“A lot of work, but a lot of fun.” That’s how Ken Berger describes the creation of Vue Audiotechnik, the new brand name in loudspeakers launched earlier this year. The brainchild of Berger and Jim Sides, a duo with parallel roots and an easy, buddy-buddy outlook in common, you’d expect both effort and affability. How that translates to a changing world could be the story of 2013.
Berger is typically bullish about the DNA inside Vue. “It’s all about our commitment to the channel, our relationships and our experience – especially mine at EAW and Jim’s at Apogee Sound, Nexo and Meyer,” he says.
“Speaker products have come a long way and the base line is pretty good everywhere, but there hasn’t been a lot of envelope pushing – really wanting to make things better. We also want to get back to the personal touch, and not look at the market like a big corporation would – slicing and dicing it and basing it all on the quarterly performance.
“Of course success and performance matter, but they matter in the long term and with all of your industry relationships thriving year after year. Jim and I have spent time in large organisations and we want to avoid those things that they’re bad at. It’s been great building this up from scratch and finding how hungry people are for this kind of company.” SPEAKER CONNECTIONS And a very 21st century kind of company it is, too. Vue’s partnership is with Speaker Electronic (China), the manufacturing and R&D facility, and Speaker Connection based in Solingen, Germany – responsible for all sales, product development, product design and order processing.
“The factory in China and the German office operate as separate companies but work exclusively together,” points out director of marketing communications Kyle Ritland, “and from Vue’s perspective they are a single resource.”
Sides has spent much of the summer touring the US with a truck full of demo stock and shooting from the hip in front of every kind of audio business: a process that has won new friends but also reunited these veterans with a lot of old ones.
This was a deliberate alternative to the formulaic demo day prescribed by modern convention: rent a hall; send out the invites. The aim was to make each encounter personal.
“We really wanted to get the products to the clients,” he recounts, “rather than the other way round; to get inside their facility and mingle with all the staff. It was also untypical in that we used the same track for every model in each range, rather than tailoring the audio to suit specific boxes – and this really showed the consistency of voicing across every system from a 4.5” cone driver with a 1”, soft-domed tweeter to a 4” compression driver with a beryllium diaphragm and a 15” LF driver. They all had the same intrinsic sonic properties.”
The exercise was fruitful in both directions. US operators saw three complete product ranges, while Vue Audio garnered a unique perspective on current market conditions. “We couldn’t have hired a marketing firm and got as much information as we did,” observes Sides. “We saw so many different companies, their infrastructure, their staff, their inventories, their business models… it was a real window on the state of the market.” CLASS ACT The current line-up includes the iClass, aClass and hClass ranges: iClass is the integrator and contractor series; aClass is the “working class hero” series of robust, versatile solutions including the company’s first small line array; and hClass is the flagship technology statement with patents pending, original combinations and bulging specifications. hClass also comes with network control as standard, using proprietary software running on regular EtherNet for monitoring and management but not, as yet, audio transport.
Distribution is now underway outside of the US, with initial deals cemented in Asia and individual territories such as Norway. But the big push into Europe starts now. “You’ll see a real focus on exports between NAMM and Prolight + Sound,” reveals Berger, “and this is fundamental to where we see the company going. At Frankfurt we’ll introduce products ready to supply the whole world.”
Norway is already in the can because Edgar Lien of Oslo-based integrator and production house Avon made an early purchase of iClass units and applied them to both installation and television projects with quoted success.
His appointment reveals much about Vue’s fresh look at distribution models. To some extent applying a US model to a gradually converging Europe, Vue has it that no one is automatically exempt – nor automatically qualified – to distribute its products in Europe simply because they have a business model that corresponds to traditional patterns.
Anyone is fair game, provided they bring the passion and commitment demanded by the founders.
“Eddy is one of the new, younger types of entrepreneur – the young turks – that we think suits Vue better than the large conglomerations like Eastavab Group,” states Sides. “He reminds us of how we were when we started! Some of the larger businesses, we feel, have lost sight of the driving force that’s such an important part of our industry and makes it so unique. That’s what Eddy brings, and I’m delighted to report that we’ve just shipped some hClass models to him – h-12 full range boxes and hs-28 dual 18” subs. It’s been a very organic process, just as it was with our very first international customer in Malaysia.” UNITED STATES Sides is currently in Europe to give that organic process a bit of crop rotation. Exactly where the seeds will take root is going to be interesting, because Vue is not inclined to observe accepted boundaries and borders.
“We intentionally focused our first efforts in the US,” confirms Sides, “because it’s a market people look to and it provides a good template.” “We have a clean sheet,” adds Berger, “and no sacred cows in either product development or distribution. That allows us to speak to every type of company and pick our partners based on their unique capabilities. There’s no typical kind of distributor that we’re looking for. Sure, they have to know their territories but they won’t be defined by narrow criteria. Some may be traditional, some be consortiums, some may be rental companies…”
“Distribution is changing in the EU,” Sides continues. “High-end products were usually bought and used by small, specialist production companies who effectively became distributors of the new wave of off-the-shelf technology as opposed to building their own. Prior to the EU as we know it now, they were locked into a country-by-country pattern of representation. That doesn’t apply any more. You now have to find the people who are best servicing the market, especially when you’re breaking new and high-end products.
“You might have a service company in the UK that’s doing big business in Germany, for example. Do we preclude them from selling to Germany? No: it’s the same scenario as in the States. If our guy in LA has a client in New York, we’re not going to stop that because there’s already a guy selling in New York. That’s how Europe is going – and we’re ready for it.”
Story: Phil Ward