Hifi Pig talks to three young women, working in different roles in the Hifi Industry, and finds out that the future really is female.

We know that the Hifi Industry and hobby is, still a male-dominated one. But as we have shown you before there are an increasing number of women working in the industry and enjoying Hifi. As well as the big names, the women that we all know, like Sheryl Lee Wilson of Wilson Audio and Sally Kennedy of the Chord Company, that built Hifi empires at a time when it was less usual to see women in Hifi, there is a new wave of young, equally talented women that are now breaking their way into the Hifi Industry and getting noticed for their wide variety of talents, working in all departments and roles from engineering to marketing and everything else in between.

The Future Is Female

I took the chance to speak to three of these young women, one in her twenties, one in her thirties and one in her early forties, and find out what they do and how they got into the Hifi Industry. We hope that they can inspire more women and girls to join us in what can be an exciting and varied career.

The future of the Hifi Industry looks very bright, and female!

Katie Wilson – Linn Products

If you have been to a Hifi Show or event and seen a Linn demonstration recently, the chances are you have already met Katie Wilson. Katie is one of the most enthusiast and energetic people I have ever met. She is one of a team Brand Ambassadors who work for Linn Products and the twenty eight year old is based at Linn HQ, just outside of Glasgow but also spends a lot of her time on the road.

Linn has been designing and manufacturing music systems in their factory in Glasgow since 1973, Katie has been working for them for nearly three years. They were one of the first Hifi brands to offer high resolution streaming back in 2007 and are perhaps most well known for their signature product, the Sondek LP12 turntable, one of the world’s most famous turntables.

Katie Wilson – Linn Products

Linette Smith, Hifi Pig (HP): Who else do you work with, are you part of a big team or just have a couple of co-workers?

Katie Wilson, Linn (KW): The team I work in is made up of five Brand Ambassadors and we are tasked with delivering events and training all across the globe. Although small in numbers, we have a very big reach and we’re a very close-knit team. We are positioned within the Sales & Marketing team and so collaborate with other members of the wider team on different projects.

HP: What did you do before?

KW: I studied languages at university. Before joining Linn I spent three years working for a Scottish company that teaches foreign languages in bite-sized chunks through podcasts. (Radio Lingua: Coffee Break French / Spanish etc.) I was involved in creating content for lessons and social media, I represented the company at exhibitions to raise brand awareness and I was involved in recording episodes in the studio.

HP: How did you end up moving into the Hifi Industry?

KW: I was looking for something new that would still involve using my foreign languages and involved communication. I have to admit that Hifi was never something I had considered until I saw the job advertised. It sounded exciting and not at all like a “standard” role, which appealed to me. I didn’t think I had a shot as I didn’t know a thing about the industry but thankfully (for me!) I was successful and haven’t looked back since. The industry is really interesting because it’s fast-paced and ever-changing so there’s always plenty to learn. I remember when I was prepping for my interview, the innovative nature of Linn was really attractive to me. It’s a fantastic role for someone who likes talking to people, and of course loves music!

HP: Tell us about what your average day at work involves, what you do, who you are working with etc.

KW: One of the things I like so much about working at Linn is that what I do changes greatly on a day-to-day basis; the variety keeps it interesting. When I’m at Linn HQ I could be hosting a tour of our facility, showing people how all our products are assembled by hand, blowing them away with any one of our systems in our Linn Home demonstration space or planning my next trip.

When I’m out on the road, I’m working with our retail partners to host events in their store or in collaboration with other like-minded brands to introduce people to Linn and how sensational sound can enrich their lives at home.

HP: What are your favourite things about your job, and what don’t you like so much?

KW: There are two things that make me smile more than usual when I’m running a musical evening to showcase our systems. One is when I’ve just played a track and someone tells me they’ve heard it a million times but never noticed the tambourine or the backing vocals or a specific detail that our Linn system has just revealed to them – there is so much power in that message. We have succeeded in making someone’s favourite song even better for them.

Two, when someone says they thought the artist was in the room. Music is emotional and when you see a band you love live, something magical happens. If we can recreate some of that at home, we’re doing one heck of a job and I get to be part of that discovery at Linn events.

