“I’ve been a musician my whole life,” says Black Lion Audio CEO, Nate Bierdeman, “and have always been into math, science and technology in general.”
Those overlapping interests defined Bierdeman’s life trajectory for avocational and vocational pursuits. “I used to modify home stereo receivers with a friend of mine,” he recalls, “and worked summer jobs in order to save up for audio and music gear. By the time I was in high school, I owned expensive HiFi speakers and had a modified surround sound receiver capable of dimming the lights. I was also a studio musician playing on local recording projects, and was busy doing a rigorous independent study on music theory.”
Bierdeman chose the Music Production & Engineering program at the prestigious Berklee College of Music for his post-secondary education, graduating in 2006 and relocating to Chicago. “That same year,” he continues, “Black Lion Audio officially incorporated and began building a name for itself by improving the sound quality of audio interfaces commonly used in small recording setups. At the time, I was working at a law firm that specialized in liquor licensing, but was actively seeking opportunities in the pro audio business.” An internship with Black Lion Audio (BLA) led to full-time employment in 2007. Since then, Bierdeman has “worn many hats,” with Customer Service & Sales Representative, Modification & Assembly Technician, Assistant General Manager, and now CEO comprising his titles and responsibilities.
Black Lion Audio’s focus is on “squeezing as much quality out of gear as possible, and to tailoring our product designs to meet the evolving needs of musicians and audio engineers,” Bierdeman shares. “We tend to hire people who share the same passion for music and gear as we do, and are always looking for new ways of improving our products, business operations and work environment. We are not only able to connect with them on a personal level, but intrinsically understand their requirements for top-notch equipment.”
Black Lion Audio’s earliest modifications were done on gear they themselves used, which became a business as an upgrade service for other users. The company’s emphasis has shifted to designing and building new, high-performance BLA-branded products, incorporating all the design techniques learned along the way. “For example,” offers Bierdeman, “when we realized how important it was to boost localized power filtration in both the analog and digital stages of other companies’ converters, we were able to incorporate those concepts into our own line of converters [the Sparrow MKII ADC and Sparrow DAC]. This led to the realization that the way components work and sound in tandem is more important than how they spec individually; thus, listening became the ultimate test for what made the cut or not.”
Over time, BLA gear sales revenue surpassed its revenue from modifications; the U.S. is its biggest market, with current growth evident also in Germany and Japan. Full-on manufacturing brought the company new challenges to conquer. “We found ways to increase our ability to produce products at a higher volume, and create a quality control process that ensured everything performed properly before being packaged and shipped,” shares Bierdeman. “It also led us to build a robust dealer and distributor network to help meet demand within and outside the U.S., as well as participate in trade shows and holding presentations on company technology.”
Still, BLA is a lean enterprise: “It’s a boutique audio company with boutique proportions,” Bierdeman says, where “you have to be flexible and adaptable in order to survive. For example, our R&D department also does quality control and helps answer customer inquiries. Our production team not only builds gear, but screen prints product artwork, and our sales team handles A/R, shipping & receiving and purchasing.”
Black Lion Audio is defined by its stated core values (proudly proclaimed as “Hard Core Values”), that “Sound is King,” trumping profit and specs; to “Question the Industry Standard” on a constant pursuit of sonic perfection; to “Seek to Amaze Our Customers” by offering “mind-blowing products at incredible prices;” and to “Live Your Life Doing What You Love.”
BLA’s product line includes clocks, converters, an analog summing mixer and mic pres. Next up, by popular customer request, is a recording interface. “We are deep into the development of it,” Bierdeman confides, “and can’t wait to finally launch it, hopefully by the end of this year.”
Ultimately, the Black Lion Audio team is its own toughest critics. “If an idea or design is lacking in some way, we will delay the product launch until we are able to follow through on the full vision for the project,” declares Bierdeman. “We are more demanding of ourselves than anybody, and strive to create something we can really get behind,” says Bierdeman. BLA’s “hardcore” values have served it well thus far, a harbinger of continued innovation and success.
Black Lion Audio