Yrjönkatu 8

00120 Helsinki FINLAND SUOMI ----------- Map/Kartta

Also home of the American Bookshop (special list of computer books)

phone +358-9-441901

Mon-Fri / Ma-Pe 11:00-18:00 Sat / La 11:00-14:00

(other times possible by appointment)



Acoustics of Finland AE-2X
Dolby Digital
Letter to Boston Audio Society re DVDs and Regions

(in Finnish/Suomeksi)

Telarc/Decca CD's
Home Theater
DVD 5.1 Films
Nordic Press

(tämä sivu suomeksi)

April 2001 HiFi Lehti (HiFi Magazine)

(translation from Finnish)



In 1970, Robert Woods founded a unique company in Helsinki that sold only hi-fi. After a pause of a few years, he has returned to again serve the cause of those interested in good sound.


Tapiola – the Garden City of international fame – lured a young man at the end of the ‘60’s from the US to study Finnish planning. Robert Woods, born and brought up in New York City, was a chemical engineer and had just finished his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in Environmental Planning. He bought a one-way ticket to Finland to study the development of Tapiola.

Soon after his arrival, his own Acoustic Research turntable arrived by freight – damaged during the trip, of course – the motor axle had been bent. Robert Woods wrote to the manufacturer in Cambridge, MA and asked where he could get a new motor. The answer came in the form of a new motor – with no charge – with an apology from AR that they had no representative in Finland.

The priority of things changed as Tapiola receded into the background [Woods later moved to an adjoining suburb] and instead was born the idea of importing AR. So, from a bent axle, Sound Center was born in 1970 – at the start, Helsinki, and later expanding to eight other cities.

A Win Through the Courts

Sound Center’s beginnings were not without problems. An association of radio dealers did not appreciate this upstart non-member introducing a new direct pricing system and also guarantee times of 3-5 years. Customers, of course, were more than enthusiastic about the new policies and ideas. Matters, however, ended up in the courts due to a statement by Sound Center which was critical of product comparison set up by competition to combat the success of the AR loudspeakers – the suit claimed the statement was slanderous.

Sound Center ended up bringing a counter-suit claiming the product comparison was wrong and misleading. The court decided that Sound Center was correct in their allegations and was based on the Helsinki Chamber of Commerce’s investigation.

The decision was precedent-setting in the matter of product comparisons – not only in Finland, but perhaps world-wide. It was stated that comparison demonstrations are indeed legal but they must be made honestly and objectively. The case brought a lot of attention and the result was that a Finnish hi-fi business could continue on a healthier foundation with the new rules.

The Birth of NAD

Manufacturers began to gradually add all kinds of buttons and lights to equipment which did nothing to improve actual sound reproduction. The importance of these ‘gadgets’ began to overtake the original purpose of high fidelity – to provide faithful sound reproduction.

“The addition of superficial features certainly doesn’t require the same serious design criteria as attention to the actual quality of sound,” says Woods. “A few buttons and colored lights are a cheap way to bring on new models even every month. Many consumers are ‘hustled’ into making buying decisions solely based on these ‘features.’ This makes sales ‘easier’ – no salesman need pay attention to actual sound quality – and, for that matter, doesn’t even need to know anything about it!

At the end of the ‘70’s’ a conference was held in Malta where the AR importers - and some designers – met to start a new company. So, in 1977, New Acoustic Dimension began in earnest – later to be called just NAD. Robert woods was one of the founders, shareholders and a director,

NAD’s line of thought was clear. The object was to manufacture reasonably priced sound reproduction equipment with excellent components and without unnecessary lights and buttons.

“My thinking was that equipment should not need – or even have – the ‘Tokyo by Night’ syndrome, Woods says. The model customer for NAD was the university student who hadn’t much money but still wanted good equipment - and couldn’t afford to buy things twice, throwing out the first one.

This idea was indeed successful and the same principles were used when Sound Center designed and manufactured its own speakers – Acoustics of Finland.

“The goal was to make a sensibly-priced product with excellent components and accurate sound reproduction – without frills. Woods said the emphasis was on natural bass reproduction – namely low bass without the usual bass boom and false exaggeration. Demonstrating proper bass requires time and patience and proper material – organ and bass drum provide challenging content.

