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Super Power: Dom Harter fills us in on Martin Audio’s newest loudspeaker the BlacklineX Powered

Fiona Hope spoke to managing director Dom Harter at the launch of Martin Audio's newest powered loudspeaker, who tells us how this product came to fruition and about its future in the multi-purpose loudspeaker market

Martin Audio recently announced the launch of the passive BlacklineX series of portable enclosures ’90s. In 2016, we upgraded our passive loudspeakers of the BlacklineX Powered, a new powered loudspeaker aimed at the portable and touring market, but with the versatility and discreet aesthetics to apply to the installation market as well. This new product marks a different pathway for Martin Audio, stepping into a multi-purpose avenue with a more cost-effective solution for the portable realm.

It can be used in a wide variety of applications – from live venues, for DJs and corporate events to permanent installs, particularly houses of worship.

Comprising the 12-inch XP12 and 15-inch XP15 full range enclosures, plus the compact 18-inch XP118 subwoofer, BlacklineX Powered integrates acoustic, DSP and amplifier technologies in order to achieve clarity, precision and richness of tone. The new line also offers optional Bluetooth control, streaming and a built-in three channel mixer in a road-ready construction that is quick to set up, making the product flexible and accessible to every user.

The range’s debut follows the international success – the fastest-selling portable series in Martin Audio’s 48- year history and the first series developed and launched after Dom Harter became managing director. Designed to set a new benchmark for full-bandwidth, high definition portable audio at a user-friendly price point: “The introduction of a self-powered series makes perfect sense and by leveraging our engineers’ expertise in acoustic, DSP and amplifier technologies, we have crafted a very forward-looking portable range with a classic Martin Audio sound,” Harter said of its launch. Here, we speak to Harter about the inspiration behind BlackineX Powered and where it sits in today’s powered loudspeaker climate…

BlacklineX Powered will begin shipping worldwide in late July or early August this year.

What was the inspiration behind the new product line?

BlacklineX Powered is a totally new thing for us. As a kind of sub brand, Blackline has existed since the mid-90s. In 2016, we upgraded our passive loudspeakers and when we upgrade, everything tends to incrementally get better, as we’re able to do more sophisticated modelling on how loudspeakers behave.

This is us entering a whole new marketplace; this is us for the first time making a powered loudspeaker that is fairly accessible to professional and semi-professional musicians, DJs, corporate rental companies, etc.

Typically, you’d expect Martin Audio to be at a price point above this for a powered loudspeaker. Our ethos is that we’ll make a professional loudspeaker for anything provided that we believe we can make it as good or better than the competition. And more importantly, that we can add something for the end users in the market and be at a sensible and accessible price point.

We looked at what was out there, and some of it is good, but we felt that perhaps it didn’t have the professional look you might expect from a loudspeaker in this sort of class. And, that we could deploy the same engineers who voiced and tuned products like our MLA that are at the biggest festivals in the world. If we used the same engineers we did for that, then we could bring the kind of performance and sound you’d expect from that kind of PA to your everyday powered speaker world.

How does this product differ from Martin Audio’s usual offerings?

BlacklineX Powered marks the first time we’ve been able to engineer a self-powered portable series at this price point and still retain the sound quality expected from Martin Audio. We have leveraged our engineers’ experience and expertise in acoustics and electronics to ensure that we have created a road-ready and adaptable solution that offers end users a quick set up time, yet also retains the classic Martin Audio sound. We believe it provides the opportunity for a whole new range of users to deliver the highest possible sound quality.

Is it available to all types of application?

When you design a loudspeaker you pick what you’re designing for, and in this case it was always an entry- level powered loudspeaker. The majority of sales will be to a general portable environment, but by keeping a lot of the features discreet, as well as esoteric and professional, when it’s installed it looks good and unobtrusive.

Where does it sit in the installation market?

The reality is it’s not a dedicated installation product, but our view is that the difference between installation products and touring/portable products is about how visible handle boxes are and whether it has wheels and a flight case. Traditionally, manufacturers would have pretty garish designs for portable stuff, functional designs for touring stuff and completely impractical designs with no handles for installation stuff. What we tried to do at the entry-level range is have a multi- purpose product that is easier to get hold of. Our customers in Norway, Sweden, Austria – our smaller markets – need to be able to go to their local distributors and say ‘I want one of these and I want it today.’

How has the multi-purpose market grown since Martin Audio started out?

I think what’s interesting is, particularly over the last few years, and especially in Europe, there has been a perception that the market hasn’t been growing that much. What people tend to think about when thinking of this market and the relatively low price point is straight retail and big retailers. That’s not where Martin Audio sits, even at these kind of price points, because it’s very unlikely you’ll buy these products online. It’s more likely going to be a relationship sale.

This side of the market for us has been growing; we grew 25 per cent last year. If we continue to do things our customers want, we’ll continue to take market share in a market that seems pretty buoyant at the moment.

Does it seem that the industry as a whole is doubling down on this market?

If you’re talking about a €500 loudspeaker in a retail environment, my personal view is probably, but I don’t operate in that market.

I have quite a long history in the industry, and have been part of brands that do have products in that area and the race to the bottom was feared by everybody, everyone was constantly trying to make things cheaper. That’s true to an extent.

Martin Audio is a brand, and therefore we operate in a space where we believe the sales channel and the customer have value, and wouldn’t want to destroy our value by selling it all cheap. So I wouldn’t say a ‘doubling down’ or ‘race to the bottom’ is something you’d see from Martin Audio’s core markets. However, we firmly believe in creating loudspeaker systems for pristine audio that makes people’s lives easier.

How will it fit into the summer season of gigs, festivals and parties?

We believe that BlacklineX Powered will prove to be a very popular option for up and coming bands, gigging DJs and smaller stages at festivals. It’s robust construction, quick and easy deployment and the flexibility provided by its factors such as Bluetooth control and a built-in three-channel mixer make it the perfect option for any serious player in this market. Add to that the high-quality sound that you would expect from one of pro audio’s founding brands and its easy to see why we are already receiving such great feedback about the series.

Has it been employed in any applications so far or sold to any major clients?

We have been astounded by the demand that we have already seen for BlacklineX Powered. Even though the series was only formally introduced a matter of weeks ago at our launch party in London, it is already a popular addition to the range.

We knew that bringing the classic Martin Audio sound to this price point would be a popular decision, and the orders that we have already seen go a long way to prove this. There are lots of people out there who are extremely eager to get their hands on the system when we begin shipping in late July/early August.

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