HELIUS: Howard Popeck speaks at length to people with interesting things to say: Geoffrey Owen, main-man at Helius Designs

Hello Geoff, and thank you agreeing to be interviewed about social media in our shrinking audiophile world. So …. my first question; what’s your perception of the importance or irrelevance of Facebook in reaching out to potential audiophile buyers?

Ah. Hmm. Howard, I suspect that you’re interviewing the wrong person. When I started writing novels I intended my first book to be the standard two hundred pages – it finished up a thousand page quadrilogy. Similarly, when I recently wrote about VTA/SRA for you, I had intended to limit the article to maybe 3 pages and it ended up at 12. So …..


So when you ask seemingly simple questions about the influence of social media on the audio industry, I fear I might become a cure for insomnia....but I’ll strive to embrace the mantra of brevity and keep the answers short. ( he says just having wasted the first 100 words )

Okay, fine. Let’s go.

Facebook is a form of promotion best defined as a digital medium that facilitates consumer networking...in other words it’s a venue through which customers, fans, enthusiasts or disgruntled owners can communicate independently with each other and exchange experiences.

Never heard it described as a venue but, the description seems logical to me. Please continue.

Let’s go back a step - once a customer’s eye settles on a specific product, I believe their first port of call will be to look up the manufacturer’s website – this will be followed closely by seeking the opinions of ‘experts’ such as dealers and magazines. Finally, and this is where the industry has changed, potential customers will then turn to social media to gauge a wider opinion. They will see dealers and manufacturers as having the specific agenda of creating a sale, whereas they see opinions expressed on the internet by other users as being neutral and unbiased.

Even though it might not axiomatically be neutral and unbiased?

Quite so. As for the importance of social media to manufacturers, we often face the problem of receiving customer enquiries from far corners of the Earth where the nearest dealer might be 500 miles away. In practical terms, he or she can only turn to services like Facebook ( FB) or internet audio forums to gauge a wider opinion of the product.

As the world shrinks, social media has become an increasingly popular adjunct to primary ( direct) promotion, though frankly, product reviews remain the manufacturers preferred weapon in the arsenal of generating public interest.

And do Helius follow that route?

Ah …. I can see readers reaching for the Helius FB page and realising there isn’t one – we trade largely on word-of-mouth. Thirty five years on, and we’re still too busy to develop much of an internet presence. You don’t see many Helius arms on the second hand market and we regularly service tonearms belonging to original customers who still dote on the product they’ve owned and loved for 20years.

So currently, social media is an irrelevance?

Well, yes, in a way ….. at least until such time as I need to boost sales, I’ll probably avoid social media as I’m more interested in the engineering than in generating large sales volume. I’ve always let the product speak for itself and anyway, my designs do not lend themselves to mass production.

Re Facebook, is there in your view a age-gap between us in the industry and the average age of our target market and if so, should we and can we do anything about it?

Yes, I there’s definitely an age-gap but the equation is more complex. We all have varying degrees of interest in music and those tastes evolve during the course of our lives; moreover, we all have vastly different disposable incomes. It’s probably true to suggest that the sort of people who can afford the mega-expensive kit, are not in the first flush of youth.

Which in practical terms means what?

With a raft of turntables coming in around £30,000 or more, I suspect most young people will prioritise their mortgage over hi-fi.

Can’t argue with that. Care to comments on demographics?

Looking at the demographic data for Facebook, it seems that usage decreases proportionately with age – i.e. older people are less likely to use it and so ( logically ) FB has less influence on the top end of the market.

With respect to the middling age group, I’d say that for any given budget, potential customer’s are looking to be imbued with a sense of confidence in his/her choice – and they’ll get this from magazine reviews and dealers; if I’m interested in buying a new amplifier – I’m not going to start by trawling Facebook!

In this respect, I don’t think age comes into it. When I look at the FB page of many manufacturers, I note that postings tend to be very positive, making the service more like a fanzine...however, if feedback is always positive, you’re none the wiser when it comes to choosing between products based on what you read from the service.

And re younger potential customers?

With respect to the younger end of the age curve, the market is dominated by MP3 digital formats. It seems to me that kids have three preferred choices of product – iPhone 4, iPhone 5 or iPhone 6. Apart from there being little choice of product, I do not see that social media has any influence at all.

It’s about music on the move and storage capacity – not about quality reproduction.

You ask about our target markets as though we design product with the laser aimed firmly at servicing a specific demographic – very few companies pursue this approach, indeed personal experience tells me that gaps in the market usually exist because there’s actually no market there.

If Facebook were to better develop the concept of targets forums then its influence as an advertising platform might grow, but personally, and at this point in time, I consider neither FB nor age when designing new product .

Thank you. So what’s your organization’s perception of the importance or irrelevance of Twitter in reaching out to potential buyers?

