Bill Leigh is the owner and MD of Auden Distribution. Auden distribute Hegel, Amphion, EgglestonWorks & others
Hello Bill, please introduce yourself, tell us a bit about your history within the Hi-Fi industry and the products you currently distribute.
The Hi-Fi industry was always a draw, even though I didn’t know much about it at the time. In the late 1970’s I would spend most of my Saturday afternoons in Darwen Hi-fi and Record Centre, a small local shop in my town. Listening to albums and finding new music was great back then as it took some work. Pre streaming it was various specialist radio shows and peer recommendations. There was also a record bible in the shop, probably like an analogue version of discogs, it listed all that was available and what was deleted etc. The Hi-Fi bit of the shop was mainly JVC and Bose, both of which made some good products back then. The Hi-Fi showroom was being expanded and the owner asked if I wanted to get involved, I did and that’s where it began, over 40 years ago.
A few years later I moved to Cleartone in Bolton, they were a Linn, Naim dealer as well as other high-end brands. There were also the regular brands such as NAD, Dual, AR, etc. It was also the beginnings of Home Cinema, so I learned quite a lot in those years. Cleartone opened a Sony Centre in central Manchester and I was tasked with running it. One or two good industry friendships were started in Manchester, it was a good few years. Cleartone went through an ownership change and business went pear shaped so the company was sold to Empire Electrical who had premises in that there Yorkshire. They had a big insurance replacement business, and I got involved in repping for them to all the loss adjusters, this was my first taste of being “on the road”. Eventually it all went a bit sour for me, my heart wasn’t in it as I missed the HiFi. A job came up at Mission in the late nineties and I jumped at the chance, met with them, and got the role, Northern Area Sales Manager. Had a great time with one or two rather special people, not all with us anymore. Then once again, in 2005, some strange management decisions resulted in the company going bust and being sold, bought by IAG.
At this point Max Maudstarted Icon Distribution with an agreement to handle Tannoy and he invited me to be an agent for them. Given I had been shafted by 2 companies going bust because of poor business decisions, both of which were obvious, and I had told them so, I decided to take control of my future and become a self-employed agent. That ended amicably with a difference of opinionand I started Auden Distribution in June 2013. The first brand was Lumin, but after a decade adding and removing brands,we now have a great portfolio and I am happy with the brand mix. There will be a couple of additions but currently we have Hegel electronics, Amphion loudspeakers, Audiomica cables, EgglestonWorks loudspeakers, and CAAS Audio electronics. MusicWorks will be officially joining the lineup in the next month or so. There are also a couple of things I am working on,but I can’t reveal details at the moment. If you have heard Auden Distribution at any of the shows, these are the brands we will have been using.
What was it that got you into the Hi-Fi industry as a young man? Do you still have the passion you had back then?
Music was the reason, as detailed in the previous answer. Passion? I remember being at Cleartone in the 80’s and converting requests for music centres in a “proper” system. Dual CS505, Nad3020, Acoustic Research AR18’s was a great combination. You could tell when the customer got it, they relaxed, a smile, then there was no going back for them. That hasn’t changed, it is probably why I enjoy shows so much, showing the products to the public is still enjoyable, so I guess I haven’t lost the passion.
You've seen a lot of changes because of your time working in the hi-fi industry. What have you seen that is good and what have you seen that is bad? What annoys you the most?
It is good that we can now access music pretty much wherever you are, but that has also made it a little less special. The shift away from specialist retailers (some of which have helped push customers away) and putting great store on the views of some strange folks on youtube is not good for the industry and though they don’t know it yet, probably not good for the public. Direct from the manufacturer when the decisions are so subjective is not the ideal way for customers and enthusiasts to buy high quality audio. This will marginalize rather than grow the industry, there must be a better way of utilizing the internet than the various sponsored bloggers and hoof it out cheap merchants we have at the moment. There are some exceptions but not so many.
Retailers that also are distributors or claim to be. When I visit shows around the world, I often have brands tell me they already have a distributor when what they actually have is a retailer. I know why the retailers do it as they then get a better profit margin, but it seems to me they will want to promote their brand over others. Some are principled but I suspect most are not.It isn’t good long term for the brand as it only goes through one retailer which is a shame as people are being denied access to good products.
What drew you to each of the brands you distribute? There's certainly a lot of synergy between them. Tell us a little about them.
The main thing I look for with products is how I react to the music. Yes, there are commercial decisions to take too, I don’t want hobbyists, but fundamentally the gear has got to perform. Coherence and timing are the 2 things I focus on. Amphion and EgglestonWorks are both very coherent and time beautifully. Hegel Amplifiers control the loudspeakers so well and have the rhythm and pace that I like, without sacrificing any of the timing. Audiomica cables are the most coherent and timing correct cables I have ever heard, I have tried others but always come back to them. MusicWorks is my favourite power and isolation products brand, again nothing else produces the same results. They all do work together because it is not just about “can I sell them” for me, I want people to try any of them and feel they have made the right decision. Within reason you can put any of the products from the brands together and it will work.They also need to be good people who I can get along with, most of us want to do business with people we like.
We're aware that at shows you always get fantastic feedback and many people have said that yours has been the best or one of the best sounding rooms. I've often felt that the standard of sound at shows falls bellow my expectation in many cases. As a result it can put people off or give a bad impression. What are your views on this?
