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‘If you’re going to invest in a system, don’t you want the best?’ d&b CEO Amnon Harman talks installed sound

From the opening of a new facility in California to the addition of a major new line to its fixed install portfolio, d&b audiotechnik has enjoyed a busy start 2020. And, as the company’s CEO Amnon Harman tells Daniel Gumble, there’s plenty more in the pipeline…

From the opening of a new facility in California to the addition of a major new line to its fixed install portfolio, d&b audiotechnik has enjoyed a busy start 2020. And, as the company’s CEO Amnon Harman tells Daniel Gumble, there’s plenty more in the pipeline…

On January 15, the day before NAMM 2020 opened its doors for another record-breaking edition of the Anaheim, LA trade event, d&b audiotechnik CEO Amnon Harmam cut the ribbon on a brand new facility located in the neighbouring town of Signal Hill. The grand opening kicked off both the show and the new year in style, with key members of the local and international industry out in force to take a look at the office’s state-of-the-art demo space and comprehensive training facilities.

“Accessibility to our growing base of customers and partners in the US is critical,” said Harman at the time of launch. “In the audio business, relationships are paramount and this new facility demonstrates our desire to build strong, long-term partnerships with both the audio technology and broader entertainment community. Designing excellent sound experiences is at the core of d&b’s mission to accurately transfer passions. With our new Signal Hill facility and the investments we have made in customer services, d&b is well-positioned to serve this mission and, together with our partners and customers, work to continue creating some of the world’s most inspiring sound experiences.”

Harman’s pledge to continue delivering said sound experiences was in evidence less than three weeks later, when d&b presented its KSLi installation range at ISE 2020 – a complete installation package featuring the KSLi8/KSLi12 loudspeakers, combined with KSLi-SUB/ KSLi-GSUB subwoofers, the new 40D installation amplifier and a full catalogue of system specific accessories and customisation options. The loudspeakers are acoustically identical to the mobile KSL system with full-range broadband directivity control, extended low frequency response and enhanced high frequency resolution, while the 40D installation amplifier has been engineered specifically for fixed installation applications and is d&b’s most powerful four channel class-D installation amplifier yet.

Meanwhile, away from the exhibition floor, d&b has been planning a major refurb of its HQ in Backnang, Germany. The development will see the company significantly ramp up its production capabilities to meet ever-escalating demand by incorporating the most advanced technological manufacturing processes in the market. Following PSNEurope’s visit to the existing site at the tail end of 2019, Harman told us: “We are investing in a 2,700 square meter building, which will allow us to better segment production and anticipate increasingly dynamic market requirements. The new facility will feature new coating and painting capabilities and will combine improved process automation technology to compliment the handmade work of our production teams. Adding this manufacturing capacity will ultimately increase quality, shorten lead times and strengthen our ability to deliver custom solutions. Internally it will also provide an improved work environment for our production teams.”

Construction on the new site is expected to start this year, with a view to being fully operation by 2021.

With so much achieved already in 2020, and with so much more to be accomplished over the coming months, Harman discusses his strategy for the road ahead…

You started 2020 with the opening of a new facility in California. What can you tell us about it, and why this particular time and location?
The facility at Signal Hill in Los Angeles is important on a number of fronts. First, is the accessibility it provides to our customers. Los Angeles has a vibrant, influential and growing production community that has increasingly gravitated toward d&b and the comprehensive solutions we provide. We wanted to be certain to address the demand for systems and support. We also wanted to provide the depth of manufacturer training that production companies and production professionals in general require.

Secondly, growth. The bicoastal presence that we now have is a statement of intent that d&b is deeply committed to growing in the United States. Audio professionals in live sound, musical theater and the fixed install, are all looking to do more and provide higher levels of precision, quality and sophistication and d&b is uniquely positioned to address that need.

And third, as immersive audio becomes more pervasive — and I purposefully demur from saying it will be the standard because it is not or ever will be a commodity. It’s more of a craft. — Soundscape is a natural extension of the sound designer’s skillset and we want to be able to demonstrate Soundscape in an optimal environment.

d&b also unveiled its new KSLi range at the beginning of the year. How much of a focus is there from the company on the installation market at present?
Our roots will always be in the production community, but at the higher end of the fixed install market you’re seeing an increasing demand for rider-friendly systems that support the new business models of both performing arts venues and artists. As the tool of choice of the elite mobile community, d&b is a natural consideration for fixed installations in high end venues. After all, if you’re going to invest in a system, don’t you want the best system so you can attract the highest-grossing talent?

With d&b’s cardioid design we deliver unmatched precision which is critical in the fixed environment! Builders and architects measure doors and windows so that there is precision. They measure and carefully specify stairs and lifts so there is precision. So it is only logic to apply the same level of precision to the audio design, to ensure the purpose of the building gets to its full potential. Our principle is more art, less noise to optimize the sound experience of the entire building — and the neighborhood for that matter.

The install and AV markets have been expanding significantly in recent years, and look set to continue in this fashion for the foreseeable future. Just how much opportunity is there in this sector for a business like d&b?
The installation market is growing and there is a general trend to more quality of sound across all market segments. There is a strong opportunity for us to create that special experience that you are used to from live performances. Hence, we always remember where we have come from and what made your brand and culture successful. For d&b, we grew up in the production and performance communities collaborating with sound designers, front-of-house engineers, tour companies and artists. We address the fixed install market but do so in our own way, working with sound designers and consultants in the particular installation markets and bringing with us our unique pedigree and perspective and the idea of transforming passions!

