The Surround Sounds Story

From motorcycle racing to home theatres, Ron McGill
has a way of turning hobbies into professions.
by Mary Beth Schwartz
(Reprinted by permission from Chester County Magazine, circa 2000)

Everyone has a hobby to make life a bit more fun. Some people collect stamps. Others like to travel. Ron McGill, owner of Surround Sounds in Exton, turns hobbies into a businesses.

McGill's first hobby started as a teen with motorcycle racing. After spending several years as a racer, and later as a mechanic, he decided to attend Penn State University, where he studied engineering. After Penn State, he spent a year as a Sportfishing boat Captain traveling the East coast, and Bahamas, and finally settled back in Philadelphia with Bryn Mawr Stereo, where he enjoyed working with stereos; another teenage hobby. McGill grew tired of working in the “real world”, and returned to motorcycle racing. This time, he turned the racing into a business, starting his own advertising agency. He was having fun, and making money. From 1990 to 1996, McGill always finished in the top four in the nation. In 1995, he finished third in a world championship.

He chose to retire from the super bikes, and decided to tackle another challenge, the complete restoration of a 5,000 square-foot historic farmhouse. Through this multiyear project, McGill says that he met every kind of craftsmen you would ever need to meet, along with a few builders. While restoring the farmhouse, McGill drew on his knowledge of stereos, and built a home theatre. McGill called upon people that he used to work with for advice, who were now established representatives in the industry. He also did additional research on equipment and attended trade shows. His colleagues convinced him that it was an interesting time to work in the industry. “I became a dealer for the fun of it, and to get the good equipment for my theater,” McGill says.

Before the theater was complete, McGill went through three separate systems. And, in 1997, he took on another challenge, a new company named Surround Sounds. At first, he ran the company out of a showroom that he had created in a barn on his property. Which included two theaters and a bunch of smart home equipment. He also worked on a couple of model homes with builders in the area. “The business started as a strictly custom-design facility. In October of 2000, I chose to incorporate the retail aspect, as well,” McGill notes.

Now the model home business has grown into a deluxe custom design studio, and McGill's hobby takes up about 95 hours of his week. “I got into retail for the challenge, plus I bumped into the fantastic location we have now, in front of the Exton Mall. It is a 6,000 square-foot showroom, complete with Oriental rugs, Brazilian cherry floors and custom-designed, built-in mahogany furniture,” McGill says.

Dubbed the Bloomingdales of the audio industry, the showroom has high-quality systems ranging from $1,600 to $230,000. There is stereo equipment, along with DVD players, CD players, speakers, even plasma screen televisions that hang on the wall. Customers will also discover sample theaters, including a theater built with mahogany for $150,000 (pictured TK), as well as a full kitchen on display, all meant to emphasize that systems can be integrated into the home.

“Surround Sounds' claim to fame is that we have the brightest theater any where in Chester County”, McGill says. This unique brightness comes from a three-chip DLP projector that is on display. McGill says that most people build little black rooms in their basements, called blackout theaters, usually to sit and watch movies in. They are constantly searching for things in the dark, and trapped in a confined space. Having a brighter theater, with more space to roam, eliminates the lighting issue completely.

McGill and his nine-person staff are there to educate the customer, not to pressure them into purchasing something before they leave. They believe in quality, not quantity. “Our entire approach is not like the big chain stores, selling brown boxes for green money. We do not push extended warranties. Our job is to teach customers about products, and to make sure that they are comfortable with what they are buying,” McGill adds.

McGill says that the trend today is towards the theater-oriented product. Very few two-channel stereos are sold. Ninety percent of systems sold are 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound systems.

“The advent of the six-channel audio coming off of a DVD gives a surround sound effect that has never been available before. Sounds like a scream, gun shot or wave splash can be steered to different locations in the room,” McGill notes.

Along with the studio staff, McGill has an elite installation crew. Before any work begins, a visit is made to the client's home. McGill works with architects, builders and interior designers to provide a full-service product. Surround Sounds' clients come from all over the United States. McGill has working relationships with builders and interior designers in Vail, Colorado and Santa Rosa, California, including Colorado-based Slifer Designs, the top residential design firm in the country. One recent project for the company was a $65,000 package for a home in Paoli. Smart home controllers, namely LCD touch screens, were mounted on walls to allow for CD management. Plus, a full, multichannel surround sound theater system was installed. McGill and his staff also helped architects to create the cabinetry. Surround Sounds also worked on 61 out of 65 homes in the Rossmore development in Malvern, with homes ranging from $700,000 to $1 million. All of the homes had complete audio systems, ranging from $5,000 to $50,000. According to McGill, many theaters soon followed. Other model homes are currently in the works in newer developments, including Hadleigh in Malvern. If you would like to learn more about surround sound systems, call Ron McGill and his team.


Surround Sounds showroom is located in Chester County Pennsylvania, but we have done custom Home Theater design and installation business all across the nation.

Surround Sounds, Inc. • 215 E. Lincoln Highway • Exton, PA 19341
Tel: 1(888)TV-SOUND • 610-524-6900 • Email: