A land down under – the inception of DAR Australia

  • My home is girt by sea. I live in what many locals refer to as the lucky country. And there’s no denying it: Australia is a wonderful place to live. And it’s not all snakes, spiders and sharks. For the most part the climate is glorious – no need to don six coats before heading outside to grab a carton of milk from the corner store – and we seem to be better insulated than most countries from global economic disturbances.

    The major downside is that this island is one heck of distance from the rest of the world. The numbers are mind-boggling. By air, it’s 12ish hours to Los Angeles and 9ish hours to Tokyo. Even New Zealand is a minimum of 3 hours away. Sydney is closer to Auckland than Perth.

    One thing many an over-optimistic manufacturer fails to consider when trying to sell their wares into Australia is its comparatively small population. A huge landmass plays host to relatively few people. Latest figures peg the Aussie population at a mere 23.4m people. Compare that with the USA’s 319m for a fuller perspective.

    Consider these facts from another angle: Australia comprises 0.329% of the world’s population, coming in at number 53 in this Wikipedia world rankings table. The USA finds itself in 3rd place with 4.43% of the world’s population whilst (get this) Indonesia grabs 4th position with a not-to-be-sneezed-at 3.5%. Only India and China are more abundant with human beings.

    Little wonder then that in the four years since starting DAR residents of the USA make up the majority of its readership. To think of a website as innately belonging to one country or another is plain silly. Yes, I live in Sydney but by its very nature, DAR as a web magazine has a global reach. Locally designed and manufactured products aside, Antipodean leanings have been held back to a minimum.


    What does he know of England who only England knows? What does he know of the USA who only the USA knows? What does he know of Australia who only Australia knows? Travelling beyond the borders of one’s own backyard is crucial for broadening the mind. That’s as true for hi-fi as is it is for life in general. Travelling is also a lot of fun. This year I’ve covered shows in Japan, Germany, three (!) in the USA and of course Australia. With similar airmile-age planned for 2015, my view on the audio world remains resolutely global.

    There’s a joke doing the rounds: Q. What’s the difference between the USA and Australia? A. About twenty years. Boom-tishhhh! Therein lies another fundamental reason why DAR’s Australian flavourings are mild. New models originating from overseas often take several months to arrive down under. By the time the local distributor is ready to announce their presence, the global news cycle has moved on. That’s not a criticism of Australian hi-fi distributors, merely an example of how the tyranny of distance can impact news coverage.

    Then, last month came the following missive from US reader Josef K:

    “What is wrong with NZ/AU audio products and manufacturing? NZ first, Perreaux begat Plinius, begat Pure Audio. All seem to be the original take off on Class “A”. The first 2 “P” products have been in the US for many years and not much changes except no one stocks them and the prices keep rising. From Plinius, a 10K integrated that does not seem to offer much and can be beaten by many products for much less that offer more!”

    “The Pure Audio is a real joke. How do you enter a crowded marketplace with a pre and monoblocks for over 10K? How many do they expect to sell when a US company sells a good product for under 2K? Also in NZ/AU is there any interest in Green audio products for the future of this world?”

    “In Australia, Burson looks very good but other Aussie goods like Redgum have come and gone in the US because there is no change in what they offer. Remember there are no more two-channel audio stores in most US cities and even when we had stores, Redgum looked weird compared to US or British competitors. I recently came across a 1980 Perreaux Pre. It works but I doubt that I would pay a huge increase in price for their current offerings. Please give me hope for the future of NZ/AU. John”

    Weston Acoustics

    Strong words. I can’t really comment on New Zealand as my only regular manufacturer interaction across the ditch comes from Antipodes Audio. Josef K’s email begs the questions: 1) does the Australian audio scene have an image problem?; and 2) Could broader awareness be improved?

    Regular readers here will be across Redgum’s fresh direction with crowd-funded Chinese-made models but regarding Burson, Josef K might have a point. Burson is a brand that garners considerable attention overseas but less so in their own backyard. Perhaps Burson’s attitude sees them playing purely to the population numbers? Hard to know for sure with the continued absence of street address or phone number on their website.

    Minor niggles aside, there are some terrific audio-related happenings bubbling under in Australia right now. The once legendary Halcro brand has enjoyed recent resuscitation thanks to the South Australia’s Magenta Audio, local importers of Zu Audio, Metrum Acoustics and PS Audio. On the Gold Coast in Queensland, Mike Lenehan’s ML-1 standmount loudspeaker enjoys a fiercely loyal following. In Melbourne, Hugh Dean has been designing seriously good amplifier circuits for many years under the Aspen and Aksa banners. At the very bottom of the Mornington Peninsula, Earle Weston hand-makes some of Australia’s finest valve amplifiers.

    What else? SGR Audio not only design and manufacture a formidable range of amplifiers and loudspeakers, they’ve recently acquired the Loudspeaker Kit brand whose LS4 MKII standmount is apparently an entry-level loudspeaker to be reckoned with.

