Audix Corporation is that rare thing: a major mic manufacturer that is still headed by its founders. The company recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, writes Steve Harvey.
Co-founder Cliff Castle, VP of sales and marketing, (and pictured here, left, with Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys, an OM1 fan)admits that the present economic climate put a bit of a damper on the celebratory mood. “However, I can say that we have been celebrating our 25th year, well, with a great sense of pride and accomplishment. We are very appreciative of the loyalty our dealers, distributors and customers have shown us over the years.”
The company, originally a distribution arm for Audix Japan, which was manufacturing microphones strictly for its domestic market, was founded in Redwood City, California. “In the early days, the yen had a huge advantage versus the dollar so we were able to introduce some good performance mics with excellent craftsmanship at very attractive prices,” he reminisces. “This, along with the fact that there was not a huge number of microphone companies in the MI market, allowed us to develop a small niche for ourselves.”
When the yen began to drop in value the company started to import parts and assemble the mics in the US. “We went through a very steep learning curve with every one of the processes and ultimately we were able to actually make improvements to the product, which would in turn make us more competitive. The real breakthrough came when we started making proprietary changes to the capsules and the build processes, which led to the development of the OM series microphones. Those were the mics that put us on the map.”
With the San Francisco Bay Area becoming increasingly expensive and overcrowded, Audix Corp relocated to Wilsonville, just outside Portland, Oregon in the Pacific Northwest, which offered all the advantages of a big city but with comparatively affordable housing, plus beautiful scenery.
Castle, meanwhile, moved to southern California and began building strategic relationships with companies such as Guitar Center, a retailer that was just starting to expand: “They were willing to take a chance on a relatively new brand,” he explains.
Another of those early relationships was with Dave Rat, founder of Rat Sound, an unorthodox production company working with obscure – at that time – bands such as Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Pearl Jam. “Dave discovered the benefits that the OM7 offered in very high SPL stage environments and it really helped us establish that product beyond our expectations once those bands hit the mainstream,” Castle reports. “We also developed a nice relationship with The Tonight Show, where the OM5 became their mic of choice for wired vocal applications.”
By 1997 the company had made a major commitment towards becoming more vertically integrated and more automated. “We set up a fully automated machining centre and started with the D series mics as the first product to be built completely in-house,” relates Castle, who eventually relocated his family to Oregon. “I have to say that this was the turning point in the company as it completely changed the way we developed products and even the design of products. For example, the D6 was designed and prototyped on the very same machine that produces it.”
New products are developed in various ways. “Some are driven by demand and some by pure imagination and innovation. The D6 and i5, for example, are products developed by market demand.”
The Micros Series is a different story, he continues. “When our head mic designer walked into my office with a condenser mic about the size of a cigarette, all of us sales guys pretty much reacted the same way – we thought it was a cool mic but were not really sure what to do with it.” This innovative series has had a profound effect on the way choirs are now miked, and has found its way into contracting and videoconferencing applications.
One critical aspect of the R&D process is real-world testing. “When we first moved into our 80,000sqft facility in 1997, we allocated one area, a 6,000sqft room with a 25ft ceiling, as the Performance Room. Thanks to companies like Tannoy, Crest, Roland, Mackie, DW Fearn, Fender, G & L, Sabian, Radial, Breedlove, LP, DiAddario, Ultimate Support, Marshall, Kawai, Presonus, Avalon, and others, we have simulated our own mini-performing arts centre,” he says. Over the years, a stage, lighting, acoustic treatment and a recording studio have been added.
“When we added the studio, we did a complete recording project in house featuring about 20 of Portland’s finest musicians. We became intimately familiar with how our mics behave in a real-world recording project, trying all kinds of mic applications. It was called Rose City Project and the CD raised a nice little sum of money, which was donated to various music education programmes in the Portland area,” he continues.
“Whenever we develop a new product now we always do extensive live sound testing as well as recording. The Performance Room has proven to be an invaluable space for R&D, plus we get a continuous flow of visitors, including sound engineers, artists, dealers and distributors. In this way we are continuously improving the products, pushing the limits.” The process has also spawned a series of ‘how-to mic it’ videos, available on the company’s website.
Looking to the future, Castle says: “We have enough products in the pipeline for years to come. We will continue to keep improving what we already have as well as to bring innovative products to the market. You’ll have to wait and see, but I promise you one thing – they’re gonna be good!”