Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

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What’s in a name? When it comes to selling goods today, pretty much everything -- brand-name recognition is crucial when it comes to connecting with buyers. This is something CEO Mauro Grange stressed at the press event held at his corporate group’s Manhattan-based townhouse on November 19, 2015. I attended the affair, as did about 15 other press members, who were mostly from outside North America. Also on hand were a handful of key distributors and dealers.

The companies that are under Mauro’s watch include McIntosh Laboratory, Sonus Faber, Audio Research, Sumiko Subwoofers, Wadia, and the newest addition to the group, Pryma. Previously, Fine Sounds Group was the umbrella brand name for all these companies; at this event, Mauro announced that they’re changing the name to World of McIntosh -- or WOM, for short.

The reason for the change has to do mainly with name recognition. Mauro was candid when he talked about his vision for his hi-fi companies, and he explained that although names such as Sonus Faber, Audio Research, and Wadia are well known to audiophiles, to a broader audience they’re often complete unknowns. McIntosh is a little different. Of all their companies, McIntosh is not only the oldest, but also the largest in terms of employees, dealers, and sales. As a result, more people know about it than the others. It also doesn’t hurt that Apple has made their Macintosh a household name. So if you say McIntosh to someone, there will likely be some recognition, whether it’s the hi-fi company itself, or just familiarity with the word.

To Mauro, it made the most sense to brand the whole shebang under World of McIntosh, and ditch the name Fine Sounds Group altogether. Correspondingly, their Manhattan townhouse is being called a World of McIntosh Experience Center, and is open to those who want to audition their brands’ products. Undoubtedly, it’s the most lavish hi-fi shop ever created; after all, a townhouse like this one in Manhattan is a rarity, and it’s therefore worth a fortune.

Mauro Grange and Larry MarcusMauro Grange and Larry Marcus

The townhouse is not the only WOM Experience Center. Larry Marcus, president of Paragon Sight & Sound, which is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, converted a section of his store into a WOM Experience Center. He spoke alongside Mauro at the event. He feels that in order for high-end hi-fi retailers to survive, they are going to need to appeal to a broader audience than the current audiophile set, which he estimates to be mostly above 55 years of age. He sees a WOM Experience Center as helping to provide that kind of opportunity. Mauro’s goal is to create more WOM Experience Centers worldwide.

The World of McIntosh brand was generally well received, but wasn’t without some controversy. Our own Ken Kessler, who flew in from England for the gathering, praised Mauro for his vision and said he felt that mono-branding and creating WOM Experience Centers are what many hi-fi companies should have done years ago; however, Ken also wondered aloud if Mauro and crew will be able to reach the mainstream luxury market that they purport to be aiming at. Mauro said he believes he can, and Ken said he hopes he will . . . but time will tell if the initiative is successful.

Ken KesslerKen Kessler

There was also concern for the non-McIntosh brands -- mostly whether the focus on the McIntosh name signals an end as we know it to, say, Audio Research, which has an incredibly loyal following. From what Mauro said on that day, fans of Audio Research or any of the other brands have nothing to fear. Not only was this event to announce World of McIntosh and to showcase the townhouse, it was to show off five new products from four of the names -- and they appear to be some of the companies’ best efforts ever.

Two items were from Sonus Faber. The first I will highlight is the gorgeous little brother to the company’s Lilium, dubbed Il Cremonese, priced at $45,000 per pair in the United States. The pair looked smashing set up on the upper floor of the townhouse. The other was the Venere S loudspeaker, which is priced considerably lower: $5000 per pair. They had a pair of those on the upper floor as well, but in a separate room off to one side. The S now succeeds the 3.0 as the top model in the Venere line, but what’s really unique about it is that while the other Venere models are made in China, this one is made in Sonus Faber’s factory, which is located in Italy. It’s a sign that the company now feels that they can be price-competitive without outsourcing manufacturing to the Far East.

Also on display was the new Audio Research Reference 6 preamplifier, which is priced at $14,000. It was being used with the Sonus Faber Il Cremoneses. According to Audio Research’s president, Mike Tsecouras, the Reference 6 is not a simple update from a previous preamplifier design -- every aspect of the Reference 6, inside and outside, was considered in the R&D process. In fact, Mike was so excited about the minutiae the design team went into when they created the 6 that he passed parts around so the people could understand how closely the designers looked at each piece. I must say that I was impressed by the quality of workmanship and the attention to detail, particularly for the price.

McIntosh Laboratory debuted the MX160 A/V processor, also priced at $14,000. According to Ron Cornelius, McIntosh’s product manager, the MX160 took a year and a half to develop, and was fueled by the largest investment the company has ever put into a single product. Granted, $14,000 is a fortune to pay for an A/V processor, but from what I could tell, it has every bell and whistle, so it’s technically up to date. With McIntosh’s huge following, those with multichannel setups comprising the company’s other electronics are more than likely to pony up for one of these statement-level processors.

Finally, there was the 0|1, the first headphone model from WOM’s newest brand: Pryma. The 0|1 headphones sell for $499 to $549, depending on finish, and can be purchased online or through select retailers. I already wrote about this new headphone model when I was at its official August launch, which was also in New York (though not at the townhouse). But the presentation then was mostly to fashion and lifestyle press (I was the only hi-fi guy there), because Mauro sees this as an ideal product to expand their group’s reach outside of the audiophile world.

Aesthetically, the 0|1 headphones were designed by Livio Cucuzza, who began designing for Sonus Faber, but now oversees all of the WOM companies’ industrial designs. Acoustically, the 0|1s are the work of Paolo Tezzon, who is responsible for the acoustics of all of Sonus Faber’s speakers. Paolo told me it took him a year to get the sound for the Pryma 0|1s just right. Insofar as manufacturing goes, every pair of Pryma 0|1s is made by hand at Sonus Faber’s factory -- true Italian-made luxury for those who care about the way their headphones look and sound.

The presentations took place in the morning, listening sessions followed throughout the afternoon, and dinner was served in the evening to close it off. It was a long day, but from what I could tell, everyone enjoyed it. Below are photos I shot throughout the day, and I hope they give a flavor of what it was like to be there on November 19 for the launch of five new products and one very intriguing umbrella brand in the world’s most luxurious hi-fi shop. Enjoy!

Doug Schneider
Founder, SoundStage!