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Companies to Watch in 2019

By Clive Young. We spoke with dozens of pro audio companies, manufacturers and organizations to find out their highlights of 2018, and just as importantly, explain why the industry should keep an eye out for them in the coming year.

The end of the year always provides us with a golden opportunity to stop, take stock of the year that was and look forward to the 12 months that lie ahead. Taking a moment to celebrate the year’s successes, big or small, and learn from them to better prepare for the future is crucial in all parts of life. With that in mind, we spoke with dozens of pro audio companies, manufacturers and organizations to find out their highlights of 2018, and just as importantly, explain why the industry should keep an eye out for them in the coming year.

For Yamaha’s Professional Audio Division, 2018 found the company “in a rapid growth mode,” according to Alan Macpherson, general manager, Professional Audio Division. “We are seeing big gains in almost all aspects of our business, but especially in our Commercial Installation Solutions (CIS), NEXO speaker systems and, of course, our Rivage, CL, QL and TF series of mixing consoles. The foundation of this growth is based on three factors: the best team in the industry, excellent products and, finally, that intangible ‘safe harbor’ theme that we hear so often from our many partners in all of the vertical markets we serve. In an industry roiling with upheaval—financial restructuring, consolidation and even a few dubious takeovers—Yamaha offers consistent professionalism, world-class training and support, and an expanding system-oriented approach to our quality product lineup.” As for 2019, Macpherson hinted at “interesting new items in the pipeline,” including “something that is both portable and powerful,” adding mysteriously, “We don’t think that a ‘safe harbor’ needs to be boring.”

Want some advice for the future? “Don’t get rid of your racks,” suggests Eventide president Tony Agnello. The reason for that is one of Eventide’s high points of 2018—its next-generation Harmonizer, the H9000—and it points the way to 2019 for the company as well. Agnello said Eventide will prove that multi-effects hardware processors have a secure role in the plug-in age; the company will continue its near-50-year, “unbroken tradition of delivering industry-leading signal processing power to the pro audio community.” Delivering for applications spanning broadcast, studio and live production, and for performing musicians, the unit includes effects from Eventide’s catalog of 1,600+ algorithms and new processes that were “previously unimaginable.” Users can also select from 500-plus available presets, and the unit offers the ability to build FX chains of up to four complex effects. So about those racks? “The H9000 is proof that hardware processors are not only viable, but highly desirable in the years to come,” he said. “You’ll want a place to bolt this in.”

QSC did a fair share of looking back this year itself. “QSC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018, which allowed us the opportunity to reflect on the tremendous growth and innovation in this company while forging ahead with our eyes on the future,” said Chris Humphrey, vice president of marketing. “Over the past 50 years, QSC has grown from a small amplifier company to a leading provider of a complete ecosystem of audio, video and control solutions. This year alone, QSC introduced some of its most innovative solutions in our history, including the CP Series of compact powered loudspeakers; launched new Q-SYS Control capabilities … and Premium Business Music solutions. QSC also expanded our reach worldwide with a new EMEA headquarters in Germany, a new training and showroom facilities in Boulder, CO, and the UK. It also increased sales and support capabilities in India and APAC.”

Related: QSC Marks 50th Anniversary, by Mary Bakija, June 22, 2018

Think you got a lot done this year? Congratulations! Just do yourself a favor and don’t compare your 2018 to that of Jim Odom, president and chief strategy officer at PreSonus. “In 2018, PreSonus launched 32 new products for live sound, music production and commercial installations,” he said. “Especially noteworthy was our AVB network platform, which was fully realized with over a dozen products and software applications, including our StudioLive Series III range of digital mixers, NSB-series AVB-networked stage boxes, EarMix16M AVB personal mixers, and SW5E AVB switch. We also launched Studio One 4, the latest version of our digital audio workstation application.” The end result is that PreSonus now has a complete networked solution for both studio and live sound using an industry-standard protocol (AVB). How do you follow up a year like that? “We will continue to add to our AVB-compatible software and hardware products throughout 2019,” Odom reported—and that will definitely be a story worth keeping an eye on in the coming year.

In 2018, Audio-Technica continued to focus on industry trends in connecting data networks for both audio and control communications. As the industry moves toward more comprehensive implementation of protocols such as Dante and AES67, A-T refined its ATND series of Dante/AES67 microphones. The company also introduced the 5000 and 6000 series wireless systems for critical performance applications, and saw adoption of its ATDM digital audio mixers, which are controlled via web browser. In the studio market, A-T’s flagship AT5047 cardioid condenser studio microphone continued to be a popular choice for prominent engineers and producers, while ATH-M60x on-ear professional monitor headphones were embraced by audio professionals in the studio, broadcast and mobile sectors. Last month A-T expanded its headphone offerings by introducing ATH-M50xBT wireless over-ear headphones, which bring Bluetooth wireless technology to the ATH-M50x. While A-T pros wouldn’t reveal specifics, they noted that 2019 will see a number of important product debuts from the company—so we’ll be watching.

