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French resolution: celebrating 40 years of APG

French loudspeaker marque APG is 40 years old, and Phil Ward is popping the Jereboam...

In the early days, APG was not a builder of loudspeakers, but a supplier of turnkey sound systems customised for individual sites – especially awkward projects demanding discreet, soffit- mounted speakers that were heard and not seen. It soon emerged that co-founders Alain Pouillon-Guibert and Philippe Frarier had a talent for making better speakers for these and many other purposes than the ones they’d been installing, and within five years their loudspeakers and monitors could be found throughout France in TV stations, concert halls, at festivals and on tour with major French artists.

There have been some twists and turns along the way, but nobody survives 40 years of this industry without going through at least some of the agonies that Dr Who goes through in order to regenerate and carry on the good work that went on before. In fact, given the changes, APG had emerged with a remarkably intact line-up of senior personnel, and now approaches its fifth decade in arguably its most comme il faut costume of all.

Baffle stations

Acoustic and electronic innovations have poured out of the APG sonic cellars to create several vintages. They include: the D’Appolito baffle (1982), a means of directivity control without the use of a horn and implemented in the company’s MC2 speakers, Matrix Array systems and the Uniline system; various full- bodied coaxial loudspeakers (from 1991) and especially the DS1R stage monitor from the following year; Isotop driver technology for constant phase wavefronts; K-Horn acoustic loading for subs; and a particularly robust dynamic protection of the cone drivers.

But a new APG est arriveé – with some reassuringly familiar faces. Since completing his education – before, in fact – director of marketing and business development Gregory Dapsanse has worked for APG. It began with a two-month internship while still at Université Paris-Est Créteil studying ‘Techniques Instrumentales’: the natural choice for a technically minded drummer was to enter an audio manufacturer, and eventually Dapsanse and Pouillon-Guibert carved out a niche in which Dapsanse could continue at APG while undertaking an engineering degree at the Ecole Supérieure de Conception et Production Industrielle.

At the beginning of the 1990s APG fell under the auspices of leading French distributor SCV Audio and the pivotal stewardship of Richard Garrido. Even as Dapsanse adapted the course of his higher education to the needs of his career with APG, Garrido guided the company into a strong commercial position and began to consider the promise of expanding the sales operation beyond France.

“During this time APG became a very strong brand in France, because SCV Audio was a true market leader,” Dapsanse recounts. But although Richard Garrido recognized the need for international development of the APG brand, including ambitious appearances at ProLight+Sound in Frankfurt, the main thrust came from a management buyout from SCV Audio in 2004.

“Three of us initiated the move,” continues Dapsanse. “Apart from myself there was Philippe Frarier, one of the other founders of APG and then in charge of manufacturing; and Jean-Luc Moncel, who had been technical director of SCV Audio and one of its founders. He had become intimately involved with the development of APG’s products and had designed all of the electronics in our processors, besides consulting for other brands within SCV and creating some SCV- branded loudspeakers.”

Alain Pouillon-Guibert had left in 2002. “We were all very happy with SCV’s decision to increase our overseas presence, but it had led to differences of opinion,” says Dapsanse. “Having realised we had all of the core competences – Philippe’s industrial experience, Jean- Luc’s R&D expertise and my product marketing strength – we knew we could steer the evolution of the product range. We also knew that French brands were becoming very well recognised and regarded worldwide, and were confident that we also had something to offer.”

Active ingredients

The biggest challenge to these ambitions, believes Dapsanse, is the presence in several European countries of firmly planted ‘national’ brands, as he calls them.

“The audio market in most Western European countries was already very mature by 2004,” he says, “not only populated by these native companies but also by several dominant US imports. It takes a lot of resources to establish a new name in these territories, and in the UK you also have the combination of two more things to contend with: a great culture of audio; and the historical power of the music industry. We arrived very late and, although we do have a few partners who are absolutely convinced of the aptness of APG products, we do need more resources.”

In 2016, some new resources arrived. Fellow French speaker manufacturer Active Audio acquired a 60% shareholding in APG, representing very possibly an iconic union of a fixed installation specialist and a touring and concert mainstay. According to Dapsanse, the mutually beneficial nature of this manoeuvre specifically enables Active Audio to “optimise the intelligibility of their commercial loudspeaker products” and to “extend their performance, such as by adding our sub-bass technology to their column arrays”. Furthermore, this is because the two companies “share the same values”, Dapsanse says, when it comes to quality of sound – making this marriage something of an inspiring model for the future welfare of audio in commercial and corporate applications.

