With 115,000 employees worldwide, Sony is a massive company—one that started in the early 1950s as a simple pro audio manufacturer with a name derived from sonus, the Latin word for sound. Early successes in the audio field paved the way for greater corporate ambitions. Today, Sony’s pro audio division is still around, but it is part of a far larger machine.
As Andy Munitz, pro audio product manager for Sony North America, points out, “Our pro audio team is part of our professional business segment, which also includes our broadcast video and digital cinema equipment division. We also have Sony Consumer Electronics, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and even an insurance company. And don’t forget PlayStation!”
While Sony’s first attempt at a product was a failed prototype electric rice cooker, the company soon found success with its first delivered product: a reel-to-reel tape recorder designed for schools. Coincidentally, years later, Munitz’s own first experience with a Sony product was also a reel-to-reel recorder. “We used to play string quartets in my family, and today I play electric violin. Back then I took on the role as the family archivist—I wanted to record everything, and got my first Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder when I was 13,” Munitz says. “I’m doing an extension today of what I did back then! I loved to learn about new gear and explain it to others. As product manager, I get to do that quite a bit as technology improves so quickly these days.”
That fledgling interest in audio technology flourished as Munitz grew. He counts a 1977 stint mixing monitors on tour for John McLaughlin and Shakti as his first real job. From there, he helped build a 16-track studio, moved to Los Angeles to work in pro audio retail and then BGW Amplifiers, and helped form a small chart-topping disco record label. In 1984, Munitz returned to the East Coast, landing a position as one of Sony’s pro audio sales managers for the region. Thirty-five years later, his career has grown with the company; today he’s the professional audio product manager for Sony North America.
Of course, Sony’s pro audio offerings have expanded far beyond reel-to-reels. The company has manufactured studio microphones since the early 1950s and wireless mics since the early 1960s. (Of note, Frank Sinatra’s early favorite mic was the Sony C37A at Capitol Records.) In the 1990s, Sony made the most of digital technology, introducing DASH multitrack recorders like the PCM-3348, a CD mastering system in the PCM-1630, digital reverbs and the legendary Oxford digital consoles.
As recording technologies and studio budgets changed with the times, so did Sony. “To be honest, the advent of the computer pretty much changed that large technology landscape, and today we focus primarily on much smaller gear such as wireless mics, studio and production mics, portable recorders, and headphones,” says Munitz.
Regardless of the market, Munitz sees a common thread running through all the company’s pro audio products over the years. “One of the things I’ve enjoyed most in my Sony career is seeing the unique approaches that our engineers come up with to solve common problems associated with any particular product category,” he says. “They don’t seem happy to just make another version of the same thing that’s already on the market. They strive to think differently about a common product ‘challenge.’
“A perfect example is our popular C800G tube mic,” Munitz continues. “When we designed it in 1991, we tested other tube mics on the market and found that their specs seemed to change on a daily basis. Our engineers, in realizing that the temperature of the tube had a big effect on this, wanted to create the most stable tube mic design, and they came up with a Peltier ‘thermo-electrically liquid-cooled’ design that would keep the mic operating at its optimum spec each time you used it. An ‘outside of the box’ approach, to be sure.” Characteristics of the C-800G can be found in Sony’s more recent C-100 high-resolution studio microphone series, “but at a more affordable price,” says Munitz, adding that the new series provides “some of the most natural sound capture of any mic we’ve ever developed.”
Sony develops pro audio products like the C100 series in Atsugi, Inezawa, at the company’s Taiyo factory, and in Tokyo, Japan. In the U.S. market, Sony’s pro audio business has its own direct salesforce—focused primarily on the broadcast business—as well as distributors and a dealer network. The main sales and marketing offices are based in Paramus, NJ, and San Diego, CA, and Sony Professional Service is located both in Paramus, NJ, and Los Angeles, CA.
Related: Review of Sony C-100 High-Resolution Condenser Mic, by Rich Tozzoli
Munitz finds that in his product manager role, he not only promotes the benefits of Sony’s new technologies to the market, but also acts as something of a conduit back to the company’s pro audio design teams, relating customer feature requests, market opportunities and competitive analysis.
“Our largest pro audio market now is in wireless microphones,” he reports. “Since we have such a strong lineup of broadcast, cinema, pro video and DSLR cameras, and we are both a camera and pro audio company, we are in a unique position to be able to do special things that tie the camera and audio together in unique ways. For instance, there’s our MI or ‘multi-interface shoe’ design, which allows for direct attachment of our small UWP-D true diversity wireless receivers to many of our cameras without the need for cables. The power for the receiver can even come from the camera’s battery instead of using onboard AA batteries. As well, our brand new UWP-D models incorporate simple NFC pairing of receivers and transmitters without needing to go into any menus.”
While proprietary features help products stand out in a crowded marketplace, Munitz is all too aware that a comprehensive feature list alone won’t do the heavy lifting when it comes to selling gear. “Customers today are so bombarded by features and specs that many become numb to a particular product’s enhancements and new benefits, and simply go with online posts or friends’ recommendations—that also may not be fully informed,” he says. “In the end, I just try to teach customers why our offerings are often better than the competition’s.”
He has plenty of opportunity to do that, particularly in the wireless mic arena, as he notes, “The FCC Spectrum Auction has prompted many customers to investigate all current wireless mic offerings on the market, and many appreciate our feature set, as well as build quality. In terms of growth markets for our wireless, I would say that location and theater sound are areas of renewed interest for us, and some of our recent product developments are targeted specifically at these applications, including a new Uni-slot size, two-channel, true double tuner diversity digital receiver. We’ve also recently introduced a tiny lavalier mic, the ECM-90LM, that almost completely gets rid of cable rubbing noise—again, a common problem that our engineers sought a clever solution for.”
Those engineers don’t rest on their laurels. “There’s always new products in the pipeline,” says Munitz, and while he enjoys discovering what’s next, he also relishes the opportunity to share those insights and ultimately help Sony customers achieve their goals. “Being part of our great pro audio industry during my career has been fascinating and a privilege, and the opportunity to keep learning and creating is what I feel helps fuel our collective passion.”
Sony Professional Audio • pro.sony/ue_US/pro-audio-explained
This story was originally published in the September 2019 issue of Pro Sound News as “View from the Top: Andy Munitz, Sony North America.” View from the Top is a monthly column in which audio industry leaders are invited to share stories about company challenges and successes.