Posted on 28th September, 2018


Jean-Philippe Fontaine, the McIntosh Group’s Export Sales Manager, has a simple bit of advice for hard-working audio manufacturers.

In Australia to promote the group’s trio of elite brands comprising Sonus faber, Audio Research and McIntosh, Fontaine believes that the high-end audio brand’s essential message is being lost.

He said:

High-End’s message should be encapsulated in one word. And that word is ‘Fidelity'. The High-End’s mission has always been its fidelity to the source, but the message from the designers and builders is being diluted and lost along the way.

But after seeing the way Carlton Audio Visual has set up and demonstrated  Sonus faber’s exquisite new $160,000 Aida 2 loudspeaker, he’s leaving Australia more optimistic than when he arrived.

Carlton Audio Visual's High-End Audio Studio

On Wednesday evening, on the 27th September, guests invited to hear the Aida 2 at Carlton Audio Visual’s exclusive new high-end studio also got to experience what the future of High-End audio retailing could look like.

While there are plenty of world-class audio showrooms in Australia, none has the character or the same ambience created by the spacious rooms at  121 Drummond Street, Carlton, in Melbourne.

Anyone who knows Melbourne will tell you the palatial, two-storey 19th-century historic terraces in Drummond Street are amongst the cities finest examples of Victorian, Italian ornate craftsmanship inside and outside.

It wasn’t always that way.

I recall living in a few of these terraces in the 70s during my undergraduate years when Melbourne showed little affection for any of Carlton’s irreplaceable, grand terraces.

Just for the record, invariably I shared accommodation with a group of other students pooling our limited resources to pay the rent every month.

Back then, these terraces were damp, bone-chillingly cold in winter but blessedly cool in summer. But if you thought carefully about treading on floorboards well beyond their use by date, shared student days in these terraces had a charm I’ve never reencountered.

This sojourn down memory lane is only meant to reinforce that the swank two-storey terrace now used by Carlton Audio Visual’s staff to house and display Sonus faber and Audio Research’s most excellent models, still has all the charm I remember.

Only this time around, it’s bursting with light internally, and the floorboards are no longer the death traps they were nearly half a century ago.

Located at the Paris end of Drummond Street, it’s been totally and tastefully restored and explicitly refurbished for this purpose.

The showrooms are wide, have incredibly high ceilings, and delightfully, they are full of light.

The Aida 2 speakers were driven by powerful Audio Research Reference 250SE amplifiers and Audio Research Reference 6 preamplifier. Signal sources comprised an Audio Research Reference CD9 CD player, Rega RP10 turntable fitted with a Rega Apheta 2 cartridge and all wired by chord Sarum cables. It sounds and looks a treat, all part of the experience.

This wasn’t just the opinion of this veteran hi-fi journalist, who may have been looking at it all through rose-tinted glasses. It was shared by the guests attending the evening, as well as StereoNET's founder Marc Rushton, and GadgetNET staffer Rob Follis as well.

So how did it sound, this collection of High-End gear culled from some of the world’s elite audio brands?

What I can tell you is you’d need to hear the system for yourself. In those open, spacious display rooms you should hear a sound that has the scale, detail and dynamic wallop of the real thing.

Phillip Sawyer, CEO of Synergy Audio Visual which distributed Sonus faber, Audio Research and McIntosh in Australia told me he agreed with Jean-Philippe Fontaine’s summation of the confused state of audio’s High-End.

He said:

When you think about the hard work manufacturers put into their models, you have to wince about the way their message of fidelity can get fragmented on the way to the showroom.

On a happier note, Jean-Philippe and I are proud to have the Aida 2 presented in a showroom of the calibre you find at 121 Drummond Street. Carlton Audio Visual has been very brave to make what’s a substantial investment. We applaud their commitment to great sound.

Rab Turner, Jean-Philippe Fontaine, Phil Sawyer - Carlton Audio Visual

Sitting in a quiet alcove of this magnificent terrace I couldn’t help but wonder what 121 Drummond Street’s original builders would make of the multiplicity of uses their craftsmanship had inspired.

They’d sailed on clipper ships from the South of Italy to labour hard and long and for little pay to Melbourne. There to build palatial homes for the cities rising upper middle class, sometime in the latter part of the 19th century.

Would they have winced as their beloved terraces fell into disrepair during the fifties, and the following decades?

They would not have begrudged these irreplaceable buildings giving struggling students refuge from the wind, cold, sleet and heat.

What would they say now these terraces have been lovingly restored? What would they make of rooms that privileged some of the world’s best audio gear playing humankind's most sublime music?

Large of heart, generous of spirit, I know they would have applauded.

In the quietness of a Carlton late winter’s night, I swear I could hear their voices reflecting gently off their ornate plasterwork, majestic roman arches and sturdy lintels built to last.

They were saying,

Bravo, Bravo…”

Peter Familari (Left), Phillip Sawyer (Right)

Carlton Audio Visual's High-End Studio, located at 121 Drummond Street is open by appointment only.

For more information visit Carlton Audio Visual.


    Peter Familari's avatar

    Peter Familari

    One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, Peter was formerly the Audio-Video Editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades. One of the most-respected audio journalists in Australia, Peter brings his unparalleled experience and a unique story-telling ability to StereoNET.

    Posted in:StereoLUX! Hi-Fi
    Tags: synergy audio visual  carlton audio visual  sonus faber  audio research 

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