Geo Focus: Poland

Poland’s place in the European pro-audio puzzle appears to be a microcosm for the puzzle itself. Matt Fellows examines divided professional opinions to get the full picture.

Though it suffers from a few uniform issues, the European pro-audio market is currently a mottled landscape with each country facing its own obstacles. Poland is no exception; it would appear that its position in the pro-audio industry is a complicated one, and also tied very closely to its position in the European Union.

This is certainly true for Leszek Polanowski, founder and owner of distributor PolAudio, who finds the outlook to be promising: “We found our national pro-audio market to be rather stable and slowly growing,” he explains. “Since Poland joined the European Union, there are no barriers for Polish entrepreneurs to purchase products and components as well as engineering solutions and know-how from other more developed European countries.

“The lower quality products market is still strong due to extremely low prices offered in the majority by Chinese manufacturers. Nonetheless, we noticed that more often both manufacturers and users are looking for best solutions – or products – that will meet not only their needs, but also global standards."

But things aren’t so straightforward. The contentious state of Poland is evidenced by the words of Lukasz Gorycki, owner of audio system designer Gorycki & Sznyterman, who puts it bluntly: “The market is far from healthy. The whole audio distribution [market] was set in the early 1990s and hasn’t really changed much. We have had the same distributors, with minor changes, over the past 20 years. Technology demands rapid changes and now in 2015 we are entering a new phase, where money from the EU is being distributed according to different patterns. This imposes solutions which bring more benefits to the venue owners and the public. Today, we can create technology which creatively serves communities and brings a lot of learning and teaching possibilities.”

Polanowski further exalts the virtues of the EU for those in the pro-audio market, but acknowledges that membership is not a straightforwardly beneficial affair; the potentially double-edged sword comes with pitfalls that threaten to manifest a situation more in line with Gorycki’s estimations.

“Being a part of the Union gives producers and customers a chance to use additional funds coming from EU subsidies,” he explains. “Therefore EU grants are effective economic instruments to provide high-quality pro-audio products to the market.

“On the other hand, we noticed that those additional grants, and also some other factors, run the risk of dumping prices on the rental pro-audio market. Some newly created companies, using subsidies, offer dramatically lower prices. As a result there is a number of rental companies with many years of experience suffering from that kind of dangerous competition and that makes the rental part of pro-audio market ?quite ‘unhealthy’.”

However, focusing on the more positive points of the market, Polanowski attributes his promising predictions to a shift in consumer focus within the manufacturing and distribution sector: “Customers started to pay more attention to aesthetic aspects of speaker cabinets – modern coating like good quality texture paint, polyurea; modern streamlining shapes – as well as practical aspects. They choose smaller products with lower weight, which offer very efficient performance. Neodymium speakers are getting more popular, although their prices are still pretty high in comparison with ceramic speakers.”

New Focus

Gorycki agrees that customer focus has indeed changed rather than the sectors themselves, but this has presented his company with all new challenges.

“The audio distribution market hasn’t changed much; the overall public demands have changed, which is a difficult situation to find oneself in. Our company always tries to introduce a full technology spectrum, ranging from interior acoustics to full interior designs with built-in technology. Depending on the project, we choose the most suitable options for our clients. Almost all of our projects have different brands in them. Our competitors sell single, strong brands with the most attention to sales, not profit.”

When asked how Poland compares to the wider global market, Polanowski attests that while the country is guided very strongly by greater international developments, it has a lot of work to do in order to become more competitive on an international level.

“The rest of the world is not uniform and internal markets have different characteristics, but there are some strong global trends which determine those markets,” he remarks. “It is noticeable that leading worldwide pro-audio brands more often decide for co-operation to compete with ‘made in PRC’ products.

“The results are huge corporations, which offer a very wide range of products, starting with lower quality and low-cost devices and ending with high-quality products. We can see that trend also in Poland and although we found our market to be growing, there’s still a lack of mass-production and developed technological background to compete with worldwide corporations without putting in additional efforts by Polish manufacturers.”

One the same page, Marcin Kasinski, sound director and co-owner of post house Dreamsound, agrees that developments in the country are to a large extent homogenous with the wider market, but carry greater risk.
“Poland precisely follows the path that is created by foreign industries although we have to deploy all of the technical innovations very carefully,” he explains. “Most Polish movies have small budgets so we have to always think twice if any technical innovations will work for us – mainly in a financial way.”

Gorycki also concurs, but puts forward one key point: “The only uniqueness at this point is that almost everything we have is brand new. We currently have enough infrastructure to fulfill the mission for country development. We have just started putting together technologies that either don’t exist anywhere else, or exceed those in service. A good example is the Grand Theatre and National Opera House in Warsaw. It now has the biggest Yamaha Active Field Control system in the world. We are going strongly into huge developments in the culture building sector.”

A Great Opportunity

While there may be dispute on the exact state of the current market, pro-audio professionals seem to be in unanimous agreement when it comes to looking forward to the future, with all agreeing that the market is approaching a time of great potential.

“We now face a great opportunity to develop our country according to new rules, with a lot more knowledge and possibilities,” notes Gorycki. “All around us, we witness amazing growth in investments of the highest technological parameters available, designed in a smart way. We see an amazing future for the Polish audio and musical market. The nearest future seems to be very promising in terms of cutting-edge installations. This country will be a different place in five years.”

For Dreamsound, the advent of immersive audio is a real revelation. “The immersive sound formats have opened a new chapter in movie soundtracks,” Kasinski divulges. “It gives unparalleled possibilities. Of course there is an anxiety that immersive sound will be considered as stereoscopy is in the picture field; that it will be treated as an option. But I truly believe that there is no turning back from immersive sound. We only have to wait until DCI or SMPTE establishes an open standard for immersive audio. Finally we will all work in immersive sound formats, and multichannel formats will be considered as options for deliverables.”

“The digital era and the rapid development of broadband internet has allowed filmmakers from around the world to co-operate,” he adds. “I think that co-productions and co-operations between different film industries are the future of the market, especially in Europe.”

Aleksy Siewiera, head of marketing at Polish studio equipment manufacturer IGS Audio, believes now that customers have access to a whole new arsenal of tools with which to inform themselves about potential purchases, the key for a successful strategy is to focus on the delivery of quality product which speaks for itself.

“There is much more information available now to the typical user; not only forums, but also videos etc,” he says. “The end-user will have more information that they can use to objectively judge for themselves, so brands like ours have a great shot of competing with the established, very expensive brands.”

However, Polanowski disagrees, arguing that more is needed: “Offering high-quality products is not enough to compete with worldwide brands. Flexibility and technical support is more needed nowadays.”

Ultimately though, while the industry has its fingers crossed, a combination of this very flexibility and the wider market may be the deciding factor, as Polanowski concludes: “I think our market will grow, but it all depends on global trends and Polish manufacturer flexibility.”