Venerable Madison Fielding Brand Looks to Expand
Flying under the radar for 30 years, Madison Fielding is expanding its presence beyond the East Coast with its high-end $3,395/pair outdoor audio Planter Speakers.
Jason Knott · December 10, 2013
How can a consumer electronics brand be around for 30-plus years yet very few integrators have heard of it? That’s the case with Madison Fielding (MF), a venerable outdoor audio company.
Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, CEA Hall of Famer Len Feldman was the owner of MF brand and made hi-fi equipment. Fast forward to 1983 and custom integrator Art Powers Sr. was looking for a name for his new multiroom audio system. When he found out the MF brand was available, he reached out to Feldman, got the OK and re-ignited the MF brand name.
Now 30 years later, MF makes specialty outdoor Planter Speakers ($3,395/pair) and Stagelite Monitor speakers, which offer integrators healthy margins and high-performance sound. The brand has been through many directions, but today it is targeting the custom installation channel.
“We don’t sell over the Internet and we don’t sell through distribution,” says Art Sr. “We provide dealer protection and healthy margins.” The company has about 165 direct dealers, all in the East Coast only, and it is seeking to expand its reach nationally using an independent rep network.
Going Back in Time
Stepping into the MF offices in Port Chester, N.Y., is a bit like stepping back in time where every product is hand-made with fine attention to detail. But beyond that, the company’s lobby is a showcase of antique stereo equipment and tracks the company’s long history.
Both Powers and his son, Art Jr., are veteran custom installers. Art Sr. started part-time as an installer in 1958 and five years later opened a retail store under the name A&R Sound in Yonkers, N.Y.
“I quickly realized that rich clients would pay for the best systems,” he recalls. So it was with that in mind in 1983 when he branched into the manufacturing side of the business with the MF 1000 amplified multiroom audio system with both analog and digital control plus IR. Powers insists it was the first microprocessor-based multiroom audio system in existence, covering 12 rooms with six separate sources and each zone had its own seven-band equalizer. The DT100 FM tuner unit even won a CES Design and Engineering Award in 1987.
One of the MF 1000’s trademarks was a fancy brass wallplate, but in 1991 Decora plates hit the market and the plates lost their allure. That led MF into another foray: amplifiers. According to Powers, he spent $250,000 developing the M1, a Class A amplifier, winning another CES Award in 1993.
“We had never experienced the fanaticism of the high-end crowd,” he recalls. But by 1993, he sold those assets and the product is still made today under the Lamm Audio name.
From 1993 – 1996, the company reverse-engineered a full function wall remote control for the Sony DST multiroom audio system. “That was going great until Sony (without warning) decided to discontinue the system,” says Art Sr. He dabbled in amplifiers for a few years until 1999, then Art Jr. stumbled upon the idea of Planter Speakers.
Coincidental to all this, Art Jr. was running Designed Sound, a custom installation firm he still operates in the area with three to four employees. That in-the-field experience gives the company an edge because it knows the challenges integrators face daily, and that is exactly the scenario that gave him the inspiration for the Planter Speakers.
One day, a client with a giant flagstone patio wanted outdoor speakers. The patio had wrought-iron fencing and nowhere to hide speakers. Suddenly, Art Jr. had an idea to make planter boxes into speakers. The duo prototyped Planter Speakers by 1999 and has been selling them to the custom integration channel since then. Indeed, the flagship product is called the Flagstone due to that first job.
The company handcrafts each Planter Speaker in its 8,000-square-foot factory and warehouse. The speaker housings are made of poly resin and can be made in any color. The $3,395/pair Flagstones have a 10-inch woofer on the bottom, a 4-inch mid-range and a 1-inch tweeter. The speakers sound best when placed on a hard surface, not on grass or dirt.
Among the features are a removable tray that sits on top of the speaker to hold the plants, a custom grille that does not allow water to penetrate it, a welded drain to remove standing water, and gold-plated five-way connectors. The Mini Flagstones ($2,595/pair) are similar in design but with an 8-inch woofer and smaller mid-range. The company also makes a Terracotta Series that has an Italian design and comes with an ornate stand, and several wood box versions of the Planter Speakers.
Another unique offering from the company is its Stagelite Monitor series. These are industrial designed speakers that look just like giant stage lights that would be hooked to scaffolding, but instead they are speakers. Art Jr. says the units are popular for a particular need. For example, ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Conn. have the speakers throughout.
Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at [email protected]
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