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Companies to Watch 2021

In our annual look at what’s in store for the year ahead, a variety of pro-audio manufacturers assess their 2020 and share insights as to what you can expect from them—and the industry at large—over the next 12 months.

New York, NY (January 4, 2021)—With the turn of the year, 2020 might now be a thing of the past, but we’ll be feeling its effects for a long time to come. The spread of COVID-19 that began last spring brought the pro-audio industry to a standstill, resulting in an inconsistent nine months that followed, where some manufacturers and studios thrived, while live sound professionals and providers often struggled.

Pro audio manufacturers, too, faced many of the same concerns; now, whether coming off a strong year or a stressful one, manufacturers’ expectations are high for 2021, as the entire industry gets ready to hit the road to recovery.

“All the limitations imposed by 2020 provided Adamson with an opportunity to increase our focus on product and technology development, and build the strength of our engineering and R&D team,” said Darcy Montgomery, head of Marketing at Adamson Systems Engineering. “The direct result of that was the June launch of CS-Series, our industry-leading intelligent loudspeaker platform, at a time when travel and demonstration events were all but impossible.”

Now, in 2021, Adamson is launching a new education program to highlight its CS software suite and has additionally been shipping CS upgrade kits worldwide, allowing existing users to add AVB connectivity and amplification to S-Series cabinets. With the CS-Series turning up in installation and live sound systems already, it’s a sign of things to come, said Montgomery: “As we all rebuild from 2020, our plan is to continue to lead the industry with innovative products and technology.”

Companies to Watch in 2020, Part One

The technologies at play in the industry are numerous and varied, and getting them to coexist can be a challenge—but that’s changing, as Yamaha’s director of marketing, pro audio, Preston Gray, pointed out: “In 2021 and beyond, we’ll continue to see high demand for networked devices that work together seamlessly. By designing our audio technologies to be as connected and intuitive as possible, we’re making it easier to match the right system to the right environment. Our products deliver high-performance sound quality on their own, but when used together, they form powerful system solutions.”

That doesn’t happen in a vacuum, of course, as Gray noted, adding, “Through close collaboration with sound engineers, system integrators and channel partners, and an ongoing emphasis on innovative product and technology development, we can amplify what matters most for people and embrace new opportunities for driving the continued growth of our industry.”

“Pivot” may have become the most overused word of 2020, but that’s because the times demanded so many to do just that. Companies whose products resonated across markets were able to make the most of those sudden transitions, such as Audio-Technica. Gary Boss, marketing director, explained, “Many of the live sound and commercial audio products that we regularly sell and support were no longer in demand due to pandemic-related closings of venues and businesses. This allowed us to shift our focus to work-from-home/create-from-home products. While some folks set up impromptu home offices with the help of A-T USB microphones, headphones and headsets, others took the time to work on music or content creation from home by utilizing our 20 Series and 40 Series microphones.” A-T’s 2021 plans include introducing more “feature-rich content-creation microphones” as well as promoting the network-enabled 3000 Series wireless systems, originally launched at the beginning of 2020, and the Engineered Sound line of conferencing microphones.

Corporate agility—the ability to make fast decisions and then facilitate them—was a key necessity in 2020, as John McMahon, Meyer Sound senior vice president, could probably attest. “Meyer Sound is fortunate to be a privately-owned company, and one that is solutions-oriented rather than strictly product-oriented, both of which helped us to make changes quickly in response to the global pandemic,” he said. “Working alongside our strong, dynamic leadership team is a group of experienced, next-generation engineers who work on the development of future loudspeaker and digital products for a range of solutions. The Constellation acoustic system led the way in 2020, and new technologies from the ULTRA-X20 to MAPP 3D to Spacemap Go underscored that innovation remains at the heart of Meyer Sound Laboratories.”

Stepping into 2021, said McMahon, the company has new products on the boil, including “compact, but powerful point source and line array loudspeakers, and a breakthrough solution for the post-production and private cinema markets.”