In terms of things that could be better? People think work travel is glamorous and a bit of a “jolly”! While I am so grateful that I get to travel to other countries as part of my job, in turn that means there are delayed planes, long travel days and some pretty questionable food at times as you just have to eat when you can.

HP: What is the most difficult thing you have had to do in your work and what achievements are you most proud of?

KW: Probably the same thing: Hifi Shows. The Hifi Shows or larger scale events and installs I’ve been involved with are monumental expeditions. The weeks of planning, mammoth days, early starts, eight hours plus of set up, still fine tuning and tweaking at 1am to ensure the system sounds the best it possibly can. All of the small details from laying our own carpet to placing reed diffusers mean the room is completely transformed to offer a truly special experience to every member of the public who steps over the threshold – of course, the Tunnocks caramel wafers on offer help with that too!

The work really begins once the show is open; we generally run closed-door demonstrations with full presentations so each individual knows what they’re listening to and gets the best listening experience. This means our team’s enthusiasm and energy levels need to be at 100% all day, every day.

It’s a great feeling when the team comes together to pull off something like this. And it’s made even more special when we receive positive feedback from attendees or our peers in the industry. At Bristol Hifi Show last year, the icing on the cake was winning an award for Best Hifi Demonstration.

HP: How do you feel as a woman working in the Hifi Industry?

KW: I feel strangely proud to be one of the few women in the industry. I feel responsible in a way, that I make a good “impression” and am respected in my work so that hopefully more women will consider it as a viable career path or field to work in going forward. I quite like that. I’m perhaps being part of something that will end the cliché that Hifi is for men.

Katie Wilson – Linn Products

HP: Who inspires you in your work?

KW: My peers and my teammates inspire me. It’s fantastic when wehave opportunities to work together during product launches for example; we each strive to deliver our work to very high standards so we each push each other to do a little better each time. It’s incredible at Linn to have one base that everyone works from, the building is an inspiring place; the whole way the business is set up allows for collaboration between teams. Linn’s almost fifty year legacy and heritage is inspiring too, everything that has been achieved in that time period and considering what could come next is exciting. I’m proud to work for a company that is still family run.

HP: Where do you see yourself in ten years time, do you have aspirations to be running the company, do you see yourself staying in this industry?

KW: Ten years is a long time and so I honestly can’t say for sure. I think the industry will continue to innovate and so I hope as a result, exciting roles will still be created. There are lots of positives of working in this industry: working with music, meeting new people, being involved in the launch of some very exciting technology… There are also lots of opportunities to learn which is important to me.

Personally I want to continue to grow, develop and learn and as long as it’s still challenging and offering opportunities for new growth, I can’t see why I would leave the industry.

HP: Do you ever feel that your position and knowledge is overlooked because you are female/young, this may be by other people in the industry or customers?

KW: There have sadly been occasions where I have encountered this type of behaviour, yes. People like to try to catch me out sometimes! When I joined Linn I made it my priority to be equipped with information and knowledge about our products. Of course with 46 years of Linn history, there is still plenty to learn and I’m working with people who have been in the industry since before I was born (I hear that phrase a lot!). To quote an overused phrase, “knowledge is power” and I’ve certainly found that to be the case. I have earned people’s respect because I can talk about DACs and Class-D amplifiers and that is so crucial in order to be taken seriously in this industry.

HP: How do you think that the Hifi Industry can encourage more younger people to want to work in it?

KW: I think with the recent vinyl resurgence the next wave of young people may naturally be more aware of Hifi than previous generations. They may have a better appreciation of high quality music which can only be a good thing for the industry. In terms of getting people involved in a professional capacity, brands need to keep creating exciting, cool roles much like the whisky industry is doing at the moment.

Additionally, maybe there needs to be more awareness initiatives to encourage young people to consider looking to the Hifi industry. At Linn we’ve had several summer interns working in the Research & Development department and we host tour groups from schools or colleges from time to time which perhaps plants the seed that Hifi can be a viable option for students when they graduate.

HP: What advice would you give to a young woman wanting to get into the Hifi Industry, do you think qualifications are important, do they need to study relevant subjects etc?