Related: The METAlliance Report: How to Choose the Right Microphone, by Frank Filipetti and George Massenburg, Nov. 26, 2018

2018 saw d&b audiotechnik unveil two significant products: the d&b Soundscape and the SL-Series’ GSL system large format line array. The d&b system approach now extends beyond loudspeaker boxes and amplifiers into the realms of sophisticated digital signal processing and networking solutions, and this month’s Live Sound Showcase story, profiling the recent Thomas Rhett tour, inadvertently highlights all those aspects in real-world use. Meanwhile, d&b Soundscape adoption has taken off, with uses in multiple musical performances, churches, professional sports arenas, rock venue installations, electronic music tours, outdoor open-air events and a spinning gym. For 2019, d&b is set to launch the KSL System, a little brother to the GSL, and the company teases that installers and integrators in particular should keep an eye on the company as it debuts new tools to design, control and manage audio systems.

Related: Live Sound Showcase: Rolling with Thomas Rhett’s Road Show, by Clive Young, Nov. 27, 2018

For Shure, 2018 was about many things: A return to its downtown Chicago roots, new products, several executive promotions, and other moves that are paving the way for the longtime pro audio manufacturer to make the most of the coming year. Opening its new downtown Chicago office in the National Building, the company focused on the significance of its Chicago heritage and likewise created an Experience Center within the new office space. Meanwhile, the Axient Digital wireless system was used for high-profile events like the MLB All-Star Game, Tony Awards, ACM Awards, Super Bowl, Grammy Awards and more. Shure also added a multitude of connectivity offerings for its SE Sound Isolating Earphone line, the result of extensive product research and development. While all that sounds like a lot of work for one year, Shure was honored as a 2018 Top Workplace by the Chicago Tribune, while Crain’s Chicago Business named Shure president and CEO Chris Schyvinck one of the Most Powerful Women in Chicago Business.

Related: Shure to Open Downtown Chicago Office, by Clive Young, Feb. 7, 2018

“2018 has been really exciting,” said Ella McClary, marketing communications executive at Allen & Heath. “We’ve seen our SQ digital mixer series [launched in late 2017] quickly gain a huge following and dLive continue to go from strength to strength in live sound and installation. Alongside the countless awards and nominations for SQ, what’s really cool is just how widespread the adoption of the console has been, from houses of worship through to international touring bands. It’s also just become one of the first mixers to have optional plug-ins available via an online store, letting users build their own custom toolbox of processing options. But, as exciting as 2018 has been, it’s 2019 that we’re really looking forward to.”

Allen & Heath’s parent company is Audiotonix, which also owns brands like DiGiCo, distributed in the U.S. by Group One. “Group One had a banner year of double-digit growth across the board in 2018, and we’re only increasing that momentum as we head into the new calendar year,” said Jack Kelly, president. Group One also distributes Audiotonix’s Calrec, as well as brands like KLANG:technologies, Blue Sky, XTA and MC2. “DiGiCo’s highly-anticipated SD7 Quantum engine started to ship this quarter, and combined with the 32-bit DAC and new software revisions across the rest of the platform, the SD-Range is proving once again why it continues to be the top rider-requested console. Furthermore, the recent launch of the 4REA4 network system has given DiGiCo new market penetration with both live and install projects, and the product already looks to be a huge growth engine for 2019.” With that in mind, Group One is looking to expand its executive and sales teams for DiGiCo and KLANG, as well as support teams for all its brands. Said Kelly, “With the right combination of stellar people and products, 2019 will be our best yet.”

Looking back at 2018, Kevin Ivey, general manager for Peavey Commercial Audio, could pinpoint exactly what his company had been up to: “We focused development in 2018 to bring Crest Audio back into the center of the pro audio market and to expand our offerings for the smaller and simpler contracting and installation projects.” Part of that initiative saw Crest Audio introduce the Versarray Pro powered and networked line array system with onboard DSP for processing line array functions. It includes networked 215 and 218 powered subwoofers and comes in passive and fixed installation versions. Also on the agenda was shipping the Tactus Digital Mixing System, introducing XD Series rack-mounted digital mixers, and debuting two new power amplifier series (ProTOUR Series and C1 Series). “We made great strides in putting Crest back on the road again with an entire range of pro audio products,” he said. And why you should watch them in 2019? Try the next generation MediaMatrix platform, which will include a completely new processing core and DSP complement. “Look for a complete overhaul of the MediaMatrix offerings,” said Ivey, “retaining the flexibility and expandability that the market demands, but at new price points to open these products to a broader market.”

While Neutrik unveiled its Xirium Pro Wireless Cable Replacement System before 2018—Xirium simplifies system connections by eliminating the cables, making long-distance cable runs a thing of the past—this year saw Xirium Pro used by Know:Audio of Emeryville, CA, for Intel’s high-profile 50th anniversary celebration, which was spread over several city blocks. Rather than run a mile or so of cable, Xirium Pro was used to wirelessly send audio to two separate locations. Pascal Pincosy, owner of Know:Audio, commented, “Even though we barely had line of sight between locations, we experienced no dropouts. After a couple of hours of testing and careful monitoring, it became quite clear that the audio link was the least of our worries at this event. Throughout a week of shows, there wasn’t a single hiccup!” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Neutrik expects to see Xirium Pro adoption continue to grow in 2019.

