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Diversification: Hybrid systems and beyond

The Si Performer hybrid desk with The Beatniks at Soho Theatre, London

the Soundking Group, why not try to combine all aspects in one portable system? Introduced at Prolight + Sound 2013, Starlight is the result of their deliberations. Audio-wise, the system features a 4-inch 50W monitor speaker positioned at ear height to provide directional monitoring to performers without need for excessive volume, while the PA section incorporates a 250W amp and two-channel mixer with three-band EQ. Then, in a first for Studiomaster, there is a lighting section, recessed into the one side of the angled cabinet and containing six high-power LEDs with dispersion lenses. An inbuilt controller sports 13 programmes, including seven static colours, fade-to-colour change and sound- to-colour change. Brightness and speed are also adjustable. “We have always been aware

that people want more compact, dedicated products that are easy to use,” says Belcher. “This really seemed to be a logical extension of our existing speaker system, and once we had the moment of realisation it took shape very quickly. We began by looking at low-cost lighting systems, which are all LED-based these days, and quickly selected some 3W LEDs [from a China-based supplier]. Then there were a few technical challenges to be overcome to ensure that the high-frequency lighting did not result in any audio interference. But really, it was a very fast process – nine months and we were in production.”

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Belcher professes to some

trepidation about the launch of the system and admits that explaining its principles has proven slightly trickier than expected: “I had thought that it would be obvious straight away [but isn’t necessarily so] – although once explained it becomes a no-brainer.” It has been well worth the

effort, though: in addition to portable PA, the system is achieving traction in “schools and colleges, where drama studios want some sound and local lighting”. “It has definitely opened up some new avenues for us,” says Belcher. There has also been a more subtle but equally rewarding byproduct of their endeavours: “One you have a new idea it’s very easy for everyone in the company to get excited about it, [so moving into new areas] can definitely have a positive impact on your workforce.”

‘IT’S REALLY STRUCK A CHORD…’ While Christie and Studiomaster are at a fairly early stage of their diversification, Soundcraft is already some way down the avenue of departure signalled by its groundbreaking hybrid audio and lighting desk, the Si Performer. Launched in 2012, the console features a DMX512 port to deliver core lighting control and is now available in three versions of varying capacities. “The Si Performer continues to

perform above expectations, with the newest addition to the range,

the Si Performer 1, becoming the fastest-selling Si Performer console,” says Sean Karpowicz, who joined Harman’s Soundcraft as product manager for the Si series last August. “It’s struck a chord for a host of applications, ranging from weddings and small corporate AV – the kind of projects where people are always looking cut costs – right up to quite large churches.” Soundcraft, it is clear, always suspected it was on to a good thing with the Si Performer – hence its quick action to patent the consoles’ specific combination of audio and lighting control. Although understandably reluctant to reveal the details of the patent, it seems likely that it will preclude considerable activity by other manufacturers in this particular area of AV convergence. “Well, that’s certainly what we are banking on!” laughs Karpowicz. Meanwhile, Harman’s acquisition of lighting giant Martin Professional is only likely to strengthen Soundcraft’s hand in this direction. Karpowicz isn’t giving anything away, but further hybrid products appear to be a fairly safe bet. As he notes, the Martin deal means that “we now have the knowledge and skills in-house to take the lighting side of our multimedia capabilities to a much more advanced stage.”

‘WE THINK WE CAN BRING A FRESH PERSPECTIVE…’ 65 years of producing speaker components and nearly two decades of manufacturing

Starlight by Studiomaster incorporates a four-inch 50W monitor speaker, 250W amplifier, two-channel mixer with three-band EQ and a lighting section with six high-power LEDs

complete speaker systems had resulted in RCF having “a pretty complete range with regard to loudspeakers,” observes RCF engineer Umberto Zanghieri, so it was a fairly simply explained motivation to “be able to launch a brand-new product line” that led to the Italian company’s recent creation of a dedicated mixer division, with nine compact analogue mixers already available and digital products expected to follow in 2015.

The compact mixer segment is nothing if not competitive – a point readily allowed by Zanghieri, who led the R&D effort for the new range – but the company believes it can offer something new. “We think we can bring a fresh perspective, backed up by our many years of optimising audio systems,” he says. But he’s aware that the company will need to make a concerted effort to educate the market about its new capabilities: “As a first step, we have moved

to acquire [the services] of people with external expertise which was perhaps not available inside our company before. So, for example, we have Sandro Chinellato, who is working as product manager for the mixer division and previously had great involvement with digital mixers at Yamaha. Beyond that, we will be looking to widen our distribution over the next year.” RCF is clearly taking its new

direction nice and steadily – and that, it seems, is the central trick to successful diversification. The process begins with methodical research into your new market, followed by appropriate recruitment as and when required. Beyond that, it can be the extent to which your marketing and education is accurately calibrated that determines whether or not a range takes flight – and that can require time and patience in equal measure. PSNLIVE 2014

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