Audio Connection | A Visit to a Local Audio Shop by your Roving Reporter Dr. Matt Clott
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name…
And they’re always glad you came…”
Founded in 1980, Audio Connection in Verona, New Jersey, has been owned and operated by John Rutan since 1989. It’s what I refer to as an anti-boutique; it’s a lived-in mess, entropy in motion, a place filled with more LPs and CDs than gear (and there is a lot of gear). If there ever were a stereo store version of Cheers, Audio Connection is it. John has the friendly demeanor and abundance of worldly advice of Sam Malone. And Maestro Nick, John’s second-in-command, is an audiophile version of Coach, if ever there was one (the endearing qualities, not the clueless ones—and replace Coach’s limitless knowledge of baseball with classical music). John knows everyone by name and greets every customer, reviewer, and rep with the same exuberance and warmth. He sees a new face as a new friend, not a potential buyer. This casual atmosphere has resulted in a huge customer base that is passionately devoted to John, his shop, his selection of gear, and his attitude towards the hobby. The lines he carries are selected 100% on sound, support, and performance, and profitability takes a back seat to value and musical enjoyment. John does a great job of adapting to his clients’ own style of listening, yet provides almost imperceptible guidance to help each put together a wonderfully synergistic system, without ever feeling like John’s done more than offer subtle suggestions.
John’s core equipment is a list of lines that focus on customer service, quality, value, and musicality. Vandersteen, Proac, B&W, Rotel, NAD, Audio Research, Aesthetix, AudioQuest, AMG, Berkeley, Magnepan, Belles, Rega, HRS, Rogue, VPI, Aurender, Innuos, Bryston, CAD, Clear Audio, Quicksilver, Cardas, Hegel, and Quadraspire, to name a few. He has been a dealer for many of these brands since he took over the store in ’89. “I need product lines that make me fall in love with the music, and I need to know that I can work with them and that they will work with me. If they let me down, I let my customer down, and I can’t have that.” There are five listening rooms resembling your average family room, office, or den, as opposed to clean, custom-designed listening rooms. Don’t let their lived-in look fool you, though. John has made sure that each room sounds terrific, by using a combination of treatments and household items like plants and well-placed furnishings. As a result, your audition will give you a solid idea of what the equipment will sound like in a real-world environment. And John or Nick personally sets up all of the larger system sales, and are happy to help with setup of most everything purchased.
The focus at Audio Connection is exactly what the name implies. John wants to help each client make a connection with the music. Listening sessions are casual, laid-back, low key, and low pressure. John is as excited about demoing a $2300 Rotel/B&W system as a statement $100k+ Audio Research/Vandersteen system. The demos always sound great, and frequently include a story about the gear, the music, the designer, or a life lesson from John’s years as a dealer or his wonderful multi-cultural marriage. His fund of knowledge of the gear, the hobby, the technology, and the design is astonishing; yet, he shares that knowledge in casual conversation without a hint of condescension or arrogance.
I experienced a perfect example of John’s approach three weeks ago, when I went to Audio Connection to hear the new Vandy Kento loudspeaker with matching Vandy monoblocks, and the Innuos Statement music server. Richard Vandersteen has always made gear that conveys the music—gentle, refined, passionate. The Kento takes the attributes of a Quattro and brings them very close, indeed, to those of a top-line Model Seven Mk2. Natural harmonics and decay, insane dynamics, controlled low-frequency extension, and soundstage layering that whisked me away to that special place we audiophiles go to when the presentation is just right. The synergy between amps and speakers bordered on black magic. And then we were listening to a smaller system John had set up on the opposite side of the room, consisting of Belles stereo amp and preamp, Proac speakers, and a more affordable Innuos server with built-in DAC. John was clearly excited about the combo he was showing me, because I was just getting into the Vandy side of the room when the music started coming from behind me, and I had to quickly rotate my chair 180 degrees to point my ears in the direction the music was now coming from. The whole system cost less than the Kentos alone, and yet it was musical, engaging, and affordable, proving that John loves what he does and is very good at it. Not that John wasn’t excited to show me the Vandersteen system, quite the contrary. Oh, and I got advice on what vitamins to take, as well. John is 15% intellectual, 60% seasoned audiophile, 3% guru, and 35% short-attention-span, over-exuberant 6-year-old. And yes, I do know that equals 113%. Because John is a 113% kinda guy.
“I’m not looking to blow your doors off when I show you a demo…. I’m helping you make a long-term emotional connection.” He explains that “spectacular” is fleeting. It becomes fatiguing and lacks long-term stability. “So many of my clients are overcome by ‘the hunt,’ they lose sight of the true goal.” In many ways, John is the epitome of man’s transition from hunter/gatherer to stationary agrarian. Invest in your location, put the time in to sow the seeds, reap the crop, and you gain stability and lifelong sustainability. Otherwise, we are on an endless loop of hunt, eat, move on….. more commonly referred to in our circles as “the audiophile roller coaster.”
Audio Connection is a place everyone should experience. When COVID is not a thing, John frequently hosts get-togethers, new equipment announcements, and, on occasion, beta-testing of gear that’s not yet available. There is always great music, great equipment, great people, and proof positive that this hobby has a social element that many of us find as important as the gear and the music. Johnny focuses on creating that emotional connection that draws us to our systems and holds us there for hours, days, months, and years. He’s about human connections, not closing the deal.
John always suggests you bring your wife or girl with you, since they usually migrate towards the long-term connection, and “see past ‘spectacular’ better than we do.“ And John’s greatest piece of advice? “Give your gal or guy a hug, if they ask for it or not. They need one. “
Stop by and say hi. You will be glad you did. And if your name is Norm or Cliff, even better.
Tags: AUDIO CONNECTION
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