Ah yes – Twitter – A service for twits and read by twits who have too much time on their hands.

Oh come on Geoffrey, don’t be ambiguous (laughs)

I was once advised by my publisher to ‘get on Twitter’ so I opened an account and began writing....I’d barely launched into my first sentence when, apparently, I exceeded my character quota ( 145 letters I believe? )

It took a week of good of old fashioned cussing before I realised the entire raison d’etre of Twitter is to post an instant opinion/response to some ( usually ) unimportant issue. Tweeters are engaging with a media not intended to say anything vaguely intelligent.

It serves no commercial purpose whatsoever – it’s a gossip service, frequently used as bitching platform – nothing more.....nuff said.

There you are - I answered that one in 121 words – a ‘tweet’ by my standards.

Yes, very good Geoffrey (more laughs) I hesitate to as any more about Twitter …. but here goes. Is there in your view a age-gap between us in the industry and the average age of our target market and if so, should we and can we do anything about it?

I think the above answer covers it – nobody I know, including my own two boys, uses Twitter. I believe the service is used more by those wanting to pass judgment on celebrity activity, or politicians desperate to ‘get in fast’ to express their heartfelt oneness with the voting public.

Whilst professional rivalries exist between competing engineers across every industry , we spare ourselves the ignominy of exchanging Twitter-esque banter.

If you look at the age demographic statistics for Twitter, you’ll find two thirds of users are under 24 years old...a third being under 20.


By the time people are ready to buy serious hi-fi, they will have grown out of Twitter.

Well, I have to say I agree with you. I've yet to hear a better, more cogent expose of the superficiality of the Twitter ‘culture’ than your concluding comment. Phew. Can we continue?


Thanks. Okay. How likely is it do you think that at some point (possibly it’s even happened) that social media’s effectiveness per £100 or $100 USD will exceed the effectiveness of print-based advertising for the same expenditure?

I think it’s ‘happening’ rather than ‘happened’. When social media properly gets its head around the idea of ‘online clubs’, I think the influence of online advertising will leapfrog past printed adverts which are so easily missed by readers.

Size matters when it comes to advertising – a small, quarter page, printed advert makes you look like a small company with limited funds when compared to large glossy full page advert that larger companies can afford.

Quite so

With online advertising, I think small companies will be happier to pay to project a decent ‘presence’. Internet advertising prices are not determined by the cost of adding another page to a glossy mag.

Please expand on this

If you consider the fundamental principal in play here, magazines exist to interface three groups of people, the manufacturers who provide the goods, the enthusiast who loves music and the equipment, and thirdly, the hard working dealers who serve very local markets.

As an aside, I feel very sorry for dealers who increasingly find customers using their services for purposes of demonstration, but then look for the cheapest prices on the internet to make the actual purchase. - Customers can’t have it both ways.

And so if I may, away from generalities – valid though they are - and so let’s return to Helius

Okay H. Given I’m not the world’s best at promoting Helius, I’m not one to disseminate advice, but I think the industry could better reorganise itself for the internet age. We all need each other – magazines, dealers and manufacturers.

From a manufacturers perspective, online magazine have one huge advantage – they are better able to generate a statistical database based on the number of ‘hits’ any given article gets, it’s a perfect way to ascertain what type of journalism generates greatest appeal to readers.…


And it enables you to better target readers inclined towards certain products and then nurture a more symbiotic relationship with manufacturers. I think I’d better stop there...the other reader’s now gone to sleep.

You are doing yourself an injustice! Anyway, and finally ….. might there be a darker side to Social Media in our industry that hasn’t occurred to many of us yet? If so, would you care to share your thoughts?

Is there a darker side to Social Media? Of course – anonymity empowers those who would abuse the very freedoms the internet was intended to assure. In respect of the audio business, however – I think we’re safe.

We have one great thing in common with F1...do you follow the drivers or the teams? The audio equivalent being, ‘which is more important, the equipment or the music?’

I think that as long as influences are balanced, we’ll stay ‘clean’ – At the end of the day, it’s the music that drives the equipment.... even terrorists like music.

Dark influences usually start with some warped individual having an agenda they wish to impose on the rest of us. I don’t see audio engineering as having a wide enough audience to make it worth their while. (Howard chuckles)

Until I can think of what someone might hope to gain by trying to subvert audio, I don’t think we’ll be targeted.

I genuinely think that music is one form of art that unites the whole world and every culture. Music is truly universal - so, no I don’t think we’ll become victims to a ‘dark side’ – though I suspect someone will eventually try – we just have to ignore them and hope such people just go away and leave us alone.

Thank you Geoffrey, for providing both the time and a highly intelligent set of answers to topics which at best are only of peripheral impact on your line of work.

Thanks Howard