I’ve been looking forward to the Fern & Roby Listening Room Open House event for most of the year, pretty much since Eric Franklin Shook and I visited the factory back in the spring and we saw the bare beginnings of the actual room. Christopher Hildebrand had a vision, of course, of creating a showroom right there within the factory where clients could listen to his complete systems, and then walk right through a door and see how everything was made.
When Christopher first told me about the Fern & Roby Listening Room project I thought it was an excellent idea, especially considering his sense of style and aesthetics. When I reviewed the Fern & Roby Raven loudspeakers last month, I focused on the fact that Fern & Roby designs are more than just “lifestyle” products, but rather something that helps to define your personal idea of home. When I had the Ravens in my listening room, I would always have a feeling that they belonged there. They didn’t just enhance the room–they helped to define it.
With the Fern & Roby Listening Room, Christopher has created a space where you can see for yourself how these products create such a special relationship with their owners. The main listening room, and the adjoining display space that leads out to the factory floor, are much more than a dealer listening room that tries to mimic an actual listening room in someone’s house. These are spaces designed to suggest all of the possibilities of ownership.
The Fern & Roby Listening Room is unique in the industry. Many manufacturers have a dedicated listening room somewhere in the factory where you can listen to their gear in all its glory. Some of these rooms might even have that same feeling of home, gently suggested by tasteful interior decoration. The true innovation of this project is that it’s a complete journey for the client. You can listen, be inspired, walk through the factory and watch it all being built, and then buy it and go home with it. It’s a dealer and manufacturer all in one.
I even joked to Christopher that after customers make a purchasing decision in the Fern & Roby Listening Room, he can invite them into the factory where he can build them one right then and there so it can be fresh. Ah, that new turntable smell.
Once a client sees how the product is made, from beginning to end, that enhances pride of ownership, that idea that the client understands how and why the product is made the way it is.
Fern & Roby is certainly an audio manufacturer–of loudspeakers and turntables and audio furniture and accessories such as record weights. But Christopher Hildebrand has also formed partnerships with other manufacturers such as Black Cat Cable, Linear Tube Audio, ModWright Instruments, Soundsmith and Auralic to sell complete systems out of the Fern & Roby Listening Room. If you’ve visited a Fern & Roby room at a high-end audio show, you know that Christopher carefully chooses the partners based on synergy with his own products. I discovered, for instance, that when I matched the Linear Tube Audio Z10 Integrated with the Ravens for my review, the sound jumped up several notches. It just made more sense to my brain.
Many of these partners showed up to the Fern & Roby Listening Room Open House to support Christopher. Here are Chris Sommovigo of Black Cat Cable and Mark Schneider of LTA checking out the display room right before the doors opened to the public for the event. Nicholas Tolson of LTA was also there, supervising the headphone listening rooms in the main lobby and offices.
The Fern & Roby Listening Room Open House was a successful event, with many people traveling as far as 100 miles away (Tidewater to DC Metro) to attend. I just realized this because most of my photographs are suspiciously devoid of people. I took many photographs right before the doors opened, and when I took photographs during the event, people tended to scramble to get out of my way. Christopher asked me later in the evening if I got shots of the crowd, and I said yeah, sure. So sorry, Christopher! Here’s a shot of a couple of people at least, next to a beautiful old fridge that was owned by Christopher’s grandfather. Yes, it was filled with ice cold beer.
If you take a look at the Fern & Roby website, you’ll know that the company is about much more than high-end audio. Christopher is always quick to point out that Fern & Roby is only one part of his larger company, Tektonics Design Group. As I mentioned in my factory tour article in The Occasional, Tektonics focuses on precision machining and carpentry on both small and large scales–such as a gigantic bronze door that was recently installed for a client or these beautiful salt wells designed for serious cooks.
The Fern & Roby Listening Room Open House was, as you might gather, a very unique event. I really appreciate Christopher’s novel approach to high-end audio, which focuses on the personal experience of enjoying beautiful music in your home for the rest of your life. Many dealers adopt this outlook with their businesses, but few have taken it to this degree, or have combined it so fluidly with the manufacturing side. I wish Fern & Roby, Linear Tube Audio, Black Cat Cable, ModWright Instruments, Auralic and everyone involved tremendous success for creating something new and exciting in our industry.
The Fern & Roby Listening Room is located at 702 E. 4th St., Richmond VA. You can make an appointment by calling 804-233-5030.