Companies to Watch in 2020, Part Two

2020 still gave KRK some time for reflection and planning, as Sterling Doak, director of Marketing at parent company Gibson Brands, explained. “2020 has been filled with many unexpected challenges, leaving us more excited than ever to dive into a brand-new year,” he said. “At KRK, we are thrilled about the new product announcements we have on deck for 2021. While we’ve been stuck in lockdown for the majority of the year, we’ve taken the time to analyze our product lines, as well as the changing demands of the music industry, to determine how we can best tailor our gear to meet the needs of artists and producers around the world. By expanding KRK’s studio monitor and headphone lines in 2021, we are committed to supporting music production at all levels with the essential equipment needed to build a high-quality project studio—anytime, anywhere.”

2020 was not merely a pause, however, as Laurent Vaissié, CEO of L-Acoustics, averred. “2020 was the year the world went silent; beyond the tragic loss of lives in the pandemic, our live events industry faced a disaster of a magnitude unseen in modern times,” he said. “L-Acoustics was not spared and had to pull together on all fronts to re-imagine, create and diversify, while also protecting our workforce and partners.”

The result was a wildly busy year, packed with daily webinars, a virtual global launch for K3, a merch store that supported industry charities and the expansion of the L-Acoustics Creations division. New offerings were afoot, too, with Contour XO in-ear monitors and the installation market-focused releases of K3, M1 and Ai Series. “As we look forward in anticipation of a better 2021,” said Vaissié, “we take everything we’ve learned from the past year to continue shaping the future of sound and we reflect with gratitude upon the vital relationships, spirit of resilience, humanity and resolve that we’ve encountered throughout the industry in this time of crisis.”

Some pro-audio companies simply seem to be permanent regardless of what’s happening, be it a stellar year or a worldwide pandemic, and Shure, which marked its 95th anniversary in 2020, is definitely one of those businesses. Over the course of 12 months, it introduced new products ranging from Microflex Advance gear, the new SLX-D wireless system and DuraPlex subminiature mics, to the MV7 podcast mic and MV5C home office mic for the WFH crowd. Meanwhile, Shure also acquired conferencing mic specialists Stem Audio; made a strategic investment in Wavemark, a software company for theater, broadcast and content streaming applications; and began collaborating with Huddly Cameras on networked system product bundles. 2021 will see those new business connections bear fruit for the first time, and Shure’s AONIC listening line will expand as well.

“2020 was obviously a very challenging year for the industry, and d&b was not left unchallenged,” said Larry Italia, president/CEO, d&b audiotechnik Corporation. Undeterred, the company launched its Certified Pre-Owned program, aiming to assist customers in terms of sustainability, while also providing options to venues looking for a system. At the same time, the company also unveiled d&b FanBlock, which provides custom crowd noise at sporting events via d&b speaker systems. d&b also continued to promote its A-Series arrays and KSLi line array speaker system, as well as the new 44S compact flush mountable speaker. It all paved the way for what’s ahead, said Italia: “Another ‘by product’ of these challenging times is a clear focus on prioritizing where opportunities and market needs lie. We will have many more key solutions to be announced and delivered in 2021 and look forward to the mobile market recovery later in the year.”

Over at Celestion in the U.K., said Ken Weller, product marketing manager, “we’ve made the best of it by staying close to our customers and setting the stage for better times ahead, with some serious concentration on R&D work.” That resulted in a pair of software products—HornWizard, which allows users to determine whether a particular horn specification could work in practice; and the new SpeakerMix Pro plug-in, which lets users to capture and mix IRs in a DAW.

“In the first quarter of the new year, thanks to further investment in our UK production facility, Celestion will introduce a series of premium, high-end UK-manufactured PA drivers,” reported Weller. At least three new guitar speaker products will be released, alongside more virtual-based products as well.

While better times ahead are widely anticipated, the industry still has to get to those times first. Jack Kelly, president of Group One, the U.S. distributor for DiGiCo and SSL, among others, said, “For those companies and individuals involved in live events, the situation remains extremely challenging, but there is a glimmer of sunshine with the beginning of vaccine approval and deployment. Throughout the Audiotonix Group of companies, from the very start of lockdowns last spring, we have maintained and, in most cases, increased our investment in R&D across the group. The result will be an unprecedented number of new product launches in 2021. We are excited at the prospect of bringing these products to market, personally, face to face, and if the fates allow, maybe we can revisit all our friends around the world.” That’s a sentiment the whole industry can rally behind.