Powersoft is more than just a manufacturer of amplifiers; it is a forward-looking technology company whose reach extends far beyond the confines of the pro audio market. That’s very much the message from the company’s three co-founders – CEO Luca Lastrucci, his younger brother and technical R&D director Claudio Lastrucci and their childhood friend and production engineering and project management director Antonio Peruch – when PSNEurope arrives in Powersoft’s picturesque home town of Florence, Italy, to discuss its 25th anniversary.
It’s easy to see why the trio are so keen to communicate their vision of the brand as more than simply a pro audio concern. For the past quarter of a century, Powersoft has become something of an industry icon, renowned for its pioneering Class D amplification and Pulse Width Modulation technology. Its Ottocanali and Duecanali amplifier platforms have become mainstays at major live events and installations of all shapes and sizes the world over.
But underpinning these sparkling pro sound success stories is a commitment to ideas and innovation, which has touched industries as diverse as the home appliances market, the automotive industry, aeronautics and even space satellites. More of that later. As we arrive at the company’s HQ to meet with the three founders, we are greeted warmly by a stylishly suited and booted Carlo Lastrucci – company president and father of Luca and Claudio – before taking a seat with Luca in the Powersoft boardroom. The company may have evolved into an international powerhouse, but it’s still very much a family affair.
“We started 25 years ago as three engineers,” Luca explains. “The three of us had a passion for music from a very young age, playing in a band and gigging together. After university I went to study artificial intelligence application in speech and communication in the US, looking at conversion from text to speech. When I came back Claudio and Antonio had finished their degrees and we started to talk about what we would do next. That’s when Claudio and I decided to start Powersoft. We started selling PCs, software, anything to help us make money and survive, and after a few months Antonio joined us as a shareholder.” From the very start, the co-founders were experimenting with different technologies from outside the conventional audio sphere.
“We started to develop a new idea for amplifiers using technology from other fields, like power stations, telecommunications and Formula 1,” he continues. “We wanted to create a very powerful amplifier that was very energy efficient. And we found a solution that could reduce energy consumption by one third.” It was at this very early stage in the fledgling company’s development that it was confronted with the pro audio industry’s tendency to eye the new with a degree of caution.
“We started promoting Powersoft branded amplifiers, and it was not easy because this strange product was completely different to anything in the market,” Luca states. “And the pro audio market can be very conservative, very closed-minded. It’s difficult to convince them that something new might be better than what they are already using. But over a couple of years we started to convince the community that this new technology could produce equivalent, or even better results than the standard products.”
In spite of this perceived conservatism, the pro audio market evidently knows when it’s on to a good thing, and eventually bought into Powersoft and its ethos in a big way – today, the company boasts some 70 distributors worldwide. So has Luca detected a change in the industry’s attitude over the past 25 years?
“It’s still a conservative market, but it depends on the angle you are looking at it from,” he observes. “To us it was more conservative before because Powersoft was an unknown company, so we had to convince people of a new approach. Now it’s an industry standard and Powersoft is very well known. So it’s easier to explain to the industry what is most beneficial. At the same time, you have to educate people, because if you do something innovative that is disruptive, nobody is going to accept it unless you explain it properly.”
Crucial in establishing Powersoft as an industry standard is its commitment to innovation. From day one, it has been investing between seven and eight per cent of its turnover each year in R&D, and around 30 per cent of its 120-strong workforce is based in its R&D department. Emblematic of this financial and ideological investment was the 2016 launch of Ideofarm – a new ideas incubator based at Powersoft’s HQ (although technically a separate company) focused squarely on the research side of R&D.
“We saw the necessity to give space to new ideas and maintain the energy inside Powersoft,” Luca elaborates. “We offer places to younger people from schools and universities so they can come in and develop new materials and solutions. It’s not our aim to obtain products from Ideofarm and we don’t expect a turnover. But we do believe it’s an investment. And a product like Mover (a patented low frequency direct drive/tactile transducer that produces vibrations) is something that started out as an idea in Ideofarm and is now a Powersoft product.
“Ideofarm has different objectives to Powersoft with regards to R&D,” he continues. “Powersoft has a roadmap: we have to develop a product, launch it at a show, obtain orders, etc. Ideofarm investigates new technologies and materials. It’s about investing in innovation. Look at Mover: No one asked for Mover or knew they needed it.”
Another milestone for Powersoft arrived at the close of 2018 when the company announced public trading of its shares on the AIM Italia (Alternative Investment Market). The move was taken in order to ‘facilitate further progress on Powersoft’s already exponential growth’ while enabling it to intensify its R&D activities.
“One of the main reasons for going public was that we wanted to change the mentality inside Powersoft,” says Luca. “We are now prepared for further growth and opportunities. We are not only an amp company – we are moving to provide a variety of systems, and the IPO allows us to move quicker in satisfying our customers and reaching our goals. It’s a change of culture; we are forced to have a five year industrial plan, so whatever we state to the stock market has to be respected. It makes us more responsible for our actions and makes us a more mature company.”
