There are different ways of starting a hi-fi company, the traditional route of building products in the shed and working up to larger scale operation is the best known but also the slowest, there are plenty of brands that started out that way but the world is changing. Now large corporations own many of the brands we know and love, Naim is owned by Focal which itself is part of a much larger group, Mark Levinson is ultimately owned by Samsung and Denon, Marantz and several others are owned by another conglomerate. Getting to that level is not fast for manufacturers but those doing the buying can build up large portfolios relatively quickly. That appears to be the case with AV Industry, this French company started out by imitating America’s Audio Advisor online retail model where buyers can get advice over the phone and can also buy audio equipment from the company. This wing of AV Industry is called Son-Video and employs 30 people in its Paris office. Unlike retailers in the UK and elsewhere Son-Video is actually opening bricks and mortar retail outlets (they aim to have 20 shops next year) presumably so that they can provide the assurance and demonstration facilities it takes to sell a wide range of hone entertainment hardware.
That was the first stage of the business, then founder Phillipe Carré realised that combining this retail side with a manufacturing element would be even better for business and when he met furniture maker Vincent Laigle plans began to take shape. Again there are precedents for this not least in the relationship between Richer Sounds and Audio Partnership in the UK where the latter manufacturers products sold by the former. As with that group AV Industry set about finding brands to buy rather than starting from scratch and their first acquisition was spherical loudspeaker specialist Elipson. This company was founded back at the dawn of electrical amplification (1938), yet for reasons unclear had never been exported internationally. Elipson used to make some very stylish and substantial speakers that had a good reputation in France, as the oldest domestic brand they were involved with everything audio and developed some pretty radical products, including the 4050 in 1968 which could be considered a forerunner to the Bowers & Wilkins 800 series designs of the nineties. As a result of this acquisition the Elipson brand lives on in two spherical loudspeakers and a wide range of more conventionally shaped designs priced for the lower and middle sectors of the market, a more ambitious range called 32 series is planned for next year.
Elipson also makes two circular music centres and a range of turntables which are manufactured in France. When I visited the company in June they demonstrated some of the models in the Prestige range in both two channel and home cinema set ups, the former sounding rather good in a large and heavily treated room at their Paris HQ.
To expand their offering AV Industry purchased two more brands, ELTAX from Denmark, a speaker manufacturer whose range now sits at the budget end of the spectrum, and another Scandinavian company Tangent. AV Industry is using this name for design lead portable products including compact separates, Bluetooth speakers and both powered and passive loudspeakers, a sector of the market that is clearly in the ascendant right now. On the home cinema front they have projector screens by Lumene and two equipment stand brands; Norstone and Ateca. All they need are digital source components and amplifiers and AV Industry will be able to make and sell complete systems.
AV Industry is not limited to audio electronics they also have a vape liquid manufacturing arm where they develop and bottle fluids for people to inhale in a market sector that looks to have significant potential (even if it’s not quite as cool as puffing on a Gitane). There’s nothing quite like diversification. The company showed us this facility as well as the Paris Son-Video warehouse that’s bursting at the seams with kit from all manner of brands. They also demonstrated Elipson speakers in two home cinema set ups, one in their Paris retail premises and another in Dolby’s demonstration facility. The latter is hidden away behind a scruffy non descript façade in a part of Paris that’s choc full of musical instrument shops, the only clue to its presence is a label on the letterbox. Inside however I enjoyed one of the most refined home cinema dems ever, normally these things are full of distorted explosions with far too much bass and synthetic sounding mids and highs. With the aid of a Trinnov processor, Onkyo power amps and an Elipson Prestige speaker system Dolby proved that subtlety and finesse are possible with home cinema.
AV Industry will be running a hi-fi and AV show in Paris later this year and clearly has its sights set beyond the French audio market. They are building a new HQ to cope with the expansion and this will not only provide the warehouse manager with some room to manoeuvre but also give RnD better facilities to develop future products. AV Industry may not be a very memorable name but its forward thinking approach means that its brands will be making an impression on many of us in the future.