I arrived early, which isn't usually a wise decision with Angie. In over 30 years of business meetings with her, never before had I succeeded in scheduling a morning one. Angie burns brightly later in the day, and works when others sleep. But today, she graciously squeezed me into a busy schedule, and we found a space where we wouldn't be interrupted. This task was aided by the fact that there are so many sound demo areas at Angie's Audio Corner in Richmond Hill, ON, just north of Toronto.
Angie is an icon of Canadian high-end audio. She is the consummate entrepreneur, having founded American Sound and Angie's Audio Corner. And she is one of the rarest birds in a business in which everyone has to scratch their beards to name other women. Naturally, Angie is on my short list of industry luminaries. And like most industry leaders, her personal life and business life are connected at the deepest level.
As a young girl, Angie and her father bonded over music. He was key in igniting her passion for great audio. "After bedtime, my father used to put records on the console and play them... loud! As I came out of my room, he would sit me down next to him and we'd listen together. My mother wasn't into it. My sister wasn't into it. So I became his favourite listening partner. My brother Joe wasn't even born yet."
When she started working at National Sound on Queen St. W. in Toronto, Angie quickly learned that she could achieve great things with demonstrations. So she insisted that they convert the back office into a sound room. Angie hung a pair of Bose 901s (then called the Continentals) on chains, and began to import Classé when the brand's co-founder Dave Reich was there. "At home, we had a BGW 1,000 watt amp with the big Epicure towers, and a Nakamichi Dragon tape deck."
Expanding on the Queen St. W. store, Angie opened multiple locations, including one in the Charles St. Promenade, very close to competitor Bay Bloor Radio. One of her fondest memories involves Bay Bloor's founder, Sol Mandlsohn. "He would come over to visit me and read his poetry as we sat in the little cafe. Sol also gave me tips, like what to say to a client when they'd ask for a brand that we didn't carry. I still use his advice to this day."
Angie opened her own location at Spadina and Dundas St. W. under the name American Sound of Canada at the beginning of the ‘80s. "People still give me grief over that name. But it's easy to remember and easy to pronounce. At the time I named it, most of the high-end brands were American. But of course, I am Canadian-owned and operated.
"Back in the early ‘80s," she recalls, "a first big step for me was the Chicago show. I'd never been on a plane before that. I had braces and I was only 22 years old. I fell in love with the sound that was coming out of one room in particular: Dave Wilson's WATTs, Jeff Rowland Model 5 and 7, and the Coherence Preamp. I drove the gear back to Toronto in my Dodge Caravan."
Angie has loved meeting many of the great innovators who have left an indelible mark in this industry. "I met one of the giants, Mark Levinson, at the New York Show, and got to visit his loft in NYC. I remember telling Mark that Dave Reich thought his knobs were ‘orgasmic' on the Cello pre-amp/eq."
I pressed for Angie's interests outside the business. "I love to give back and do fundraisers for the Ewing Sarcoma Cancer Foundation. I'm into my dogs, and have had many over the years. But for me, it's all audio. I'm a workaholic. I live my life vicariously through my customers, and it's exciting to see each new generation fall in love with great sound. Now I'm seeing my original customers from 40 years ago bring in their sons/daughters, grandchildren, and friends."
Her customer focus brings her closer to them. "I'm seeing third generations coming in now. The tough part is when you see your customers pass away. Or the kids or wife ask me to sell their systems for them." A famous audio reviewer came in once and told Angie that his family was pushing him to move out of his house and to a retirement home, so he needed something to fit in a small room. "I could see nothing but sadness in his eyes. So I showed him a way to stay in his home longer because I knew how much audio meant to him, and I thought about myself in the same position."
Today, Angie has a new project being built in the annex coach house beside Angie's Audio Corner. As I interviewed her, Audio Solutions By Design was taking shape and will be ready by the end of November. "I want to show the high-end systems I can offer that will integrate with lifestyle at home. People can bring their whole family and they'll be able to visualize what a system will look like in their own homes."
As I left the store after our interview, I looked up over the door. There, I saw a black and white photograph of Angie's dad standing next to his console. I wondered how many systems Angie has sold already, and will continue to sell, to bring families together over music.