The Art of the Demo 
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Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Monday, 01 November 2004

AV Education on RHT

The Art of the Demo

Written by Jerry Del Colliano
November 2004

In the glory days of high-end audio, the demo sold at the local stereo store often made indelible impressions on consumers, causing people to save every penny to afford that new tone arm or tube preamp. Today, the audiophile market is basically dead in all places other than eBay and Audiogon. Dealers have had to adapt in order to sell engineered systems in increasingly complex homes that come complete with touch screen control of distributed audio, a full home theater system, lighting, HVAC, a wine collection and so much more. The problem is that many dealers in this time of real estate boom (and the impending home theater sales that go along with such a boom) have forgotten how to really blow a customer’s socks off.

In my career, I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for some of the more legendary and colorful icons in the audiophile world, including Joe Cali and Mark Levinson at Cello, as well as Christopher Hansen at Christopher Hansen Ltd. in Beverly Hills. Both of these stores focused their attention in the early 1990s on the sale of ultra-expensive audio and home theater gear. The art of the demo was at a premium at Cello, where Cali, an actor from “Saturday Night Fever” and many TV shows, expected me to be as entertaining as the system was. We did basically zero advertising and each client who walked through the door was expected to buy something. You had to be sharp to keep your job.

Readers of Revolution Home Theater generally own or soon will own a significant home theater. You are the next generation to keep up the art of the demo for the industry. Over the next few years, dealers will increasingly be more like architects and less like stereo stores of the past. You, with your incredible system at home chock-full of the latest AV technology, can help advance the industry by wowing your friends with the emotion your system can reproduce in terms of music and film playback.

Here are a couple of my rules for a great demo that anyone can do:

1. Treat a demo like it is a menu for a fine dinner. There are a number of courses and a number of different tastes. Not all of them have to be related, but it is cool if you can pick up on trends. You need to think of your guests before you start spinning discs, just as you wouldn’t smoke ribs for your vegan friends. You shouldn’t be playing Metallica’s Black Album for your grandparents, but you might get a standing ovation if you played “Fahrenheit 9/11” as dessert at the end of a demo of your system for your more liberal friends.

2. Do not over-play a demo. Just as it is tacky to pile pasta on a guest’s plate as if you were the head chef at an Olive Garden, don’t sit there and drag out any demo for more than a few minutes. With music, never play a song past the first chorus. At that point, roll the volume down. You goal is to give your guest a taste of what great video and sound feels like, not to convince them to buy a system from you.

3. Preview what you are about to see and hear and why you are playing it. If you are playing Super Speedway on DVD converted down from an IMAX film, make a note of it. If you are playing “Pulp Fiction” from D-VHS (a great format for demos), then make sure your guests know that it is possible to play HD content from what might look to them like a normal VHS player.

4. People trust what they see more than what they hear. When demoing music, do maybe two tracks: one really good mainstream stereo track from DVD-Audio or SACD and then another one in surround. On the audio track, explain to your guests what it is they should be listening for. For example, on a Stevie Ray Vaughn track, point out how Vaughn’s Fender amp hums slightly right before the verse starts. Before a surround sound track, point out what the listener might expect to hear. Physically point at the speakers (if appropriate) to highlight how music is coming out of the rears.

5. Don’t blow people away with how much things cost. While you might have a room full of Wilson, Mark Levinson, Classe or Krell, make sure they know that good speakers can cost as little as $400 per pair. Big HDTV sets have dropped in price from $7,000 to $1,595 and can be bought at Costco.

While you are an ambassador for audio and home theater, be sure not to be a salesman. Inviting people over to watch a football game is a great social event. If people are into it, make your own halftime show that lasts 10 or 15 minutes, which will be far more interesting than listening to John Madden talk about Terrell Owens’ three touchdown catches.

In most cases, AV enthusiasts have spent countless hours researching and learning about everything from audio, video, acoustics, theater seating and lighting control to remote programming and everything in between. Often the barrier that blocks people from getting a topnotch system like yours is fear of the technology. If you hand a man an AMX remote and have his wife work the entire system, trust me, she will be talking about it on the drive home and you will be your buddy’s hero.

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