EXCLUSIVE: Former AKG exec on Vienna office closure and plans for new firm Austrian Audio

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PSNEurope has spoken exclusively to former AKG director of marketing and product management, Kent Iverson, about the closure of the mic and headphones brand’s Vienna HQ and why a group of is top engineers have joined forces to launch new brand Austrian Audio.

Earlier today (October 11), we broke the news that the company’s Vienna operation had closed for business and that a number of its engineers had created a brand new company. A statement – which can be read in full here - revealed that the closure of AKG’s Vienna office came about as a result of Harman International’s continued ‘focus on the infotainment and automotive sectors’. It follows the recent announcement that Harman Pro was cutting a staggering 650 jobs across the globe in a bid to “consolidate its work force”.

The new Austrian Audio team is currently comprised of 17 multi-disciplined engineers and a six-person admin/management team of former AKG staff.

Now, PSNEurope has secured an exclusive first interview with Iverson – Austrian Audio’s head of marketing - to find out more about the decision to launch into the market and how the former AKG crew plans on continuing the work that made AKG a household name…

Tell us about Austrian Audio.
Austrian Audio is comprised of a core engineering and management team from AKG. All of the needed engineering disciplines are onboard - the folks behind some of AKG’s “greatest hits”- with some of the team having developed products and technologies for about half of AKG’s 70 year existence.
We’re picking up the torch of audio engineering excellence and passion for quality sound. It almost died and almost left Vienna entirely, but not if we can help it.

When did discussions start about forming your own company?
That’s hard to pin down exactly. Over the years, the workforce reduction went on in phases. Things picked up around three years ago and when the total closure of AKG’s home in Vienna became a bit of an open secret about 18 months ago the discussions became more serious throughout 2016.

Why did you decide to launch the company?
Not one of us could watch all of the potential get scattered to the winds. Basically, we had everything except a building and the gear - both solvable problems. Also, we could incorporate this new venture based upon our own priorities and take a much more customer and product-centric approach.
Also, we all enjoy working together as a team and love what we do. So why not do it for ourselves?

Who is in the team?
The most important part of this story is the engineering staff. We’ve got 17 of the finest engineers in the business. If you think back to any AKG product over the past 20 years or more, these folk have had their hands in the development of it. All of these engineers are multi-disciplinary but, for the sake of ease, can be grouped into: acoustics, mechanical design, electronics, software, measurement and testing. We’ve also got members from sales, marketing/PR, project management, product management and the admin staff that keeps our books in order and everything running smoothly. Actually, we just hired on our first non-former-AKG person in admin a few days ago!

What are the company’s goals in the market?
Not one for the use of cliché where possible, but I do find the statement ‘we’ve got our hands full and are spinning a lot of plates’ to be apt, although that implies a hint of chaos, and there most certainly isn’t.
In order to move technology and the art of microphone and headphone development forward, we are building a new generation of testing and measuring devices that we always wanted to design. It is a few steps ahead of what we’d done in the past and we’ve already secured an order for one of these next-gen beauties from a rather well known manufacturer of consumer electronic products, as it will assist them in the testing phase of what they are going to launch in the near future. This is just one part of our B2B business plan and needs to be the first thing that we release so that we can have something capable of ensuring the quality of the products that we wish to produce.

What should prove more interesting to our traditional fanbase will be the microphone and headphone products that we are working on. These developments will take some time, as we won’t simply copy the aforementioned “greatest hits”. That’s been done to death and would bore us. We aren’t running from our heritage but rather embracing it and moving things forward in ways that we previously could not. Our first microphone product is a way out on our roadmap, but will have some new and useful features and will also highlight our first Open Source offering as part of the package.

Without revealing anything and building expectations too soon, I’ll state that we are busy cooking up tools to serve our traditional customer bases in all aspects of the Professional Audio realm and with a few special things sprinkled in for the “lifestyle” crowd as well. It’s exciting stuff.

What is your response to Harman’s ‘workforce consolidation’ strategy?
We have our opinions on that here at Austrian Audio but that’s probably best answered by their people.

Will AKG as a brand still exist in the Austrian market?
It is difficult to predict what Harman will do with any of the brands that it holds, as we simply don’t have additional insight into their planning, nor what Samsung, Harman’s new owner, is wanting from them. The brand exists as part of their portfolio but Akustik und Kino Geräte (AKG) Vienna, as we knew it, is gone. There is a legal entity present here in order to fulfil certain obligations and that’s it. With that said, we wish all of our former colleagues well with their new focus.

Where do you see the biggest opportunities for Austrian Audio? Getting back to innovating truly great products. Customers have much in the way of product to choose from and few companies are actually innovating. We have deep respect for those that do. We also want to give back to the community via releasing as much as we can as Open Source. This ensures product longevity and demonstrates our openness as a company. We wish to be open about what we do and what we’re working on within reason, of course. We are also working on some product for other known manufacturers and it is their right to do with these developments as they please.

The biggest opportunity is in keeping an open door with our customers. We want them to be a part of this journey and to let us know what is missing from the tools that they need to get things done; not that we don’t have some amazing product ideas of our own that we can finally pursue.

And what are the biggest challenges?
The great challenge will be to penetrate the market that is currently dominated by several large players and many small
upstarts.
Another big challenge will be to keep our old fans on our side as we take the needed time to develop, test and release quality professional tools and superior “lifestyle”-oriented listening products. We’ve all seen what happens with crowd-funded types of exercises wherein the public gets fed-up in waiting for product deliveries. We’re not going the crowd-funded route. However, the expectations of others about our team (and within the team) are high.

Will you be looking to team up with other teams from Harman offices that are closing?

Ah, for want of a crystal ball! It’s all so soon. We’d love to work with anyone that shares our vision. There are and were good people at every brand.

You can find out more about Austrian Audio at www.Austrian.audio.

Harman Pro has yet to respond to PSNEurope requests for comment.

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