The Needs of Hi-fi

“It’s easy to classify hi-fi owners by how much absolute money they spend on equipment,” Woods says. Rather, he thinks, a more sensible way is to judge their intelligence by the way they spend their money – has it been spent on real sound reproduction – or rather just on status based on price.

In Woods’ opinion there is now a wide gap between the mass producer and the high-end manufacturers where there are many who want good equipment but can’t afford to buy ‘snob stuff’ with perhaps some famous fashion-name – but still without any guarantee that there is any real functional quality. Hopes are that manufacturers will realize there is a good market for value-oriented consumers.

Excellent sound equipment doesn’t need to be expensive – but neither can it be ‘free.’ Hi-fi is not like a washing machine where it can do its work by itself. Listening to music is an investment of one’s own life and one’s own free time – much more than just money – so a bad purchase means much more than just money lost.

No Golden Ears

Interest in computers inspired Woods to begin a new part of Sound Center – Program center – which concentrated on computer programs and literature. An especially successful venture was the sale of Windows 3.0 where the price was set to remove any unnecessary margins. Direct purchases from publishers allowed the sale of books with a delivery time of a week from the US and at US prices.

Personal interest in books and literature inspired future development and soon was born the American Bookshop. Alongside computer literature came a wide collection of books in history, philosophy, culture, cooking, etc. The Helsingin Sanomat [Finland’s largest newspaper] culture reporters called it a “must place’ to visit.

At the end of the ‘70’s the new interest in Home Theater brought a new group of customers that began to require excellent sound reproduction with movies. This development brought Woods and Sound Center back to the field – now to supply good sound for the budding multi-channel arena.

Woods doesn’t believe in golden ears. It’s important for an ordinary person to get to recognize and appreciate good sound – and if equipment is good, they will do so. Woods notes the similarities of the sense of hearing with the senses of sight and taste. When a person experiences a really magnificent landscape – such as the Rockies – it’s remembered with great impression and favor. Also wonderful experiences of taste are never forgotten. These memories do not dissipate over time. The same is true for a great experience listening to good sound – once heard, it stays with you as a constant reference [And this is meaningful to any person as it is to a supposedly golden ear!]

A well thought out purchase – made without unnecessary frills - will always bring the owner good value. One area which shows up how far things can go wrong is the matter of loudspeaker cables.

The terrible amount of money spent on cables is total nonsense. Those that purchase over-priced leads are stuck with the old problem of cognitive dissonance – they have to sound better because they cost so much – or, if they don’t seem to, one doesn’t dare to admit that they have wasted their money. Much more important is the cleanliness of the interfaces. One can save a ton by simply cleaning and tightening all connections and/or renewing lead ends. It pays to do this every year or two – heck, even cars are washed at least that often.

New Brands – Old Principles

Home theater developments emphasize the need to have a proper balance of loudspeaker performance. Before it was satisfactory to have different types of speakers in different positions. But now with Dolby 5.1 and 6.1 – where each channel is full frequency , it’s much more necessary to have all speakers fully capable of proper performance needs.

The belief in good quality and sensible solutions has been Woods’ motto right from the beginning with Sound Center. He has dared to begin marketing brands unknown in Finland [Marantz, Harman-Kardon, Teac, NAD, Pickering, Nakamichi, etc.] He was told nothing new was needed – Finland already had Salora [ a Finnish brand from the ‘60’s].

The same principles are now brought to home theater. Sound Center’s latest brand is the American Outlaw – with simple appearance and without the Tokyo neon light show. Many of Outlaw’s designers were the same people behind the original NAD. Woods’ own NAD shares were sold already 10 years ago when NAD moved its production to China at the same time as the Tiananmen Square massacre. Woods is now also working to set up Outlaw distribution throughout Europe.

Robert Woods’ own favorite music includes classical orchestral and chamber music, jazz, folk and ballad types such as Simon and Garfunkel. His equipment includes the Acoustics of Finland AE-2X loudspeakers and the NAD 7240 receiver. In another room there is the Outlaw 1050 Home Theater receiver, six AE-2X’s, and an Atlantic Technology subwoofer.

Also see: 30 Years of Quality Hi-Fi!


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