Given the days of lots of footfall in stores have long gone, shows are one of the few opportunities we have to put us and our brands in front of the public. I want Auden Distribution and by extension the brands and the dealers to look professional. A simple rack with a couple of pull up banners isn’t really good enough unless we want to look like a model train society, some shows end up looking like a church fete rather than a showcase of professional organisations. The recent AudioShow Deluxe allowed us to stretch our legs and show what we can do with a big room, and it was great to do so. You ask about sound at shows, to me it is obvious you don’t put a massive system in a tiny hotel bedroom space, like at Bristol. Making the system room appropriate is key, not always possible but if you can, you should. For example, Bristol this year was Hegel H120 andV10, Amphion Argon 1, mid-range Audiomica, and a Rega TT, It sounded fabulous. For Deluxe we had a big room, so it was Hegel pre and 2 mono, EgglestonWorks Viginiti, high end Audiomica, and high end digitaland analogue front ends. Both systems equally good in the room they were being used. I have only had one room where we couldn’t get the sound we wanted, I don’t do that event anymore. The brands we distribute are all also fairly room friendly so if we are sensible, we usually get it to sound very good.
I've also noticed that you often use different music and avoid the "audio" albums that we normally hear issuing from so many demo rooms. Can you explain your reasoning here?
There is a lot of joy in hearing a great album for the first time, or the first time in a while. You react to it differently,you listen to the music and can gauge the performance. When you keep using the same track, the emotion of the music disappears. It isn’t all obscure tracks on my playlist, far from it, this last show we had everything form “Mercy Street”, Nitin Sawhney, ViniVici, Dylan, Natalie Merchant, Jackson Browne, Depeche Mode, ZZ Top, Leonard Cohen, Dean Martin, Imelda May…….. Plenty of variety. If I go to a show and the room is playing it safe track after trackI tend to think they are not confident the system sounds good. I do have a couple of drum tracks but tend to only get part way through as the initial wow wears off.
We feel that part of our job as retailers that we have to engage better with our customers in order to keep them entertained and interested. Are we good enough at this as an industry? What can retailers do better?
I believe it is not about retailers or manufacturers/distributors, but it is about what we can do together. Retailers relying on the brands to do all the marketing then complaining when nothing happens, and likewisemanufacturers not doing any marketing but relying on the dealers to develop the brand are both a road to nowhere. We are an industry that thinks everyone is interested in what we do, that is a red herring. We have all done the system at the car dealership weekends and got sweet nothing out of it. We have all got friends round to hear the system who then admit is amazing but the Sonos they have at home is good enough for them. That doesn’t mean wehave to cater only to the enthusiast. There are plenty of people out there who could be converted but they don’t know what they don’t know, sothey are unlikely to go to a specialist retailer and we need to reach out to them. That is why I think shows and dealer events are so important, why we need to put our best foot forward and be professional in how we present ourselves, play real world music, and engage.
What equipment do you own at home and where did your own hi-fi journey begin?
The nature of my work means I do most of my listening in the car or on planes. The Tesla has a great sound system, Tidal and Apple Music are built in and I have made some great discoveries whilst on a 6 hour drive north or the 2 hour drive the Sheffield.Before I go on a long flight I download a cache from Radio Paradise, the rock mix and mellow mix, 3 hours of each, again lots of good discoveries from this. At home I have a simple system, in fact it is my favourite “budget” system, Hegel H120, Amphion Argon1, Audiomica and Musicworks. I used to use Roon but I only have the one system so I use the iOS app called Jplay. I have a number of the surprisingly good Apple HomePods for multi roomduties and I use airplay 2 for them.
Are there any brands that excite you out there in the market?
I believe there is a long way to go with digital playback, even though there are some excellent brands out there already. There are no specific brands I wish I could get, but I am looking forward to both the manufacturers and the show schedule getting back to normal after the lockdowns and innovation really starting to blossom again.
Is there any advice you'd offer to customers who might be reading this article?
Hi-fi should be a considered purchase, if you buy right it will last many years and I believe it to be great value. Trust the retailer, talk to them and you will get the right information. No, they don’t all sell everything, but trust me as someone who has been at this for 4 decades it isn’t easy to convince a dealer to take on your products. If they have it for sale, they believe in it.
Elvis Presley’s Greatest Hits Vol 2
Not sure why volume 2 but Elvis was my first and most important musical influence. Pretty much all my favourite music can be traced back to him somewhere along the line.
Black Acid Soul
This is a great find, a lot of Nina Simone about her style but with her own modern spin. Went down really well at the recent show.
King Georges Hall Blackburn
My memory is a bit hazy from all those years ago but the first I can remember is AC/DC at Blackburn King Georges Hall in 1978ish. It was the first time I had seen a guitar with no cable to the amp. When Angus left stage but was still playing it was like magic. For him to be then on the balcony then back in the standing area on Bon Scott’s shoulders, all the while still playing is something that will never be bettered.
Rival Sons - Rock City Nottingham
Since seeing them in Leeds Cockpit in 2011 this is my Favourite Band. Lost count of how many times I’ve seen them but this gig at Rock City was up there with the best. Not least because of the support band, Dirty Honey. They are superb and pushed Rival Sons to be at the top of their game. A great night.
Work and travelling doesn’t allow for as many gigs as I would like. I was hoping to go to The Teskey Brothers but I can’t make it. I plan to get to more in the rest of 2023.
Finally do you have any plans for Auden that you'd like to share with us?
10 years anniversary this year so I will be announcing something to tie in with that at NWAS in June. Beyond that I will be working even more closely with the dealer network to flesh out and develop some of the ideas I’ve mentioned in this interview.
Thanks for the opportunity to do this.
Moorgate would like to thank Bill for taking part. We'll be adding more interviews over the coming weeks.