KW: I think it largely depends on the role. If you look at my background, you could argue that I could have applied for this role without my French and Spanish degree but I think when it comes to Hifi, and especially the Brand Ambassador role, it comes down to enthusiasm, the ability to speak to people, an eagerness to learn and an unwavering love of music. That being said, an understanding of physics or engineering would not hurt!

HP: What do you see as the future of Hifi, are we heading for a world of Bluetooth speakers and streaming or do you think that there will always be a place for ‘real’ Hifi?

KW: Linn was the first to offer high resolution streaming back in 2007 and today we’re still doing that but we’ve never turned our back on our signature product, the Sondek LP12 turntable either; there’s a place for both. Looking forward, with the launch of Series 3, we’ve brought the convenience of the Bluetooth speaker to Hifi world. It’s offering everything that’s expected of a modern, all-in-one system but with Linn sound and quality.

HP: Who is your favourite band/artist, how important is music to you as part of your day and how do you usually listen to music (headfi gear, main Hifi, radio, in the car etc)?

KW: I grew up dancing so music has always been important to me and my husband and I actually got together because we kept going to the same gigs!

When I travel I revert to my headphones but my job means that I get to play with some pretty insane Hifi systems. We listen to a lot of music at home; I couldn’t possibly choose a favourite, I tend to go through phases. At the moment I’m enjoying listening to Sam Fender, Kaleo, Barns Courtney, Oh Wonder and I just discovered Wildwood Kin who are lovely.

HP: What is your favourite music format…are you always streaming, or a vinyl junky?

KW: Streaming all the way! I have a Klimax System Hub at home with a pair of 530s so I get a pretty fantastic sound. I am ashamed to admit that I don’t own a single piece of vinyl but I do enjoy playing with the world’s best turntable every day at work so maybe that’ll be my next purchase…once I’ve got the vinyl collection started, of course!

Dahlia Barakat – Devore Fidelity

I first met thirty seven year old Dahlia at High End Munich 2019, when another friend, Pam Merrigan of Tellurium Q, brought her along to our annual Women In Hifi Munich meet up. We get together in the beer garden for a chat and catch up with Hifi industry women from all around the world. Dahlia was immediately likeable and obviously creative and passionate about her work, plus we discovered a shared love of cats! Dahlia is the Production Manager at New York based DeVore Fidelity and has been there for just over two years.

DeVore Fidelity was founded at the end of 2000 by John DeVore with the goal to produce speakers that had high sensitivity and were very easy to drive, but looked and behaved like ‘normal’ speakers, rather than more ‘out there’ designs like horns. The company continues today in that same vein, still designing and building award-winning speakers in Brooklyn, New York that are know around the world for their flexibility, sensitivity and natural transparency.

Dahlia Barakat – Devore Fidelity

Linette Smith, Hifi Pig (HP): Who else do you work with, are you part of a big team or just have a couple of co-workers?

Dahlia Barakat, DeVore Fidelity (DB): We are a total of four people at the shop, including John DeVore; our boss and owner of DeVore Fidelity. He designs the speakers, and we build them, pack them and make sure they are ready for shipping.

HP: What did you do before?

DB: So many things…my last job before this one was as a cake icer and carpenter (it didn’t last very long because the company closed its doors). Before that, I worked in custom furniture design and sales in the Washington DC area for three years. I also work in the theatre backstage stage managing/assistant directing/set building in my “spare time”.

HP: How did you end up moving into the Hifi Industry?

DB: Honestly, a complete coincidence. I was forwarded a job ad from a friend, and the ad called for someone who loves music and cats, and I am very much both of these things. I like to work with my hands, building things, working with power tools, so this is really the perfect job for me. Before this job, I had no experience in building speakers and was quite unfamiliar with the Hifi industry.

HP: Tell us about what your average day at work involves, what you do, who you are working with etc.

DB: That’s a tough one. It’s hard to describe just one day honestly, because each day is so different from the other. But I will describe what happens in a typical week. Usually first thing Monday, I’ll find out if I need to go to our local finisher to go and pick up cabinets, baffles, stands, or anything else that we’ve sent to get finished. Depending on what I bring back and our orders, John will decide what needs to get built and their priority levels. We build the speakers that are needed, and ideally depending on speaker model, we will get it built, wired up, tested and packed up and ready for shipment. If we are low on crossovers that need to be built, I leave the building of speakers to my coworkers and I will make the crossovers needed.

