England’s Hertfordshire is a very Full Fat kind of a place. The location of top-drawer power amp start-up Full Fat Audio (FFA), tucked away in a bucolic farm conversion, it sports rare cattle and nature reserves aplenty: just the ticket for saturated, no-compromise and very organic produce.
Energising the pro-audio industry with their own breed of electric milk, FFA partners Dave Millard and Chris Newey form a classic tech-‘n’-sales duo. Newey has a BBC background, via consumer audio and 15 years in R&D at Soundcraft, and joined Millard’s venture five years ago.
They met at the Harman HQ north of London while Millard worked at stablemate BSS Audio, and while C-Audio still flew the flag for British power amplifiers from the same rooftop.
Millard’s motivation for striking out on his own should be inscribed on a tablet: “I’ve always had a keen interest in making loud music through sound systems,” is his explanation, and what more needs to be said? You will have felt his presence at a festival or nightclub somewhere, and he’s still out there, doing it, long since his early prototypes found favour with a widening network of contacts.
Now approaching its 10th birthday, FFA is being taken very seriously indeed in several quarters – not least London 2012 supplier Delta Sound and OEM partners led by kindred spirits Funktion One. Other happy clients include Capital Sound, who “wanted a specific product for a specific application and then rolled it out for a variety of purposes”, according to Millard, and Production Hire, migrating from the troubled festival market back to touring. “We started selling amps to Production Hire 10 years ago,” adds Newey. “They now have 100-plus and have since become one of the UK’s leading hire facilities.”
Permanent installation balances with temporary events – “from touring to someone doing a disco for the evening” – at a ratio of around 60:40. The home turf of the UK has a fertile dealer network, and the personal touch still applies to those all-important relationships with the top flight of rental operators.
Installers, too, will buy direct and put the units to real-world work through a very reflexive chain of supply. Local customers are also asked to help out with product testing, and there remains a strong bond of trust and respect in all of FFA’s cultivation. This is now spreading far and wide, as international distribution grows. “Our biggest export market is China,” reports Newey, “which was only recently added to territories like India, South Africa and Indonesia along with several European countries – especially France through Chris Hawkes and Solution One. Best of all, they seem to keep their promises and do the numbers!”
The Class D line up includes the 4-channel, 4-ohm-drive FFA-4004 and FFA-6004 models, which have built rapidly upon the initial success of FFA’s ‘bass engines’ – the FFA-6000 and FFA-10000 models with dual mono architecture. “We started with an amplifier dedicated to high-power bass at a given load,” explains Millard, “then customers required amps from us to drive other parts of the system and it’s expanded from there. The next step is to examine what else amplifiers are asked to do today.”
Next month’s Prolight + Sound exhibition marks a Frankfurt debut for FFA. Previous presence at SIEL and Music Moscow reflects those regional successes, but the time has come for the big one – especially with some highly significant new technology in tow.
DSP has now been integrated into the 4-channel amplifiers, and a full demo was on display at SIEL. The digital element has been designed in conjunction with Germany-based OEM partner AllDSP.
“You can control the amplifiers over Ethernet,” reveals Millard, “and you can connect either directly to a laptop or into a network router for wireless operation. We’re not implementing audio transport at this stage; let’s see how the market develops and assess those options in due course. For now we’ve put a 2-in, 6-out crossover inside the amplifier, and it has analogue balanced inputs as well as switchable AES3 XLR inputs. The DSP software offers a range of EQs and crossover filters along with compressors on the inputs and outputs. Technically we’re still at the Beta stage but Frankfurt is the official launch.”
Industry demand for DSP has reached a tipping point, according to Newey. “There are those who say we must have it,” he says, “and those who won’t have it under any circumstances – the ones nervous about plugging Ethernet around a live environment. It’s for very specific applications, like controlling a line array from a rack of amplifiers. Two or three years ago it seemed to be on a distant horizon; we absolutely need to do it now.”
A UK-based sub-contractor handles the population of the circuit boards, while heat sinks, chassis, transformers and other key components are also sourced in the UK. “Look inside the products,” adds Newey. “There’s a rock-solid power supply, and a good strong chassis – not the lightest products in the world, but they’re used in some very hostile environments. That’s what Full Fat Audio customers appreciate. We know that, as we grow the business as it is now, we’ll be able to satisfy it.”
It’s in the soil. Hertfordshire’s English Longhorn cows range between 500-600 kilogrammes in weight, while bulls can grow to weigh up to 1,000. Pro audio should be milking this supply for all its worth.
Pictured: Full Fat Audio’s Dave Millard at SIEL in Paris, January 2013, with Funktion One’s John Newsham (left) and Bill Woods (far right), and Chris Hawkes of French distributor Solution One www.fullfataudio.com