Martin Audio is a leading company in the professional market which since the early 1970s has specialised in the design and production of sound systems. It was founded in 1971 by Dave Martin. His vision was to enable bands to play to larger audiences with high-quality sound.
The reputation of Martin Audio spread all over the world as the company started developing concert sound systems which were in service for the greatest music shows of the day with world-class artists such as Pink Floyd, The Who and many others.
The focus on the audience and their enjoyment of of high quality sound continues to this day. Martin Audio enjoys worldwide popularity by providing pristine pro-audio solutions for large concert tours, nightclubs and other permanent installations.
Apart from great sound, Martin Audio cares about technical details, durability and design.
That is why R&D is one of the most important departments of the company delivering innovation in sound technology to help separate Martin Audio from the competition.
Let us talk to Dom Harter, Managing Director of Martin Audio about the company’s passion, technology and last but not least about the great sound.
Multimediav: Dom, how long have you managed the company?
Dom Harter [Managing Director of Martin Audio]: I joined the company at the beginning of 2016, when we set about an exciting product and market development plan which we are already enjoying the results of.
Could you tell, in short, what does the structure of your company look like?
Martin Audio is part of LOUD Audio, but we are largely a standalone business. That means we have a full team across R&D, Manufacturing, Sales, Marketing in our British headquarters in High Wycombe. In addition we have our manufacturing partners in China, our direct sales team in the United States and Admin out of LOUD HQ in Seattle. The core of Martin Audio is in High Wycombe but we are absolutely a Global Company.
What is the range of your duties?
I run the ship! Joking aside all the management at Martin Audio is hands on, I set out the strategy at a macro level but I also run the worldwide sales team, work closely with R&D on new product development and own the companies P&L.
I am interested about your typical work day. Have you got many tasks to do?
My day usually revolves around spending time with the sales teams on where we stand for the month, product development meetings, an update from Operations on manufacturing plan against orders, and talk to a few channel partners about the current market. Being part of a US group also means quite a lot of interactions late in the day on the US side with finance and our US sales. Of course there is a pattern but one of the great things about a team like Martin Audio is the day is pretty varied!
Martin Audio is a dynamically developing company. How do you perceive the development through the years?
Ever since the days of Dave Martin, Martin Audio has strived for the best solution to a sound reproduction problem. The early Phillishave stack systems sort to get the kind of sensitivity and output from a PA to be loud enough for rock and roll, then F2 packaged this in a tour friendly way, and so on and so forth. Martin Audio was amongst the first to join the Line Array phenomena that so many manufacturers are stuck on today.
For us things really took off in around 2007 when our engineer Ambrose Thompson started work on line arrays optimisation, initially using mathematical computer modelling to optimise the array angle and later adding in sophisticated FIR processing to optimise every acoustic cell in an array. Leaving the modern line array as “last years” technology and paving the way for the fully optimised cellular array that is MLA
The producers are competing with technological novelties. How does Martin Audio respond to that?
In reality most manufacturers are still focused on line arrays and traditional point source. Martin Audio responds by building on established techniques and adding new research and development to build the next generation of products. You can see that in MLA/Wavefront Precision and CDD where we have used our Research to problem solve what we believe are real challenges in any given vertical market. The Coaxial Differential Dispersion technology that another one of engineers, Phil Anthony, pioneered is a great example of this.
MLA systems are used at the largest festivals
Is R&D department a vital part of your company?
R&D is our life blood. Jason Baird’s team are a vital part of our DNA and we will continue to invest in people and technology to grow this. Too often I see brands putting out average “me too” products or just “buying something from China” where there has been little thought to moving the product performance forward. We don’t work that way – product innovation is the key to growth and that means investment in R&D.
I suppose that in R&D only creative engineers are employed.
Yes of course, we have innovators in core disciplines, acoustics, mechanical, software and electronics – the full package.
Jason is given freedom on Research to point the team in a direction and the new product strategy is where this is subsequently applied.
I am very curious about what your process starting from an idea to the introduction of the product looks like. Could you unveil a few details?
At Martin Audio it takes two different routes. The first, and probably most common in our industry, is an evaluation of a market (new or current) and then a decision about what Martin Audio could bring to the table. If we believe we can innovate in the market then the Product Management team maps out what this would look like. They then work with engineering on a roadmap delivery. It takes between 6 months and 2 years (depending on the scale of project and levels of research and innovation) and then we are into testing, launching, production and the real world.
R & D department in 1980
The second route is more driven from the Research side. If you look at O-Line and the recent addition of fully optimised O-Line this product was born from the research in optimisation Ambrose worked on. Here the overall need to solve a problem created an entirely new sector and one which we are very proud of.
It is part of my job to balance the market demands with innovation – part I enjoy very much.
I know concert sound systems of Martin Audio which sound superb. Do you think that MLA – your flagship is the system that is so good that it is not possible to be improved?
I would never be arrogant enough to say that no product can be improved on. The reality is details of any system can be tweaked with afterthought and the knowledge the market brings back to Martin Audio.