    As well as importing Consonance, Greg Osborn’s range of loudspeaker designs has kept him in business for almost three decades. Then there’s VAF in South Australia. Just down the road are Krix loudspeakers.

    SGR Audio

    Several of the aforementioned Australian manufacturers keep their pricing competitive by foregoing dealer showrooms in favour of selling direct to the public. But that doesn’t mean local distributors and high street stores are dead and buried. Not by a long shot. These guys also help keep international products flowing into the country, promote brand awareness (with varying degrees of success) and provide local warranty support.

    That said, it’s been almost twenty five years since the eighties waved goodbye. International brand distribution is no longer a game dominated by the big boys. Qualifi remains one of Australia’s largest importers of audio equipment; it channels the likes of Jamo, NAD, Denon, Marantz and Tannoy through an extensive high street dealer network.

    Fresh competition continues to grow from distributors who favour home-based operations. With a lower cost base and the negation of dealer margins, pricing to consumers is usually lower than it would be when handled by one of the big boys. The downside? Unless you’re in the same state, a priori auditions are much harder to come by.

    Sydney’s Krispy Audio imports VPI turntables and Manley Labs products into Australia. Mainman Cameron Pope then sells these products direct to buyers across the country with auditions taking place at his Berowra (NSW) home. It’s a similar story for Boenicke and Trafomatic Audio – each are handled by Audio Addiction whose proprietor Tony Schmidt also chooses to direct sell from his Gold Coast home.


    My point? There’s a lot going on down here that might not be readily apparent to a global – or even local – audience and this article only scratches the surface.

    It’s my intention to change that in 2015. Rather than drastically alter DAR’s largely geographical agnosticism, Australian coverage will enjoy its own corner of the Internet, starting with a DAR Australia Facebook page. ‘Like’ it to see one or two daily posts in your newsfeed. Everything will be presented in an Australian context. If there’s sufficient interest, a DAR Australia website will come next is now live.

    Feel free to make mention of your favourite Australian store, distributor or manufacturer in the comments section below.



    UPDATE January 2016: DAR Australia has been closed due to readership indifference.

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


      • So have I. There are some pretty decent films that find their way out of that part of the world.

        I wonder how many USA expats have chosen Australia. Seems like it might be a good place for a short list.

        Hey, John… how do the girls rate over there?

      • And now, Three Final Hours… 😉

        But seriously you Aussies are putting out some fine cinema. Why not a hi-fi site, eh?

    1. I touched a little bit on this subject in Srajan’s earlier article. How can a country with a population not much more than Canada, support Aussie Rules footy (and 7 other codes of Rugby) played almost no other place in the world but Australia conform to the rest of the world when it comes to listening devices?

      Yet ironically Australia’s greatest ever export (which by the way is not Sheep or Beef or Wool or even GM’s Holden’s) is AC/DC! The most successful export from this country is a band whose immigrant members were not even born here go on to put this country on the map like no other industry we have EVER provided.

      Ladies and gentlemen, we in Australia, have a serious identity crisis. We have very little clue as to who we are, (yes lucky, but how?), who the rest of the world really is, (it’s a long way to the…) and because we are so far away, it takes like timetravel to get there. (I am amazed every time I fly to LA that I actually get there on the same day at a time even EARLIER than I took off from here – Amazing yet true.

      Our identity to the rest of world is confusing at best.

      Paul Hogan is still considered the Australian ideal when it comes to the American perception of us standing in front of some BBQ, yet they would have no clue who Arthur Dunger or Leo Wanker were! Mate those are the greatest Aussie characters of all time yet they are stuck here like in some kind of time capsule.

      How can the Yanks pedal us the likes of Two Broke Girls and we cannot even sell Nigel Lovelace? And do you think the Commonwealth connected even know him any better than the Yanks? NO! We get Down-Town Abbey and decades of Dr. Who here, but do the Brits clamor for the next episodes of Rake? No Way Jose!

      We like to make out as if we are a part of the new Asian equation, yet we only use Bali as a cheap holiday binge-drinking destination and could not find Tokyo with a compass if our lives were depending on it.

      Best example I can think of is, the G20 was just in town and our own PM complained to the leaders of the world about his inability to get a $7 dollar co-pay through government – no leader running the rest of the worlds countries could give a stuff about how much our co-pays are and how does that even begin to fit into geopolitics?

      I think there is a bigger answer to our problem in the PM’s statement. We are perceived by the rest of the world as being big, but by population and our own lucky aspirations, we are generally pretty small minded even if the ‘Shrimp’ are much bigger over here!

      I will end on this for our lucky country; Thomas Jefferson once stated “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

      I think with a few less ‘Dirty Deals’ and some harder work Australia, we will be even luckier – just sayin’.

