Paragon Audio: Bringing the High End to an Audiophile Desert

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Paragon Audio: Bringing the High End to an Audiophile Desert

An Interview with Saudi Arabia’s Prince Abdullah
Before heading back to the U.S., I had an opportunity to sit down with Prince Abdullah in Paragon’s Room 1. He was generous with his time and candid with his thoughts. Normally, a picture would accompany an interview like this but Abdullah prefers not to be photographed. So just envision a tall, slim man in his early-30’s sporting a close-cropped beard.

How did all this get started?
I’ve loved music from a very young age. All kinds of music, from electronic dance music to new age to hip-hop to R&B. I never focus on one genre; if it appeals to me, that’s all I care about. In the mid-90s, I began writing and playing simple compositions. People asked, “Who’s that?” That’s when I decided to start recording what I was writing. So I built a small studio. Over the years I was constantly upgrading the pro audio gear in my studio, and every time I did I heard the difference. That’s how I discovered how much playback gear could affect the musical experience. So, in a way, this all stemmed from my interest in pro audio. 

How did that experience translate to home audio?
The transition began with a home theater project. I was trying to get service in my home from a U.S. company called Prima Cinema, which streams new films in studio quality. When I spoke with them, they said they wanted me not only as a customer but also as an investor and as their dealer in Jeddah. I was interested, and I knew if I was going to do that I would need a suitable sound system for demos and distribution. I wondered if the pro audio company ATC, whose gear I had in my studio, made a 5.1 or 7.1 system. They did, but they already had distribution in the region. Danni met with the distributor, who encouraged him to go to the Munich show to see the bigger picture. I went with him and that’s where I saw, for the first time, the full world of audio. I thought, why don’t we take this even further than home theater? People just have to experience what I’m experiencing here. It evolved from there.

Did you have any doubts along the way?
Not really. It’s an untapped market, so the probability of success is unknown. But I’ve always been very optimistic by nature. Plus, I had a strong gut feeling.

Wait, you did all this on a gut feeling?
You need to remember my passion for music and for what’s possible in the listening experience. I wanted to share that. I did ask many other people their thoughts. Without exception, all my friends and associates encouraged me to go ahead.

And now here we are in this extraordinary new store. Moving forward, are there challenges you face that are specific to the Saudi market?
Well, money isn’t normally an issue here, but the global financial situation may affect us. Some local economists and banks have advised their clients not to indulge in luxury products for the time being. It’s hard to know the actual effect this will have on the market because it’s a rare situation. There’s no telling how people will react to this advice. But as I said, I am a very positive person. Hopefully, it will be the same as in the U.S., where the economic downturn didn’t hurt luxury products. The other main challenge is education and awareness of what sound equipment is capable of delivering. Once people are aware of quality sound, everything else becomes easy.

How do you plan to create this awareness?
The first step is to build a professional team, which we’ve done. Another key will be social media. To generate buzz and raise awareness, we sponsored one of the showcases at the Emmys. We plan many events in the Kingdom. They won’t even necessarily be at the store, but they’ll be representative of the Paragon vision. All these activities are meant to teach people what a sound system can be. The next part will be to make the community comfortable with the prices; to show them that it’s worth spending the money if it’s a whole different experience. To me, it’s worth the challenge.

Why no analog?
We’ll get there. Right now, we’re just starting to expose and educate the market. That’s a big enough task even when the only source is digital. Later, we’ll introduce turntables. But you have to walk before you run.  

Besides the sonic quality of the music, are there other elements you consider part and parcel of the Paragon experience?
The environmental experience is very important. I believe that in order to achieve a goal, you can’t neglect other key factors, or they’ll detract from the focus. The environment is a contributing factor. I’ve tried to create a complementary surrounding, serene enough that you can experience sound in the best way. For some reason, grey and black is what I found most suitable to our identity. It’s elegant and solid, and it appeals to men, who are the dominant buyers here. Another element is to offer the highest level of professionalism and deliverance. Danni and I can’t ensure that, so those next steps can’t be taken without Chris, Roy, and Stirling.

Let’s say Paragon is a huge success. What then? Do you have longer-term plans?
If Paragon, as a company, remains as it is and meets my goals, then I am satisfied. Of course, expansion is something I would look forward to. The more I can expand, the more awareness I can bring. And the better we do here, the wider the expansion. If everything is done right, we can even expand beyond Saudi Arabia. But it has to be done the right way. As long as you can find and hire enough of the right people, then you can expand safely. I won’t expand if I can’t find the right people. I won’t open an inferior branch.

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