Ireland’s original gadget godfather enters the digital economy

7 Dec 2012

Noel Cloney of Cloney Audio

For close to 50 years, Noel Cloney has been providing hi-fi enthusiasts – including the late former Irish president Erskine Childers and actor Peter Sellers – with state-of-the-art specialist sound systems. Now Cloney, in reaction to the recession, is embracing e-commerce and is striving to sate a new audience of smartphone-toting sonic perfectionists seeking Dr Dre headphones.

Since 1966, Cloney served a well-heeled clientele from his Blackrock, Dublin, shop as an exclusive stockist in Ireland of the A5 and A7 Wireless Music Systems from Bowers & Wilkins while also carrying such leading brands as Naim, Arcam and Monster. He even kept his own personal light airplane parked at Dublin Airport to make personal deliveries and service calls and was known as the “flying doctor of hi-fi.”

During the boom years, Cloney Audio excelled by providing millionaires and developers with home automation technologies. But now several clients are in NAMA, leaving unpaid bills.

Cloney’s instinct for survival has led him into the digital economy and he has launched his own online shop to meet the demand for streaming devices, such as the iPad and various smartphones.

The future is digital

“It’s the next logical step for us,” says Cloney. “The future is digital and we have decided to expand our business through the internet rather than through a ‘bricks-and-mortar’ expansion.

“While we will always encourage clients to drop into our shop in Blackrock, many of our younger customers, who are looking for the latest Dr Dre headphones or Sonos wireless music system, will immediately go online. Now we will be there to meet them with this substantial investment.”

Cloney Audio was the subject of a multi-million euro takeover bid in 2005 but at the last minute Cloney’s sons Alan and Ivan invested in the business to keep it in the family. They are now the majority shareholders in the company.

Cloney began his career with Brownlee Brothers on Dublin’s Molesworth Street – the Pilot and Ferguson Radio and Television manufacturer – testing transistors, working on final tests for radios and TVs and just about every other job in the place.

He then honed his craft in London during the Sixties before returning to Ireland in 1966 and founding Cloney Audio on Blackrock’s Main Street, where the business remains today.

“I installed president Erskine Childers’ hi-fi in Áras an Uachtaráin. When Peter Sellers lived in Carton House in the 1970s, I visited him regularly, which I really enjoyed. There was always lots of music played and we listened to open reel tapes of old Goon shows – I still have one of those tapes to this day with ‘Please return to Peter Sellers’ written in crayon on the box. He left Ireland soon after and I was unable to contact him afterwards,” adds Cloney.   

Cloney flew a Mooney M-20 light aircraft to make deliveries and service calls. “I was known as the flying doctor of hi-fi,” he says. “I kept the plane at Dublin Airport as a hobby between 1973 and 1996, and in addition to attending hi-fi shows and visiting suppliers in the UK, while also regularly dropped in on clients in Cork and elsewhere around the country.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years