    2. I love the map of Australia. Very funny. Since I live in Arizona, spiders and snakes are part of the landscape. As someone who has personally traveled to all 48 contiguous U.S. states, I would say there are areas of the Rust Belt in the U.S. like Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis and Cleveland that seem much scarier than anything I’ve read about in Australia.

      That’s not to say those cities are all bad. There are great things in all of those cities too.

      I grew up in Philadelphia, but gradually moved west. First to Dallas / Fort Worth and Austin, and then to Arizona.

    3. JK’s ranting (did you see what I did there?) doesn’t hold much water IMO. I’m not being jingoistic here as I don’t own any Oz hi fi products (or NZ) but complaining that a pre or a monobloc costs $10k then mentioning competing products at half the price don’t a great argument make.

      Most audio review sites both review and salivate over products many times $10k from manufacturers from the US, UK, Germany, Japan and plenty of other places North of the equator. There are esoteric and ridiculously priced products galore; many with singular functions and in the case of SET’s , generally woeful THD.

      Feel free to sneer about a products sound, features, looks, THD, inputs etc but making the point about price when so many, nay most, other heavily reviewed manufacturers have products far more expensive is myopic at best.

      To be honest we could all just agree that the Devialet is the best value, best made, future proof, adaptable and damn right prettiest DAC/Amp combo out there and be done with reviewing either of these categories ever again. But then what would we have to discuss/read in our spare time.

      I for one look forward to being enlightened some more on Oz Hi-Fi . If I could nominate a brand I’d like a little more knowledge on I guess Kyron Audio would be up there and I’ve had a wee obsession with Halcro for a decade now so definitely look forward to any updates re them also.

    4. I’ve traveled all over the place yet somehow never made it to Australia. Must add to bucket list. I’ll make sure I check out the ”Alcoholics” and ”Hot chicks” areas.

      Watched Mule Saturday night. Managed to last ’til the end (I was desperate for entertainment)

    5. You forgot the Kamikaze Seagulls in Phillip Island. Anyone who’s ridden the track (or watched a bike race) there will know what I mean.

    6. I always thought Burson were Canadian. How inept must their advertising agents be?
      I would have seriously considered them on a short list as I was determined to buy local at the time. In the end my choice of Weston Acoustics is ones I’ll never regret.
      That FB page sounds like a good idea John.

      • Yeah, FB allows me to test the waters and doesn’t put too much of a burden on me or the reader. If there’s a thirst for more, I’ll make it a fully-fledged website.

        Weston Acoustics’ stuff is just out of this world.

    7. In that great listing of Aussie audio products you missed the very fine products from Legend Speakers. Dr Rod is passionate about designing great and innovative products, building them entirely in Australia and selling them both domestically and internationally.

      I’m sure it’s a tough gig. Building in China and building in large runs must surely be more profitable. Rod however believes in Australia and his ability to innovate more quickly here.

      • Thanks for the reminder about Dr Crawford – the list wasn’t intended to be exhaustive, just what sprang to mind at time of writing.

    8. As an Aussie, I’m proud that the best hifi site on the planet beams out of Australia.
      Onya, Darko!

    9. I’m probably not qualified to post a comment on this thread but as a resident of the UK who’s only recently started to get involved with the various discussion threads on DAR I had thought I was well informed about all things HiFi, well I was wrong.
      It’s opened up my eyes to the differences between European and other countries exposure to makes and models of kit. It’s much richer than I thought!

    10. Excellent article John. If one scratches just a little below the surface all sorts of great Aussie audio technology pops out, both at the local level and internationally. Like Weston Acoustics, Supratek from WA has a very loyal following and DEQX is perhaps one of the more successful and visible products outside our shores.

      The FB page is a super idea. I try to get around to many of the web-zines as often as I can but time is invariably short. Seeing your brand and posts flash by in my FB feed will be a welcome addition.


    11. Where Australia can do well, as with all sectors, is innovation.

      I share Josef’s point somewhat. We’re never going to have the next Rotel, NAD, Cambridge Audio or Arcam brand. The marketing lead, mid-fi market is full up and the world doesn’t need another Class AB amp that costs twice as much as the competition. I haven’t heard a Plinius, but yeah, there’re plenty of amps under 10k I’d want to hear first. And some of the Aussie speakers mentioned….I’m sorry, they just aren’t very good.

      The US seems to be leading the way in innovation. Brands like Zu, PS Audio, and Wyred 4 Sound are innovating and marketing well. Maybe Burson and Legend just need bigger and better advertising? Our stuff can also sometimes look a bit homemade. Even the DAC/amp thingo on the multi-10K Kyron is pretty fugly:!home_layout_1.html

      Anyway, just ramblings. On the plus side, the number of dealers in Melbourne seems to keep on growing and turntables are selling like hotcakes!

      The site is a great idea John!

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