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May Issue Feature: Behind the Scenes - AudioMobile

5-18-2017 -- The beginning of car audio is rooted in the early 1970s when CB radio and 8-track players were a big deal—before the first sound-off events were staged in the late ’80s.

Out on the West Coast, a movement had started. Folks wanted more out of their cars than the standard sonic fare. A group of enthusiasts had an idea about what needed to be done and started building 12-volt audio amplifiers. This was the backdrop for Audiomobile, launched with industry pioneers Paul Starry and Rich Coe at the helm. 

The company name, of course, says it all. “It is a landscape name,” said Matt Overpeck, Vice President of Audiomobile. “It says exactly who we are—audio and mobile—and it is an absolute legacy brand. Many would say it is the genesis of high-end car audio.”

The original Audiomobile from Costa Mesa, Overpeck said, not only put Starry and Coe on the map, but Larry Frederick and other luminaries like John Bishop, who literally wrote the book on high-end car audio. “They had a technical training manual that they published on a quarterly basis that was the vanguard of teaching retailers about audio and stereo,” Overpeck said.

Audiomobile was not only at the forefront of the high-end car audio evolution then, but has managed to survive being bought, shuttered and re-launched. Today, according to the company’s web site, Audiomobile is fully committed to delivering products that represent a “no compromise” philosophy.

 “We have no Internet sales, we do business with no distributors, we are in some respects the antithesis of your typical car audio brand,” Overpeck said. “In fact, we actually say that we’re not a car audio brand, but a solutions-based audio engineering company that develops products for the automotive platform.”

From terminology like the 6-channel (front-rear sub) architecture to the “amp rack” concept, Audiomobile—according to company lore—brought these technologies to the mobile audio world.

These days the company maintains its standing with targeted product offerings, working exclusively with boutique specialty shops that can handle the kind of installs its products demand, said Overpeck, and which also have the discerning clientele that Audiomobile is interested in courting.

“We have been at CES for the last seven years but we always exhibit off-site because we’re not interested in the typical tire kickers,” Overpeck said, adding that the company also seeks to avoid the drama and excessive costs of CES. “It is a union town so if you want to hang a sign over your booth, it’s 10 grand. The logistics in and out are obscene. It just doesn’t make sense for us since we are incredibly selective about who we do business with. We’re pretty much on an invitation-only basis.”

Turning The Tide

The car audio business over the years attracted many types without much need for credentials, according to Overpeck. “The barriers to entry on any level—manufacturer, retailer, rep—were about as thin as a dime, “he said. “Anyone could get into the game. It attracted a lot of people looking for low hanging fruit. No problem, but then comes 2008 which was a real paradigm shift.”

At that point, people didn’t have a lot of discretionary money, so the only thing that was selling was cheap. “Since a company’s prime directive is to survive, and if the only thing that is selling is cheap, then you’re making cheap stuff,” he said. “As a result that dragged down the average selling price, dragged down reliability, and put a real burden on retailers because then they’re selling to fewer customers at lower prices at lower margins. It was a perfect storm—a triple hit—and it persisted for quite some time.”

Thankfully car audio, and the consumer electronics industry overall, has seen a resurgence and the tide has turned. “People are buying vinyl records and record players again,” Overpeck said. “There is an elasticity to the U.S. consumer buying cycles and mindset. What people have figured out, now that things have stabilized with the economy, is that if they have money to spend—and I am hearing this from lots of retailers—consumers want better quality. They don’t want to buy junk. If you couple that with a car audio industry where retailers are now in the business of integrating into computers on wheels, it has thinned the herd to a large degree.”

Read the rest of the story HERE.

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