A visit to Hannover for Dave Robinson, where Paul Ward is keen to emphasise the advantages that evolving loudspeaker maker CODA Audio can bring to the market
CODA Audio was first launched by Svetly Alexandrov in the mid-Nineties, but, in the words of sales and marketing director Paul Ward, the brand is “really only five years old”. (Alexandrov has always been a presence at international tradeshows, but, like Eric Vincenot of France’s Nexo, he eschews the journalist’s spotlight.)
It’s rare to see a brand that has a significant effect in pro audio, argues Ward – “only every 10 years or so” – but it’s clear that what’s on the CODA agenda.
When PSNEurope visited the company at its Hannover HQ following the launch of the ViRAY medium-size touring system in the autumn of 2012, Mick Anderson, spokesman for the company at the time, said: “If you project five years into the future, there is a view here at CODA Audio that those companies which will take the top positions in the loudspeaker market are those that can produce that ‘integrated approach’ in-house.”
It’s four out of those five later, but that message remains at the heart of the CODA dynamic: the company is asking the market to look at what it’s providing in a more detailed and considered way. Hence, Ward is on the exact same page four years on: “Sound is only [part] of the issue,” he posits. Not, for the tiniest moment, suggesting that is any kind of compromise in audio fidelity in the product line: Ward’s (pictured) point is that CODA is offering whole systems that are easier to set up, use and service, and cheaper to transport, so PA/rental houses and installer integrators can remain profitable. “It’s a whole commercial proposition. The market has changed considerably over the last 9 years and technologically speaking we are in a good position to react to those changes, providing solutions that are relevant today and into the future.” he says.
“We’re not making any claims that we are the only manufacturer developing and manufacturing transducers,” says Ward. “We’re saying that the technology is unique to CODA, and patented by CODA – that is a fundamental difference. We can determine what the market needs, and we can design that from the transducer up.”
(After Ward says this, PSNEurope is reminded of the slogan that grew out of the UK EU Referendum: CODA Audio has, if you will, “taken back control”. Ward laughs: “Standing alone in that [Brexit] context is probably not a great idea; in our context, it is.”)
The ‘unique tech’ on which the recent ranges – 2012’s ViRAY and 2015’s bigger AiRAY touring system – include the DDP drivers (CODA’s patented Dual Diaphragm Planar-wave drivers), ultra low-distortion cone speakers and what is effectively a wave guide called the ViCOUPLER or AiCOUPLER, respectively.
While Ward readily admits that the ViRAY from 2012 system has several competitors in its slice of the market, the top of the range AiRAY, launched in 2015, does not. “We would never been able to build that product based on existing available tech other than our own. AiRAY is a clear case in point: we’ve been able to build a product that people need, and we’ve recognised through sales that it’s really [a system] of today and the future.” AiRAY is currently CODA’s strongest selling product.
Designs and specifications are not in question (or up for discussion) here: a more important point is, if Ward and CODA are confident about the technology, then how are they spreading that message?
“It is clear that distribution is key, if you don’t have the correct distribution in place then you cannot support your customers. What comes with distribution is finding the right level of partner – you have to play the waiting game to do that.”
CODA tried a different strategy: “We got engineers in front of [the systems] at major festivals around the world, people started talking about it, and over the last year to 18 months, they’ve contacted us.”
The level of customer CODA Audio are now engaging with should not be sniffed at: Hibino in Japan, Soundus Corp in South Korea; Tommex in Poland.
And in America? “We thought long and hard about how to approach the US market,” says Ward. “The key was to find the right level of individual!”
And they certainly did: Luke Jenks (pictured), whose departure from Meyer Sound turned into a golden opportunity for CODA.
Ward says CODA is looking to bolster its team in the European office in the new future, and this will be done in line with the company’s mantra: “There is a huge amount of resource been spent in doing this correctly. We’ve always been adamant that we always take strategic steps, we’re not just out there to sell a bunch of stuff – we want to create a demand where the market wants to invest in the brand.
“There are plenty of other brands that are picking up sales successes but not actually building a brand, and we are definitely engaged in that brand-building process. It’s fundamentally different thinking.”
Ward retells a favourite anecdote: “Very early on I went to Adlib Audio with Svetly – I wanted to engage the manufacturer with the marketplace so he could better understand it. The question was asked, what are the ten most important things you consider when buying a sound system. The answers: ‘It’s got to sound right, be easy to use, deliver a return on investment, be reliable,’ and so on. Then the question was asked, which one is the most important? To which the answer came, all of them. So all of those points have to be there if you want to play in the A-list game.”
(Adlib Audio in the UK has, to date, invested a seven-figure euro amount in the brand.)
The expected wins have followed for the brand, of course: CODA product has been deployed in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, the Lhasa National Culture Theatre in Tibet, and for the spectacular 14-18 musical in Mechelen, Belgium.Installations have followed in the Kongress Palais Kassel and the Lipperlandhalle Lemgo in Germany, and more in South Africa and China. AiRAY was used at major festivals across Europe and Asia in 2016, including on the Waldbuhne stage at the Gurten Festival in Switzerland (pictured). Placebo recently used AiRAY for its 20th anniversary world arena tour, as did pop innovators Public Service Broadcast in a late 2016 gig at the O2 Brixton Academy. These are just a sprinkling of what the ‘RAY’ ranges have accomplished.
Meanwhile, creating a buzz on social media has paid dividends for the operation. “This is how the brand is being built: real grass roots people are saying real things. It’s like religion – and speakers are like religion, converts to one brand or another are not easily swayed to move in another direction…” CODA has made claims about the strength of its output, and, consistently, these claims have been reinforced by users discovering their validity, and posting real-life experiences of the kit on the social channel.
All of CODA’s ideas have been generated by customer consultation says Ward: the straightforward, non-nonsense rigging system, for instance. CODA even manufactures the pins for the rigging, reveals Ward. And here again is a clue to why CODA will continue to thrive: “That control over the whole process is as much as being able to do unique things as it is about reliability,” says Ward. “That’s what you’ve got to do to provide an A-list product.”