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Sommer cables, some aren’t

Sommer Cable apparently came from nowhere. Did someone just have an idea: let's start a cable company? Actually, yes, Gez Kahan discovers. Ten years ago, no one had heard of them - and now they are at every trade show,

You don’t get many laughs researching cable manufacturers, so it was a bonus to come across the following on Shadewind: Hey Guys, Are Sommer cables any good? That’s what I have in my studio and I never had any problems… Reply: I think you answered your own question… But Shadewind had a point. Who are these Sommer guys?

Ten years ago, no one had heard of them and now they are at every trade show, resplendent in their green livery, and obviously making money and with some to spare – hand-to-mouth operations, however well meaning, can’t afford to sponsor charitable efforts in Burkina Faso and Brazil. How did Sommer suddenly spring into being, apparently fully formed, and making its own cables, no less?

There’s the teensiest clue on the Sommer Cable website. “Friedhelm Sommer is full of ideas. He is the founder of Sommer-Automatic GmbH…” which, it transpires, is a manufacturing automation specialist. Friedhelm Sommer started it in the 1970s and sold it in 1999, but only semi-retired, taking his best people – including general manager Rainer Blanck – with him, and inviting them to start a new company.

“Rainer suggested to me that we open a business manufacturing audio cables,” says Pascal Miguet, product manager for Sommer Cables, “because Friedhelm, Rainer and I are musicians and friends – and I had worked for Equinox, a German cable company, for about eight years.”

That explains where Sommer Cable found its financial backing, its manufacturing experience and its cable know-how. So what does it bring to the market? There are, Miguet says, cables and cables.

“At first glance they all look the same. But look more closely at the construction and you’ll find quite a few differences in the jacket mixture, the shielding, the type of insulation and the inner conductor. For the jacket, Sommer uses a low-temperature soft PVC, without chalk or quarry sand. We use a robust and coated insulation to ensure that the braided shield, which is as sharp as a knife, can’t compromise the inside of the cable.”

And then there’s the wire itself. “Sommer uses only oxygen-free copper N6 from Chile with a 99.9999% degree of purity,” Miguet says. “It not only has perfect transmission properties, but it is very smooth, which increases the number of bending cycles. The copper strands are interwoven as concentric stranding which offers better conductivity.” And he’d be happy to go into the technicalities of producing copper litz (tiny strands of copper,
insulated from each other, and twisted to minimise ‘skin effect’ – go on, Google it; there’s more to electromagnetism than meets the eye). Suffice to say that Sommer takes cable
production seriously.

And it’s doing seriously well. In its first year, concentrating exclusively on OEM bulk cables, its turnover was nearly €1 million. The next year it bought Zeck Audio (for whom Equinox had been a manufacturer) and the range expanded. Now, although bulk cables remain the best-selling products, there are also pre-made cables, multicores and distribution systems, modular SYSBOXX systems and a host of peripherals and accessories. These, for the past four years, have included Sommer’s own HICON connectors, although other brands such as Neutrik are also used.

The company’s geographical reach has spread too. “Around 90% of the bulk cables are produced in our own plants in Germany and Italy,” Miguet says. “Ready-made cables and looms are made in Germany and at our French branch in Alsace, while connectors are manufactured in Germany, France and Taiwan.”

Around 80% of production goes to Europe, with Asia, including Russia, where Sommer has its own branch office, the next largest market. “The most popular cables are from our installation range, followed by live sound and media cables – high-quality video/audio hybrids, high flexible audio-multipairs and special video cables for very cold environments,” says Miguet. He also notes that, “Especially in installation and the rental business, you will find more and more applications that work with digital signal management over long distances. So we have to produce more and more solutions using fibre optics, network cables and the HD-SDI 3G interface.”

And, like the product range, the company – now with 40 full-time employees “plus 10 helpful freelancers” – keeps growing. Miguet won’t be more precise than to say that turnover today (in euros) is “a double-digit million amount”. To give an example of what that represents in terms of output, Sommer produces more than 3,000,000m per year of its standard stage cable alone.

The company may bear Friedhelm Sommer’s name, but day-to-day running, and Sommer Cable’s success, are down to Blanck and Miguet. Sommer himself is running his own business – Sommer Technik – still developing manufacturing automation parts such as vacuum ejectors and sprayers, and winding machines for the cable industry, connectors etc… and obviously still full of ideas. Shadewind, please take note.