STEREOPHILE / Jason Victor Serinus
Bay Area-based Parasound, known for reasonably priced audio components, especially those designed by John Curl, is under new ownership. The new owner, David Sheriff, an entrepreneur who specializes in product growth and supply chain management, has pledged to maintain Parasound's reputation for excellence while shepherding the company to "take the next step."
In a conversation with Stereophile, Sheriff, previous Parasound owner Richard Schram, and Jeanie Schram, Richard's life partner, discussed the reasons for the shift and Sheriff's plans for the company.
"At 76, it's time to retire," Schram told Stereophile. "I've accomplished what I wanted to do, and there are other things I want to do now. All I've ever been attached to since I was about 15 years old is bringing music into people's homes. The name, the brand, and the people I worked with to build Parasound deserve an opportunity to take the next step." The transfer of ownership occurred on December 8.
"We were blessed that David found us and that we found him. I didn't want to get subsumed by some of the big companies that gather companies and then get off course. I think Parasound is going to be very well cared for. That's what I wanted more than anything else. David gets it. He has the resources and abilities that we never had to raise Parasound to the next tier of quality. This is the best possible transition I could have imagined. It was worth waiting for. I spoke with John Curl a few nights ago, and he's thrilled by the opportunities."
Jeanie explained that one of Richard's criteria was to find someone who would preserve his legacy. After 14 years building Pacific Stereo into the world's largest hi-fi retail chain and developing four house brands, he spent 42 years making Parasound into a world-renowned and widely respected audio brand. That's quite a legacy to preserve.
In a press release, Schram said, "When I look at all we have accomplished at Parasound over four decades. I am proud that we have stayed true to our mission statement, 'Integrity Endures,' and our day-to-day goal of providing affordable high-fidelity sound to the critical listener. I am grateful for the dedication of current and former staff, plus the magic touch of our legendary circuit designer, John Curl, which made all this possible. Through their efforts, we have earned an enviable reputation with audio enthusiasts and the audio press corps, with many awards and consistent high placement in recommended product lists. Less outwardly visible is our continuing commitment to superb pre- and post-sale support for dealers and customers alike as well as our excellent customer service and competent in-house product repair. More common are users who've been using the same Parasound amp for 10 or 20 years without a glitch. I’m also proud that our products have been chosen by notable recording engineers as reference components in the production of some legendary movies and music recordings."
This is Sheriff's sixth company over a 30-year history of running manufacturing and distribution companies and working as a consultant. He has helped more than 500 U.S. manufacturers improve their businesses by streamlining processes, reducing supply-chain risks, and substantially reducing time to market. Sheriff's main company, which he sold in 2021, is a consulting company with more than 1000 customers, many of which are in audio or audio-related industries.
"I got to understand some of audio's challenges, expectations, and opportunities," Sheriff explained. "After I sold my main company, I realized that retirement was not for me. So, I put together a requirement book. I wanted a company with a well-engineered product that was on the California coast, owned by a retiring owner who had spent their life building a brand with tremendous brand integrity, and that could benefit from my skills in supply chain and sales channels. Parasound was a perfect fit for me. One of my other companies was an overseas distributor, so I have experience with supply-chain issues. I was excited by what my skills and capital could bring."
"David has a vision of the future that will build on our past," Richard Schram added. "There is no limit for this. I wanted to build a company with a foundation that was so strong that somebody could build a 100-story skyscraper on top of it. David can do that. He can reach younger people who don't own homes, don't want to own homes, but still love music. If someone has asked me to write down exactly who I wanted to take Parasound from here, it would be David."
Sheriff considers many of Parasound's Curl-inspired designs "phenomenal and timeless." One of his goals is to explore how to bring new, exciting products to Parasound's core audience while expanding the brand. Another is to understand where the market is going and put out products that will remain relevant in the future.
"I think there are tremendously more audiophiles in the world than [who] acknowledge it, because they don't yet know who they are," Sheriff said. "My sons in their late '20s and early '30s love the integrity of their music, but some of the world has told them that mediocre sound is okay. When they hear great sound, you can see their eyes open.
"We have to get the message out to people that there is a big difference between hearing things in black and white, complete with distortion, and hearing the nuance that transmits emotion. That emotion can change your life."
Given Parasound's reputation for quality and affordability, I asked Sheriff if he yet had a sense of where he'd go from here.
"We'll start with maintaining Parasound's quality and enable our customers to realize their passion," he said. "We probably have about 15 product ideas that I want to vet with John Curl and others. But we want to release a game-changer—to change someone's life, not just come up with another competitive product. We're going to take our time, gather good feedback and insights, and find ways to reach people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Parasound hasn't invested heavily in social media in the past, and there are several different ways to get the word out to people who don't realize that they are audiophiles.
"I'd put our affordable products up against products that cost far, far more. I think we can challenge ourselves to open some doors and see what we can uncover. Likely, that would take us upstream. But I do not plan on compromising my products by going downstream. With my supply chain expertise and some forward staging, we might be able to get the price down and still deliver the same quality and performance."
Founded in 1981, Parasound remains a privately-owned U.S. company that specializes in providing affordable audio components to the critical listener. Parasound has a presence in more than 60 countries.