Any pro audio company that has been around for more than 50 years is used to change, and Heil Sound, well-known for its microphones (and ham radio gear), is no exception. In November 2020, Ash Levitt was appointed president of the company, the culmination of a long journey within the Fairview Heights, IL-based company.
“I actually first worked for Heil Sound when I was in high school—soldering, building and packaging products,” Levitt said. “Despite going to college on a jazz scholarship for guitar, my degrees were in psychology and I was a research psychologist in academia for a number of years.”
While Levitt initially took a different career path, he remained connected to pro audio, playing in bands and regularly doing consulting work for Heil Sound CEO and founder Bob Heil. “I was essentially working in two parallel worlds, writing research papers during the day and attending soundchecks and meeting with FOH engineers and artists at night,” he recalled. “I spent a lot of that time shadowing Bob Heil as well, going to studio sessions with him, learning his perspective on product design, and watching him engage with engineers and artists.”
It was an eye-opening learning experience for Levitt—one that eventually led to him returning to the company in 2017, where he leveraged his research skills to better understand the company’s user, dealer and distributor market research.
“My background and experience give me a unique perspective and approach to my job because I am able to see it from different perspectives in the industry,” Levitt noted. “As a performing and recording musician, I understand the concerns, needs and requests of engineers and artists. As a researcher, I know the importance of asking the right questions, and I use a data-driven approach to improve our business intelligence. I then tie those threads together to align and better understand the perspectives of our customers, dealers and distributors.”
That mix of passion and meticulousness will help create the next chapter in Heil Sound’s colorful history. “In the early years of the company, Bob Heil developed and innovated much of what we now take for granted in the live sound industry,” Levitt explained. “In the 1970s, the company made P.A. speakers, amplifiers and modular mixing boards, and had multiple live sound crews out on the road with many well-known artists, including The Who, the Grateful Dead, the James Gang, Peter Frampton and more. The company currently has two divisions: the pro audio division, which focuses on high-quality dynamic microphones and accessories for live sound, podcast, broadcast and studio applications, and the amateur radio division, which focuses on ham radio microphones, headsets and accessories.”
Despite casting a long shadow in pro audio, Heil Sound remains a small company in terms of personnel and is essentially a family business. Most of its employees have worked there for years in a variety of functions. While parts are sourced from around the world, product finishing and quality control is still handled in-house, as is product development and R&D, working with professionals in the field. Levitt pointed to the new PR 37 vocal mic as a prime example, noting that multiple FOH engineers used prototypes on the road with different productions, including the Warped Tour. “The final product is so much better for it, and we are thankful and indebted to them for their invaluable real-world feedback,” he said.
Heil Sound has always maintained a strong DIY sprit, which has fostered a company culture and philosophy closer to an agile startup than an industry cornerstone. Maintaining that viewpoint takes an active effort. “We have genuine concern in listening to engineers and artists,” he said. “We pride ourselves on having boots on the ground, so to speak, and in being reachable and responsive to the working professionals in the industry.”
This philosophy carries through to all interactions with customers, dealers and distributors. Levitt hopes that the company’s methods show that they are music fans and musicians themselves, and that they’re passionate about helping people achieve the best sound they can.
Helping customers achieve their goals in turn helps Heil Sound determine its objectives. “My attention is simultaneously focused on the details and the big picture in terms of finding the right balance with our product line, vision, brand initiatives, and ensuring that our short-term and long-term strategic goals are met,” he said.
Live sound has always been a key part of Heil Sound’s history and product lineup, but with concerts sidelined during the pandemic, the company is finding its biggest market now is podcasting, streaming and home recording. “We have long had a solid foothold in these spaces, so we were well positioned when the pandemic struck and those products started flying off our shelves,” Levitt said. In fact, sales for some of Heil’s podcasting-related products have increased by 900 percent year-over-year, and Levitt expects that figure will only continue to grow.
Much as live events are expected to come back in 2021, so will demand for the products that make them happen. With that in mind, Levitt has short- and long-term goals for initiatives in that market that will be implemented over the next couple of years. For now, he acknowledged, the live sound world has bigger concerns. “Our hearts and thoughts are with everyone in the live sound industry who is struggling right now,” he said. “We sincerely hope that industry workers and independent venues are able to hold on until we can all safely experience live concerts again.”
Heil Sound • www.heilsound.com