The Story of Hi-Fi Corner - An Insider Report

Vinyl revival is the flipside to high street downturn for thriving legend of hi-fi

 We are greatly pleased to share this editorial article that has just been published in the Scottish Business Insider. Scotland’s top business magazine.

The story of Hi-Fi Corner… proudly stocking the finest equipment at its new Edinburgh store

The story of one of Scotland’s legendary hi-fi stores could be viewed as a long playing record. A concept album about an independent retailer’s journey to provide the best available sound and vision systems to discerning customers.

This is Hi-Fi Corner's soundtrack, a business that is bucking the retail trend by opening a fabulous showroom near the seafront at Portobello in Edinburgh.

Side one is how Dr Colin Mackenzie built the Edinburgh-based company, with a little help from his friends, the legendary Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn Products, and Graham Tiso, the mountaineer and outdoor retailer, which delivered audio systems to music aficionados who knew the difference between a woofer and tweeter.

The company was a pioneer for the arrival of the compact disc, the first high-definition televisions in collaboration with Pioneer, the first public demonstration of Super Audio CD and Mackenzie created the Scottish Hi-Fi Show which was held in the Post House hotel and latterly in Murrayfield Stadium.

But then came the arrival of the iPhone and music streaming. It was a hard time to sell hi-fi systems.

Side two begins in 2007 when Colin’s son Struan, 33, who has worked in the shop since the age of 12 as a Saturday boy, takes over the business and rescues it from near disaster as the Edinburgh trams fiasco devastates West End businesses. It was to lead to Hi-Fi Corner’s move to its state-of-the-art audio and home cinema rooms in Joppa-by-the-sea.

“We almost went bust when the tram works prevented people coming into Rose Street, and we switched back to Haddington Place at the top of Leith Walk, where we started out originally," said Colin, now chairman.

"Now Struan has taken the business in this new direction as a multi-million pound business. It’s been his vision and effort and I’ve very proud of him."

While Hi-Fi Corner, established in the 1970s, has its new premise in Joppa, ideally situated with a Lothian Transport No 26 bus stop outside the door, it is also a stalwart retailer in Falkirk, where manager Paul McMahon has run the store for 20 years. 

In those early days, the store was an Aladdin's showroom where stereophonic buffs would buy their Linn Sondek turntables, Quad amplifiers, and Acoustic Research speakers. Vinyl records were still ruling the album charts.

Vinyl has made a remarkable comeback and can be enjoyed on a Technics SL-1000R turntable, at around £14,000, but other trends are cordless and integrated systems built into walls, switched on by a smart phone, although if you prefer an affordable ‘high-end’ system there is the dCS Network Bridge streamer, at £3,250, Chord Hugo TT2 DAC, at £3,999, the PrimaLuna EVO 400 tube integrated (£4,599) and Harbeth Super HL5 loudspeakers (£3,895), all for around £15,754.

Inside Hi-Fi Corner's new Portobello store with one of its listening rooms

Struan recognises it was a bold decision to move out of the city centre.

“I was hesitant to move away from the high street because I was always mindful that being in the centre we were exposing passers-by to good quality audio equipment," he said

"But we still think we made the right call because we’re still reasonably accessible in a busy residential area and we now have six demonstration rooms, one just for trying out headphones and another for home cinema.’’

“People are travelling from all over the UK to visit us. Our first customer was from Manchester and we have been delivering in London and Norwich on a regular basis. We are focusing on our face-to-face customers, however the space and loading facility will give us an opportunity to expend our internet business as some point.’’

Visitors have travelled from the south to listen to the vibrancy of a Naim Uniti Nova (£4,249) with Tidal streaming played through Spendor A7 speaker (£3,200). They’ve had visitors come and listen to the Yamaha NS-5000 loudspeakers, which are rare in the UK, while others are keen to hear how B&W 804 D3 loudspeakers sound at high volume in a home setting.

While Hi-Corner sells cordless and built-in audio-visual systems up to £80,000, Struan does not like the term ‘high end’.

He said: “Our products are accessible to everyone to hear and we’re not elitist. We’re just about getting products in front of people that will bring them a lot of enjoyment. So if a Sonos sound bar works for somebody then that’s absolutely fine. Whether it’s a pair of large Wilson Audio Sasha DAW speakers [£42,999], our philosophy is to show people what is achievable for them.’’

While many other small retailers have given up, Hi-Fi Corner’s move into its 8,500 sq ft Joppa premises, and a selection of audio kit which Struan says is unprecedented in hi-fi stores across Europe, is a commendable move.