Audio Research’s Val and Sheree Cora Tell All, Part 2

Audio Research’s Val and Sheree Cora Tell All, Part 2

Read the first part of the interview here.

Prices listed in US$.

As the new owner of Audio Research, Val Cora has vowed to keep the iconic American manufacturer at its current location in Maple Grove, Minnesota, while he and his wife, Sheree, will still run their high-end Acora Acoustics speaker business in their hometown of Toronto, Ontario. I asked the two during our Zoom interview if there were any plans for them to move to Minnesota.

“No, we’re happy in Toronto,” Val said. “Acora Acoustics is a Canadian company with products made in Toronto and it’s not moving down to Minnesota. We’re staying up here.

“The employees who are in Minnesota are very good at running Audio Research,” Val continued. “I still need to be in daily meetings with them, but me and you are doing that right now over Zoom. You’re in Montreal, I’m in Toronto, and we don’t have a problem. I do the same thing with them; I speak to them in the morning and at night.

“Would it be different if I was physically there?” he asked rhetorically. “I’m sure it would be, but the majority of the stuff I need to do for Audio Research can be done daily with Zoom meetings or telephone calls. I may go down there for a week if we’re releasing prototypes or products, or for sonic evaluations or product development. Or we may have products shipped here [in Toronto] for testing in one of our two facilities. There’s no rule set in stone.”

Will he play a role in the design of Audio Research products?

“Absolutely. 100%,” he said.

Are there new products in the works?

“Products are definitely coming up,” Val said. “Our target is to put out 2 to 3 products a year. One of the downsides with Audio Research is it hasn’t put out a lot of products in the last 3 to 5 years. It has a fantastic line, and that’s part of the dilemma: how do you develop products that are better than those already there? It’s a real challenge. But I believe we’re meeting that challenge on both our design and engineering sides.

Audio Research i50 integrated amplifier

“We’re going to expand the line,” he continued. “I think the brand got shoehorned by [previous owner] McIntosh Group when they decided Audio Research would be a complement to McIntosh and needed to fit in their dealer strategy within specific price ranges.

“I’m taking all those limits and caps off Audio Research. The company is going back to being focused on being the best audio company on the planet, bar none. I’m not saying we have to design a preamp and it has to cost x-amount of dollars. That’s never been my philosophy. My philosophy is let’s design the best preamp we can, and then let’s trickle down that technology to more affordable products.”

Like its other products, was Audio Research’s most-affordable product in its line, the i50, built in the US?

“100%”, said Val. “Even the base $5500 model, on which the company made absolutely no profit, was made in the US. It’s probably what caused (the bank to call in the loan). Most of the stuff that used to be done offshore got brought back to the US, which raised the company’s costs. Those were business decisions made before I came on board so it’s maybe unfair for me to discuss this, but a Reference 6SE preamplifier in 2017 or 2018, before COVID, was selling for $18,000. I think it’s now selling for $19,500. That’s a $1500 difference, when every other brand raised their prices during the same period by 30% to 50%. That’s an issue, especially when you’re trying to maintain production in the US.

Sheree Cora with the Acora Acoustics flagship VRC speaker

“The i50, which is American-built with all American parts, should sell for at least $8000,” said Val. “Selling it for $5500 was a giveaway. Audio Research’s marketing plan was to sell the amp as a loss leader to get new people to buy Audio Research. It’s great, in theory, if you have a lot of money behind you to put out something you’ll make no money on to get the brand name back out there. Instead of putting $50,000 to $100,000 a year on advertising, you can give away that money with a loss leader like the i50, but you need to have money to be able to do that. It doesn’t look good at the bottom of a bank statement when you’re losing money or barely breaking even on your biggest-selling product.”

At this juncture, Sheree lobbed a question at me that caught me off guard: “What would you like to see from Audio Research in the future?” “I don’t know,” I said, feeling a little flummoxed. “I’d like to see the company thrive.”

“I think what Sheree meant,” Val politely interjected, “was what kind of products would you like to see from Audio Research?” Again proving I wasn’t used to being the interviewee, I went off on a tangent about making $15,000 products and staying away from the budget market. What I wished I had said—and maybe it’s not too late—was something more selfishly personal: I’d like to see Audio Research build a class-A amp.

“Things are going to get better, Robert,” Val said. “You’ll see. I think people are going to be surprised. We even have something special planned for the i50 this year. Things are going to get exciting at Audio Research.”

I look forward to it, Val and Sheree. Thanks, and Godspeed.

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