This installment of Gary Lea Interviews is on a chat with Hiram Toro, the man behind Koetsu USA. Hiram distributes Koetsu, Chario and Montegiro to name just a few of his products, he also has a very interesting story to his audio career. It is one of many things that speak to his character.
GL – How long have you been involved with HIFI on a serious level? What got you started? When did it become a true passion?
HT- Well I do not know exactly what you mean by serious, but I can break my involvement in the world of Hi-Fi in two stages. First, my “audiophile only” stage which dates back to around 1981. That was when I first became “serious” (my wife says obsessive) about sound. The hook was quite instantaneous. I walked into my first high-end store in Atlanta and right at that moment became totally mesmerized by the sound and the possibilities in music reproduction. From the beginning I have gone from an analog/solid-state phase to digital/solid-state phase to a digital/valve phase to an analog/valve phase, and through almost 30 years of iterations I can honestly say that every platform has its virtues.
It was also during this time that I met Ronnie Caplan, the former importer of Koetsu to the U.S. Dating back to the early 90’s, I used to pay my way to Las Vegas to help Ronnie set up his exhibit room and then just pleasure my ears walking around and checking out this world of fantastic gear.
From a professional/distributor’s standpoint, it was quite unintentional and very abrupt. Ronnie passed away after a 3-week hospitalization on December 19 of 2006. Ronnie’s wife Melissa had also passed 8 years before and they had a 10-year-old girl named Erin. During his hospitalization, I promised Ronnie that I would run Koetsu for him and take care of his daughter’s financial needs while he recovered, but his recovery was not to be. Two weeks after his death I found myself in Las Vegas CES representing Koetsu. Talk about a surreal experience! To be true to Ronnie and my big mouth, I kept my promise and I continued the distribution of Koetsu. Since we’ve established a trust under Erin’s name, part of Koetsu’s proceeds are deposited for her future needs. (In all honesty I do not know if HT would have put this in if I did not already know about it and we had not talked about this at length. He is very humble about it and what he failed to say is that in all reality Erin is his adopted daughter . All you have to do is listen to how he talks about her and how quick the pics come out as testament to the love and commitment of a father. I wanted people to know that when they bought a Koetsu that a good chunk of that money goes right to Erin’s college funding. – GL )
GL – At which point did you realize a desire to make it a profession?
HT – A little before a year into the distribution of Koetsu I realized many things. Amongst them the fact that I loved what I was doing, that my sons loved what I was doing, that I could do this as long as I had health (I am not the retiring type), and that as long as I was handling Koetsu adding other “good” lines was a natural. At that time I called Carlo Vicenzetto, my long time friend and owner of Chario Loudspeakers in Italy to ask him for the representation of Chario in the U.S. One thing led to another. That is how and why we have now progressed into a vertically integrated distributor of audio equipment.
GL – What is it that you like best about what you are doing now?
HT – This business has got to have the widest variety of individuals and personalities I have ever encountered, and it being a somewhat global business has given me the opportunity to meet and learn of the personalities and cultures of many different countries. What is truly odd is that some of my very best friends, and I am talking less than 5, are industry foreigners that have opened up their friendship and support to us. Secondly we are in a trade hinged on the art of music, which is my joy and medicine. As far as pleasure of the senses only food ranks higher, but you can make the argument that food is really a necessity. In summary, I love the fact that this is a business of people and music.
GL – Boxers / Briefs?
HT – Lifetime briefer.
GL – Who influenced you along the way to do what you are doing? Mentors?
HT – Obviously Ronnie Caplan was my fist and most influential mentor. Yet, we would not be where we are right now if not for the kindness and support of long time friends like Mr. Atasushi Miura from AirTight in Japan, and Carlo Vicenzetto from Chario Loudspeakers in Italy. Of course they are mentors, but most of all true friends.
GL – Any regrets about the business along the way? If so What?
