Catching Up With...: Arcam
T echnology Integrator: From Arcam’s perspective as a maker of performance audio and home cinema components, why is it crucial for technology integrators to keep high-performance sound quality at the top of their priority lists, right up there with gear concealment and ease of system use?
Scott Campbell: The CI world has changed radically in the last few years, as control systems have become cheaper and easier to use from smartphones or tablets. Bespoke control systems still offer many advantages, but here again, the cost of integration is falling, along with integrators’ revenue and profit. The CI industry was established by visionary companies who had a very strong hi-fi heritage and were passionate about sound quality, but wanted added control options.
We believe that the balance has swung too far away from absolute performance in favor of integration for the sake of convenience. The point we are making is that you need to do both. Maintaining high audio and video performance standards is essential for the sake of the health of the CI sector. Better sound from better electronics and speakers with expert installation will deliver more long-term value for the customer—and better profits for the installer.
TI: Tell our readers about Arcam’s outreaches to custom integrators—and, through them, to interior designers and architects to educate them about sound quality’s importance.
Campbell: We have devoted a lot of time and money to (the) training of dealers and distributors in the U.K. so that they can deliver a demonstration that will wow the customer. Arcam personnel in the U.S. are on hand to support the CI sector. We are planning a number of training events for 2014 in the U.S. that will concentrate on showing installers how to improve the audio quality of the projects they deliver and specify.
We need to show the installers what is possible before they can educate interior designers and architects on how to make better choices that maximize the available sound quality.
TI: How can CIs most effectively educate a consumer segment that has been brought up on compressed audio and headphone listening to appreciate what is possible in terms of premium audio reproduction throughout a home?
Campbell: It takes time to educate a market about quality. Witness the shift from fast-food outlets to the growing number of local restaurants that support the farm-to-table movement that have been inspired by visionary chefs like Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. You’ve got to taste the food to appreciate the difference—and you’ve got to hear the difference to appreciate what ultra-high definition sound is all about.
We have seen many installers improve the quality of their demonstration facilities and move away from poring over blueprints, to immersing themselves and their customers in the best that home theater
TI: What product offerings have you developed that tap into the new consumer’s needs for convenience in music listening, while still keeping to Arcam’s sound quality standards?
Campbell: We have developed a whole range of rSeries products that retail for as little as $250 that can improve the signal quality of digital audio as well as the best Bluetooth DAC on the market, called an rBlink. This can transform the sound quality of music from smartphones, tablets
Many of our installers add these upgrade options to existing sources like STB and multi-room audio systems. Improving the results from digital sources allows the customer to hear better audio. It justifies the use of better speakers and amplifiers and will captivate all who listen. We also have a range of AV receivers from $2,000 to $6,000 that offer unrivaled sound quality that have been getting rave reviews from installers and retailers around the world.
TI: What sorts of dealer/integrator support systems does Arcam have in place? Do you offer educational courses for integrators interested in learning the ins and outs of your line?
Campbell: We have a large online resource of control drivers, specifications and white papers that CI customers can access via our website (www.arcam.co.uk). It is available for anyone to check out. We also play an active role in CEDIA to promote and support their training programs.
TI: What seminal factors do you see as major influences on the custom industry moving into 2014—and how is Arcam strategizing its product lineup to fit into that scenario?
Campbell: We are excited by the move to 4K Ultra High Definition video and the next generation of OLED display technology. There are new surround sound systems under development that provide a quantum leap in the accuracy of placement in a soundfield. The Dolby Atmos system is very impressive when installed in commercial cinemas and shows that the development of surround sound has an exciting future.
New-generation video games look better than ever, and have incredible soundtracks. Plans for 4K service for sporting events are very exciting and we are impressed by the arrival of new services like Prima that offer affluent customers the chance to watch movies on the same day as their movie theater release.
TI: Are there any other comments you’d care to make about the evolution of the industry?
Campbell: The age-old question of quality versus convenience is our main concern. We all want elegant solutions, but we think we have let the interior designers dominate the customer agenda. We are concerned that many customers will miss out on great audio by getting a free, low-performance soundbar as part of a TV manufacturer promotion when they buy a new screen. They may sound better than the integrated TV speakers, but they are a dead loss when it comes to music. A great demo is the only way of saving these customers from bad sound.
More people are consuming content from streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, which are convenient, but are a long way away from the quality that you can get from Blu-ray. Remember, “garbage in—garbage out” is as true today as it ever was.
We need to achieve a harmony between ease of use and access to content so that quality is maintained. Good enough is not good enough! •