Located in the heart of New York City, the HARMAN Experience Store offers visitors a glimpse into the musical world of HARMAN and transforms how customers interact with audio products. As a state-of-the-art audio showroom, the Experience Store offers a place where music-lovers of all ages can come to learn more about creating the ideal audio environment at home or on the go. We recently sat down with Jamie Feuss, Director, Retail Store Experience for HARMAN, to discover his best tips on how to listen.
Q: When you’re providing tours of the HARMAN Experience Store in New York City, the passion you have for HARMAN products and for creating an amazing audio experience in general, is palpable. What brings out this passion and how has your passion grown over the years?
A: Growing up, my parents were very musical. Their passion and love for music and the arts made an impression. I love to sing and listen to all kinds of music in my spare time. I have performed in choirs, musicals and was the lead singer in a rock band for a number of years. Throughout my life, I’ve been exposed to increasingly better sound and audio equipment. In my professional career, I spent more than 15 years in hi-fi at a luxury AV company, where they placed a big focus on product knowledge and the ability to educate consumers. My love of music then led me to a position at Apple and then subsequently to HARMAN. I’m also a big history buff. JBL and HARMAN have such a compelling story, going all the way back to James B. Lansing and how he revolutionized theatrical and the home listening experience. He and Sidney Harman were pioneers in recreating a live performances in stereo and hi-fi.
There is a lot of important information we need to communicate to customers at the store. The historical details, the product specs and the technological data – it seems like a lot of industry jargon but we can relate all this information to customers through demos and by using laymen’s terms so they can understand the bigger picture. When I joined HARMAN, I really wanted to help bring the vision of a HARMAN store to life. What kind of experiences could we create? How can we tell that story through retail? How can we help people really learn how to listen?
Q: The HARMAN Experience Store places a big emphasis on interacting with and testing out the different products. There’s the headphone spider where customers can try on a variety of models, and a soundproof chamber where they can compare and contrast our equipment against that of our competitors. What was the inspiration behind those features?
A: When listening to music, you need to experience some trial and error. You have to compare and contrast products and brands in order to come to the best conclusion. Everyone is unique, and we have several options for every person no matter what their audio preference is. There are so many factors when it comes down to understanding how to listen. The type of music you like affects the type of products you end up selecting, even the shape of your head and your ears can drastically affect what sounds best to you! We might have our own beliefs and methodologies and whitepapers at HARMAN, but we never try to push anything on a consumer. We help them discover the right choice for them through demos and product comparisons.
During demos, we guide our customers through the sounds they’re hearing and help them understand the details they should be listening for. Too often, most people will just put on music and go on with their day without paying any mind to the acoustic quality and how it may or may not align with their listening preferences. At the HARMAN Store, we try to communicate that there are multiple different listening preferences, just like there are many different shades of blue. Once we identify a customer’s perfect sonic shade, we can improve all of their listening experiences in ways you can really only realize after you’ve found it.
Q: With installations like the headphone spider and soundproof chamber, as well as the theater and listening rooms on the lower level, there’s a clear emphasis on educating customers not only about HARMAN, but also on how to listen in general. What do you think customers gain from some of the amazing experiences we can create for them in the store?
A: A good rule of thumb during demos is to listen for details in the sound. The more detailed the sound is, the higher the quality of speaker. Once you know what to listen for, you can start to determine your own preferences. It’s not something you have to study or go to school to learn how to do, it’s a very emotional connection. The point is, you don’t need to be a professional to know what you like. As people listen to music on a variety of speakers, they are usually be able to figure out what they like - which products are right for them and which products aren’t. All people really need is someone to guide them in the beginning, and that’s what we try to accomplish at the store.
What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye is one of my go-to songs when I’m taking someone through a demo in the store. I can explain the important details they should listen for and point out when those details occur during the song. I really try and teach them how to trust their ears so that the next time they’re listening to the song on a lower-quality speaker, they’ll notice when a certain detail might be missing.
Q: We’ve discussed some best practices for music lovers, but what about the film buffs? What tips do you have on how to best listen in terms of an at-home cinema experience?
A: From an audio perspective, there is a big difference between watching a movie and listening to music, but it all comes back to the basic idea that any surround sound system is better than none. Filmmakers want to provide an immersive experience, and make you feel as if you’re living the movie instead of just watching it. In this respect, speaker placement is key.
I like to reference James B. Lansing’s legacy in these cases as well – he invented technology that allowed “talkies” to become mainstream and people could clearly hear what the characters on the screen were saying for the first time. Then, in the 1990s when surround sound technology was first introduced, HARMAN was at the forefront again with technology like JBL Synthesis. The advancements in technology are continuously evolving. Today, we can create a holistic listening experience by placing speakers overhead that receive and project specific information that’s different from the information that the speakers in the front, back or to the side receive and project. The theater in the Experience Store is outfitted with a state-of-the-art system, and I really encourage all movie-lovers to come experience it for themselves.
Q: We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the new Munich Experience Store. You were on site for the grand opening, can you describe what the new location is like?
A: The Munich Experience Store focuses heavily on our automotive products and partnerships, but you can still pick up our products to feel them, listen, and compare them. The store also features a HARMAN Professional Solutions stage with lights, mixers, and microphones all on hand.
There is a long corridor that connects the two main spaces, and we’ve acoustically treated the ceiling with a series of panels to resemble a sound wave. There are a lot of what you’d call ‘bright surfaces’ in the store that can make audio sound a little harsh, but the ceiling elements help reduce audio reflection and produce a warmer sound environment. The walls are covered in a fabric that muffles the harshness as well, so the space is truly a haven for all professional, car, and lifestyle audio lovers. We’re also in the process of developing an incredible luxury listening space for our Mark Levinson products, and are installing an in-home theater experience similar to the one we have at the store in New York City.
Read more about the recent grand opening of the Munich Experience Store here. Do you live in or around New York City, or planning a trip soon? Visit our New York Experience Store and make the most of your visit!