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“What a long, strange trip it’s been”: John and Helen Meyer reflect on Meyer Sound’s global success

Half a century on from when John and Helen Meyer first met and 38 years since the pair launched their own sound reinforcement business, Meyer Sound continues to strengthen its position as one of the true giants of pro audio. This year, the US company was unveiled as the recipient of the 2017 Pro Sound Awards Grand Prix honour. Daniel Gumble caught up with its iconic co-founders to reflect on a glittering career in audio and why the future looks brighter than ever…

It’s been 50 years since the paths of two of our industry’s most influential and iconic figures crossed during the 1967 ‘Summer of Love’. Amid a burgeoning culture of creative freedom, artistic expression and sonic experimentation, the founders of what would later become one of the biggest professional audio brands on the planet came together, laying the foundations for decades of dominance across the world’s biggest stages.

During that time, technological advancements and myriad changes to the business of pro audio have altered the complexion of the industry immeasurably, yet Meyer Sound’s standing within it has not only held steadfast but has also strengthened with each new launch. A brief glance at the brand’s client roster tells you everything you need to know about its clout among heavyweight stars across the musical spectrum, with acts from Metallica to Ed Sheeran, taking Meyer’s LEO Family systems out on the road with them.

In spite of all of the above, Meyer remains a privately held company that has never lost sight of its roots and passion for innovation and delivering best possible audio for its customers. Here, co-founders John and Helen Meyer reflect on a partnership that has spanned half a century and take a look ahead at what the future holds for the business…

This year marks the 50th anniversary of when you both met. Tell us how this laid the foundation for what became Meyer Sound and how the company developed into the brand it is today?
Helen Meyer: Yes, it has been 50 years since John and I first met, though only 38 since we started this company. A lot has changed over those years, but really at a fundamental level we operate the same way as when we started. Our formal name, Meyer Sound Laboratories, Inc., reflects the fact that we focus on developing new technologies and new products in response to customer needs. That’s why Steve Miller recruited John for his onstage system in 1967, and that’s how we went about developing our Bluehorn System for studio monitoring, which we introduced last month. It’s all about pushing the technology envelope to give a better experience, to audio professionals and to audiences.

The industry is very to when we first started, working primarily with Bay Area customers like Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead. Today we have a worldwide scope, which is challenging, but also very gratifying
John Meyer

What have been the biggest changes that you have seen in the industry over the course of the past five decades?

John Meyer: Back when we started, most sound rental companies were designing and building their own loudspeakers. That’s what I did at McCune in San Francisco. Now it’s a global market, with high-end touring systems dominated by a handful of companies. So it’s very different than when we first started, working primarily with Bay Area customers like Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead, and with [film director] Francis Ford Coppola on bass for Apocalypse Now. Today we have a worldwide scope, which is challenging, but also very gratifying.

How significant is the studio sector for Meyer Sound in 2017?

JM: Our very first product was the ACD studio monitor, and it’s always been important to us because we want artists to hear an accurate representation of the music they have created. It’s still important today, but obviously the relative shrinkage in the market for large commercial music recording studios has had an impact. However, the market remains healthy for private and home studios, served by smaller products like our HD-1 and Amie. In larger monitors, we’re focusing more on the cinema post-production market – which remains very strong – with our Acheron series and our new Bluehorn System.

Are there any particular technologies that have changed the game for how Meyer Sound operates and creates its products?

JM: Quite a few, with some developed in the company and others adapted from outside. Certainly the development of dedicated loudspeaker processing was key in the early years, and with our complete self-powered series we launched an industry revolution. Digital technologies have had a huge impact in recent years, both inside the products and with our SIM measurement system and MAPP acoustical prediction tools. Fundamentally, it’s a total integration concept, where we can control quality from the initial design concept through final system optimisation.

What have been the most significant product launches for Meyer Sound over the years? Are there any in particular that you look back on as being pivotal to the company’s continued success?

JM: That’s difficult to answer as there have been so many. Certainly it all started with the UltraMonitor and UPA-1 with dedicated processors, and the UPA was an instant success on Broadway. The SIM measurement system was a foundation for future developments, and the HD-1 monitor – initially created as an in-house measurement tool – was our first self-powered system. The MSL-4 was the industry’s first large-scale self-powered loudspeaker and now, with our LEO family, we have a complete range of line arrays that offer uncoloured, linear reproduction at all levels. This year, with Bluehorn, we have achieved absolute phase coherence from 27 Hz to 20 kHz in a large-format, multi-way loudspeaker – an unprecedented achievement. Those are just some highlights. I might pick different ones if you asked me tomorrow!

Which areas of the pro audio industry do you see the most potential for growth in? And how much of a focus is there on continuing to expand the brand’s global presence?

HM: The concert touring market remains very strong, with our LEO family systems out with acts like Metallica, Ed Sheeran and Dierks Bentley. We expect that to continue, but because sound matters everywhere, we are increasing our focus on corporate and educational applications, particularly with our Constellation active acoustics. We’ve done a number of large installations for high-profile global corporations, many which we can’t name due to non-disclosure agreements. With Constellation and our Libra passive acoustics we are moving into the hospitality market as well. As far as our global presence, we are continuing to build our international distribution network so we can respond to customer needs anywhere in the world.

This year, with Bluehorn, we have achieved absolute phase coherence from 27 Hz to 20 kHz in a large-format, multi-way loudspeaker – an unprecedented achievement. Those are just some highlights. I might pick different ones if you asked me tomorrow! John Meyer

What are the biggest challenges that face a company such as Meyer Sound?

HM: We are a relatively small, privately held company, yet we are operating on a global scale. That inherently involves challenges as we have to deal with changing economic conditions and currency fluctuations. We also have competitors that are owned by global electronics conglomerates and therefore have access to greater financial resources. On the other hand, we can be more responsive to customers in the pro audio sector as we don’t have to answer to a board that may see the pro audio part of their business as relatively unimportant.

Could you talk us through how a product makes its journey from inception to hitting the market? How much time and effort goes into R&D, product testing etc?

JM: The process depends a lot on the product and just how far we are pushing the technology envelope. For example, we were able to bring our new LINA compact line array to the market in a relatively short time, as we had already developed the core LEO Family technologies and LINA shared the same cabinet footprint as its predecessor, the MINA line array. Here we only had to build in new amplifiers and processing, upgrade the drivers and modify internal enclosure acoustics. In contrast, our new Bluehorn System for high-end studio monitoring took over six years, as we set out to realise absolute phase coherence in a high-power loudspeaker across the complete audio bandwidth. This was extremely challenging and required multiple iterations in both the hardware and software domains to achieve the ultimate result.

What does the future hold for Meyer Sound?

JM: Continued innovation! We will continue to pursue results-focused sound solutions across all areas of our business. We expect to leverage new technologies to meet customer needs in touring sound and entertainment venues, as well as in houses of worship, cinemas, restaurants, universities, corporate facilities and museums.

What do you consider to be Meyer Sound’s greatest achievement to date?

HM: I don’t think it would be possible to single out any one product or technology. It’s all a continuous stream of development from day one. So perhaps I would consider our greatest achievement to be assembling the remarkable team that helped us create all these products and technologies. These are enormously talented and dedicated people, and some have been with us for decades. We could not have accomplished all of this without them, so they all share in our Pro Sound Awards Grand Prix award. “What a long, strange trip it’s been,” if I may quote our friends in The Grateful Dead. But it’s been a great one, thanks to these amazing people.