Monday, September 8, 2008

The Soundcraft® Si3 project – The Next Step In Our Strategy.

Andy Trott, President of Soundcraft and Studer explains his digital console strategy and vision

For any Business leader, one of the most thrilling experiences is to reshape a good business into a great one. That’s very much the challenge my team and I took on when I joined Harman a little under six years ago as President of Soundcraft.

At the time we were a well-respected manufacturer of very good analogue consoles, ranging from the small, 4 channel Spirit Notepad up to the flagship touring desks, the Soundcraft Series 5 and MH series. But our markets were changing, demands for new digital technology was increasing, offshore manufacturing was in transition, and the economic dominos started to wobble all around the world.

We faced the same challenges that so many technology-based businesses face: ‘change or die’ – so over the following few months we developed a strategic ten year roadmap and set ourselves an aggressive target of remodelling every part of our business in order to compete with the very best digital technologies emerging in our markets, and our parent company, Harman International, backed us all the way.

Our first step was to merge with our sister-console company Studer, based in Regensdorf, Switzerland. That marriage brought together the best live-sound brains at Soundcraft, Potters Bar near London and the best digital console brains in the business at Studer. Not without our own internal challenges, we started to work together.

We had to combine Marketing and Product Management spanning Potters Bar and Regensdorf in order to deliver specifications that benefited from the expertise in both camps, then Production and all the other functions necessary to deliver new products. Within two years, we launched the Vi Series, now riding high on many of the worlds biggest tours including Deep Purple, Bob Dylan and Diana Krall and installed in some of the most prestigious theatres and broadcast studios around the world. A year later the Studer Vista 5 SR launched and was immediately placed on tour with global acts including Celine Dion, Billy Joel and Rascal Flatts.

Now another year on we’re rolling out the next phase of our digital strategy, the Soundcraft Si3 which follows hotly on the heels of the hugely successful Vista 5 SR and Vi Series in our live sound range.

Although users will see lots of similar design cues across these families, there are differing levels of technology under the bonnet in order to meet differing price points, but there are two things they all have in common, and it’s something we pride ourselves in being world leaders in – sound quality and ‘Mix Ergonomics’, the whole science and development of advanced user interfaces..

‘Mix Ergonomics’ is something that is common across all our range from the smallest Soundcraft analogue mixer, to the most advanced Vista 8 from Studer; at any new product meeting we always insist that the ‘user experience’ HAS to be the best a customer can expect and that it makes his or her job, to deliver great audio, easier, faster and more enjoyable.

Whilst the advantages of the Vistonics™ user interface employed on the Vista and Vi Series has been well documented, the Si3 approaches the market with some new twists.

First of all, this is a console! That may sound a strange statement to make when it’s pretty obvious what it is, but pre-launch visitors have made this comment, expressing delight that at last someone has brought in a mid-range priced desk, complete with a large amount of integral I/O and new features, that looks and feels EXACTLY like an analogue user interface … here’s the new enhancements.

Firstly, we’ve used Soundcraft FaderGlow™, the same as we use on the high-end Vi6 and Vi4 enabling the engineer to, at the glance of an eye, see exactly which faders are in which mode through a colour-coded, illuminated display located within the fader track.

Secondly, we’ve used what we call Distributed Display Technology to emulate the ‘where you see is where you control’ philosophy pioneered by Studer on radio and TV broadcast consoles. Through ultra-high definition OLED displays, located right at each channel, we’ve been able to eliminate the need for a large central touch screen which takes the operators attention away from the control surface, and provided local information sources instead and a small touch screen which exists for console management, cue-lists, labeling etc.

Thirdly, we’ve revisited and enhanced a much-loved feature our customers urged us to re-use, it’s what we call VCS (Virtual Control Strip) as used on our ground-breaking Spirit 328 and 324 digital consoles, and made it even easier for the operator to use.

And all this is based on a proprietary technology platform that we’ve developed specifically optimized for mixing, we call it EMMA (Embedded Multi-processor Mixing Architecture), there’s more on this in the Technology appendix, but in short, it’s a hugely powerful, flexible, configurable DSP engine that provides 80 audio processing channels with ultra-low latency offering us the option to deliver variants of the Si3 based on the same platform.

But we’ve not been blind to the fact that sometimes a ‘not quite so new’ previous design may be the best around, so we’ve built in the industry renowned GB30 mic pre-amps, developed by our founder and Technical Director Graham Blyth, to deliver that ‘Soundcraft sound’.

So, back to the strategy.

We’re now a very different business to what we were five or six years ago.

One organisation, with a single goal, delivered under the Harman family through two of the finest brands in the audio world; Soundcraft and Studer. We have projects currently engaged on researching and developing new digital mixing solutions at every key price point across all our markets. I’d like to say it’s been a great journey, but that suggests we’ve arrived at our destination - and we’re not even halfway there - remember that ten year plan I mentioned at the beginning? Well it’s still a ten year plan, just rolled on a few years.

We’re now looking at technologies no one could have dreamed of at the start of this journey…. Just watch this space!

Andy Trott is President of Soundcraft and Studer, part of Harman International. Andy holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electronics. He’s a self-confessed Beatles addict, a keen guitar player, songwriter and home recordist.

Soundcraft is a unit of Harman International Industries, Incorporated (
Harman International designs, manufactures and markets a wide range of audio and infotainment products for the automotive, consumer and professional markets, and maintains a strong presence in the Americas, Europe and Asia, employing more than 11,000 people worldwide. The Harman International family of brands includes AKG®, Audioaccess®, Becker®, BSS®, Crown®, dbx®, DigiTech®, Harman Kardon®, Infinity®, JBL®, Lexicon®, Mark Levinson®, Revel®, QNX®, Soundcraft® and Studer®. Harman International’s stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “NYSE: HAR.”

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