Sound & Visionary: John Hunter of Sumiko Page 3

Sound & Visionary: John Hunter of Sumiko

John Hunter was the lead designer of REL's T-Series sub-bass systems, which are meant to give cash-strapped audiophiles a chance to savor the high end. Priced from $595 to $795, they feature front-firing active drivers and downward-firing passive radiators and are meant for use in both stereo and surround-sound systems.
You were there for birth of the high end. What was that time like for the industry? The veterans of the high-end community are hanging onto a romantic notion of their origins that's really damaging them. The big lie goes something like this: It used to be so much better in the old days. Now it's all about corporations and big business. Well, that's utter nonsense. The high end probably got started somewhere around 1973, and I've been in it since 1977, so I've been on this ride for a very long time. I've never seen a richer, more unified time. But that doesn't mean there aren't lots of challenges. Whole-house audio, for one. And the dumbing down of music as a commodity to be consumed while multitasking is a societal challenge. As a culture, we need to slow down and take in the beauty that exists out there. But I've never seen a stronger, richer mix of product - not just from us, but from our competitors. There hasn't been a better time in history for the consumer.

What do you see happening in the next 10 years? I see the industry splitting. The big box stores are going in one direction and are really being challenged by their own competitive fire. About 10 years ago, places like Best Buy sucked the whole mid-fi crowd out of all the 5-to-10-store chains, which are mostly gone. Now there's only the high end and the low end. For the high end, everything rides on speakers. Either you're going to produce absolutely beautiful product that makes you want to own it the minute you see it or touch it, or you're going to be out of business. Going forward, there's no room for black vinyl boxes. The marketplace is stretching and separating. The guys who think it's still 1983 are never going to make it.

I'm guessing you have an amazing collection of vinyl. As a matter of fact, I thinned it out a few years ago. I'm down to about 3,000 records from about 8,000. What I have now are old friends that serve any need I might have. One of my favorites is Cream, Wheels of Fire. "Crossroads," Eric Clapton - absolutely the finest guitar solo in the history of mankind.

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