Britain’s Got Talent: DiGiCo’s James Gordon on success in pro audio

From the general manager to the assistant engineer at any firm you will find a level of passion that does not exist in many industries, and in a specialist sector like pro audio the talent quickly rises to the top.

Such is the case with UK console manufacturer DiGiCo. Arguably one of the only firms in the world that specialises in digital consoles, DiGiCo has succeeded in the face of tough competition and can be found at the world’s biggest events.

With beginnings in the broadcast sector under the Soundtracs brand name, DiGiCo has come full circle and introduced two new SD7 and SD10 (known as the Ghost Carp) variants designed for the broadcast market at this year’s NAB show. In the meantime, the firm has been carving a niche in the live sound market, whilst still maintaining a non-corporate structure that its customers approve of.

Wigwam’s director Chris Hill expressed his sentiments about the way DiGiCo operates: “We have found DiGiCo to be outstanding in both attitude and customer service and it has the ability to deal with any problems that have occurred. “The company has a great vision for the future of the audio industry and I am sure will keep at the cutting edge of technology without losing sight of customer requirements. As one of Europe’s leading rental companies, it’s great to know that you can get hold of someone at any time and their worldwide dealer and service network will provide seamless advice and support without any corporate nonsense.”

DiGiCo MD James Gordon took over the position in 2006, just in time for the introduction of the SD digital mixing console with FPGA processing. The firm soon released its flagship SD7, the first consoles to utilise single FPGA technology for the main audio core. DiGiCo is still the only console manufacturer to employ single FPGA.

Gordon explains that this architecture is essential for large-scale projects: “FPGA’s are normally used to allow multiple DSP boards, in a single console, to communicate with each other. The technology has grown and now it is available with much larger chip sets that enable us to do far more than in the past. Our technical director John Stadius came up with the idea of putting everything into one large-scale FPGA, which means that everything is in one place and processed on the same chip.”

“This means that you no longer need multiple boards or interconnections, which safeguards against a lot of technical stumbling blocks that occur with DSP designs. The chips can process a huge amount of information in a short space of time with just over one millisecond latency; it is not unusual for some digital desks to have three or four milliseconds latency. That is not such a problem for FOH, but for monitors speed can be much more relevant in the case of IEMs.

Core beliefs

Gordon assures that DiGiCo has not lost sight of the belief that its products must be easy to use and sound good. “We are keen on providing a good dynamic range and our floating point processors provide high quality audio. We don’t go for a menu-driven structure,” he says. “A large percentage of our designers have been working on or designing digital consoles for a long time, so our products tend to be very easy to use. This has led to them being selected as the main console on numerous huge events. One of the reasons is that people can walk up to one of our consoles and be able to use main mix functions for a show in about 15 minutes.”

In 2011 digital consoles are very much the standard, but back in 2002 it was a very different story. “At that time it was very much an education process to convince the market that digital consoles could deliver and offer additional benefit,” he recalls. “In 2005 the industry was very much convinced digital was the future. Now in 2011 the decision process and choice comes down to sound quality, available budget, the feature set and the actual capacity needed for the job. A lot of jobs have grown considerably bigger over the last few years. Analogue technology had physical limitations and the demands on digital consoles are now far greater and increasing.”

Audio people

DiGiCo’s success in the industry, as Gordon explains, is down to hard work and, perhaps, being slightly underestimated by its competitors: “The perception about DiGiCo is that we have a lot of fun, and we do, but we have also put in a lot of hard work. Our key has been employing good people – those who join the team have got to fit in with the vibe of the company. We also go to great lengths to look after our customers by providing after-sales support without additional charges. You will find that everyone in the company, from our financial director to our salespeople, are audio people at heart and are on the pulse of what is going on with our customers and the industry.

“All of the directors are very much involved with the day-to-day running of the company and we don’t have the drawn out decision-making structure that a larger corporation might have. So when it comes to making a decision, if it feels like the right idea we will generally do it.”

Gordon’s sentiments are echoed by Clair Global president Troy Clair: "Technically, our engineering and road personnel have always been impressed with DiGiCo’s innovation, flexibility and consistency – that’s witnessed by the fact that we’ve put their consoles to work on some of the decade’s largest and most high-profile tours. We also appreciate the fact that their work with us is more than just a vendor/ customer relationship. It’s a true partnership in terms of input, collaboration and support."

And Keith Davies owner of Capital Sound adds: “DiGiCo is probably the best console company in the world, they are at the forefront of technology, always coming up with innovative ideas, the back up and service is the best Capital has ever experienced over the 25 years we have been around.”

The latest disciple added to the group is Ian Staddon, who recently joined as vice president of sales. “When I moved from sales director to MD we needed to find the right person to fill the role. We didn’t want to rock the boat and put a person in place who didn’t fit in with the team,” Gordon says. “We had been looking for someone to come in and oversee the sales team and generate sales on their own back, and our recent move into broadcast, with our products launched at NAB, tied in very nicely with Staddon’s appointment. He is very well liked in the industry, which fits in well with us. He knows a lot of the same people and has a history in live sound and broadcast.”

UK based

It is a rare occurrence for a company of DiGiCo’s calibre to remain competitive while still manufacturing in the UK. However, it recently celebrated its 20th anniversary of production in Scotland. And with four Queens Awards under its belt, DiGiCo is proud to be made in the UK. “We are proud to be a UK manufacturer but our export work is a large part of our business. Our latest Queen’s Award was actually for the export business we have established. It is quite an accomplishment,” Gordon comments. This is the first time DiGiCo has won the award in this category, having previously received an award in 2005 in the Innovation category for the D5 console.

The heavily decorated firm has not received all of its accolades from the Queen. It has also been recognised for several awards on both sides of the Atlantic, including the 2009 Audio Pro Industry Excellence Award for the SD8 (known as the Barramundi). Technical director John Stadius has also been decorated for innovation in the field of R&D when he was awarded the Tony Gottelier Award at PLASA08.

With over 30 years of experience, Stadius is responsible for the R&D management of the console business and its accessory company, whose output saw the recent release of a MADI to optical converter at this year’s NAB Show.

Emerging markets

When asked about emerging markets Gordon reveals that ‘B.R.I.C’ will be the foundation for future growth. “Brazil, Russia, India and China are the places that everyone in pro audio is looking to expand. Some of these areas have already been good while others still have some growth ahead of them.

“It is nice to see that people in these areas are prepared to spend the extra money on quality products. Audio quality is certainly something those companies are interested in.
As for the future, DiGiCo intends to keep developing consoles for its key markets in addition to diversifying into other markets. “We have a few projects in the pipeline that some people wouldn’t expect and a couple things that we are working on that will be a surprise.”