We reported last month on Ai Design, Tuckahoe, NY, one of the most exclusive car audio shops in the country, owned by Matt Figliola, who has helped shape some of the trends in high end 12 volt retailing.
Dating back 30 years ago Figliola was practicing the kind of retailing that has become popular in recent years–fabricating to look factory original or better, selling your store brand rather than the brands you carry, focusing on the install more than the products sold, soldering all connections and so on.
So where does Figliola see the industry heading now?
For one, electric vehicle conversions is a new area. So is Hi-Res Audio. But the main new focus for Ai Design is the new breed of cars coming in for restoration. Rather than the cars of the 70s or earlier, new restorations are from the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. “These cars have a lot of electronics. They differ from a 1955 or 1957 car as they have complicated but early electronics, and early plastics,” said Figliola.
Restoring or customizing a late 20th century car is not about working in metal but plastic, which “is a totally different game,” and one that not many shops are equipped to handle at this point, he said.
These jobs may involve 3D printing or new treatments for those old plastics, or scanning the original part and building a better one that looks original. “The idea is retrofitting a great stereo or new AC to a car in the 80s in such a way that it looks like it came from the factory. So we’re talking about CAD designing and 3D printing. I see a lot more opportunity there than in EV conversions,” Figliola said.
Ai Design’s 13 employees include more than three who specialize in CAD design. Most of the employees are been with the shop for more than 10 years and they receive 401Ks, health insurance and weekends off. The pay is “more than any other shop,” said Figliola. “I want them to stay and I invest in teaching them a lot. They teach me too. I teach them about the standard…I maintain the standard here.” (The standard is OEM or better).
Regarding Hi-Res Audio, Ai Design was the first shop in the U.S. to install an Alpine Super Hi-Res Audio F#1Status system in a vehicle. The system starts at $35,000 before installation. It went into a 1998 Chevy Silverado and the owner is already considering adding another F#1 Status to a second vehicle.
The customer “loves the system.” The only drawback is that he has trouble downloading to the digital audio players. Still Figliola says the F#1 Status, “sounds way better than any other sources for car audio streaming music.”
Ai Design handles downloads for his customers upon request to take away some of the hassle of managing Hi-Res files. It will download a library of music for customers and update it.
“Hi-Res Audio is interesting. I think its going to be slow. It will only really kick off when the OEMs start to offer it and it will be some time before they do. The pinch point is if you bring your Hi-Res music into your modern car, it will dumb it down. Yes, it will sound inherently better, but you’ll not get the full breath of Hi Res,” he said.
The Alpine system at Ai Design was no ordinary install. The tweeters were laser aimed for precision. “Our 3D designer created 3D printed mockups of the tweeters that would hold a small laser in the center, allowing us to perfectly align the mounting position for optimum directional output,” said Figliola.
Hi-Res Audio overall, says Figliola “is awesome.”
As you may have guessed, he is very particular about tweeter placement. At the high end of frequency range, tweeters are ultra directional, but many fail to give them optimal placement. “Many people end up putting them behind grilles or block them just so they look a certain way,” he said.
He’s also very big on mid-bass. “Mid-bass in the front of the car is more important than sub bass. People make sub bass a priority. I don’t understand it. I want good sub bass too, but they leave out the part part of the spectrum usually lacking in most every car audio system. That’s one of my buttons,” he said.
“Rock n roll has a lot of mid-range. It’s the hardest to make sound good because you’ve got so many instruments playing in the mid-range that getting that to work well is really an art.”
Note: This is part 2 of a story on Ai Design. For part 1, click here.