Surround technology bought by Peter Freedman’s expanding Australian electronics business. Kevin Hilton reports
The SoundField immersive audio microphone range could be repositioned for the larger volume market to capitalise on the growth in virtual reality (VR) following its acquisition by the Freedman Electronics Group. The Australian company, which also owns RØDE and Aphex, bought the historic brand from TSL Products for an undisclosed sum and will maintain its existing products for the filmmaking and music production markets as well as VR.
Under the deal Freedman bought SoundField's 360-degree mic products and intellectual property. Support and warranty responsibility for the current range, including the DSF-B MkII digital broadcast system, DSF-1 digital music recording package, SPS422B variable pick-up mic and the ST450 MkII portable, will pass to the Freedman Group. The sale does not include SoundField's UPM-1 stereo to 5.1 upmixer, which remains with TSL Products and be rebranded.
The original SoundField microphone was developed in the early 1970s to record the Ambisonics spatial audio format invented by Michael Gerzon. The mic was initially manufactured by Calrec and then by a company also called SoundField. When managing director Ken Giles decided to retire and sell the business in 2012 TSL Products bought the mic and processor ranges with their associated rights.
TSL Products managing director Chris Exelby (pictured) says the decision to buy SoundField made "obvious sense" at that point. "We were selling a lot of products, such as tally and power units, into the broadcast sports market for OB trucks and to TV studios for productions such as The Voice", he says. "We saw this as an opportunity to sell Ambisonics mics and upmixers into those markets."
Exelby acknowledges that the discrete surround sound format "did not explode as expected". SoundField remained a niche product, with what Exelby describes as good sales. "But about 18 months ago sales for the ST 450 and SPS 422 increased, which bemused us a bit," he says. "They were all being bought by filmmakers moving into VR who needed 360-degree audio."
While SoundField was the right product for this potentially lucrative new market, Exelby realised higher volume manufacturers, such as Sennheiser, would also see the opportunity. "If you're a filmmaker using a low-cost camera for VR you're not going to pay £4000 for a mic to go with it, you want something under $500," he comments. "We had to decide whether to invest a lot of money developing for this new market or stay where we are or sell to a manufacturer that has higher volume capacity."
TSL Products made an assessment approximately eight months ago, after which it decided to sell SoundField and concentrate on audio monitoring and power. "We are keeping the upmixer because it is very broadcast centric," Exelby explains.
Peter Freedman (pictured), founder and managing director of RØDE, said he was "extremely excited" to add SoundField to the Freedman Electronics Group roster: "The applications for cinema, home theatre, music, gaming and, crucially, the rapidly growing VR medium are astounding."
Pieter Schillebeeckx, who was head of R&D at SoundField and subsequently product director with TSL Products, will join the Freedman Group as new product development director in January next year. A RØDE spokesman said all SoundField production, distribution and service will stay in the UK for at least 12 months. Sales will be handled from RØDE's Australian headquarters, with new email addresses being created for the purpose.