'A mixed resume': The PSNEurope Prolight + Sound 2019 review

Phil Ward gauges the shopfloor reaction from top pro audio exhibitors to Prolight+Sound 2019 in Frankfurt
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Funktion-One booth with co-founders

Funktion-One booth with co-founders

When the aisles get wider, you know. When the lounge areas increase, the massage stops multiply and the opportunities just to stand around and natter start to get more and more abundant… then it’s time to ask a few questions. Not that the concentration of pro audio in one hall lacked appreciation: the focus was strong; the traffic was dedicated; the shoe leather spared. It was more a case of it not being the same hall as last year – Hall 8.0 rather than Hall 3.1 – and divided again by some distance from lighting (Hall 12), just when some of the dust was beginning to settle. It makes you wonder if the new additions of Hall 12 and the ‘Portalhaus’ demonstration area simply demand more shuffling of the cards for the sake of it, and whether the very expansion of Frankfurt’s already huge Messe site is the right backdrop for an industry on the fidget. 

Less is Moore’s law 

The absence of large, domineering corporations from a trade show is usually good news for start-ups, small-tomedium operations and anyone used to flying under the radar and finding themselves suddenly clearly visible on the scanner. Here was no exception: without Harman, apart from Martin Professional lighting, without MUSiC, Sennheiser, Shure, the LOUD Technologies of old… many were the mice that played with everything from microphone to speaker while the cats were away. Yamaha and Peavey flew the flag for multiple-application catalogues, without bullying the room, and in truth seemed liberated from their MI roots. 

The absence of guitars and amps from these brands gave the lie to the planned synergy between PL+S and Musikmesse. With such a condensed MI showcase, it’s hard to see the advantages of any such symbiosis. Therefore, identifying the added value of PL+S kept coming down to the individual experience of each booth. 

At DiGiCo, marketing manager Maria Fiorellino explained the company’s unexpected return to the fold. “When [managing director] James [Gordon] said we wouldn’t be back in 2019, it was realistic,” she said. “We’d had a really good ISE and we thought maybe that could be our main European show. But we do see different people here compared with ISE, and by the end of last year’s Prolight+Sound we’d had a really good four days. So, we sat down with the sales guys and reconsidered. Pockets of the hall were very busy, and people came from all over the world – they still are. We pushed to give it another go, and although James is still ‘on the fence’ he does trust in his team. As for next year, the jury’s still out. It was a very quiet load-in and setup this year, the surrounding areas are very quiet and here in Hall 8.0 parts of it are empty.” 

“The show has been through a number of structural changes over the last few years in terms of overlap with Musikmesse, target audiences and even reallocations of the halls of the show,” said Alex Lepges, Audio-Technica’s marketing director, EMEA. “It seems to us that with each of these changes we left some exhibitors behind and as of today we are lacking both our main competitors and a number of clients at the show. In the next few weeks, we’ll be reviewing this last show and examining the balance between pro users versus retail customers, and at the same time, the ratio between German and international customers to have a better understanding how to present Audio-Technica within the given framework. Certainly, we wish for a more stable setup for this show to allow more accurate planning of our activities.” 

“Our booth has been appropriately busy,” pointed out Al McKinna, director of product management for Live Sound at Avid, “but then I have been contained on the booth so it’s a bit more difficult for me to tell whether the overall show is the same. Even here, where we’re slightly tucked away from the centre, it still feels that there’s a strong footfall. It’s difficult to get into the toilets, put it that way…” 

Davey Smalley, director at networked power expert Linea Research, confirmed the suitability of this show for business evolving its own brand.

“We’ve moved from 100 per cent OEM to a more balanced portfolio,” said Smalley, “so all trade shows are successful for us, although it’s difficult to judge our experience against the overall trajectory of the show. Perhaps the value of trade shows has to be weighed against the amount of information we get from the internet these days.” 

Dave Haydon, director and co-owner of UK spatial audio pioneer OutBoard, was typically upbeat. “We’ve had the opportunity to do a successful product launch [Tracker D4], we’ve had good walk-up, as well as meetings with key distributors, and I’m contributing to the Immersive Technology Forum – which is Messe’s commitment to educating the market. We’re very pleased to able to participate in initiatives like this, because it’s more than just a product pitch. We always have a positive Frankfurt.” 