One of the biggest stories of 2018 was Transom Capitol’s strategic divestments of the LOUD Audio portfolio brands (Ampeg, EAW and Martin Audio), allowing Mackie to operate once again as a focused, standalone business—and yet that was hardly the focus of Mackie’s year. In 2018, Mackie released several products, ranging from wireless live sound solutions to studio gear to consumer devices. Products like the new Thump Series made their way into the market in large numbers, including new Boosted models with wireless features like streaming, wireless linking of two speakers, and total wireless control. (Expect a review soon in Pro Sound News.) Mackie entered a record number of new product categories, including in-ear monitors, headphones, ear buds, portable Bluetooth speakers and audio tools. The brand also extended the DL Series wireless digital mixers into a stagebox design. With the company about to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the folks at Mackie teased that they plan to “kick off 2019 in a big way.” We’re guessing that means a NAMM Show visit is a must.

Related: Martin Audio Sold in Management Buyout, by Clive Young, July 2, 2018

This was a landmark year for the companies that were divested as well. In one of the boldest moves in Martin Audio’s 47-year history, the company partnered with mid-market private equity investor LDC for a management buyout. This move will enable the business to continue to expand its line of high-end loudspeakers, improve its sales and marketing capabilities via the expansion of its global distribution network, and enhance its digital infrastructure through software development. Part of the impetus for the move was the accelerated product development schedule that has now seen 35 new products in 24 months. Building on that momentum, 2019 will continue to see new product introductions across all loudspeaker categories. In addition, Martin Audio will be promoting Sound Adventures, a 3D immersive sound experience developed in cooperation with partner Astro Spatial Audio.

Royer Labs had an outstanding 2018, according to Rick Perrotta, company president. Its ribbon mics were used on films such as Black Panther, A Simple Favor and Ant-Man and The Wasp, while the R-121 was deployed on large ensembles such as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, not to mention pre-records and in the orchestra pit for the Academy Awards broadcast. The R-10, a new ribbon mic designed for both the studio and live sound applications, landed on several tours, including in the live electric guitar cabinets of Foo Fighters, Sam Smith and Lana Del Ray.

Related: Innovations: Royer R-10 Ribbon Microphone, by Rick Perrotta, Nov. 29, 2018

According to sources at Waves, in 2019 we will be seeing “a new product encompassing one of the most unique, workflow-enhancing and groundbreaking technical achievements that the prolific relationship between Waves and AR has ever produced.” That’s no small order, but it’s said by a company that had a banner year in a variety of market sectors. While introducing new plug-ins for the studio and live markets, working with leading artists on signature plug-ins, expanding its hardware offerings, and leveraging Waves Nx technology into the consumer market, Waves continues to grow and expand globally. Waves’ collaboration with Abbey Road Studios has continued in earnest, with 10 plug-ins now included in the Waves Abbey Road Collection; launched in 2011, the collection models the studios’ legendary rooms, microphones, consoles, tape machines and signature effects. Waves added to the list in 2018 by releasing Abbey Road Chambers and Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain plug-ins.

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For a company involved in soundproofing, Auralex had a loud year. Following its 40th anniversary in 2017, Auralex introduced the MAX Kits line of portable and freestanding acoustical treatments designed for use in recording and performance applications. As they took off immediately, according to the company, Auralex plans to introduce additions to the line. Looking toward 2019, Auralex has ported its RLX: Room Layout eXpress acoustical treatment software to a standalone app that will be available in the Apple and Android app stores in January. The RLX app will give recommendations for various small room types, providing quick acoustical treatment suggestions. Auralex aims to remove much of the guesswork from determining what is the best and most effective acoustical treatment solutions for a specific space.

2018 was big for pro audio in general, so it’s only fitting that it was likewise a banner year for the organization that encompasses virtually all of pro audio itself: the AES. While it celebrated its 70th anniversary, the Audio Engineering Society remains focused squarely on the future. In addition to the recent convention in New York City, there was the first-ever international convention in Milan, Italy; the sell-out conference on Audio Archiving, Preservation & Restoration held in partnership with the Library of Congress; hit conferences on spatial reproduction and virtual and augmented reality; and the inaugural [email protected] Pro Sound Symposium: Live & Studio held during the 2018 NAMM Show. As a result, the year was spent fulfilling the organization’s mission of educating on both the fundamentals and new horizons of professional audio, but looking ahead, 2019 will be just as busy. [email protected] 2019 is next month, followed by the AES Dublin 2019 Convention and a number of topically timely conferences leading up to AES New York 2019. AES Standards work, too, familiar from such venerable standards as the 1991 introduction of MADI to the AES67 “Rosetta Stone” for AoIP networks, continues to address new technologies and emerging production workflows with new and pertinent standards on track for release in the year ahead.

Related: AES’ Audio Archiving, Preservation & Restoration Conference A Success, July 30, 2018