Palm Technology got in touch with Amnon Harman, the man behind the rise and rise of d&b audiotechnik in the last half a decade. In this interview, Harman discusses d&b’s fundamental philosophy behind cutting-edge R&D, product design and growth strategy
1. d&b sound systems are today considered among the best in the industry, in terms of technology. Any specific philosophy that helped the d&B achieve the status and growth?
From the very beginning, the founders of d&b – Mr Daubert and Mr Belz – had a ‘system approach’ in mind. This approach came from the understanding that loudspeakers do not perform in isolation, they are one element of the signal chain. The system approach comprised loudspeaker boxes and amplifiers meticulously designed to complement one another, to get the very best performance from the technology. Later, this was extended to include software tools for simulation, optimization and control. The software tools improve efficiency from the start of a project, through planning and simulation, configuration and operation of the system. We call this “the d&b System reality”.
Today, components of the d&b system extend past the loudspeaker and amplifier boxes up the signal chain towards the mixing desk, for example the DS10 Dante audio network bridge, as well as the new DS20 Milan audio network bridge, and the DS100 Matrix processor.
In essence, the d&b philosophy is to deliver complete systems that deliver great sound right out of the box.
2. Tell us a about the R&D process at d&b. And what is your definition of a ‘good design’ in line arrays?
Great d&b products are always guided by our experience in the market and driven by our primary objectives: to deliver exceptional sound, while making things as easy as possible for the end user and delivering an outstanding return on investment for the system owners.
Product development is always a collaboration. The d&b Research and Development department works closely with Product Management and end users to ensure we meet – and exceed – the real demands of day-to-day work with the product.
The teams are guided by direct experience in the field, plus the information brought into the company by product management, sales, market intelligence, partners and users. There are many passionate and dedicated audio people contributing to the process. d&b hardware engineers, and a growing number of software engineers, work closely with many other departments to constantly update a three-year product pipeline.
Some products are specifically requested, while some others are ones that the market didn’t even know that it needed yet – for example the SL-Series, with its exceptional directivity control. The important thing about this customer-user-audience perspective taken by our product management and R&D is that it drives the team to deliver great products, but also what we call the ‘d&bits’ – the thoughtful, insightful value-added features and enabling tools that make our systems truly d&b.
‘Good design’ covers a whole range of factors. Of course, the starting point for d&b is great sound – the system must deliver the experience for the audience that the artists, the sound designers and the sound engineers expect. But there are many other considerations – real-world practicalities like ergonomics, logistics, economics and the environment all have an essential part to play in good design.
Ease of use is important. Touring systems have to be rigged, configured, tuned, de-rigged and transported, often on a daily basis. The quicker and more easily this can be done, the better, as time and labor costs can be drastically minimized. Size, weight and energy consumption must be considered. Enabling technologies, such as planning, simulation and optimization software, also streamline the process and save valuable time on-site. Likewise, fast, safe rigging processes. A great deal of ingenuity went into the compression rigging system used in the new d&b SL-Series systems.
Then there is the customer to consider. We expect our rental partners to make a significant investment in our systems, so we must understand their business needs. The total cost of ownership (TCO) of the system is brought down to a minimum – an investment in a d&b system actually gives a great return on investment. You have less equipment overall, and fewer people needed to rig, configure and tune it. Good design results in an exceptional sound experience, excited audiences and happy customers.
3. Three main milestones in terms of product development in the history of d&b?
There have been so many milestones. The Q-Series is a major one. It was the first d&b line array; a versatile system which fulfilled a huge range of applications, from touring and corporate events, to installations. It embodied the d&b holistic approach to sound reinforcement solutions, integrating loudspeakers, electronics, mechanical deployment assemblies, remote control functions and set up design tools for precise calculation of array performance. It was first introduced to the market in 2003 and was only discontinued in 2015 after the launch of the Y-Series, which succeeded the Q-Series with an improved feature set.
The D80 was the first of our latest generation four-channel amplifiers – it’s a benchmark high performance amplifier especially for the touring market. You will find the D80 in many high end installations in theatres, mega churches, stadiums etc. The D80 holds a DSP that powers software like ArrayCalc with its broad feature set, including ArrayProcessing, our line array optimization software that enables individual steerability of all loudspeakers in an array, which leads to the same listening experience for every seat in a venue.
Our latest generation of line array systems, the SL-Series, comprises the GSL, the KSL and the SL-SUB. It’s a product family born out of the d&b obsession with directivity. The SL-Series is the next step in the d&b cardioid journey. GSL is a large-format line array with full band directivity control and cardioid behavior even in the top boxes: this is a state-of-the-art functionality. The smaller KSL delivers the same characteristics. Sound engineers and artists are delighted by the performance of the SL-Series.
And, of course, I would have to name the d&b Soundscape as a major milestone for d&b. This is a technology which brings us into a new field for immersive sound experiences. Based on the DS100 Signal engine – a 64×64 matrix processor platform, it provides powerful sound object positioning and room emulation capabilities, and it enables sound experiences which are completely new, quite unlike anything audiences have experienced before.
