While many enterprises are spawned by ambitious business minds with financial gain being the main driving force, some endeavours are the result of a dynamic individual who has been incentivised to transform a passion into a business’ core purpose. Loving the fundamental business mission, and with a healthy dose of tenacity and acumen hopefully, will result in success and financial comfort. In the case of Sound Gallery, proprietor John Ong’s passion for music, and his sheer drive and pleasure to see others enjoy it too, has resulted in an invitingly cosy and product choice-rich stop where a customer’s audio journey can take a leap forward.
John has a wealth of audio knowledge and industry experience. He has come from the ranks of enthusiasts with a deep love of music. He has built an enviable industry-wide reputation and, over the years, has accumulated extensive knowledge from his involvement at all levels – from importation, distribution and across the retail spectrum. Now, as the main man at Sound Gallery, John Ong’s keen to share his deep passion, love of music and a great cup of coffee with customers from the store’s McKinnon, Melbourne location where he’s a conduit to some of the best and biggest names in Hi-Fi.
During my visit to Sound Gallery, I conducted an interview with John and, seeing the store is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of high-end audio products, I knew I needed to find out more.
Edgar Kramer: John, what criteria or process do you use to select products to stock?
John Ong: Firstly, I do not stock anything that I personally have not tested, heard or dislike. A brand tells a lot of story and I believe every brand exists for a reason. But I do have my own set of criteria before I can recommend it to my clients. This way I can then justify the equipment’s price, quality, build and sound.
EK: You have been involved in high-end audio for many years. Can you provide a short synopsis of your colourful experience?
JO: I was a very annoying kid when I was young and always asked “why?” That basically made me who I am in terms of my journey in audio. Anything that makes a sound, I am interested in and want to know how it works and why it works. I worked in a retail shop part time while I was studying so I could play with audio equipment that I couldn’t afford.
EK: Sound-wise, what do you personally look for in a good stereo system?
JO: Music is a very personal experience. It differs from one person to another. I personally just want to be transformed or experience the ambience or atmosphere when a recording is being played. For instance, when I listen to the Harry Belafonte Live at Carnegie Hall album I simply want to be in the audience.
EK: And in terms of design and engineering?
JO: There are so many good designs in audio, especially in this day and age, but the most important thing to me is the voicing. The designer, or whoever makes the final decision on a product, has to know what he wants to achieve and, again, everyone is different hence so many different products in the market to cater for different taste.
EK: What is the newest brand arrival at Sound Gallery?
JO: ATC Loudspeakers is my latest selection for Sound Gallery. The company has been around since 1974 lead by Billy Woodman who is actually an Aussie! I always admire the company’s belief and direction which has been consistent from its inception until now. They are involved in the production of both residential and professional loudspeakers. Not many companies can make that statement. Just look at the client list on their website, even Pink Floyd, whom I’m a big fan of, used their speakers!
EK: Is there a particular product that you are very excited about?
JO: Weiss is a brand I love and respect a lot. They are one of the pioneers in digital audio in both the consumer and professional space. Their latest DAC501 and DAC502 mark a new milestone in the digital age, in my opinion. They feature a DAC, renderer, Room EQ, Creative Equalisation, De-Essing and more. Remember I mentioned voicing before? Daniel Weiss’ product does not add nor take away anything from the original digital signal. Now that is a very hard thing to do in my honest opinion, the only question is, can you handle the truth?
EK: If you have a single bit of advice for a customer, what would that be?
JO: I often have customers telling me what they have read in a magazine or online regarding products and asking for my opinion. My advice is quite simple, you are not the reviewer. You do not have the same ears, room nor the rest of his setup during the review. Do not just take his word for it, listen to the equipment yourself and judge it yourself. A reviewer can only write what they hear or experience in their environment but there is so much more that can affect the sound so read between the lines.
EK: Is there an aspect of the industry in general that has you excited?
JO: Very simple and easy answer; the people who are music lovers! All my clients are people who genuinely love playing their music, whether it is for leisure or serious listening. I get excited when clients visit and have a thorough chat about their music journey. That is the reason I love what I am doing. Music is a universal language after all.
EK: What can audio enthusiasts expect from Sound Gallery when they walk in to the shop?
JO: A very friendly and no rush experience. I like to communicate with all my clients and know them better so I can tailor a custom system for them. A system that suits their environment, taste and budget. All I ask is please expect to spend some time with me, coffee is served while we chat in a relaxed environment.
I can verify all of the above, including the coffee which is rather good, I must say.
Melbourne’s Sound Gallery is the retailer for AMG and Oracle turntables, electronics from D’Agostino, Gold Note, Naim, Vitus Audio, Weiss; speakers from KEF, Magico, Marten Design, Wilson Benesch; cables from TARA Labs, HiDiamond and accessories from Stillpoints, TAOC, just to name a few. For a full list of brands stocked at Sound Gallery, please visit the store’s website (details below).
… Edgar Kramer
24 McKinnon Road
McKinnon VIC 3204
+61 3 9578 8658
+61 403 368 755