It’s our honour to honour those whose careers have shaped Australia’s hi-fi industry and brought the joys of high-quality home entertainment to so many. This year's recipient joins the ranks of the Sound+Image Lifetime Achievement alumni since the first award in 2007:
And now in 2021...
SOUND+IMAGE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Managing Director of Synergy Audio Visual in Melbourne
When we asked all our previous winners (listed above) to suggest candidates for future Lifetime Achievement awards, one name was suggested more than any other: Philip Sawyer, Managing Director of Synergy Audio Visual in Melbourne. It shows the industry’s wide regard for a man who brings some of the world’s finest audio brands to Australia, who is a good friend to many, and who began his journey into sound at an early age...
“As a teenager in suburban Melbourne, I saved all my pennies from part-time jobs to purchase my first music system: a cherished Sanyo C3 boombox, complete with – dah-dah-dah! – detachable speakers,” he tells us. “When joined by a much-loved Sharp Optonica Bi-Lateral turntable, I thought – ahhhhhh… true hi-fi to play Supertramp, Hall and Oates, and Spandau Ballet records!”
He graduated to separates hi-fi while still at high school, buying his first CD player, a Philips CD203, from Philippe Luder at Tivoli HiFi, and a pair of Mission 77 speakers from George Hawthorn Hi-Fi.
“With an inherited NAD 7020 receiver, component audio had arrived in my life,” he remembers. “Perfect Sound Forever! Could it get any better?”
Philip kept up his hi-fi passion by working at the city store of Northern Electronics in Melbourne while studying Law and Commerce at Melbourne University.
“I worked there for the length of two degrees and sold more than my fair share of Yamaha amplifiers and Mordaunt Short loudspeakers,” he says, “with primary influences being Northern’s then store manager, Rab Turner, later of Carlton Audio Visual, and a good dose of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and The Alan Parsons Project.”
After graduation in 1991, reality kicked in, and he began a career path as commercial and litigation lawyer, spending three years in a large city firm. Despite “the joys of pleadings and affidavits”, he still spent his Saturdays working at what was then a fledgling Carlton Audio Visual. And he decided to register a hi-fi business.
“A laugh and a whim,” he says. “Or so I thought. Then six months later in 1995, I left the law to commit fully to Synergy Audio Visual, ‘importers of the finest audio and video into Australia’! My parents were heartbroken...”
But he was, he says, determined to make a difference in what he calls “a sea of ubiquitous and boring audio”, working briefly as the local agent for Leisure Tech, then beginning full national distribution with Alchemist and Epos, and from 1997 representing Rega Research at a time when record players were at their lowest ebb. Synergy’s first customers were Len Wallis Audio, Encel Stereo, and his old stomping ground, Carlton Audio Visual, where his former mentor, Director Rab Turner, today has only fine words to speak of Phil Sawyer, both past and present.
“He was always mature above his age,” says Turner, “and of course he’s one of those people you’re rather jealous of – he’s physically perfect, which is annoying, and for fun he reads self-improvement books. But what I usually say about Phil is that where once he was the student, now he is the master. I still watch carefully how my ex-student does, so I can emulate him by way of sensible business and personal practice.”
Synergy continued gaining key brands, and in 2016 founded what became Synergy Custom and Commercial as a separate division of the company, currently led by Jamie Lewis, with commercial display solutions (Vivitek) together with CI products from the likes of AudioControl, TDG Audio and the McIntosh Group.
“In between all this, I entertained an indulgent passion for riding bikes [motorised and non-motorised] and long distance triathlon as distractions from a life selling hi-fi,” Philip tells us. “And a late starter to nuptial bliss, I married my beautiful (and incredibly patient!) wife Selina in 2015, followed quickly by the arrival of our twin daughters Chloe and Inez in 2016 and more recently, Robert. Our retriever, Leopold, is still bamboozled by the commotion.”
When we told him of this award, Philip was immediately keen to thank his “extraordinary group of committed and passionate retailers and integrators, and formidable team members over the years including Wes Bell, Gareth Weller, Jonathan Baillie, Paul Clarke, Jack Sarkissian, Dan Pungatara, Danielle Nigro, and many more.”
And while they may all have helped Philip and Synergy along the way, his own long-term effect on those he works with is equally clear, as Rab Turner at Carlton tells us.
“When I’m having a problem with a customer, getting them to pay, I think to myself – what would Phil Sawyer do?”, he admits. “How would Phil think this out in such a way that everyone, including the customer, would live happily ever after? It’s very clear to me that there’s a lot we can all learn from Phil Sawyer.”
Our congratulations go to all the winners of our 2022 Awards, all of which are detailed in full in the Special Awards Issue of Sound+Image, on sale now in print and digital editions. Print subscriptions here; digital issues here!