The transition from a successful dairy farm to one of the most unusual hi-fi outlets is an interesting family story, as Trevor Butler discovered on a visit to southern Germany.
Boasting some of the best audio brands money can buy, HiFi-Bauernhof [translated as ‘hi-fi farm’] serves customers not just in its native Bavaria but from far and wide, including Switzerland, Italy and Austria. When you see the demonstration facilities the Altusried-based high-end dealer has to offer, it’s hardly surprising.
Once home to several dozen head of prize cattle, this piece of Allgäu real estate was transformed in 1979 when commercial banker Dietmar Sutter decided that his family home (in the family for several generations and where he was born and brought up) would make the most perfect hi-fi store. A transition period saw an extension added to provide four superbly appointed listening rooms, storage areas and ample family quarters, while the former living area was converted into two more listening rooms, offices, a reception area and workshops. Finally, in 2005, the switch was made from farm to hi-fi emporium as audio equipment took over from milk churns and milking equipment.
Today just two cows remain, largely as pets and also as a source of the freshest possible milk for the family’s personal consumption; likewise, the several gallons of delicious juice each year from their own apple orchards, although this is shared with a few ‘special’ friends to enjoy, including for customers during their now famous Open Weekends.
A team of four, including Dietmar’s son Siegmund, know all about the equipment and software they sell, and are passionate audiophiles and music-lovers who seek to obtain the best for their customers, whatever the budget. “We cater for many students who have been turned away by other shops because their wallets are not large enough to warrant attention”, explains affable Michael Wick. “We help them with a range of starter systems because we know that they will be tomorrow’s customers for the high-end.”
Such is their enjoyment of and support for music that on the day I visit preparations are in hand for a sponsored performance by Faroese singer/songwriter Eivor at a local venue. It’s just one of many live concerts, across several genres, that HiFi-Bauernhof has supported. “Live music is important, important for the soul”, says Michael. “Only by hearing instruments and voices live can we tell if the hi-fi is reproducing faithfully; and, how can a music lover ever spend money on a hi-fi system when he doesn`t go to a live concert?”
The newest member of the team is Christian Laub (above, in the workshop looking at a customer’s turntable brought in for repair) who arrived last summer having been a loyal customer for the previous six years. “Most weekends I’d find myself here, listening to the systems”, he explains. “Gradually we became friends until I joined, which feels really good.”
When I speak with Michael (below) he’s very excited to have just acquired a pair of Günter Tobian’s Standmonitor 12s, hand-made in Switzerland. What does he think of them? The expression on his face says it all: “Absolutely unbelievable… they show me so much more of the music than before… I just cannot believe it. And with 99 dB sensitivity… oh my god… it is like a storm blowing through the listening room…FANTASTIC! And at very low listening levels the complete soundstage stays open and clean. I think this will be my last speaker for a very long time … the sound is so wonderfully open and fast, clean and ‘live’.”
Like every product stocked, each has been thoroughly road-tested before it makes the HiFi-Bauernhof stocklist. Owner Dietmar (below) first has to enjoy his many recordings (LP as well as CD and even some DVDs, I notice) before shortlisting any piece of equipment. Then the rest of the team have to give their blessing. Thus his price list includes some famous names such as EAR-Yoshino, Harbeth, Dali, ATC, Grado, Tannoy Prestige, Ortofon, Croft and Unison Research. Then there are the more esoteric marques, again all handpicked, and including Tobian Soundsystems, Rowen and newly acquired Viva Audio and Mastersound both from Italy.
With sustainability in mind, Dietmar ensures that there is an adequate supply of timber from the estate to power his highly efficient biomass boiler which provides both heating and hot water for the entire building. This he stocks nightly in cold weather before firing it up and retiring indoors to enjoy free heat, courtesy of sweat and nature.
As well generous hospitality for customers, HiFi-Bauernhof offer a range of ancillary services such as LP cleaning and CD edge cutting, for which a specially-built German machine (Audio Desk System Glass) chamfers the edge to 35 degrees for improved sound quality. “People bring their entire collections for us to do while they are away”, says Siegmund. And, every customer receives a complimentary burn-in disc for the recommended 200-hours-process on all new equipment. “Longer for some things”, adds Michael. “The Tannoys benefit from a minimum of 500 hours and improve after 1,000 hours, for example. When you listen to a Tannoy speaker which sounds bad it is mostly because it is not burned in for long enough.”
With so much enthusiasm, knowledge and experience it’s no wonder that Dietmar and his colleagues are held in such high regard by their customers. Those I spoke to couldn’t praise Hifi-Bauernhof enough and spoke of the empathy the team at the farm had. “Rather than it being a hard sell, it’s a gentle immersion”, said one long-standing customer. Another remarked how he’d been buying his hi-fi here almost since the day it opened. “I don’t like the approach of the big, high street stores”, he told me. “Their salesmen just want to sell you something and move on to the next customer. It’s not like that here: they have time, patience… all the time you need. And that has to be a good thing.”