Fifty years, and still going
July 1969 saw more than one historic event take place. Not only the monumental achievements of the Apollo 11 lunar mission, but also the founding of a small audio company in New Malden, Surrey, UK by the Merrick family, called Unilet Products Ltd.
Initially focusing upon exclusive British Hi-Fi components such as Leak, Radford, Wharfedale and Quad, the company began importing exotic international brands such as Marantz, Accuphase, STAX and Fidelity Research.
In 1999 the company was passed to the current owner, and relaunched as Unilet Sound & Vision Ltd.
Scroll down for a brief overview of our history over the past half-century. It’s been quite a ride.
Our story begins in 1969
In July 1969 the eyes & ears of the world waited for those few words that would announce human steps on a planetary body other than Earth. It was indeed “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Meanwhile in a sleepy suburb of London, another man was taking his first steps into the unknown. Peter Merrick, deciding that he didn’t want to to follow into the family firm of Ferrograph reel-to-reel recorders, instead had a vision of opening a store that would dedicate itself to the very best in two-channel reproduction.
He opened the store that still stands proudly today – originally called Unilet Products Ltd – just off the High Street in New Malden, Surrey. It was one of the very first stores to dedicate itself to high-fidelity reproduction.
In a time when Michael Caine was driving minis around Turin, saying “Hang on lads, I’ve got a great idea…” at Unilet that idea was being turned into a reality.
Next: The Seventies
Peter saw that there were some tremendous advances in high-fidelity happening around the world, and strived to bring the best to his little corner of South-West London.
In America he found Stanton cartridges and became their UK distributor. The quality of their cartridges was appreciated by budding audiophiles long before DJ’s used their more robust cousins in “scratching” contests – which took place in the Royal Albert Hall, and were sponsored by Unilet.
In Japan he found the STAX range of headphones and became their UK distributor too, bringing electrostatic portable audio to the London market.
It was Unilet that first offered a bespoke custom cabling service – which we still do today – becoming distributors for Monster Cable and supplying other legendary brands such as Ultra Cables.
Soon the Unilet store was gaining the reputation of being the avant-garde of hi-fi stores, right at the forefront of new advances, demonstrating the likes of Accuphase, Fidelity Research, Audio Research, Krell, Apogee, and McIntosh.
The decade progressed, and supported by its quirky ads in the audio press, Unilet became the champion of new brands to the United Kingdom, sought out by the likes of Nakamichi, Koetsu, and the now-legendary Japanese manufacturer, Sansui.
But it wasn’t all foreign products. In 1973 Unilet became the very first KEF Reference dealer, followed in 1975 by becoming one of the very first Linn/Naim dealers, and then one of the first to stock and support the emergent A&R Cambridge (ARCAM) brand.
Next: The Eighties
By this time, Unilet was operating three more stores (in Guildford, Wimbledon and South Kensington) as the demand for quality audio products reached a peak. But Peter continued in his quest to find ever-more interesting and great-performing components.
Twice a year he would be found at the American CES shows in Las Vegas and Chicago, as well as at all the major international shows. As a result, Unilet continued to expand their range of products and product knowledge, for example becoming involved in the distribution of ProAc as early as 1980.
Unilet was a very early adopter of Antony Michaelson’s new Musical Fidelity brand, and was also the very first Audiolab dealer in the world.
And when Yamaha introduced their new surround-sound technology, Unilet was very quick to set up a dedicated DSP room, one of the very first in the country.
Next: The Nineties
This decade saw many changes, however Unilet continued to offer the very best in hi-fi, although now operating just the one (much enlarged) store, the original location in New Malden.
Our custom cable service had been established in the previous decade, but had grown and developed, and by now was the leading supplier of bespoke cabling solutions in the country.
Unilet was one of the first dealers to recognise the qualities of Chord Electronics innovative devices, and was also an early admirer of Ken Ishiwata and his high-quality Marantz KI product line.
Sadly, our founder passed away in 1998, and it was left to the remaining team members including Amit Patel and Vernon Hamblin to carry on the strong Unilet heritage and tradition.
Next: The Noughties
The team set about completely renovating the New Malden premises, upgrading the demonstration suites and adding equipment to help customers audition the esoteric and exotic equipment on offer.
Home Cinema was introduced, and so Unilet Hi-Fi changed it’s name, becoming known as Unilet Sound & Vision. But throughout, Unilet has always remained faithful to its two-channel roots.
This decade also saw the face of portable audio change massively. Apple released their iconic iPod in 2001, and later their iPhone in 2007. Driven by advances in available bandwidth, media storage and networking, digital streaming was on the rise.
True also to its mission of offering new and exciting brands to audiophiles and videophiles, during this period Unilet championed many manufacturers, including Plinius, Leema, Heed and PMC, plus projectors from Sim2, Meridian and Epson, to name but a few.
As true now as it was then, many manufacturers still seek out and value Unilet’s experienced input when designing and launching new additions to their product ranges.
Next: The Twenty-Ten’s
The 2010’s has seen Unilet change and embrace new technologies. We were quick to recognise and embrace two areas that were to have a huge impact on both hi-fi and home cinema industries – namely Streaming & Storage and Headphones & Portable Audio.
We redeveloped our Custom Cable business, which relaunched as Audio Sanctuary and expanded it to include portable audio products and streaming. A dedicated area of our showroom was made available for demonstrating these new products, and a new website was launched too, rapidly becoming a leader in spare parts and accessories.
Besides championing exciting brands such as Devialet, Innuos, Auralic, Roon and Vertere (to name just a few), we were also the first in the UK to organise a dedicated event for portable audio and streaming – called Headroom – which we held annually for three years at Metropolis Studios in Chiswick, London.
The success of the Headroom shows inspired Unilet to organise a much larger event – the Indulgence Show – which ran for a further two years in Hammersmith, London.
That grew and developed into our Festival Of Sound Show which is now held annually at the Hammersmith International Centre. This endeavours to cover all aspects of the musical journey, from performance, through production and onto playback via equipment of choice.
The team at Unilet Sound & Vision could never be accused of resting on their laurels so, as we steam (stream) into the 2020’s, rest assured we will always remember our history, but continue to keep a wary eye on the future.
The rest we will leave to Boris, Jean-Claude and the two Donald’s…