Spotlight: Innovative Audio
Living the Dream: An Interview with Gord Sauck
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Gordon Sauck who some of you may know as “Gord from Innovative Audio.” My first experience visiting IA was around 12 years ago and it was like coming home! You can’t help but ohhh and awww at the vintage gear, memorabilia and movie props. And if walking the main floor wasn’t enough, taking the trip upstairs was a whole other level. Visiting this shop is a lot like going church for vintage enthusiasts. If you love your vintage audio equipment and you don’t know Gord or Innovative Audio, this is the interview for you!
Here’s Gord with THE Brent Butterworth, one of the most gifted audio writers on the planet. His work in Home Theatre magazine in the 90’s helped shape the language used to describe how a system looked and sounded.
Q: Gord, how did it all begin?
A: I was freelancing in the audio-visual field in the late ‘90s and had an opportunity to work seasonally for the Vancouver Giants in 2000. At that time it was really myself and Rob Clyde, my first choice to help in the new venture. I chose the name ‘Innovative Audio’ for all the things we were doing then; filming, editing, sound, building a studio and so on. So, Innovative Audio was born. Our team and I went on to build the Jumbotron for the Vancouver Giants at the Coliseum and I worked with them until 2006, when I handed over the reins to Rob and JR. The work was good, but seasonal, and that meant that summers were free. Around that time, I began visiting garage sales more often and buying vintage stereo equipment. The collection grew to be too much and so I convinced Susan that it would be cool to open a storefront that would offer audio-visual retail and repairs … And so, Innovative Audio, the store, opened in 2005.
Q: So it was all fame and glory from there?
A: Ahhh… Not exactly. There are some distressing moments during that time. Susan and I had been both fairly successful at our careers before we made the move to open the store. It was great being footloose and fancy free in the summer months and went camping whenever I could. With the store, those trips came to a grinding halt. At one point, because of the volatility of the market, we were close to losing our home. While we could not compete with the box stores of the time like Future Shop and Best Buy, we did take trades and that worked to our advantage. And, we did repairs. We also noticed that the vintage section of our business was doing well, so we got rid of our home theatre products to focus on what worked, and where our passion was, and that was vintage equipment.
Q: Sounds like there’s more to this story…
A: Well, yes. In 2008 the economy tanked but with that change, we were able to move into a much larger location (which is where we are today). Over the years we expanded twice; Once by renovating and opening the upstairs of our store, and then taking the spot right beside us when the business there moved out. We haven’t looked back since.
Q: Triumph over adversity! Let’s talk about Gordon Manor. I have the good fortune to visit the manor in early 2020 and have always wanted to share what I discovered there.
A: Gordon Manor is the way I express my love of Halloween. As I kid, my parents took me to see Disneyland. The Haunted Mansion was a game-changer for me. So, when I got the chance, I really enjoyed decorating our home for Halloween. It became a focal point in the neighbourhood. Read more. When it was time to build my own listening space, I knew the direction and theme I was looking for.
Q: It really is a tribute to what I would call, “elegant Victorian goth.” And, I believe Gord likes to rock well. Tell us a bit about your own stereo system.
A: At its core lives a Pioneer SX-1980. I was very, very lucky to buy one still sealed in its original box from the states. The stuff of dreams! I use it to drive Dynaudio Ultimate Consequences speakers. I run two vintage Denon turntables, the DP-59L and the DP-80.
Welcome to Gordon Manor.
Q: We spoke recently about styluses… What’s on your tables right now?
A: For my own system, I still prefer the Denon DL-110 over everything else. I also enjoy my Denon DL-304.
Q: Let’s talk more about your listening space, aka, Gordon Manor.
A: Well, I thought “Why wait for Halloween?” Seems like I could be enjoying it every day of the year. So I built this shop which is nearly 1000 sq feet. It is one on my favorite places to be. There are times where I just enjoy some quiet time and read. The manor is a great place to reflect and recharge.
Q: Let’s talk about your vinyl collection. I noticed what look to be custom cabinets to store them?
A: Well yes, I want to have front-facing bin/drawers where I could easily get access to my records. I’ve collected around 6,000 over the years.
Custom-built, front facing drawers make finding that next record, a breeze.
Q: Extremely cool. Do you have a favorite album? What is your most valuable album?
A: It’s impossible to pick a favorite. But when I demo my system for a guest, I’ll play Ronnie Earl’s Still River. This album is incredible, and even on iTunes or Spotify its definitely worth a listen. Other albums I collect are called “Three Blind Mice.” These are Japanese albums dedicated to Blues and Jazz. The musicality and presence of their sound is hard to beat, and the engineering on these records rival Mobile Fidelity. I’m always on the lookout for other titles from this label. My most valuable album I would guess is Hank Mobley’s on Blue Note which would have a value of around $2,000 today.
Q: How has Covid affected business?
A: We’ve seen a very slight decrease in sales of vintage equipment, but a big uptick in repairs. We know most of our customers by first name so compliance with distancing and masks isn’t a problem. We find that for the most part people generally want to do the right thing.
Q: Let’s talk about Innovative Audio’s new makeover.
A: Yes! We made some major changes this year, both in support of Covid restrictions and to improve our customer experience.
First we took out the upstairs. I know it was a great place to visit… very dramatic, but it wasn’t practical with the heavy gear we had to constantly carry up and down those narrow, steep stairs. Since we do a large amount of movie prop sales and rentals, we felt this would be better suited to keep those pieces upstairs and leave all the good stuff on the lower level. Now we’ve re-purposed the main floor starting with the island that features all our vintage turntables. This allows for easy social distancing and works as a focal point for the store.
Turntable Island aka an island of beautiful vintage tables.
Q: The re-imagining of Innovative Audio does make a big difference. Let’s talk about your new vintage vinyl section!
Mark manages the vinyl inventory.
A: Yes! We’ve really expanded our vinyl now and again, its just easier to spend time there… It’s away from the side of the store where too much light and heat were an issue in the past. Our team has really brought this store together.
Q: Speaking of the team… These are the people who make Innovative so much more than a store.
A: I could not agree more. We have always had a ‘family’ feel here and we each look for one another. We want customers to feel invited, like being with old friends instead of the awkwardness you get at stores more concerned about your wallet than talking about your needs. Susan, my wife is amazing. She keeps us on track and manages the bookkeeping and finances. Sue is the backbone to the business and makes sure everything is running properly and smoothly. She also manages the website and if part of the front-end crew. But if Susan is the backbone of this shop then JR is certainly the heart and soul. We’ve worked together for almost 20 years and I can honestly say I can’t manage this shop without him. JR is simply the best, and does everything possible to help wherever he can.
Mark owns and manages the record section and makes sure that there are always interesting titles and quality records to keep customers coming back. With the high demand for good vinyl, that is not an easy job. He has recently added CDs, cassettes and 45’s, so Mark’s got plenty on his hands!
Last and not least, our master technician Edwin. Over the years Edwin has developed into one of the most trusted and respected technicians in BC. We are incredibly fortunate to have him on our team as he is able to handle both electronic and speaker repairs. On one of his visits here, Bob Carver said of Edwin; “Here is a guy with talent, he knows what he is talking about and more importantly he does it right”. He is extremely knowledgeable about the repair of vintage equipment and its quirks. Because of the demand and our reputation, we are currently the busiest repair facility in Western Canada.
Edwin at work.
And so we come to the end of our interview. Again, if you get a chance to visit Innovative Audio, I highly recommend the experience… You won’t be disappointed. And FYI for those who need to know. Gord’s favourite after-hours beverages are select rums and cognacs. You just never know when this kind of insider information could be extremely valuable…