Brooks Berdan has an audiophile’s ear for the sublime.
by Richard Lugo
photography by Rafael Anguiano
With rock music blasting from speakers that look as if they belong on stage at a concert, you can actually feel the beat vibrating inside of you. But this isn’t a rock concert, and you’re not in an arena. In fact, the room you’re standing in looks more like someone’s den or living room. Still, you can’t help thinking, “Yeah…that’s how music is supposed to sound.”
With the help of some very high-end equipment, the sounds emanating from the speakers in this tiny listening room at Brooks Berdan Ltd. almost sound better than a live performance. But such pristine sounds come at a price.
Brooks Berdan is standing just a foot away, but I have to yell to be heard.
“How much for the speakers?” The silver speakers, Wilson Audio Alexandria X2 Series II, each stand about five feet tall and two feet wide.
“For those two speakers, you’re looking at $178,000,” Berdan calmly replies. “For the whole system you’re listening to, about a half a million dollars.”
Perhaps a bit out of most people’s price range. Of course, what Berdan is offering is a cut or two above what one could expect to find at, say, Best Buy. Acknowledging that this equipment is not for everyone, Berdan says, “It’s strictly for people who want to listen to music. Most people think Bose is the best. Most times, they don’t know what they’re missing.”
Dubbed “The King of Analog” by Absolute Sound magazine, Berdan, a La Verne resident since 1992, was born in Saginaw, Mich., raised in nearby Arcadia and has owned his own high-end audio shop for 21 years. But he didn’t start out wanting to sell high-end sound systems.
“Growing up, all I wanted to do was race cars,” he says. While Berdan did have a short-lived stint racing formula cars and go-carts, an illness sidelined him. During his recovery, Berdan would hang out all day at his buddy’s hi-fi shop in Pasadena. “That’s really where it all got started,” Berdan says. “It just kind of happened. I always wanted to be around music and equipment. I was in a band growing up and my father always had hi-fi equipment in the house. But I never imagined it as a career.”
Fast-forward to 2008 to Berdan’s little four-room shop in downtown Monrovia. What happened between then and now that has enabled him to own his own business for so long and be so successful that he’s known around the world?
“Service is the most important,” Berdan says. “We pride ourselves on making the right choice for the customer.”
Berdan, who has traveled as far as Belgium to deliver and set up his equipment, also travels all around the country selling to everyday people, celebrities and artists alike.
Gaining notoriety in magazines such as “Stereophile,” “Los Angeles” and “Home Entertainment,” as well as working for manufacturers and attending hi-fi shows has enabled Brooks Berdan Ltd. to utilize untraditional forms of marketing. “Los Angeles” magazine named Brooks Berdan Ltd. the 2008 Best of L.A. Hi-End Store. This type of free advertising and word-of-mouth spread from customers and industry peers have earned Berdan a worldwide reputation based on his technical expertise in working with turntables and analog calibration.
With their stellar reputation and publicity, they are able to avoid the high costs of advertising to a niche market. Doing so would be as unnecessary as Rolls Royce running ads in a car magazine. Everyone acknowledges they have a superior product, but not many can afford it, and the ones who can already know about it. This reputation is what attracts the wide range of customers, some of whom have spent $500,000 on a sound system. According to Berdan, this has actually happened on more than one occasion.
The price range for a sound system here starts at $3,000. “I have customers who live in an apartment with (hardly any furniture) and own a nice sound system. And then I have customers who have more money than they know what to do with.” Although Berdan admits that most of his clientele buy piece by piece, they do get the occasional person who strolls in and asks for the best and most expensive system they have. “We focus on selling high-end performance,” Berdan says. “It’s not always about the price, although we do sell the most expensive systems you can buy.”
So what pieces of equipment make up a sound system?
“A source (a turntable or CD player), a control unit called a pre-amplifier (controls the volume and input and selection), then an amplifier and a pair of speakers.” Essentially, five pieces of equipment will do it. Most customers, whom Berdan classifies as “wealthy idealists, and ordinary people with a passion for music,” dedicate a room in their homes to their hi-fi sound system. This makes more sense when you step into Berdan’s listening room and hear him explain how, if the walls were not specially padded, the sounds would bounce off of them, diminishing the overall quality. As he says, some people feel that if they are going to invest in a quality system, they might as well invest in the listening room that it is going in.
One of Berdan’s customers who has a listening room is Wendell Narrod. Narrod, who has been purchasing sound equipment for the past 15 years, currently lives in Kentucky. “Brooks flew out to set up all of my equipment. He’s the most knowledgeable person when it comes to sound. He’s also the worst salesperson in that he never puts any pressure on you when you visit his store and he never asks you to buy.”
Aside from being an entrepreneur, Berdan also has his family involved in the business. His son Brian, who graduated from Bonita High School in 1997, has been working with him full-time for the past five years.
While Brian Berdan shadows his dad by handling sales, performing office work, repairs and set-up, his mom also has a hand in the business. “She pays the bills,” Brian says. His sister Jennifer and Brian both attended school in La Verne, first at Oak Mesa, then Ramona Middle School, and then Bonita High School. “We chose to move to La Verne in 1992 for the schools,” Berdan says. “It’s a great place to grow up, and a very pleasant place to go home to. I love it.”
With a successful business, international acclaim and high-quality products, Berdan gives hope to those who are passionate about what they do. Brooks Berdan Ltd is located at 110 W. Olive Ave. in Monrovia and is open weekdays from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
While not many people may be able to afford his products, he welcomes those who appreciate good quality sound. At the end of the day, the king of analog wants everyone to enjoy a great listening experience.