In Ireland, there is one audio store that – above all – has come to represent all things ‘hi-fi’ and that is Cloney Audio. Cloney Audio opened for business in 1966 when Noel Cloney returned from a successful career in the audio business in London as manager of Teletape’s shop on Edgware Road. It was a pioneering move since there was little consciousness of real hi-fi in Ireland and no local manufacturers. Noel drew on his UK experience to secure the exclusive agency for Bowers & Wilkins loudspeakers: Noel’s first exclusive agency. The business blossomed from there, always taking an eclectic approach based fundamentally on an in-depth appreciation for music in all its forms.
Since then, the business has grown enormously with Noel’s sons joining as the business expanded on the audio front with Noel’s son Ivan. In addition, Noel’s son Alan runs the burgeoning custom install operation. We spoke with Noel and the family team at Cloney Audio about what it’s like to have more than 50 years of good audio in Ireland.
What brands/products do you stock?
In addition to Bowers and Wilkins, we represent many long-standing brands such as Arcam, Spendor, Creek, Quad, SME, Naim, Meridian, Harbeth, and Pass Labs. We also represent Absolute Sound’s brands including Constellation Audio, Audio Research, Krell, and Sonus faber. We also represent a range of brands from Europe and further afield including Devialet, Lavardin, Clearaudio, Quadral, Van den Hul, Ansuz, Micromega, Jadis, Dual, NAD, and Stax. In many cases, we are the sole Irish importers for these great products.
What inspired you to get into the industry?
Noel: My first job included testing transistors and quality-controlling circuit boards, while at night I did my City & Guilds Radio and TV servicing. Then, while visiting a friend of my father’s, I heard my first hi-fi system: a Collaro turntable, Williamson amplifier (home made), and a single GEC metal cone speaker housed in a home made cabinet. After that the path was clear. My time in London also gave me access to the Mecca of music, from Ronnie Scott’s to the Proms at Albert Hall.
Ivan and Alan: having been surrounded all our lives by a great music collection played on an endless selection of great hi-fi, we could but only follow in our father’s footsteps!
What music do you listen to when doing a demo?
At the end of the day, it’s important that customers get to audition a system on music that they know and are comfortable with. Our own choice of music is eclectic; from Classical through Jazz, Folk, and Rock. The most important thing is that the music is well played and the recordings are well engineered. There is no point in trying to evaluate a system on recordings that have little dynamic range or obvious distortions. The choice of music should provide a level playing field for the system to work from.
What advice you can give when looking to improve/upgrade your system?
First, find a dealer with a good track record and a varied range of brands. And most importantly, find a dealer who will listen to you and who is open minded rather than ideological. The dealer is there to serve the customer and not the other way round. Second, take your time and let the system and the music do the talking. A well-chosen dealer will be interested in a long-term relationship in providing time to audition, home installation support, and faith in their products when it comes to the trade-ins that are an inherent part of building up a system.
What has been your biggest influence?
Noel: Undoubtedly, the Quad ESL 57 and the sound of live music. Peter Walker’s original masterpiece was decades ahead of its time and provided a real glimpse of the almost infinite possibilities to improve recorded sound. Live music, and unamplified music in particular, is still an absolutely essential reference. If one just listens to electronics, one ends up with a distorted perspective where the vantage point is constantly shifting.
Ivan and Alan: Noel obviously! But also playing both acoustic and electric guitar.
Stereo or home theatre, or both?
Noel: Definitely both. Having studied TV repair, I was always interested in the visual side of things. With the growth of home theatre it made sense for us to expand the business into that field. As Alan has a Masters degree in Engineering, we also had the talent base to take on more advanced projects involving high levels of system integration. That work has taken us all over Europe on land and sea, from yachts in the Mediterranean to properties in Istanbul. But two-channel audio absolutely remains the heart of the business. Without relentless pursuit of the best possible two-channel sound, we would never have developed the critical listening skills and the roster of products that we can deploy in two-channel and home theatre systems.
CD, DAC, or streaming, or all three?
Ivan: Again, all three. We still sell a lot of CD players including those from Esoteric, which we think are pretty much the best in the business. But streaming is clearly going from strength to strength and does give access to higher resolution files. The future is going to involve an increasing convergence between DACs and streamers, but the better CD players often feature very capable DACs in their own right, offering the best of both worlds for customers, many of whom have large CD and SACD collections.
Where do you see the industry going?
Noel: The industry has changed a huge amount in the past ten to fifteen years. We’ve seen the revival of vinyl, which we have enjoyed hugely. But, we’ve also seen a huge amount of competition for customer’s attention from other forms of electronic entertainment, including home cinema. We’ve also seen changes in how people listen, with mobile devices and headphones making a huge impact. One thing I’ve learned from over 50 years in the business is that one has to embrace change. The home entertainment business has become so diverse that it will be very difficult into the future to survive by focusing exclusively on two-channel. It’s a bit like cars: and if Porsche and Lamborghini can continue to build supercars on the back of their sports utility vehicles sales, then there’s a lesson there for the continued success of hi-fi dealers, too!
Address: 55 Main Street, Blackrock
Dublin A94 W4F3, Ireland
Tel: +353 1 2888477