Some of my administrative duties include getting international shipment quotes, printing shipping labels and keeping track of inventory and what has been sent to the finisher. Any other errands (Home Depot runs, post office, etc) that need to be done are run by me.

HP: What are your favourite things about your job, and what don’t you like so much?

DB: I pretty much love everything about my job! I love that there are two resident kitty cats at work (Lulu Bear and Roxy). I love that I get to work with my hands (a huge passion of mine) and using power tools. I don’t think I have a least favourite thing about my job. It sounds crazy, but I have strived to make sure that no matter what job I take, it is always something that I love to do. I don’t even think I can complain about my hour long commute, since I take the subway, I either use the time to catch up on much needed sleep or read a book.

HP: What is the most difficult thing you have had to do in your work and what achievements are you most proud of?

DB: The most difficult things I’ve had to do are all very physical tasks like strapping crates and carrying our GX speakers which weigh 76lbs each. Now these tasks are relatively easy for me, and I still remember the day I asked John if he had oiled the strapping tools because all of a sudden it felt easy. I hadn’t realized I had just gotten stronger.

I think the thing I’m most proud of is when John asked me to go to the Munich show with him. Doing that show made me feel accomplished.

HP: How do you feel as a woman working in the Hifi Industry?

DB: I am told that this is a boys’ club. And when I was at the show in Munich, or when John throws a “listening party”, I am very aware of how much of a boys’ club it is. But considering that I like to work with my hands, I’ve been accustomed to squeezing myself in regardless. And I think that when they (the men) find out what it is that I actually do, they’re more impressed than anything else.

HP: Who inspires you in your work?

DB: I think the people that inspire me are the people that I work with that REALLY understand what they’re doing. Whether it is John DeVore, or Tony or Dave from next door at Box (they build our cabinets for us), or Diego who does some finishing for us. The way they really understand the material and can think outside the box and get creative with their solutions is the level I would like to reach. Hoping I can explain this the best way possible, but I am currently at the level where I still follow instructions, and when there’s a hiccup, I need to ask what the solution is. Once I run into that hiccup again, it’s alright, I can manage now, but if there’s a new different hiccup, then I’m at a loss again because I’m still not 100% sure of how things work together in that capacity.

There is another person that inspires me every day, outside of the Hifi industry. A woman I worked with almost 10 years ago; Rosemary King. She must’ve been in her 70s at the time. She was so petite and old and deceptively strong. You would take one look at her and assume she instructs the builders on the stage what to do. But no, she would carry the lumber on her shoulder herself, and build a whole set on her own; it was so magnificent and impressive. I want to be like her.

HP: Where do you see yourself in ten years time, do you have aspirations to be running the company, do you see yourself staying in this industry?

DB: I can definitely start by saying that I do not have any aspirations to run the company (or any company). I think there are people who are born wanting to run their own business, and people who aren’t. I belong to the latter. I enjoy working for others and helping them run their businesses smoothly. Who knows what the future holds? If I am still working for DeVore Fidelity in ten years’ time, that will be a win for me.

HP: Do you ever feel that your position and knowledge is overlooked because you are female/young, this may be by other people in the industry or customers?

DB: My position and knowledge is not what’s overlooked. I think most people whether they are in the Hifi industry or outside assume that since I am female and young that I must have an administrative position. I think I’ve had to say the words “who do you think builds these speakers?” so many times when I’ve had people (typically men) try to carry the speakers on my behalf.

Dahlia Barakat – Devore Fidelity

HP: Do you encounter sexist attitudes at all, do you ever get ‘mansplained’ to for instance?

DB: Again, I think the only sexist attitudes I receive are about my perceived strength. Silly example, but at Home Depot when I have to go and purchase lumber, I get a lot of “can I help yous?” and “oh, look a [female] contractor”. I don’t think I can say I’ve ever been ‘mansplained’ on the job. Considering my position, and my superiors’ positions, anything that has to be explained is simple. I happen to be female, but I also don’t have the information, therefore, my superior who happens to be male has to explain it to me. But in the “traditional” sense of ‘mansplaining’ I am fortunate to say that this has not happened.

