It was the dawn of a groovy new era and amidst the bell bottoms and shaggy hair, rock-and-roll was still king; the quality of its sound, however, was anything but majestic. But when two recent Knox College graduates and audiophiles met at an Illinois electronics shop in 1972 and discovered a shared passion for high-quality audio, they resolved to open a world-class, independent consumer electronics shop of their own.
Seeking a location with little competition, a good demographic market, and prospects for a prosperous future, co-founders Steve Weiner and Walt Stinson, along with Walt’s wife Mary Kay, embarked on a long road trip visiting a dozen key high-end audio markets before arriving in Denver.
“When we came to Denver, we found a very competitive market, but it didn’t really have a quality-focused company–at least not in the way we envisioned it,” says ListenUp co-founder Stinson. “But Denver looked promising business-wise, and of course, the weather and proximity to the mountains were huge selling points.”
Determined to make Denver home, ListenUp opened its first store in a 400-square-foot sublet in a South Pearl Street building shared with a ski wax manufacturer and macrame enthusiast, but gaining a foothold in the Rockies would take some time. They opened with a few manufacturer agreements but struggled to sign more.
“It took us like a year before anybody would take us seriously,” Weiner recalls. “We had Klipsch, Rotel, EPI, Sylvania and Phase Linear and a few other esoteric brands, but the big established companies wouldn’t even consider it… They didn’t think we would stick around.”
But Stinson and Weiner were not deterred. Instead, they built on their dream, seeking to establish a recording studio of their own. Stymied by the limited real estate prospects in downtown Denver, in 1973 they transformed an old postal truck into the ListenUp mobile sound studio. Inking a concert broadcasting deal with KFML-FM, a pioneering album-oriented rock station, and Chuck Morris, the promoter for the Denver nightclub Ebbets Field, they parked their truck/mobile studio outside the renowned venue and recorded its performances to be broadcast live or rebroadcast on KFML. By the time the club shuttered in 1976, ListenUp had recorded more than 300 of its shows featuring many of America’s rock legends.
Now with something of a reputation, when The Rainbow Music Hall opened in 1979, they tapped ListenUp to design and build a top-of-the-line sound system and recording studio. Collaborating with Klipsch to develop a custom PA for the space, artists and their fans raved, rapidly establishing The Rainbow as one of the “best-sounding” venues among performers from U2 to Miles Davis.
Driving the digital revolution
Always at the vanguard of high-performance technology, in 1983, ListenUp became an initial rollout partner of Sony and Polygram/Philips, co-creators of Compact Disc Digital Audio, ultimately selling more Sony CD players than any other dealer that year. Recognizing the power CDs had to revolutionize the listening experience, in partnership with Polygram, ListenUp opened its own dedicated CD store–the ListenUp Disc Connection. Indeed, the company’s influential role in encouraging record shops to embrace CDs has been documented in Billboard magazine and the book, “Perfect Sound Forever.”
Four years later, with years of expertise installing home audio and theater systems as well as providing custom installations, ListenUp formed one of the industry’s first home automation departments in 1987. Initially installing audio and video throughout homes and tying them to a central control system, their 21st century home automation now features security, lighting control, window shades, fireplaces, HVAC and more, all controlled via a wireless network and smartphone.
Clearly proficient in the installation of custom sound systems–especially after ListenUp’s 1998 completion of one of the nation’s first outdoor video projection and sound systems at Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre–the University of Colorado turned to ListenUp to build a state-of-the-art system for Folsom Field. This impressive experience opened routes to do the same for many more high-profile venues, including Mile High Stadium, the National Western Stock Show auditorium and the Pepsi Center (now Ball Arena).
After 47 years at the helm, Weiner and Stinson have come a long way from that tiny sublet, establishing ListenUp as a leading and influential electronic dealer across the Rocky Mountain region. With four brick-and-mortar stores (Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and most recently, Albuquerque, New Mexico) as well as e-commerce and commercial divisions, in 2019 the founders felt confident passing the reins to a new generation of electronics leaders. Former technical operations leader Ben Larking is the new company president and former Boulder store manager Evan Stinson now serves as vice president and general manager. Sharing the same enthusiasm for stunning sound, breathtaking home theater and innovative smart home technologies, three years later, ListenUp is still leading the way in sound perfection, and has its sights set on another 50 years of success.