It also expands APG’s reach into the installation market where it began, although it’s a market unrecognizable from 1978. As Active’s erstwhile president Régis Cazin became CEO of both companies, APG relocated its production and R&D departments to Active Audio’s HQ in Nantes and established a new sales, marketing and administration office near Charles De Gaulle Airport, just outside Paris. APG France has since also launched two subsidiaries in Asia – in Singapore and Hong Kong – emphasising the global intentions of the new regime.

Crucially, all three of Grégory Dapsanse, Philippe Frarier and Jean-Luc Moncel have been retained, Cazin clearly observing the human equity within APG and ensuring a solid foundation to the new structures around product strategy, manufacturing and R&D. The international agenda remains, of course, but today Dapsanse looks back on several experiments and believes a new course must be set in order to reach the customers APG deserves.

“We tried conventional approaches up to a few years ago, such as trying to find a distributor in each country,” he recalls. “But since 2016 our experience has been that a ‘challenger’ brand needs to go more direct to win market share and find those people who are open- minded, perhaps more patient and certainly innovative in their thinking. Some are only interested in what they already have, what’s easy to sell now, instead of looking to the future. Achieving sales figures is not the same as development; it’s completely different.”

Point and click

The market is hungry for variety, if not change. APG may well take encouragement from the renewed interest in point source loudspeaker solutions, harbouring as it does an attractive portfolio of coaxial and similar designs not the least of which is a highly regarded range of stage monitors. There’s even talk of scalable point source for FOH use, plus an ever-widening spread of powerful, musical applications across the installed diaspora.

“Coaxial technology is very much at the heart of APG,” Dapsanse says, “because even in our line array the main technology – what we call Isotop – is exactly that. It’s not exactly the same application of Isotop, or the exact same goal, but it is coaxial. But the main application is the near field, and of course this makes APG a leading specialist in stage monitoring. It doesn’t only optimise the coaxial design itself, but also the baffling. We’ve really pushed the acoustic optimisation here, and if you look at our modern range – especially the DX series, for example – you’ll see that it looks very special. This isn’t aesthetics, but the result of intense research into the effects of diffraction and internal reflections inside the baffling.

“When you use a microphone close to these speakers you will get almost 4dB more before feedback than any others, even with any kind of electronic treatment or processing, precisely because of these acoustic advancements. The linearity is crucial in every domain: frequency; phase; and what I call the energy domain – the homogeneity of your acoustic field. A sound engineer can tune any monitor right in front of it, but as soon as you step away the response can change. Our linearity ensures a consistent response across a much wider field.”

This also makes the enclosures a promising candidate for several FOH applications, too, given the versatility of the design. “The key to it is the acoustic optimisation of the speaker before you consider any kind of electronic processing or even compensation,” Dapsanse emphasises. “The processor should not have to compensate for acoustic defaults.”

There are, of course, processors: two digital and one analogue. The digital DMS26 and DMS48 are both loudspeaker processors with APG presets and system management controllers with EQ, level and time alignment of complex systems. The SPWX is a 4-channel analogue processor for stage monitoring, which debuted pioneering driver protection technology from the hands of Jean-Luc Moncel.

“It provides active protection in real time from the three main dangers,” explains Dapsanse, “which are the displacement of the cone; the temperature of the moving coil; and the square signal generated by electronic devices, especially amplifiers. Of course today amplifiers control themselves, but the SPWX can predict the behaviour of the drivers and compensate.

It took years before a digital version was possible, but eventually we partnered with Linea Research in the UK to do exactly that: the DMS48 provides full loudspeaker management with the active protection of the cone drivers as well. This particular combination is unique.”

Across the Uniline

The new baby is line source, just in case you were wondering if APG had not read any recent tour riders.

Uniline Compact, as it says on the tin, is a smaller version of the company’s famous Uniline PA system – a product that actually lays claims to being the first modular line array of all. The Compact version pushes the directivity button much further, and does so with the same guarded approach to processing as the stage monitors and the rest.

“We don’t want the processors to be compensating for acoustic defaults,” Dapsanse confirms, “and this position we share with Active Audio. Just like us they are totally focused on how to get the right acoustic results from a column loudspeaker before going anywhere near the electronic processors, and this is why we place so much attention on the mechanics and the physics of the enclosures – whether coaxial or line source.”

The new partnership with Active Audio is far more than economic pragmatism, Dapsanse insists, and pertains to this genuine affinity that should enable both companies to enrich their respective cuvées.

“Being together,” reflects Dapsanse with the warm enthusiasm of a vintner, “sharing the same values and also extending both our ranges – APG is dedicated to the music and event markets, while Active Audio concentrates on fixed installation – we can really provide a complete set of solutions for almost everything. It has created a natural synergy.”