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AKM Factory Fire—A Pro-Audio Industry Disaster

A 82-hour fire in AKM's semiconductor factory is already hurting numerous top pro-audio manufacturers around the globe.

AKMNobeoka City, Japan (October 29, 2020)—In the wake of a massive three-day fire at the Nobeoka City factory of semiconductor producer Asahi Kasei Microsystems (AKM), pro-audio manufacturers around the globe are now facing anticipated shortages of crucial DAC and ADC chips used in their products. “It’s probably the most disruptive event in my 40 years of audio industry experience,” said John La Grou, CEO of Millennia Media. “Devastating is not too strong a word. Can 2020 get any worse?”

Millennia is just one of many high-end pro-audio companies with major products designed around AKM chips; others include Solid State Logic, TASCAM, miniDSP, Merging Technologies, SPL of Germany and RME, to name only a few.

AKM Fire Fallout: What’s Pro Audio’s Next Move?

The AKM fire broke out at the semiconductor manufacturing plant on Tuesday, October 20, and took three days to put out. While no one was hurt, reportedly 400 employees were evacuated when it began. Parts of the building structure, including sections of walls and the roof, collapsed on October 22 after another fire broke out on the factory’s fifth floor. Throughout the blaze, a chemical odor emanated from the building, thought to be hydrogen chloride generated by the coatings of electrical cables on fire.

Ultimately, the blaze was extinguished around midnight on October 23, a full 82 hours after it began. According to IC industry news site SemiMedia, the entire factory is now offline and is expected to take a minimum of six months to restore production.

Chinese semiconductor distributor CGoC Industrial Electronics publicly noted that it expects various AKM DAC series (AK4332, AK4331, AK4432, AK4382, AK4385, AK4373, AK4396, AK4431, AK4456, AK4490, AK4493, AK4495) and possibly ADC series (AK5384, AK5385, AK5386, AK5397, AK5534) to be affected, but in fact, the factory produced far more than that.

“Every AKM part we use—ADCs, DACs, ASRCs and Receivers—is made exclusively in the Nobeoka plant,” said Millennia’s La Grou. “Of course, all AKM audio parts immediately disappeared from front-line distributors [such as] Digikey, Mouser, etc. And now the after-market brokers are selling AKM parts at horrific mark-ups. We saw one $5 AKM part being offered at $110 each.”

Millennia caught at least one break—the company’s HV‐316 remote‐controllable microphone preamplifier, which was introduced in September, is based around AKM ADCs, but the company purchased a year’s worth in advance to meet expected demand. La Grou anticipates Millennia will be able to ship the HV-316 with AKM ADCs until 4Q21, by which point the Nobeoka factory may be back online. Nonetheless, faced with a dearth of AKM chips for the foreseeable future, Millennia has begun redesigning all its impacted products, including a number in development.

Millennia Media is hardly the only pro-audio manufacturer affected by the AKM fire, however. Numerous well-known brands use AKM chips in their products, such as SPL of Germany’s new Control One and Marc One monitor controllers, introduced just last week; Solid State Logic’s popular SSL 2+ USB interface; RME’s ADI-2 Pro AD/DA Converter; multiple Merging Technologies Horus & Hapi and Anubis AD/DA interfaces; miniDSP’s SHD streaming audio processor; and others.

“There’s a rumor that AKM will pivot their IC masks to independent fab houses,” La Grou noted hopefully, “so perhaps we’ll see some AKM devices before the main plant is again operational.”