From ice-cream cones to speaker cones in half a century
Gympie-based integrator Darryl Hooper has been an ever-present in the audio industry for over 50 years. Now, pending an ever-growing list of ‘few last jobs’, Darryl is stepping back to enjoy retirement.
The phrase ‘from generation to generation’ is one that sums up the business of Hooper’s Sound in Gympie, as well as its owner and director, Darryl Hooper, who has retired from the AV channel in recent weeks.
Darryl’s business grew from a music business run by his mother in the 1970s, and some of his latest jobs have been to second generation clients – the kids of former clients, keen to reinvoke the memories of a childhood system or solution.
It seemed to be a common theme in our discussion – ‘one last job’ becoming ‘one of the last jobs’!
But Darryl doesn’t mind – he gets a kick out of hearing audio systems booming for the first time, enjoys calibrating them to make them sound the best that they can be, and particularly enjoys the delight on his clients’ faces when they hear the results.
“In the next few weeks, I’m doing a big home theatre that’s a 7.2.2 system so I’m sticking around to finish that system off because I just want to turn it on for the first time, calibrate it and have a listen to it. I get a buzz from that.”
Another final job is for a former client, who sold his home with all of the existing technology in it, who wants a 5.2.4 system in his new home.
“So I said I’d it for him and, yeah, that’s another job there!”
From small things…
Like most AV integrators, Darryl entered the industry in a circuitous way – the shop that eventually branched into HiFi in the mid-1970s started out as a music shop, run by his piano-teaching mother.
His father, originally a farmer, sold up that business and moved into Gympie where he took on a grocery store and Darryl’s mother continued to teach piano and organ at home.
At 18, Darryl left school and went to work for his father who, at that point, had taken on a franchise for wholesale ice-cream. His early working days were spent on the delivery trucks.
But, around that time, a new store, Parling’s, came to Gympie and advertised a job for a piano demonstrator. Darryl’s mother applied and got the job – after about 12 months, the company approached her, told her they planned to set the store up as a franchise and asked her to run it.
Darryl took on a role within that company as well – after spending the day on the ice-cream trucks, he would deliver any sold pianos or instruments in the evening, after work. The store continued to sell instruments right through until 1988.
In about 1974, business had got to the point whereby neither Darryl nor his brother Graham could keep up with the deliveries on a part-time basis, so both quit their other jobs to focus on the music store. That same year, they met a rep who was selling JVC and Panasonic.
“It was around the time when cassettes were starting to come in a little bit and he thought we’d do quite well, as a music shop, with selling some portable cassette players and radios and stuff like that. So he said he’d leave a few units with us and if we didn’t sell them, he’d collect them when he was back in four weeks’ time.”
Needless to say, they sold those units, ordered more, and that was the start of the journey into audio.
“I remember delivering my first turntable and pair of speakers – it was a Panasonic cassette deck, the kind that had piano keys on the front of it. I remember recording part of the chap’s record collection and playing it back on the tape and he thought it was magic.”
From there, the business grew and branched out into more and more brands. In 1988, they moved into a bigger store where they installed three listening rooms with different speaker comparisons for customers to listen to. It’s one of the things that Darryl thinks the current generation is missing out on.
“We’d give customers a button and they could change the speakers they were listening to but I don’t think younger people, today, have got that reference. Most of them, when they come to me, they’ve only listened to headphones and have never heard better speakers.”
TVs were next on the horizon for the Hoopers – the advent of VHS saw them branching into the space a little with Panasonic and JVC before taking on some other brands as time went on.
Ch, ch, changes…
Over the course of 50 years, Darryl has seen a lot of change in the industry which, during that time, changed from analogue to digital – a major development in entertainment spaces. Although Darryl feels that it’s something that has, perhaps inadvertently, complicated an integrator’s job.
“It has an effect on how we wire systems today because what I’m finding is, for instance, you have a smart TV and then a receive which is also smart. You’ve got two or three devices from different manufacturers and the software upgrades on them are becoming a bit of an issue.”
Darryl says that he has had clients call to say that they’d lost audio or picture and, more often than not, when you go out to the site, you’ll find that a software update on one device has caused the issue and you have to update the other devices to fix it.
“The devices are talking on a different wavelength. And if they’re not talking together, they’re not talking.”
Darryl also thinks that the flow of IT professionals into the AV channel, while good in terms of their technical capability, they don’t have the audio background which has always been his main love in the AV space.
As a company which worked about 60:40 between commercial and residential audio, Darryl got to grips with many technologies over the years but says that room acoustics was another skill that he loved learning and implementing.
“From my commercial background, I’ve learned a lot about acoustics and where to put speakers to get the best effect. It’s also changed dramatically because, when you go into a home now it’s all hard surfaces so the rooms aren’t good for audio because it’s bouncing all over the place with nothing to absorb the sound.”
Part of a community
As a long-term member of CEDIA, Darryl says he’s always had somewhere to go when he needed assistance or advice.
“You can’t be across everything so what I’ve done is said ‘I’ve got a certain amount of knowledge and I’m confident in these areas but I think I need some support on this.’ It’s good to have somewhere to go and with the training and conferences, I’ve really enjoyed going to those and just sitting down and learning because you can learn something new every day.”
The list of projects that Darryl has completed over the years is likely endless but he says that there are some that stick in the memory more than others, particularly one for a retired doctor who had been confined to a wheelchair after a car accident. Tasked with upgrading an audio system, Darryl brought in a pair of Krix speakers with an amplifier and a new CD player to replace an older DVD player that the client had been using.
“I wired it all up, put on a CD and when I turned around, the guy’s face was glowing. He said ‘mate, you can leave the lot here’. That’s a job that’s worth a million dollars to you – it wasn’t the price of the equipment, it was what it did for that guy who lived for his music. The expression on his face was worth a million dollars to me.”
Darryl’s business has reached a point whereby he has been supplying and installing for second-generation clients.
“You’ll get a young lad who’ll walk in and you’re looking at him thinking ‘gee whiz, I know this face’. But it’s the father you’re seeing! And the kids will talk about a system their parents had that you’d supplied.”
A look to the future
The team at Hooper’s Sound has always been pretty tight-knit: it’s been Darryl and his wife Noela, and two installers Johno and David who, at 64, is also retiring from the industry.
“He’s only a young fella though,” Darryl jokes, complimenting his colleague on his ability to run cables into unbelievable places.
Darryl is hopeful of having people in place to take on both the residential and commercial interests of the business, in order to offer continued service to his clients. This may involve Darryl keeping his hand in, so to speak, in the industry for another while to come.
Other than that, Darryl’s plans for retirement involve some travel and time spent with family.
“My younger son is in Mareeba so we’re planning a trip up there during the June school holidays to spend some time with the grandkids. So that’s a start, who knows after that. We’ll take a bit of a break for a couple of months and see where we go from there.”
And Darryl is thankful to the many people in the industry who have helped him out over the years:
“I got to know many people through CEDIA and also through importers and suppliers, all have been very supportive over the years. But I wouldn’t like to start naming names because I could be here for the day and I’d still leave somebody out!”