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Custom design work can speak volumes

Making home stereo speakers is a complicated business, according to Russ Hargett. "It's part electronics, part furniture, part audio technology," he says. Plus, installing custom systems can be a dirty job. "We spend a lot of time climbing around people's attics."

Still, Hargett loves what he does. Since 1977, he and his partner Mike Peat have been turning out custom music systems. Their small shop in Pinellas Park has become something of a mecca for audio aficionados in the Tampa Bay area.

In an age of stereo supermarkets, Speaker World stands out. "We build everything from scratch, by hand, 100 percent," Hargett says proudly.

Hargett and Peat can create handsome speakers with oak or teak cabinets, glossy mica finishes or even faux granite _ whatever the customer dreams up. "We do a lot of custom matching to people's furniture," Hargett says.

They also sell raw speaker components, do repair work and rebuild aging speakers. Several commercial contractors use their services; their systems are found in bay area Bennigan's restaurants as well as doctors' offices, and even in a few luxury yachts.

Speaker World's inventory ranges from a pair of handmade speakers for $100 to complete systems that cost $2,000 or $3,000. "Our biggest price range is anywhere from $250 to $1,000 a pair," Hargett says. "Because we're a small business, we keep our costs down. We're selling almost 50 percent off the list price."

A large part of Speaker World's business, Hargett reports, is "refoaming," a process he and Peat originated about five years ago.

"In the Florida climate, that foam backing inside the woofer rots a lot faster," he says. "Usually, a shop will take that out and replace it along with the cone. But that can change the whole sound of the box."

Speaker World's repair crew replaces the foam, a process that costs considerably less than re-coning ($75 a pair, as opposed to $100 or $120 a pair.)

Hargett says he is designing sophisticated home theater systems with Dolby Surround Sound and subwoofer satellite systems (two small speakers with a central woofer). He also designs waterproof speakers for poolside or outdoor use.

As a teen-ager, Hargett played the drums and worked in a music store in St. Petersburg. He came up with the idea of a speaker business as a Junior Achievement project at St. Petersburg High School. After 13 years, his fascination with speakers hasn't dimmed.

"Speakers are so important," Hargett says. "They're the component in a system that takes an electronic signal nobody understands and translates it into music. They've gained almost a mystical reputation over the years because they can make or break the whole system."

For information, call 544-3819.