Sound & Visionary: John Hunter of Sumiko Page 2

Is vinyl still the ultimate audiophile experience? It absolutely has astoundingly higher resolution than the highest of any of the digital formats. Beyond that, it's purely an aesthetic experience. Digital is like freeze-dried coffee. You take a pre-existing, wonderful thing, and you slice it and dice it into microscopic components, and then you hope to bring it back together whole. But it doesn't quite work that way. In analog, there's nothing like that. Analog captures an entire musical experience at that moment in real time. I find it amusing that people believe digital is such a powerful format when by definition it seeks to approximate analog.

Let me share this example with you. We do a dealer training course on how to make great sound and about the dos and don'ts of setting up and optimizing systems. The last few hours concern how to take that knowledge and turn it into a customer demonstration, because when you have someone in a store, you have less than 15 seconds from the time you press play to completely remap that person's experience. Without fail, our instructors get 20-year-olds with those vacant, checked-out looks who just sit there with their arms folded. For the trainer, it feels like these kids are saying, "Go ahead, give it your best shot. There's nothing you can say or do that's going to pierce my consciousness." But when we take them to the sound room and the last piece of material they hear as part of their training is analog on a $40,000 SME turntable, they come unglued every time.

There's nothing digital that compares to that? We listen to digital all the time. We're not anti-digital - we're simply pro-analog. If you haven't had the experience, it's impossible to describe - and get. We're not saying it's the only way. It simply is a more organic way to experience an event.

Does "high end" have to mean "expensive"? The T-Series sub-bass systems from REL, which we acquired about 18 months ago, are affordable by any stretch of the imagination. The three models run $595, $795, and $995, which is right down Main Street. We've got crossovers that allow you to seamlessly blend these systems with your main speakers. They feature all-British engineering and have eights coats of hand-rubbed lacquer on the rails. They're geared for the high-end customer on a budget. People don't have to withdraw from the high-end experience entirely just because of cost - and with these, they can get 80% of it for a lot less money.