It’s one year since the Berlin-based monitor manufacturer faced extinction, writes Dave Robinson. Restructured and rejuvenated, with a new CEO to boot, ADAM’s garden is rosy once more
David Angress is standing next to a huge S7A Mk2 in the ADAM Audio factory. “It’s the biggest monitor we make,” he says, “and we sell them regularly.”
The slightly smaller model, the S6X, is well-liked by studios worldwide, he reveals; at the other end of the scale, the compact A7X remains the most popular monitor his company produces.
But for a few weeks in late 2014, this very nearly wasn’t the case. ADAM Audio filed for bankruptcy in mid-November 2014 after, in the words of its founder and then-CEO, “too fast a growth with too many products created a capital demand we could not raise.”
Fortunately, the hiatus lasted less than a month: in mid-December, ADAM announced it had restructured the business and secured new funding from Munich-based entrepreneurial investor CWM.
“Yes, in 2014, problems with financial management resulted in insolvency – but that was extremely short-lived,” nods Angress. “In this case, a group of German investors, who knew the company well already, came in and very quickly – literally ��� saved the company.”
ADAM made quite the impact from a standing start when it was founded in 1999, rapidly becoming well established as an alternative to Genelec and other high-end brands in many territories. The company quickly adopted Air Motion Transformer (AMT) technology, invented by German physicist Dr. Oskar Heil, as a key design component. AMT was first produced in commercial form in the early ‘70s: ADAM used that as the basis for a “second generation” approach, which was named Accelerating Ribbon Technology (ART).
ART is a variation on – an evolution of, if you will – the original principle, producing a clear high-end extended beyond the range of the human ear, with low distortion. X-ART (for ‘eXtended’) was a further development, adopted by the company in 2008.
“X-ART is a particularly efficient way of moving air around – with very little movement of the actual diaphragm itself,” says Angress. “That has a couple of advantages: one is the clarity of the sound and the imaging, which helps a creative professional make good decisions when they are working – but it also allows that creative pro to listen to longer without fatigue.
Today, a year after the insolvency problem, ADAM is “re-energised” and wholly back in the game.
According to Angress, CWM is a “small private group that invests in companies that they believe have lasting value. They were aware of the company before the insolvency, that’s why they were able to act quickly.”
CWM decided the renewed ADAM needed leadership from an industry figure; Angress, who had already been consulting for them in the USA since January, was the perfect fit. He was appointed CEO on 1 August.
Know the industry he certainly does. Angress grew up at the centre of all things hippy: 1960s San Francisco. (“Have I ridden a bicycle naked? I couldn’t say while you’re recording this! But I was at the last Beatles show in ’66…”) He learned electronics and “tube theory” – and, he notes, “I really liked AMT technology back in the ‘70s too.”
The Californian worked for AKG until it was purchased by Harman in 1993. Moving to JBL, he was then asked to join the Guitar Center retail chain in 1996. He was part of an executive team which grew “a $200m company into a $2bn one”, before leaving in 2011 to open a consultancy service.
Well-known and much-admired across the wider pro-audio and MI business, his appointment is something of a coup for ADAM.
“I enjoy international travel, and learning, and being in other cultures too,” reveals Angress. “When the investors asked me to get involved, I jumped at it. I love Berlin, my mother is from the very neighborhood where this factory is located, and I have dual citizenship.” A re-acquaintance with AMT/ART technology, his family history with the city: Angress’ relocation to ADAM Audio in Berlin is nothing less than him “coming full circle”, he says.
He’s not just a short-term caretaker, either.
“No!” he emphasises. “What attracts me to this industry, beside the technology, is the passion. People in this business typically share the passion that the musicians/engineers/producers have for the product.
“The people here have been passionate about making professional monitors from the beginning and taking care of the customers and that continued through the transition to new ownership and those people are, by and large, here now.”
“The company has new ownership but the engineering, the focus on the customer, building of the tweeters… these characteristics are still in place and, if anything, they are re-energised,” he emphasises. “Marketing and sales, R&D – significant investment has been made in those areas – you’ll see those products when they are ready – but we are shipping and happily installing around the world.”
Every line that was shipping before the transition is shipping today, Angress confirms, but the main focus has shifted away from high-end residential systems.
“We were very involved with the hi-fi market as well as studios,” he confirms, “but we have refocused our primary energy on pro monitors. We have many hi-fi customers that we work with – we’re grateful for their business and support – but our focus is creative tools for professionals.”
“All of us in this industry are selling art supplies,” he muses. “If instead of making music our clients were making paintings, I’m sure we at ADAM would be arguing over brush thickness and boar bristles. Ultimately we’re helping artists to create their masterpieces.”
While most components are sourced from many places – there is no woodshop in the factory, for example – the all-important X-ART units are assembled onsite, and this includes the folding of each delicate metal foil that forms a ribbon tweeter. (A peep into the room where a group of skilled workers carry out this task is an essential part of any visit to the HQ: this is where that “passion” is made manifest, it could be said.)
Final assembly, testing and packaging are all Berlin-based. “We need to make sure we don’t ever trade off the quality that the brand has become known for,” states the CEO. “Low distortion, good phase response, the ability to place things in the mix very accurately…and I’m told ADAM mixes translate very well into other environments.”
One year on, what still needs to be done at the company?
“There’s no such thing as the perfect loudspeaker –we just strive to improve what we’re building and how we’re building so we can give our customers increased value – better and better loudspeakers for less money over time. That needs constant attention.”
As ADAM Audio continues to grow in the marketplace, and build on the base of 80 countries where its products are to be found, it’s time to move on from old perceptions.
“Historically, product decisions were made by one man and everyone worked to his vision.
“Today, it’s about a team that are responsible and accountable for different disciplines – a strong and confident R&D division for instance – a team that has set up ADAM for future growth.”