That means that we are in the arenas, the performance rooms and the university auditoriums and not the hallways and bathrooms. We are in the high-end retail environments and restaurants where architects and owners are looking to create an experience and not the big-box or warehouse stores where it’s all about price.

Do you forecast the install market levelling out any time soon, or do you see it continuing to grow and grow?
I think it will definitely continue to grow. Conferencing shows no sign of slowing down; retailers are finding that an in-store experience or brand-showcase is a strong antidote to online shopping; clubs and restaurants are also differentiating on the experience and many doing this with music, and performing arts venues are looking to be versatile and attractive to artists and audiences.

All of this is influenced and driven by the fact that consumers are getting better sound and visual experiences in other parts of their lives — from 4K to immersive sound — and are demanding that level of quality in life performance environments as well. The commoditisation of sound in the fixed install still exists at the low end, but we observe an ongoing trend to higher sound quality in mid to high end environments. On that basis a stratification has occurred and in the more sophisticated venues architects, designers and owners are now working with audio professionals to create an environment that delivers a complete, quality experience. This is where d&b excels.

Another rapidly growing area of the market is the spatial audio sector. What can you tell us about your plans for Soundscape over the coming months?
Soundscape is transformational on so many levels. We strongly believe that spatial audio is the next logical evolution of professional-grade sound and that it will bring widespread, positive change to many areas of our industry and our community.

We also believe that d&b comes to spatial audio from a position of strength and depth. We’re not just starting now as some brands will have to do but instead we have an excellent, highly evolved technology platform in Soundscape and we have strong collaborative relationships with some of the more progressive audio pros in spatial sound. I am absolutely excited about the attention that spatial sound gets and the direction that we at d&b take.

Are you seeing an ongoing move towards spatial audio across the professional sound industry, or are long-time adoptees of this kind of technology, such as the theatre market, still where the biggest growth opportunities lie?
Yes. The West End community in London has long embraced spatial sound and we’ve been privileged to work with the very best sound designers on the West End on some of the most successful and iconic shows. Read the reviews and you will notice that some of the success of these shows have been the amazing sound design and spatial audio experience. I think this is a reason why they’re going from the West End to Broadway now and they’re taking d&b with them.

Some people in the mobile community are already considering how to adapt spatial and immersive sound to the touring market and apply learnings from theater to mobile. Our teams are already collaborating with several European audio professionals on this and I think it will drive growth for artists, mobile companies and for brands like d&b as it takes hold.

How important is the theatre market to d&b? What have been some of the company’s key developments in this area in recent years, and what are you plans going forward for theatre?Musical Theatre is a critical market for us because its creative and demanding character. You have an adventurous, innovative sound designer community always seeking tools that will advance the audience’s experience. Our mantra and tagline is More Art. Less Noise, and especially this is very relevant in musical theatre. The customers we speak with everyday are applying Soundscape with great effect and creating the reference for other applications across a broad market in performing arts, house of worship and also conference centers.

We understand that d&b is planning on completely refurbishing its HQ in Backnang. What can you tell us about this? How will it improve upon the existing operation?
I would call it a logical and continuous expansion and improvement of our existing operations “plus”. We kicked off a project called “Backnang21” and are undergoing a significant upgrade that affects all areas of our operations. As a result of these changes, our productions and logistics in Backnang will be expanded, partly automated and modernized to the latest and most efficient shop floor principles. This is a bigger step in a continuous expansion of our operations to create more capacity for growth, an even better place to work, a better place to innovate, and a better place for collaboration with our partners and customers regarding training and future idea generation.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?
The KSLi launch at ISE was a great success. With the D40 we have a new installation amplifier and new software is coming soon. We’ll also celebrate the 20th anniversary of the iconic M2 and hove some more ideas for the end of the year.

However, with the global expansion of the Coronavirus we, like any other player in the market, face a period of uncertainty. Cancelled festivals, events and tours will have an impact on our customer’s markets, especially in the mobile production business. Our installation markets are not so much affected by the current developments. In general, I truly believe that the fundamentals in the AV market are very healthy and that – after a short difficult period – the markets will relax and continue to grow in a healthy and stable manner on a global basis.

I think looking ahead long term — if ISE is an indicator — we’ll have some truly amazing deployments with artists, tour companies, sound designers and systems integrators – and this on the road and in general fixed install.

What are the biggest challenges facing the industry as we enter a new decade?
Audio networking is a phenomenal advancement that delivers great efficiencies and experiences but audio is not just data. Audio professionals and audio brands provide unique value in shaping and sustaining the experience, and we need to actively promote that role.

With that in mind, technology continues to advance and we all need more training. This is part of the reason why d&b opened our facility in Signal Hill and why we run such comprehensive training programs. It’s something our industry needs to work on and something we’re working very hard on at d&b.

Finally, I would say that immersive sound experiences are a new opportunity to put sound back on the awareness level where it needs to be. With more and more other media on a show, audio sometimes is getting in the background. However, the reason why people are coming to a life performance is to feel the passion that is created on stage and to be inspired or simply enjoy. That is why the increase of quality in audio and tools like Soundscape are so important. Immersive sound is a big opportunity for the whole industry to bring back audio where it deserves to be and d&b we will provide venues, audio professionals and artists with professional-grade solutions that empower them to create unforgettable audience experiences.

And what are the biggest opportunities?
The combined impact of the cloud and 5G are going to transform every technology. Pro audio and systems integration will undoubtedly be impacted.

In the near-term, however, I think that immersive sound is the biggest opportunities for our industry, our audiences and for the d&b community, both external and internal. We have spectacular technology in Soundscape and I have deep confidence in its transformative impact on our community and our business.