offered a role as a salesperson in either bedding or radio and TV in a department store. I liked music so it was an easy choice.
- Who or what was the biggest influence on your career?
I took a Saturday job at the age of 11 in a small hardware shop in South London. The owner inspired me and I realised from a very early age that I enjoyed selling and was quite good at it.
- Proudest moment/product you’re most proud of?
Proudest moment, the birth of our daughter (Heather). Proudest product – the Pro-ject Debut. My idea over a slivovic fuelled dinner and a product that completely changed the fortunes of the turntable industry.
You and your system
- What was your very first system?
Ferguson stereo record player, was totally cool at the time.
- Tell us about your system history
Tended to follow my career path, it’s funny how we seem to like what we can get at cost J
- What component/product do you miss the most/wish you had never got rid of?
Denon DCD3300, one of the few CD players that were built properly and used many components/materials that you would find in a good turntable.
- Best system (or single component) you have ever heard (no brands you represent please…!)
Audio Note at Peter Quatrup’s home, AN speakers and a pair of Gaku On’s (I think). It was a long time ago, we were discussing distribution (never happened) but I was blown away, it never got loud there was always just more music.
- Tell us about your current system(s)
Hi-Fi – Pro-ject RPM10, Evolution arm and Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridge. Roksan S/E phono stage, Olive 4HD, Roksan M2 integrated and power amp to Vienna Acoustics Schonberg speakers (nothing else matches the room) and Audioquest cables (because they are hard wired through walls). Many a great dinner party spent listening to music that we grew up with at silly volumes.
AV – Panasonic Blue Ray, Roksan Caspian DSP into Caspian 5 channel power amp, Audioquest cables (through walls), Vienna acoustics Webern and Berg speakers, Sharp 7700 projector. One of the “nicest” cinema systems I’ve heard in a long time.
The state of the industry
- What’s your view on the valve renaissance of the past 20 years or so?
Love the sound. It’s not for everyone but it would be boring if all our tastes were the same.
- What are you views on the state of the industry/where is it going/what will it look like in 5 years/what will typical systems look like?/What will happen to prices?/What will happen to the high end – will it carry on regardless?
The industry is at a turning point regarding routes to market. Stick it all on the net and let the lowest price be the winning factor or provide a high level of service and advice with a quality product that will bring pleasure for years. If the former wins then it will be the consumer that loses out. Dealers will close and manufacturers/importers will sell direct. Service will be nil and there will be no facility for demonstration or advice. Follow the latter route and we will all be able to enjoy seeing and hearing products that we are interest in, get great advice on our system and setup, talk to some really nice people and enjoy some terrible coffee and pay a fair price. There’s a large chain of department stores that adopt this principle and there seems to be quite a few who like it.
There will be fewer stores but those who remain will be stronger and offer more, in every way. More professional, more service, more choice.
Systems will have more accent on design as there’s no reason why Hi-Fi shouldn’t look as good as it sounds. However, more focus will be given to convergence.
Prices will probably be slightly lower, but not massively. Margins made on Hi-Fi are pathetic compared to furniture, clothing and most other household items and there is only so far this can be pared down. Rents will be higher, salaries will be higher and costs will be higher – this has to come from somewhere.
High end will carry on. However, due to future legislation it may well change. Fewer manufacturers and less lower scale operations as the costs of meeting regulation will be prohibitive.
- What are the industry’s biggest con(s)?
Room conditioning that does naff all, tweeks that are scientifically impossible and products that are sold because of their massive marketing despite being inferior.
The way you work
- Presuming the measurements are fine, what do you listen for when assessing products?
Detail, emotion and involvement.
- Your sound preference -‘Smooth, listenable musicality’, ‘forward, driving, ‘foot-tapping’, involving sound’ or ‘detailed neutrality and transparency’?
A combination of all. Smooth but not dull, musical but not coloured, neutral but not harsh……….
- Your preference – Full-range floorstanders or freestanding mini monitors with a sub?
Floorstanders, never really found a sub system that integrated properly.
It’s all about the music, man…
- What is your favourite recording?
Elton John – Tumbleweed connection.
- Tell us about your 3 most trusted test recordings
Above, Has some great tracks that can get really confused in the wrong system.
Mary black – No frontiers, seen her live many times, great rythms and placement on stage. She can sound edgy in the wrong system.
Phantom of the Opera – Live recording. Organ bass is amazing and vocals are spot on. Again, great comparison to live.
- What are your most embarrassing recordings/guilty musical pleasures?
KYLIE J, Faithless, Insomnia (max vol), The Jam – Town Called Malice.
- Having safely ushered your loved ones out of the house as it is burning down to the ground, you ignore all standard safety advice and dash back inside to grab just one recording – what is it?
Madness – The Liberty of Norton Folgate