Beaverton, OR—In the Summer of Love, young Oregonian Bruce Hofer took a job at Tektronix, the test and measurement devices company, while on summer break from Oregon State University where he was a rising senior. Upon graduation, he was invited back for a full-time job where he designed precision time bases and horizontal deflection amplifiers for Tektronix’s 7000 Series of oscilloscopes.
By 1977, Hofer was moving on up the corporate ladder. “I was invited to be the manager and senior engineer of a new group tasked with the development of a test signal generator and distortion analyzer for pro and consumer audio test applications,” he recalls. “Later, in 1984, when management concluded that such products did not fit within the strategic focus of an oscilloscope company, I and three other team members decided to resign and launch Audio Precision.”
Since that time, Hofer has held a number of titles at AP, including vice president and principal engineer and president and CEO. Today, serving as chairman and co-founder, Hofer still gleans insight from his days at Tektronix, applying it to AP’s unique focus. “Tektronix had a marvelous culture for growing young engineers during the 1960s and 1970s,” Hofer explains. “New engineers were often paired with more experienced designers to learn the company’s core values of quality, attention to detail and focus upon the needs of its customers. Thus these virtues were deeply instilled in me from the very beginning of my career. From a more practical and technical viewpoint, my early design experiences with high-frequency circuits proved to be invaluable during the development of Audio Precision’s state-of-the-art test products. For example, I find it very easy to optimize audio designs to minimize the bad effects of parasitic stray capacitance, inductance and mutual inductance.”
Since 1984 when AP was founded, it is the changes in consumer audio formats, insists Hofer, that have ultimately guided product development at his company. “Most people listened to their music via LPs and cassette tapes,” explains Hofer of the early days. “The CD had just been introduced and there were great expectations that it would cause a paradigm shift in audio storage and reproduction. None of the existing test equipment at that time was capable of measuring CD performance. The advent of the CD immediately created the need to both generate and measure performance in the digital domain, and to measure across domains for testing A/D and D/A converters. Over the next three decades, audio converter technology underwent several major jumps in performance—from 44.1/48 kHz, to 96 kHz, to 192 kHz—with even faster rates on the horizon for tomorrow. AP had to evolve its products with each subsequent increment in audio converter technology. Regarding the vicissitudes of the economy, I would say these have not really changed or redirected our market focus. Like all other companies, we have had to adjust to occasional business funks by curtailing expenses and limiting travel, but we have always persevered to move forward.”
Placing heavy emphasis on new product development, a “significant portion” of AP’s total staff work in engineering and related support departments. “The majority of our 50-plus member team operates out of our site in Beaverton, Oregon and—with the exception of sales—all major functions are located there. We keep lean by out-sourcing capital intensive tasks such as ECB and metal fabrication, and board assembly.”
At a company such as AP, where countless pro audio manufacturers and technicians, among others, depend on the uncompromised measurement features of its products, “precision” is more than just a moniker; it describes the passion of its founder. “I quickly developed a reputation for being the ‘P’ in Audio Precision because of my obsession with ultra-high performance,” explains Hofer. “Indeed, design engineering remains my primary responsibility even today. From 1999 to 2001, I became more involved in top-level management as the company went through some major changes; during this time, one founder had to retire for health reasons, another left the company and a third went into semiretirement—but now serves on our Board of Directors. I was thrust into the role of CEO and quickly realized it was not my calling in life. By 2002, AP had successfully rebuilt its management team and I had gracefully returned to my first love: engineering. As the only active and remaining founder, I am also looked to as the ‘heart and soul’ of AP. Now, age 68, I am facing my own inevitable retirement. To insure an orderly and smooth transition, I now spend some of my time advising the senior management team and instilling in them some of the same values that I had brought to AP 32 years ago.”
Fully intending to retire “within the next three to four years,” insists Hofer, he realizes that retirement should be a “carefully planned process of transition and withdrawal…I would like your readers to know that the management and technical leadership of Audio Precision will be in very good hands going forward. Additionally, I do not expect to disappear into oblivion in my retirement. Health permitting, I will continue serving on AP’s Board of Directors, attending selected trade shows, and conducting technical seminars for many years to come!”