HP: What advice would you give to a young woman wanting to get into the Hifi Industry, do you think qualifications are important, do they need to study relevant subjects etc?

DB: As idealistic as it sounds, I would say don’t even focus on gender as an issue. I think all you need is passion for learning the industry. Find someone who is willing to give you the chance to learn and try and absorb as much as you can. I believe in hands-on experiences as much as possible. Yes there’s a lot of information in books, but (for example) there’s only so much you can learn about how speakers sound without actually listening to a pair.

HP: What do you see as the future of Hifi, are we heading for a world of bluetooth speakers and streaming or do you think that there will always be a place for ‘real’ Hifi?

DB: I hope not! I think between the luddites and the audiophiles in the world, there may always be a place for ‘real’ Hifi, and I would hope that doesn’t change. But for the average person, I think their world is definitely changing and it’s a shame.

HP: Who is your favourite band/artist, how important is music to you as part of your day and how do you usually listen to music (headfi gear, main Hifi, radio, in the car etc)?

DB: The radio is always on at work. We alternate different stations depending on our moods. Sometimes we (my coworkers and I) will hook up our phones and listen to specific playlists, and sometimes I will use my earphones and listen to my personal playlists. Usually my music of choice is 90s grunge, if I have to pick a favourite band it would have to be Live. But lately I’ve been sparing my coworkers from listening to my latest addiction which is filled with songs from musicals (#noshame).

HP: What is your favourite music format…are you always streaming, or a vinyl junky?

DB: I do stream music via Spotify when I have to, but I’m a young luddite at heart and I cannot give up my CDs and definitely still purchase and listen to them.

Arwen Lehmann-Davies – Axhorn Loudspeakers

Axhorn Loudspeakers is a small family run business which was started in rural Wales UK forty years ago, by Fred Davies, who has been designing and manufacturing concrete horn loudspeakers his whole life. They produce OEM products for Hifi and PA companies and, among other things, created the pedal power PA at Glastonbury.

Their own Axjet and Superjet speakers were the first incarnation of the models they are taking into production and were introduced at High End Munich 2019, they hope to have the final model ready by Spring 2020. Arwen is the self confessed ‘Pushy Bitch Sales and Marketing Director’ and at forty three, she has worked in the industry for twenty five years. Her passion for music and energy is evident the minute you meet her and she works alongside her dad, partner and brother in a tight-knit family team.

Arwen Lehmann-Davies – Axhorn Loudspeakers

Linette Smith, Hifi Pig (HP): What did you do before?

Arwen Lehmann-Davies, Axhorn Loudspeakers (ALD): Alongside my work at Axhom I have worked as a production manager at various festivals but the bulk of my time has been spent on a business I run with my mum, as a nutritional therapist and allergy tester.

HP: How did you end up moving into the Hifi Industry?

ALD: Growing up in it with a dad that had built in concrete horn loud speakers into our house, my first memories of music were falling asleep on the upstairs landing listening to John Michell Jarre.

HP: Tell us about what your average day at work involves, what you do, who you are working with etc.

ALD: I have to split my time efficiently as I have a five year old daughter. I spend two days a week filled with clients for allergy testing. Then I spend two or so days a week working on Axhorn loudspeakers. I maintain the Instagram account and Twitter feed and have been working on getting both websites running smoothly. We as a family all work together as an ongoing project.

HP: What are your favourite things about your job, and what don’t you like so much?

ALD: I like everything about this “job” my first love is music and I want everyone to hear how incredible music can sound through the Axjets! I hope to get busier so I can transition to working in the Hifi industry full time.

HP: What is the most difficult thing you have had to do in your work and what achievements are you most proud of?

ALD: The most difficult was auditioning a pair of Axjets in a listening room at the top of a spiral staircase. One of my proudest moments was running a 2000 person dance tent for three days.

HP: How do you feel as a woman working in the Hifi Industry?

ALD: It feels easier in 2019 as there are many more knowledgeable woman around. My first experience of a Hifi show was back in 1992 I was only 18 at that time and it seemed to be a very male dominated industry.

