The history of Audio T
Audio T was started by John Bartlett in 1966. Originally called Audio Technica it rapidly dropped the "echnica" when the Japanese company of the same name appeared. John negotiated a good fee for giving up Technica. Nothing ever replaced it!
Originally, Audio Technica was a part time activity. Adverts were placed in The Gramophone for equipment described as ex-dem or display. It was 100% brand new, however, as brand new equipment was not allowed to be sold at discount prices. John realised there was a gap in the market and published a directory of all the equipment that was available. It specified all the features and was accepted as a reference guide by other dealers.
In 1968 Audio T moved from John's home to the top floor of Dryden Chambers off London's Oxford Street, near Tottenham Court Road. All the stock had to be carried up four tall flights to the store and carried down again by staff for the customers. The building can be seen in Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy" and was originally a Victorian brothel! The picture on the right is taken from the film. The shop operated from the building at the back of the picture.
The company made its mark as an individual shop, mainly staffed by students, that was not afraid to speak its mind even though it cost business. If a product wasn't up to scratch they would have it independently tested and voice the results. It didn't matter how big and respected the companies were (there was a famous argument with Leak at the time).
John invested in his own test lab and offered on the spot test reports on customer’s purchases. Staff part timers from Imperial College included Derek Scotland and ‘I’ve’ got noooo time’! service engineer Philip Swift. Swift and Scotland then teamed up professionally at Lentek and went on to found Audiolab.
Always trying to find better and more reliable equipment, Audio T was willing to give small companies such as Spendor and Cambridge Audio a chance and this is what made it so successful. Scotland had recruited student Martin Colloms (Regents St Poly) to run the test lab in 1971 and he later co-founded Monitor Audio with Mo Iqbal and yet another Audio T staffer, Mike Beeny the Cambridge Branch manager. John Bartlett also fixed an introduction for Colloms to see the editor of Haymarket’s Popular Hi-Fi title (to become What Hi-Fi) and we know where that led.
Needing more space the shop moved to West Hampstead in 1972 where it continued to be Britain's most innovative retailer, offering such firsts as direct cut discs, optional five-year warranties and full test reports on amplifiers sold. John was unusual in as much he did not see other dealers as competition. In fact he was the first to advertise all the other local dealers in an advertisement. Another innovative feature was the fact that Audio T closed on Mondays. The notorious Midnight Sales were a renowned feature of this period. Audio T was a very unusual company - unconventional hours, dress and views - and people loved it! Even in these early days it was branching out: Audio T Cambridge started in 1971 and Audio T Windsor in 1974. But this expansion didn't last and ultimately John sold out to concentrate on helping people with learning difficulties, something he did until 2001.
Tony Jones picked up the baton and expanded both Audio T and AT Labs through the 1970's and 80's. Originally planned as an external service department, AT Labs quickly became a major retailer in its own right and continues today as our branch in Chase Side, Enfield just yards from the original shop. In 1990 Tony joined with Oxford retailers Absolute Sound and Video and the current Audio T group of fourteen branches was created.
In October 2002 Audio T took over the running of the three Jeffries Hi-Fi stores along the South coast (Brighton, Eastbourne and Portsmouth). Founded in Eastbourne in 1935 by Edward Jeffries, the stores had an enviable reputation in the towns they served. In 1978 the company was taken over from Edward Jeffries son John by Kevin and Alison Maxfield, who ran the company until September 2002.
In September 2008 Audio T merged with like-minded companies, Audio Excellence and Practical Hi-Fi. Now with 14 physical stores and an online store Audio T is able to offer its goods and services to customers across the United Kingdom.
Through the years Audio T has had a legion of well known customers, particularly musicians, who, we believe, appreciated its blend of innovation and honesty. Those you may have heard of include: Emma Watson, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Noel Gallagher, Justin Hawkins (The Darkness), Paul Potts (Winner of Britain's Got Talent 2007), Bonnie Tyler, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith of Underworld, Dr Karl Jenkins, Julian Mendelsohn (Record Producer), Jay Kay (Jamiroquai), Will Young, Russell Watson, Mark Potter (Elbow lead guitar), Bernard Sumner from New Order, Mani (Stone Roses), Joe Jackson, John McVie of Fleetwood Mac, Gary Brooker of Procal Harum, Elton John, Keith Moon, Vivian Stanshall, Keith Emerson, Brian Davison of the Nice, Sid Vicious, Kevin Rowland, Ian Maclagan of the Small Faces, Russ Ballard and Colin Blunstone of the Zombies, Leo Sayer, Johnny Rotten and, in a different vein, Leopold Stowkowsky the conductor. Non musical customers include Jamie Oliver, Jon Motson, Graeme Hick (England and Worcestershire cricket player), Rowan Atkinson, Nigel Benn, Burt Kwouk, Andrew Sachs, Matt Lucas, Dennis Healey, Stanley Baxter, John Williams, Terry Gilliam, Sir Roger Bannister and a certain Farad Azima - now well known as the founder of Mission.