Our conversation with Luca is followed immediately by a personal tour of the manufacturing plant with Peruch. In addition to his role as project management director, he has been closely involved with the production processes that have lay at the core of the company since its inception. As we make our way around the facility, he describes the rigorous testing and quality control measures applied to each and every product that passes through its doors. He also tells us about how his role with the firm has evolved over the past 25 years.
“I started in production and processes, then I moved into purchasing,” he says. “This was followed by four years looking at how we could improve the quality of our products and services. For the last three years, I’ve been focusing on how we can make our products more efficiently, as well as improving the testing and validation of our products and production processes.”
One of the many areas Peruch has sought to develop over the years is its staff training. All Powersoft products are built and tested in Italy, meaning that every member of staff in the production department has to be trained in accordance with the exacting standards that have become a hallmark of the business.
“We have three months of training for our staff so that they are able to work across all product lines,” Peruch continues. “It’s important that everyone is able to work across all of the lines, as sometimes we need to move them on to different areas of production. We also like to train people so that they can build a career here, taking on more responsibility and learning how to train others in our production processes.”
The third and final engagement of our visit brings us back to the board room, as we take a seat with Claudio Lastrucci. As the company’s technical R&D director, Claudio is in many ways the beating heart at the centre of Powersoft’s quest for innovation. There’s a polite but direct manner about him; an assertiveness that is full of conviction and belief in the company’s ambitions.
Indeed, it was Claudio who masterminded the company’s Class D amplification, making unstable switched mode power supplies efficient, ultra-high powered and economical. He and the Powersoft R&D team devised a way by which switch mode technologies could be applied to high-performance audio amplification with previously unheard of power-performance ratios. With switch-mode amplification at the centre of its R&D, Powersoft proceeded to produce some of the most pioneering audio solutions of the last 25 years, including power amplification modules for active speakers, as well as merged amplification and transducer methods, embodied by the M-Force systems. “The principles have always been the same, the size is just different now,” he says. “Starting with three people, the knowledge of the market, our business view and sales opportunities were much more constrained. There was no vision at the beginning; it was about implementing good ideas and selling our products. After a while our knowledge and experience gave us a better view of what the market needed, so that helped the development of the products. But innovation is in the DNA of the company. It’s been this way since the beginning. If you want to be a leader you have to invest. That’s been our vision for 25 years.”
Among the products that most succinctly illustrate this vision is the aforementioned Mover – a prime example of how the company’s insights into technologies beyond audio has benefitted the business.
“Mover is one example of the side processes here that take off by themselves,” he explains. “We have gathered so much knowledge in electromechanical devices that it made us reflect on certain applications with this kind of technology. Rules and regulations on noise pollution are getting stricter and many of our customers face constraints on how much SPL you can leak from venues. One way to moderate these leakages and produce less acoustic output is to provide a significant ‘audio’ experience via a mechanical ‘audio’ application. Mover provides the vibrations and sensations that enhance the live experience.
“It was developed as a pure research process, but we built some prototypes, sent them to some customers, and the results were so positive that we decided that it may have a market.”
The product has also gained traction in the field of product testing, from Powersoft’s own amps to household appliances, visitor attractions and even satellites being fired into space.
“If you want to see how many years on the road an amplifier can survive, you have to accelerate the testing of the product in a way that resembles what it would experience over 10 years,” he elaborates. “It can be used in this way on all kinds of products to test durability and lifespan, from vacuum cleaners to many other types of items.
“One of our customers is using Mover in the live testing of aircrafts and satellites. There is a lot of vibration and acoustic noise, so it’s vital that they do not break down during an operation. These types of products are not just for the entertainment industry, but also industrial applications.”
As with the hiring and training of production staff, Powersoft is equally exacting in its approach to staffing its R&D department. For Claudio, it’s vital that each addition to the team brings not only the requisite technical skills and expertise but also shares the company’s values.
“We have 40 people [in R&D] and we would like to be adding to that, but it’s not always easy to find the right people,” he says. “That’s the biggest problem. Most of the people arrived here fresh and have grown with us over time. Ours is a niche market, so it’s unusual to find someone already equipped with the skills that are fundamental to what we do. Everyone here is addicted to music and has to be knowledgeable in how audio systems work. It’s a mixture of things that you can’t just get from university. Maybe you can get one – competency – but the mixture of the other ingredients is harder to come by. Most of them are local to the area as well. We like people to be stable in the company for a good period of time, so they can grow, develop and transfer their skills and value to the company.”
The company may be celebrating its 25th anniversary, and it has certainly come a long way since launching back in 1995, but the energy and drive in its founding members burns brighter than ever. As we say our goodbyes, company CEO Luca reflects not on what he, his brother and lifelong friend have accomplished over the past two and a half decades, but what they still hope to achieve in the weeks, months and years ahead.
“We are proud to reach 25 years of course, but we haven’t changed the way we work because of the success we’ve achieved. We still work 12 hours a day. Every day there are things for us to learn. We still have the drive and energy to do that, not for money but because we want to overcome limits. We go to bed with a dream and wake up with a project. That’s the motivation. We are still here because we believe in something, and it has been an ongoing process of innovation and investment over the past 25 years.” Here’s to the next 25.