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dB gains…

Take another look at what dB Technologies has done, and is planning to do, suggests the management. You may be surprised. Dave Robinson reports

 “In July 2007 we went public, and this was a very important date.” Important, says RCF/dB Technologies president Arturo Vicari, because that’s when the real mission began: the mission to expand his group of companies (all owned by his original 1970s business AEB, the Acoustic Engineering Bureau) until it is big enough to call itself one of Europe’s biggest players.

“We gave ourselves five years to reach the goal,” he says, sitting in the boardroom at the AEB/dB HQ just outside Bologna. This is where dB plans, develops and assembles its loudspeaker systems – principally for the MI market, but increasingly finding a reach into pro applications. “Since then, [dB] and RCF have started to grow dramatically; then we bought lighting company SGM [in April 2009]. We found that it was not in great shape, and a year has passed before we have started to see the results. But this is not the end. I cannot tell you more but we have a couple of interesting things in the pipeline which should bring the company to a much bigger state than it is now.”

Vicari’s operations – including the renowned RCF installation/pro brand, which Vicari bought back from Mackie/ LOUD some years ago – have ridden out the recession with little to no damage, he claims. His twin philosophyof investing in R&D and targeting commercial expansion, have helped to cushion any fiscal blows.
 “We invested around 8% of our revenue in the company, which is a lot in our business. The average is around 1.5%. And we could see the difference in Frankfurt this year – we exhibited all of our new products; and we found we were the only one almost to show that number of new products.”
 Ever humble and quite the gentleman, Vicari seems to be genuinely embarrassed that his company has taken market share from his competitors, and apologises for the fact. “I would rather it was fairer,” he says.In a similar vein, showcasing the RCF/dB portfolios at Prolight + Sound was not about being “sensational”, as Vicari puts it.
 “No,” he affirms, “we did it to show that we are investing that much in R&D. So we didn’t feel any recession: instead we have a problem of supplying on time, because we have huge back orders.
 “If we compare the results we got with the general economy – it seems we are living in a different world!” Then: “Passion is the key to our success.”
 So what of this further expansion? “We have been following a couple of companies for some time. There are many people around the world who are looking for business from us: ‘Do you intend to sell the group?’ they say. No, my friend, I say, we are looking to acquire! But that might not happen while I am still here, because my white hair will be even more white, if it’s possible!” he smiles. “But I believe the people here have the same feeling and the same mission in mind.
 “I believe it is no good buying a company because it is in a bad situation. That doesn’t work. To succeed you buy something that is moving and working, otherwise you waste so much time. And I can’t do that at my age…”One of the surprise stories of late from dB has been the runaway success of its DVA T4 line array unit. In March the company reported that 10,000 elements had been sold in just over three years, making it the biggest selling dB product ever. Was it a surprise to Vicari?
 “Well, yes. If I say no, I would be insincere. I knew it would be successful but not in that way. It was designed by Claudio Ottani – he came to us as a 16-year-old, with a passion for electronics. Now he is one of the best electronic engineers here. We are very lucky to have someone like him.”
 Ottani’s digital amplifier designs have been core to not only the rapid development of popular products, for both RCF and dB brands, but they have brought about a change of strategy within the group. Last year, as Vicari announced his acquisition of SGM, he revealed that digipro, an independent unit to develop technology, particularly for OEM, had been formed. But not any more.
 “I decided recently to change my mind,” he smiles. “Our sales were so good, we decided to keep it for ourselves.
 “It’s a great luxury to be able to say, you don’t buy technology outside; you invest but you don’t sell the technology outside either, only finished product. We had customers asking us for OEM but we said no.”
 Key to sales in Europe is the hub-like dB operation outside Cologne in Germany. From there, the company sells directly to dealers in Germany, and manages sales reps in four European regions: Spain, France, Benelux and the UK.Area sales manager for the Cologne office, Harald von Falkenstein, himself responsible for 10 further distributors around Europe, takes up the story.
 “The interaction and communication between Italy and Germany has proven to be very useful, because, being one of the most important markets, Germany can feed back a lot of information in terms of what customers want… So we have made the right product at the right time for the appropriate market. I think that is a big advantage over the American market, or [our competitors with] only distributors in the European countries where the flow of information is not as efficient.
 “As Arturo rightly mentioned, it’s more of a family thing than anything else,” he confirms. “We are all driven by the same passion, of being successful in serving the customer, of having a quality product – all these ideas meld together.”
 Von Falkenstein is keen to return to Ottani’s digital amplifier designs, and the intelligent diagnostic processing that comes with it, and how dB has implemented them across the ranges.
 “MI is not PSNE’s market, but for €199, you get maybe a good analogue box from other brands. From dB, you get a digital box, with DSP, with a neodymium [magnet], with all these features – I think that is pretty unique for that sector.”You can break [the amp technology] down from the big stuff, the DVA, down to a small inexpensive box. That is the difference in terms of technology.”
 Claudio Ottani himself says: “We have used it to reduce the cost and enhance the performance. We focus a lot of time and money on the design.”
 Von Falkenstein adds: “digipro technology – and what’s included in the price – gets you a highly professional box for a third of what you pay for from, say, Meyer, with more features.”
 dB will no doubt surprise the PA industry again when it launches the T12 unit early next year. Whereas the DVA T4 is a three-way system with an output of 420W, the T12 will be “three times as powerful” at 1.2-1.5kW.
 “T12 – this is going to be a weapon!” jokes von Falkenstein. “But with a plastic mould, it will be the same width but deeper than the T4.
 “A lot of people laughed at us when we started doing this plastic housing, the sound quality’s not as good, can’t be reliable, blah blah blah. Ten thousand – nearly 12,000 – units later, people are realising that if you want good stuff, you can now buy from dB Technologies. And that 12,000 will be able to combine the T12 with the existing T4.
 “We are not reinventing the wheel but we are able to offer the technology for a fraction of the price, and you geta lot of features here. Step-by-step, bit-by-bit, we are gaining an advantage on our competitors.”
 “There are a lot of synergies across the AEB group,” says von Falkenstein in summary. “RCF and dB profit from the investment in R&D across the company. Which makes us,” he says with a twinkle in his eye, “a little different from the competition.”