4. Are there any concrete changes in the way the company is run since Ardian acquired d&b from Odewald and Cobepa?
No principle changes. Ardian became the major shareholder with the plan to support the strategy that the d&b management team had already defined and were executing before the acquisition. The investment team from Ardian completely recognized the value of it. The business is doing well, with double-digit average growth year on year for the last twelve years, so the global strategy is proving to be the right one.
Ardian is not interfering with the day-to-day management of the company, but they are of course important stakeholders in the business and we appreciate their role in realizing and further developing the strategy with us. Ardian and its network is also supportive of our large business transactions. In our recent expansion of the d&b Group into China, for example, Ardian supported us with research, legal and transactional support, that we do not necessarily have on board. The relationship is built on mutual trust. In my opinion the cooperation with financial investors for the last twelve years have challenged us to always think beyond the obvious 2-3 years and have contributed that we could develop in this successful way.
5. What is it that makes the new KSL a versatile, no-compromise line array and if you have to name one single component most responsible for vocal clarity in the KSL System, what would it be? When will the product start shipping and what would be the price range in INR?
The key feature of the SL-Series, which the new KSL embodies, is the full bandwidth pattern control. The cabinets have a cardioid performance pattern which delivers unprecedented rear rejection, meaning that the areas behind the loudspeaker arrays – including the stage, where the artists do their work – are quieter, more comfortable environments than ever before. This improves the performers’ experience, but also the work of the monitor engineers who no longer have to battle with the PA to deliver the artists’ stage mixes.
But perhaps more importantly, this accuracy of pattern control reduces the unwanted, uncontrolled reflections and reverberations in the room, which makes for far greater clarity, and far greater efficiency.
No single component is responsible for that performance; it’s more like an orchestra. The achievement involved many players, providing solutions to many challenges, and drew on all the d&b knowledge and experience developed on our journey. How to drive seven loudspeakers in each cabinet using only two amplifier channels. How to configure the high, mid and low frequency drivers in the cabinet to ensure maximum output to the front, and cancellation to the rear. And, as I have mentioned, it is a full system approach: everything from transportation to rigging to configuration to cost of ownership has been optimized.
The KSL has been shipping since December 2018 and is already out on some major tours. As for pricing, we don’t deal in ‘per box’ prices: it is, of course, all about the ‘system approach’, and d&b systems are designed for the application. d&b sells on value, not cost.
6. d&b sound systems – rather expensive or quite affordable?
d&b systems are very affordable. We may require a higher initial investment, but over the period of 3-5 years the investment of a new d&b system is already amortized. Because d&b systems are versatile and rider friendly, the utilization and profit that can be generated is higher than with other systems. The lower TCO is maximizing the profitability for the users and last but not least the resale value of a used d&b system is quite high, and makes the investment again more attractive. Our rental partners will no doubt confirm that.
7. Why is ArrayProcessing ‘the next level of democracy for listeners’ and will there be updates on this front in the near future?
ArrayProcessing is a powerful optimization tool. It ensures that every seat in the venue gets the same high quality of sound. This means that everyone is in the best seat, which is of great benefit for audiences and venue owners. This fits with our aim of “democracy for listeners”. For promoters and venue owners it means that, sound-wise, the bad seats are now good seats and can be sold at a higher price. Win-win!
8. Which product is d&b currently pushing most aggressively in the pro audio market?
d&b has a wide portfolio of products for rental and installation markets. Rather than pushing particular products, we are listening to our customers and addressing the changing expectations of artists and audiences.
There has been a rapid rise in demand for immersive sound experiences, and the d&b Soundscape addresses that market pull. We introduced Soundscape just over a year ago and the range of applications in which it has already been used is incredible, from musical theatre and magical masses to classical concerts and corporate events.
9. Your vision for d&b for the next five years?
The d&b vision is to further establish ourselves as an Audio Technology and Solutions company. We have state-of-the-art audio technology, which we will continue to develop and deliver. We have already started to put technology directly in the hands of a new audiences, including artists, sound designers, consultants and venue owners. This is a shift for d&b and it gives us an opportunity to engage in a whole new way. With the expansion of our services toward the end user, d&b is growing and evolving to include many more activities that could be described as ‘solutions’.
10. What do you think are the peculiarities of the Indian market for d&b and what is the greatest challenge that d&b faces there?
My first observation is from a geographical and cultural perspective. We recognize that a lot of life is lived outdoors in India and the scale of some of the events is remarkable. We have also recognized an appreciation of good sound in the Indian market – which is great news for us, of course, since that’s what our products deliver! We have also seen that Indian customers are not afraid to invest in good technology, which, again is good for us because we’ve got some of the best available.
India is an important market for d&b and our business growth in the territory is consistent. With our new products, such as the SL-Series and new product offerings, including weather resistant options, we are addressing some key points that might positively influence buying decisions.
11. Any message for your customers in India?
It’s the same as our message for our customers worldwide: More art. Less noise.
Source: Palm Technology