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Diversifi cation: Hybrid systems and beyond

Adapt to thrive… or survive

Specialist outfi ts remain crucial drivers of innovation in pro audio, but an ever-quickening pace of change is leading some companies to explore the possibility of ‘hybrid’ systems – or even diversifi cation into another fi eld of technology altogether. David Davies looks at the challenges – and potential rewards – of striking out for new territory

FROM MIC pres to ribbon mics, pro audio has historically been a specialist’s business, pursued by small teams of people passionate – sometimes beyond reason – about one specifi c product area. As in any other sector, they have often found themselves the subject of acquisition or incorporation into more broadly based operations, but at ground-level their refi nement of single products or ranges continues to keep pro audio motoring along.

Christie Vive Audio on display at ISE 2014

But times change, and in an

evermore cost-sensitive age, customers frequently require products able to cater to multiple requirements and applications. In the live world, this impulse has proven particularly acute in small venues, where owners have to juggle varying levels of user expertise, rising overheads, diverse riders and the need to minimise equipment footprint. A trend in favour of hybrid systems – most obviously Soundcraft’s Si Performer audio console, which

integrates DMX lighting control – has been one approach towards addressing these issues. Logically enough, a fast- changing market has also encouraged some fi rms to explore different areas of technology – in some cases, radically different. This can work both ways in terms of diversifi cation into, and out of, pro audio. For example, until recently, Christie was primarily synonymous with professional projection solutions, but is now making waves with its inaugural audio line, Vive. This article will examine both tendencies, but fi rst, a passing word for another trend. The increasing infl uence of private equity in pro audio – epitomised in recent months by London-based Electra Partners’ acquisition of Calrec Audio to sit alongside Allen & Heath in its investment portfolio – is surely destined to enable more fi rms to explore diversifi cation with confi dence. Alas, the almost blanket reluctance of venture capitalist interests to discuss their operations means that, for now at least, it’s a development that will have to remain unexamined.

‘WE SAW A BIG CHANGE COMING…’ “Digital cinema conversion is pretty much done worldwide, and so we saw a big change coming in terms of us not being able to enjoy the same kind of revenues from that market … as we had in previous years. We therefore started to think about diversifi cation into other areas, and that process has resulted in the development of our own audio range.”

So explains Richard Nye, cinema sales director for Christie EMEA, of the seasoned visual display specialist’s frankly unexpected diversifi cation into pro audio. For habitual readers of PSNEurope sister publication Installation, Christie will be immediately familiar for its high-profi le presence in the fi xed install market, with a product range that spans DLP projectors, video walls, simulation systems and more. Cinema chains’ requirement for digital projectors has been responsible for a signifi cant chunk of its business over the last decade, but with this migration nearing completion – “it’s something like 90%in the US,” says Nye – it’s evident that the sales mix will change markedly in the mid- to long- term future. Projection will remain at the

Soundcraft’s Sean Karpowicz says the Si Performer “continues to perform above expectations” (pun intended?) 24 l PSNLIVE 2014

core of its business, confi rms Nye: “I see this more as the end of the fi rst phase [for digital projection]. 4K is clearly going to be a big trend and then the next thing after that will be laser.” But there has, nonetheless, been the feeling for some time that given its profi le in the cinema world, Christie could also have a credible crack at adding the other component hitherto missing from its portfolio: audio.

Photo: Stefan David

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