In the last of his Fidelity Matters articles for 2015, Ian Ringstead celebrates innovation wherever it comes from and applauds all the people in the hifi industry who make this wonderful kit possible. 

The world of hifi consists of many differing components but it wouldn’t be anywhere without pioneering companies or individuals whose dreams are to make the best product they possibly can.

This pioneering spirit comes out of a passion for music and wanting to share their ideas by making them into realities we, the music lovers, can all enjoy. Now some companies start small and develop into large corporations, whilst others remain compact and bijou. Why companies grow exponentially or remain small is a complex equation and may be for a million and one reasons. Luck, wise investment, having a great idea, being there at the right time, ambition etc., all play their part.

Market forces and the reasons a business exist come in cycles and a company may be short-term or become a long-term growth business that develops and diversifies,  ending up at a completely different point from where it started. There are many examples of companies that were started by one man’s ideas and now are extremely successful… whether big or small. Ultimately the world often judges success by how big a company becomes, or the amount of money/profit it makes, and yes, in an accountant’s eyes this is the raison d’etre for existing as a business.

But hey, let’s remember this is not always the reason a company is initially formed. A great idea or invention don’t guarantee wealth and fame and not everyone is driven by making a fortune. Cottage industries and artisan manufacturers are a prime example of this and there are many in the hifi business all over the world, formed by talented individuals who one day have a breakthrough idea that works, or are passionate about their ideas and wish to share them. Being small has its compromises and capital investment is often one of the main limiting factors to developing an idea beyond a concept. We’ve all seen Dragons Den or similar shows and how people desperately wish to sell their idea/s and become millionaires, but in reality this rarely happens and for the vast majority success is limited or a far off dream.

I always wanted to own my own hifi business, but the truth is it was always going to be a huge risk and I never had the start up capital to realise my dream. Looking back now I am glad I didn’t risk my house and possibly my marriage had things gone wrong. I am not criticising anyone who wishes to take that risk and hats off to those that have succeeded, but I bet it wasn’t without its share of worries and doubts…as is the case with any business start up.

What has this got to do with business now? The economic climate has changed dramatically over the last 50 years and so have the ways we listen and buy hifi equipment. Small cottage businesses still abound but they have to be very savvy in order to survive these days. Small scale means costs are higher for materials as they can’t buy in the large quantities in order to get the beneficial discount rates. Inevitably this means their products are not as cheap to manufacture and so their prices are higher, or profit margins are tighter. I have dealt with many small businesses and visited quite a few over the years and I marvel at how they manage to survive. Grit and determination are admirable qualities and essential to survival as is having absolute faith in your product. Larger companies and economies of scale have their own risks to navigate through and being big means selling big.

Little or large is not the important factor here, neither is better than the other, just different. Passion is key and so is the desire to please people and give them pleasure from music. Live performances are fantastic, but they are only a snapshot in time and like a great holiday become a distant memory with time. The beauty of hifi is that we can enjoy recorded music forever once it has been captured and we can relive the magic time and time again.

So diversity in the hifi business makes for a very interesting spectrum of products and ideas. Analogue or digital is down to individual taste and I see no reason why both can’t live happily side by side. As to which is better is again down to personal taste. I like both, but my roots are in analogue and vinyl records still thrill me the most sound-wise , but CDs are very convenient and archiving or streaming has yet to convince me I’m afraid. Luddite I maybe, but that’s my choice and like the companies I admire, they choose their path and scale. Large companies have a great deal to offer and the components they produce on huge scale can only benefit the smaller companies. Trickle down technology and research benefit all and new materials make the impossible become a reality…just look at Formula One. Products that were great ideas decades ago can now be built to higher standards and improved upon and often offer exceptional value to the end user.

I have been careful not to mention companies or individuals names as I respect them all and do not wish to show any bias. Of course I have favourites for a number of reasons, but that is not what this article is about. Music is alive and still moves people emotionally and spiritually. As long as people are motivated to share their passion of music with all of us and provide the means by which to we can listen to it, whether through a superb high-end system or budget system for the masses, hifi will prosper. Look at the Japanese masters of moving coil cartridges over the last few decades. Like Buddhist monks they retreated from the normality of life in general and I can imagine them in their tiny workshops skilfully designing and making their artisan products. So they were never going to be cheap, but considering the time and skill involved in making these fabulous cartridges the price is worth paying if you admire the quality. Designer watches are no different.

In conclusion music and hifi have always attracted innovative minds full of creative ideas whether in making music or recreating it as accurately as possible. I for one rejoice that these people never cease in coming up with new ideas or products and as an enthusiast there has never been a better time in which to enjoy this joyous pastime.

Ian Ringstead

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