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Designing Man

Tim Spencer, president and chief design engineer at True Systems started in pro audio when he was in high school.

Tim Spencer, President/ Chief Design Engineer, True Systems

Tim Spencer, president and chief design engineer at True Systems started in pro audio when he was in high school. He recalls that he was “pretty much obsessed with the notion of recording the school musical performances.” With help from supportive parents, he was able to start his own locationrecording business.

Before long, while his friends were flipping burgers, Spencer was out recording most of the high school musical events in town. He would edit the magnetic tapes, arrange for album and record production (on vinyl) and sell them to the parents and kids. While at college, he was an electrical engineering major on a music scholarship and also recorded the local symphony orchestra, rock groups and commercials as well as the school musicals.

When Spencer graduated college, he went to work for Burr Brown Research (now Texas Instruments) as a designer of analog electronics for instrumentation. Later, he worked for Hughes Missile Systems (now Raytheon) in a variety of engineering and management positions lasting nearly 20 years. “No music there,” he jokes, “only things that go BOOM!”

After Spencer left Hughes, he spent more time in his home studio and ultimately started designing mic preamps, initially for his own use. “That was the beginning of my pro audio career, number two,” he remarks. “After that, a number of highly serendipitous events occurred that resulted in the creation of True Systems.”

Spencer notes that his musician background was mainly in the traditional/ classical realm. “But I was excited by the sound of pop orchestral recordings that combined rock ’n’ roll, orchestral arrangements and instrumentation,” he reveals. “Basically, I found something to like in almost every musical genre. So, I think that ultimately led to my inclination to design ‘precision’ microphone preamps—preamps that are musically transparent and broadly usable for a variety of applications. I think we’ve been successful in meeting that objective.”

When asked about the “company structure” at True Systems, Spencer observes, “The phrase ‘company structure’ makes me giggle a little, since it sounds pretty corporate. Like many pro audio companies, True Systems is a small business, and much of our structure is made up of outside service suppliers that we team with. So, while we directly employ only five people, it takes the efforts of roughly 70 people to design, manufacture, market, sell and support our products.”

All product design is done inhouse. The circuit board assembly shop is located in Nogales, Mexico, just down the road from the company’s Tucson facility. Completed circuit board assemblies return to Tucson for final product assembly, final test and quality assurance, packaging and shipment. Most metalwork and finishing are performed locally, but they use materials and components from a number of international sources.

Spencer points out that a very important team member in the company’s ecosystem is Sennheiser USA. “Our associates at Sennheiser are basically the marketing and sales front end for True Systems in the U.S.,” he explains. “While they are referred to as our distributor, they are really more of a partner and team member. Their efforts and connection with us go deeper than would normally be expected from a distribution-type business arrangement, and I feel very fortunate to have this relationship. Sennheiser is also the first line of customer and dealer support.” According to Spencer, Sennheiser’s network of sales reps, the Sennheiser Sound Academy and regional demo stock provide critical customer resources for training, applications support and problem resolution. Second-tier customer support is provided directly from True Systems’ facility in Tucson.

In dealing with the competing manufacturers, Spencer insists, “If our products don’t sound good, all the special features, competitive pricing, etc., don’t mean much. So we’re pretty obsessive about studio testing any and every change to the product designs, components, manufacturing processes—everything, right down to the power cord. We maintain close relationships with key suppliers. For instance, we use a variety of critical devices from Texas Instruments, whose analog design group is also located in Tucson. We periodically cooperate on evaluating new products under development from TI, and we get the chance to directly influence the devices they put on the market. And, as I mentioned previously, we’re a small business. In my capacity, I get involved in virtually every aspect of the business. Right now, my main focus is on working with our team to adjust manufacturing processes, marketing approaches and new product development in ways that meet current customer needs in the prevailing economic climate. It’s a challenge!”

Spencer notes that his company’s current strongest markets are studio and location recording, studio and remote broadcast production, and “pro-sumer” applications. “Recently, international interest has been quite active,” he reports. “In the past, we’ve had mixed success with the export market, but we’ve recently seen an uptick. I think that is partly due to more international awareness of our products combined with a cheaper dollar, plus persistence on the part of our international dealers.”

As for planning any particular initiatives, Spencer states, “We’re working in three areas: We’re updating our product designs for more consistent manufacturability in this current climate of escalating component cost and lead times; we’re expanding our offerings in the 500 series module market; and we’re working on a newtechnology system focused on location- recording and live-sound applications. It’s definitely a challenge for a company our size to pursue these initiatives simultaneously, but I’m really excited to be doing them, and I’m anxious to see the outcome.”

Company: True Systems
1630 S. Research Loop, Suite 150
Tucson, AZ 85710
Tel: 520-721-2735
Fax: 520-722-4057