Lawo’s Wolfgang Huber described his experience this year: “We were happy to be back in Hall 8.0, the traditional 'Audio Hall'. However, even though we were satisfied with the number of important visitors on our booth, the overall impression was that of rather sparsely populated aisles. Both Prolight + Sound and Musikmesse were obviously smaller, with less exhibitors on smaller booths and visitors in general, and Hall 8.0 had seen better days when the whole place was bursting with visitors.” 

He continued: “It seems that innovative technology alone no longer leads automatically to a run of enthusiasts to Prolight + Sound for the sake of opportunities to see as much as possible. So what remains is a mixed resume: important customers and professionals with an interest in the latest technology on one side, but a less attractive environment with less exhibitors and visitors. 

“For Lawo, it was coming home to the traditional Audio location. In previous years, the dwindling attractiveness of both shows with less value for money for exhibitors led to the withdrawal of a number of companies. Subsequently, the show experienced the swapping and the closing of halls, companies being moved to halls like 3.1 and 4.1, which caused unrest amongst some exhibitors who perceived their positions as unattractive, with booth building restrictions and a reduced flow of visitors. However, as IP technology has gained more and more momentum for the live, install and performing arts applications in the past years, our IP solutions always attracted a good audience. But the trend of decreasing visitor numbers continues – and this needs to be approached so that Prolight + Sound, in combination with Musikmesse, is not being reduced to a regional European trade show rather than the international industry platform it used to be.” 

Network vision 

Belgian-based Luminex Network Intelligence held interoperability demos on the booth that showcased its data distribution equipment for pro audio, lighting and video – and this is the glue that might just hold PL+S together. Luminex couldn’t be better positioned as the markets converge, and CEO Bart Swinnen stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Meyer Sound’s director of digital product experience Tim Boot as they extolled the virtues of connectivity. Swinnen, with a lighting background, had some very interesting observations about incorporating audio into the company’s portfolio. 

“Since we moved into audio and video,” he said, “and support for advanced clocking mechanisms, we’ve seen that they have much more sophisticated protocols than lighting. Timing is much more accurate, sample and refresh rates are much higher and so is bandwidth usage, so the impact of shaping it and running it at the right priority on the network is way more critical. And for AV, unlike broadcast, the video must remain compressed for the greatest efficiency.” 

Yorick Brunke, the son of Optocore founders Marc and Tine Brunke, emphasised how fibre-optic links continue to offer a superior infrastructure for AV networks. 

“We are protocol-independent,” he said, “because the conventional way of protocol transport is for the device to decode it, work with it and then, at the other end, put out either the same or a different protocol. The key is this decoding and manipulation. Optocore’s networks simply ‘tunnel’ the protocols without decoding – we don’t look at them or touch them. It’s transportation, and that’s it. We can even convert from one protocol to another without decoding it. With our Festival Box, that happens in conjunction with multiplexing so you can have unlimited channels on one fibre.” 

At Funktion-One, which launched Vero VX, a more compact spin-off to its flagship loudspeaker concept Vero and was in development for three years, manager Ann Andrews summed up the rather stoical mood. “It’s been a great show for Funktion-One, and a successful platform for Vero VX’s global launch. The reaction was extremely positive and we look forward to shipping Vero VX this summer. We had a new position on the show floor and a completely redesigned stand layout, so we went into the show with some uncertainty about how it would go, but the stand was almost always busy and the new design worked very well. We also participated in the Vintage Concert Audio showcase, which is a valuable element of the show – it was a pleasure to be involved in that.

In terms of the show’s future, she said: “As far as we’re aware, it’s business as usual for next year’s show. We’ve got our eye on future developments and will, as we do every year, assess how this year’s show went before looking forward to 2020. While there is an air of uncertainty around the future structure of the show, our participation has always been fruitful and worthwhile.” 

VP of marketing at Meyer Sound, John McMahon was similarly upbeat: “This year’s show was exceptional for Meyer Sound. We hosted a series of very successful demos to showcase our new point source loudspeaker, ULTRA-X40, and a prototype of our new spatial sound mixing platform, and we could not have asked for a better turnout. The show provided the perfect environment for interfacing with key clients and customers, and Meyer Sound really values that face time.” 

He continued: “Last year we abstained from having a presence at the show, but this year we took a more integrated, larger approach, which made for an incredibly exciting experience and an equally exciting turnout. As a flagship tradeshow in our industry, attendance continues to grow year-over-year, and this was particularly evident to us this year, as every demo was full to capacity. 

"Next year we plan to leverage our success for an even better show in 2020. We imagine the volume of attendees will only go up, and we are excited for the next opportunity to get in front of this audience.” 

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