However, sonically it is by far the best system I have heard – I am extremely proud of what the team has achieved here and look forward to continuing down the optimisation path.
In terms of Optimisation it remains the only system which can optimise the performance in the listening area and offer such dramatic reduction in levels outside it – so it is pretty hard to compare.
What is the innovativeness of this line based on?
As I said earlier this is all based on our mathematical modelling and Optimisation technology.
Multiple defined virtual measurement points in the audience area become the entire focus of the (patented) algorithms developed by our engineer, Ambrose Thompson, who has spent over a decade in this specific field.
The MLA system at the Royal Albert Hall, London
So what do we do first? Well, it’s obvious: point the loudspeakers at the people! The mechanical optimisation carefully adjusts all the angles of the array to ensure the best possible coverage from the spacing and positioning of each individual cell.
Then what? Now that the we have the best possible coverage created mechanically, the software analyses the arrival of the sound at all the virtual measurement mic positions in the audience area, it then creates FIR filter sets for each cell to ensure that the level and frequency response is as a close as possible within all areas.
There are several companies adopting a similar approach to above, the most obvious being AFMG’s own FIR maker. However, Martin Audio has gone one stage further.
In addition to focusing on smooth coverage in the audience, we have a further two options, non-audience (areas which shouldn’t be covered), and hard avoid (areas which must not be covered).
Here the maths works the FIR filters to ensure as little sound as possible goes to these areas which can give a 30dB + reduction in sound.
So why doesn’t everyone do it – they can’t, it is patented.
What are the differences between the particular MLA lines?
Outside the obvious size and cost difference of the systems, it is basically throw.
- MLA Mini: 0-30 metres,
- MLA Compact: 0-60 metres,
- MLA: 0 – 100 metres.
MLA Mini System – The Rock Church – San Diego, CA, USA
Interestingly we now have the Wavefront Precision arrays which use the same principles with external amplification; this allows the users to vary the number of amps and thus the performance of the system. This allows touring companies to vary the quote with performance but really opens up the installation market for our technology.
Could you tell me how many of those systems work around the world?
Gosh, hundreds of systems! Just looking at the last 3 years our Touring & Theatre sales are just over 17,500 units and we have been going since 2010 with this technology. We are extremely proud of the results our partners achieve and we welcome more every month.
Without any doubt your offer includes a wide installation products line.
Yes, we operate primarily in touring and installations.
How do the particular installation lines differ from each other?
Just with MLA we tend to focus on the application and throw. Wavefront Precision arrays are now the most common installation product for larger deployments because they offer the advantages of optimisation but with external amplifiers.
We then move down to CDD enclosures which are premium and offer the most innovative pattern control in their class. At the lower end we also offer a more entry level solution with our Blackline X series – this uses proven technology and the latest driver sets to offer Martin Audio to the wider installation market – and is extremely successful for us.
Could you tell me about distinguished large installations that utilise Martin Audio solutions?
Ministry of Sound – Nightclub, London, UK. Martin Audio’s relationship with Ministry of Sound runs very deep, and across the last decade we have been responsible for delivering the complete sound system throughout the club, everything from our Contractor ceiling speakers and Blackline system through to the now legendary custom 5-way 6 stack in their main room, The Box along with CDD to help deliver Dolby Atmos sound technology.
MLA Compact System – Calvary Church – Charlotte, NC, USA
Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. Clark, a full service design, engineering and integration firm specializing in Houses of Worship, deployed a Martin Audio sound system based on MLA arrays as part of an audio upgrade to solve late reflection problems on stage and ensure consistent coverage in the huge 5,000-seat sanctuary.
St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, Australia. Wizard Projects, supported by the engineering team from Technical Audio Group (TAG) installed a large 140-element Martin Audio O-Line system into St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. The system needed to be commissioned in time for the visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as part of their Australia and New Zealand tour.
Starlight Express: Stadionring, Bochum Germany. To celebrate 25 years since its first performance at the specially constructed ‘Starlight Express Theatre’ in June 1988 — the production upgraded with a permanent install of Martin Audio’s award-winning MLA Compact.
I think that you have enormous managing knowledge, so I have to ask you about that: What, in your opinion, will change in the audio and installation market in the following years?
Firstly, thank you for the compliment. I’ve been around this industry for a while now – however don’t be fooled it’s the team that matters at Martin Audio.
As for the developments for our sectors there is lots going on.
On the acoustics side you will continue to see innovative solutions to tailor the response of systems specifically to the coverage area whilst minimising any leakage. All other aspects will continue to modernise both in packaging and aesthetics. From a systems perspective we will more and more look to provide the complete solution from the output of the mixing console, once the design aspect considers the entire system at all levels then it is possible for us to add real value to the user. Take the extreme case, the system recognises your ipad connecting to it and automatically configures everything from coverage, to tonality, to level to suit your preference – that is the kind of value we can add.
And then there is immersive audio……..
Thank you for the talk.