HT – It is very difficult for me to regret anything that has been place in my life’s path. I believe that even the most unpleasant moments in life are an opportunity to learn and grow. Like Forrest Gump’s mom use to say “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get”. The bottom line is that I do not regret one thing about my decision to enter this industry.
GL – What is your favorite item that you have sold?
HT – I am very proud of having been able to develop a distribution company in such a short time but yet with the high quality of products and fabricators we represent. When I stop and think that I just started this a little over two years ago and all of the work and effort jammed in during that time it really seems like an eternity. Yet, even when this is a source of personal pride, I could not have done any of this without the support of so many good people along the way.
GL – Why is that? What makes it so special and above the rest?
HT – This work is my highest source of pride because of how it started. The thought of who put this business in my hands and why I became involved in it is never far from my daily awareness.
GL – What do you do better than most anyone you know?
HT – Work and Dream, not necessarily in that order.
GL – Do you have a holy grail within audio you find yourself still searching for?
HT – No such thing as a Holy Grail. I believe that is somewhat of a misunderstanding in our industry. This business is all about enjoyment, it is not a trip or a never-ending search. I think the holy grail concept comes from the great number of people suffering from OCD in our industry. As I see it, audio is like the restaurant industry, there are many foods at many prices. You choose what appeals to you within your means and enjoy it. This is not to say that you should not keep a “healthy” open mind about new designs and products, but to say that what is a holy grail for you may not be for me. Hence, there is no “HOLY GRAIL”.
GL – If you were not doing this, what do you think you would be doing?
HT – I would be doing industrial design and manufacturing which is still one of the businesses I still own.
GL – What have you not done that you really want to do before you check out?
HT – I would like to take a couple of years off and travel every corner of the world (except Minnesota in January).
GL – What pushes your buttons? Pet peeve so to speak.
HT – Various things are turn-offs for me but at the top are lies, hypocrisy, lack of mercy, greed, destructive criticism, and unnecessary hysterics.
GL – Favorite color? What does it emote for you?
HT – Sky Blue and dark wood Brown.
GL – What are your hobbies since audio is your vocation?
HT – Sorry but my hobby is my trade. I am also a foodie (including spirits).
GL – Beatles or Stones?
HT – Beatles.
GL – Hendrix or Van Halen?
HT – Hendrix!!! What kind of silly question is this? Especially coming from you!! You should have answered this one for me before the interview. If you had doubts then I am really hurt. (Do you think that for a single second I did not know your answer? If you did then I am equally hurt! Just had to ask you like everyone else– GL *)
GL – Do you own an iPod? Thoughts?
HT – No. I do not own an iPod. First of all, I do not enjoy music through earphones which to me is the only reason to have an iPod. Secondly, and this is not a plug for my products, when I download music from the internet I download it direct to a USB memory card in its original file format and play it through my Blacknote DSS unit. This eliminates undesirable compression or conversions that vice the quality of the sound. (How lucky are you? – GL)
GL – What do you listen to when you are listening purely for pleasure? Recommendations?
HT – Categorically, my favorites are classic jazz, big band, folk, rock and some classical. In terms of recommendations I leave that to the experts, for my tastes tend to fall into the predictable or the “What the ….?”. In either case, finding things you like is the real trip of the hobby. Enjoy your trip. Oh. By the way thanks for the CD you gave me of downloaded surprises. If it was original material it would be Grammy stuff. Folks out there consult Gary Lea about recommendations!!!!
GL – What advice do you have for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
HT – Advise for one that wants to follow my footsteps or anyone else for that matter;
• Love what you do.
• Approach it with zest and gusto, 110%.
• Study and learn. Seek advice from those you trust.
• Be cautious but never fearful. Caution comes from knowledge and fear from ignorance.
If you think in a truly committed manner, you will never have regrets regardless of the outcome. The conventional definition of success lacks to capture psyche of he who achieves it. Success is not a destination, success is a trip. You will always be successful when you are true to yourself.
GL – Words of wisdom for the masses?
HT – Always seek love, for it is the only real source of happiness. Life is worthless without it.
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