HP: Who inspires you in your work?

ALD: My family oh and Sven Väth! (German DJ and producer) I think I listen to him on drip feed!

HP: Where do you see yourself in ten years time, do you have aspirations to be running the company, do you see yourself staying in this industry?

ALD: Dad will always run the company while he is able but I feel a great balance with my family as we all take on board each others opinions. In ten years time I hope to be running a very busy company making and exporting Axjets worldwide with the product being recognised by many in the sound industry.

HP: Do you ever feel that your position and knowledge is overlooked because you are female/young, this may be by other people in the industry or customers?

ALD: I found at Munich High End show some men were amazed that a woman knew so much?!? However that was a small percentage of older men from a different generation so I let them off the hook!

Arwen Lehmann-Davies – Axhorn Loudspeakers

HP: Do you encounter sexist attitudes at all, do you ever get ‘mansplained’ to for instance?

ALD: Fortunately not with my family but I did notice a little chauvinism at the High End Show in Munich this year. Unfortunately its endemic in most industries.

HP: How do you think that the Hifi Industry can encourage more younger people to want to work in it?

ALD: By getting away from ‘old mans Hifi’ so they can discover how good their own music sounds on real world Hifi.

HP: What advice would you give to a young woman wanting to get into the Hifi Industry, do you think qualifications are important, do they need to study relevant subjects etc?

ALD: I don’t think qualifications are specifically important. I have a degree in Management and I am a qualified nutritional therapist but my qualifications for doing this job are a self taught love of music and ability to hear sound. I have learned huge amounts from my dad about the technical side. I think enthusiasm and commitment is the most important thing to have.

HP: What do you see as the future of Hifi, are we heading for a world of bluetooth speakers and streaming or do you think that there will always be a place for ‘real’ Hifi?

ALD: As a Keen DJ and vinyl junkie we have been told for years that vinyl will die a death and it hasn’t, in fact it has made a comeback. I think the quality of files is becoming more universally available there will continue to be a demand for real Hifi, in fact it may become expected.

HP: Who is your favourite band/artist, how important is music to you as part of your day and how do you usually listen to music (headfi gear, main Hifi, radio, in the car etc)?

ALD: I live and breath music and have done from a really young age, because of dads love for Jimi Hendrix and mums love of Joni Mitchell I suppose. I grew up being dragged around festivals like Glastonbury and Blue Moon. I have a very eclectic broad taste in music, although I have become an ear snob when it comes to quality of sound! I love to play electro techno and that’s probably because I am part German!

There are many producers that I follow e.g. Anthony Rother with my favourite DJs being Sven Vath, Laurent Garnier. My favourite female artist right now is Fever Ray. I have been fortunate to see some of the best live bands/shows in the world like The Foo Fighters, Jean Michell Jarre, Underworld at Cocoon, Gorillaz, Bruce Springsteen, Orbital, Aphex Twin, The Orb, Kings of Leon, The drummers of Burundi, the list just goes on and on.

At home, I listen to music in my lounge I have a graffiti sprayed set of prototype Axjets. If i’m out and about I have a Plenue with basic Sennheiser headphones.

HP: What is your favourite music format…are you always streaming, or a vinyl junky?

ALD: I do both really. I like Bandcamp so often purchase vinyl and get the download too. I like discogs to collect old vinyl stuff I’ve missed. I find it difficult to just stream music as our Internet service in West Wales is poor and I haven’t got over my ownership of music. Besides what if there was a power cut and the streaming stopped! Basically I just love the smell of vinyl. The one thing I am lacking is a vinyl cleaner that’s on my Christmas list. Right now my big interest is modular synthesis and I have been having lessons. I have bought a little Plaits VCO and need to complete a basic kit set up so I can muck around at home and make some of my own strange sounds.

So there you have it, three inspiring women who are making this industry a more vibrant and diverse one to work in. I for one look forward to meeting many more and I hope that this goes some way to encourage other women looking for a career to consider the Hifi industry.

 

 

 

 

 

Linette Smith

First published in the 2019 winter edition of Hifi Pig Magazine

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