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Getting to know you: Graeme Harrison, Bluesound Professional

Tell me a bit about your background in the AV industry.

I originally trained as a research chemist and worked in that industry for Shell, BP and Sericol, but I was a musician (or more accurately, a drummer!) so I ended up getting sucked into the audio industry. After jobs at Hill Audio and Renkus Heinz, I joined Biamp in 1991 as a regional sales manager and stayed there for 27 years, becoming executive VP marketing and leading the sales, marketing and product management teams. It was a lot of fun, but after Biamp’s purchase I wanted to move on. I was fortunate to be able to spend some time evaluating options and I got this really interesting offer to start a new company in a really exciting area of the industry with a great group of people. I also had some other very tempting offers, but in the end the pull of a start-up won me over!

Bluesound has a strong heritage in the residential sector. What was behind the decision to move into the commercial space?

Bluesound is one of three residential audio brands in the Lenbrook Group portfolio (the others being NAD and psb speakers) and Gord Simmonds, the president and CEO, has long wanted to get into the commercial space. For my part, we looked at incorporating streaming into DSPs almost 15 years ago at Biamp, but the company that we were talking to, Slim Devices, was acquired by Logitech and those negotiations stopped. When I talked to Gord, I realised that no one had done streaming in the commercial space in the intervening 15 years and that this was a huge untapped opportunity. It is so much fun to be the first player in a space – something that I’ve not really done before.

Bluesound Professional made its official debut at the InfoComm Show. How was the new brand received?

We had a very small booth at InfoComm without a lot of publicity, so my expectations were pretty low, but I was blown away both by the number of people who found us, and by their reactions once they did. Time and time again, we got the comment ‘thank goodness someone is doing this now’. People felt that the range was complete and well thought-out and we even got many positive comments about the industrial design of the products, which was a real bonus. Something else that I was surprised about was the number of people who use and love Bluesound residential products and were so pleased to see us launch a commercial version. We had people literally waiting for us when we arrived at the booth on the first morning. Looking back, I suppose that I shouldn’t have been so surprised about people using Bluesound in their homes as we are the audiophile alternative for homes (I use Bluesound products in my house!) and so many people in our industry really care about audio quality.

What products were introduced at the show and what do they offer to users that’s new and innovative?

We showed a first release range of two streaming players, a streaming amplifier, a multi-channel amplifier, a small all-in-one streaming speaker, a wall-mount controller and some mounting accessories. This provides a really good base of products centered around streaming. You can add a streaming player to add network media file replay as well as full access to a wide range of streaming services to your existing system. This is a really easy first step. You can also use our streaming amplifier as a ‘system in a box’ for use with your favourite speakers. These amplifiers can be rack mounted or inconspicuously placed close to the speakers in the zone. Finally, for a small installation, one or two of the small speakers can form your whole system. The wall mount controller offers another option to phone, tablet, computer or third-party control system control of the complete installation. This option is especially appropriate in commercial environments where phone control might not be the best option.

We also showed prototypes of second release products – shipping later this year – including two larger all-in-one speakers, this time featuring PoE+ powering and network media distribution for one cable connection, an ambient noise compensation unit and a paging station – both of these two products also being PoE powered and network-based.

Why is it important for venues to invest in professional streaming solutions, rather than rely on consumer-grade devices?

Currently what people do is to either buy consumer-grade devices or plug their phones into their sound systems. Taking the phone option first, this is not the best solution if someone calls you and it comes out of the speakers, or if your phone battery dies half way through the evening (among a number of other potential problem areas).

Moving on to the use of consumer-grade products in commercial sound systems, there are a number of technical problems like operating level, unbalanced connections, lack of proper rack-mounting options and many more. Another issue that is not thought about is the lack of security. If you use the consumer solutions and your customer has wireless access and the app loaded on their phones, they can literally take over the system and play their own music. If the products in question also have Apple Airplay, customers don’t even need the app loaded onto their phone to take over.

As well as all of this, there are another two really important reasons to have a dedicated commercial brand. The first of these is a product roadmap dictated only by the needs of the commercial market. The second, maybe more important reason is that these products are only available to commercial system integrators so they won’t have to compete with the local hi-fi store or Amazon for product supply.

Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?

There are so many things! I am on the board of another company in the industry (still work I suppose!) and I’m proud to be an Ambassador for Shared Studios, an organisation that does really important work using cool AV technology to connect people who need this connection and don’t have another way of doing it. Outside of this, I’m very active in the TED community, being a mentor for TED fellows and a number of other roles. I’m also a member of the General Thinking community. After all of this, I love photography, the arts in general (contemporary dance, art and music in particular), travel, food & wine and spending as much time with my wife and daughter as I can.

Finally, tell us something about yourself that might surprise people…

Even having lived in USA for the last 20+ years, I’ve never been into or eaten a McDonalds’! That might not surprise my foodie friends ….