Martin Audio

Martin Audio at 50: MD Dom Harter on why 2021 is one of the biggest years in the company’s history

It may be Martin Audio’s 50th anniversary, but managing director Dom Harter has little interest in a nostalgic sojourn through the company’s former glories. And it’s easy to understand why. The business currently finds itself in arguably the best shape it’s ever been in, even in spite of the COVID-19 crisis that continues to blight so much of the market.

Following a decade of upheaval at ownership level, having been sold by former owner Loud Technologies into private equity via LDC (Lloyds Bank), 2019 saw Martin Audio find a spiritual – and, indeed, proximal – home when it was acquired by the Focusrite Group. Located approximately 100m apart, Focusrite founder and chair, Phil Dudderidge, was a former chair at Martin Audio and a personal friend of founder Dave Martin, adding poignancy to an already shrewd business arrangement. This new home has provided a rock solid framework from which the company is now building and expanding via some ground-breaking new innovations, such as the newly launched TORUS and DISPLAY 3, which we’ll come to later. As Harter puts it, when we reach him at home via Zoom, 2021 is a year of many milestones for Martin Audio.

“This year, ironically, has got the most milestones in the company’s history,” he says. “This is my fifth year at the company, and it takes about five years to really start dealing in the long-term stuff you want to do when you first turned up. So we’re going to see the fruits of a lot of that this year.”

As we discuss the key factors that have contributed to Martin Audio’s enduring success, one theme that keeps cropping up is foresight. As far back as the early ‘90s, the company was aware that the traditional pro audio market was expanding beyond the field of concert touring and into the corporate and commercial realm of integrated systems. In turn, the business began to pivot from live sound stalwart to all round pro audio specialist. It’s an ethos that Harter has doubled down on during his five years with the firm.

“[Former MD] David Bisset-Powell was one of the first in Europe to say ‘we really need credible installed sound equipment but keep our touring world alive as well’,” Harter explains. “In the last five years we’ve had a similar strategy. We’ve continued to support MLA and wavefront precision in the touring world, but we’ve focused a lot of our development on installed sound, which definitely underpins some of our successes. It’s also been instrumental in our ability to deal with the pandemic. There’s not a lot of hospitality going on in London right now, but if you’re making a cruise ship with a 15-year life and a five-year build and have Martin Audio specc’d into that, you’re still doing it regardless of the pandemic.”

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The strategy Harter speaks of is perhaps more evident today than at any other point during his five years with the company. On February 16, Martin Audio lifted the lid on two of the most significant products in its recent history. Each have been in the making since his arrival in 2016 and, he states unequivocally, are among his proudest professional achievements.

The products in question are TORUS and DISPLAY 3. The former is Martin Audio’s first constant curvature array, while the latter is a new 3D prediction and optimisation software.

“When I joined, I looked at the product roadmap to see what is in need of refreshing, what areas we have no activity in, and what areas we want to move into,” he says. “So, while things like Blackline X and wavefront precision have done really well, they were things we very much knew how to do well. But it was clear to me that there were two things the market wanted. We have this incredible software called DISPLAY 2, which works out settings for an array, but we don’t have a piece of 3D CAD software that allows you to design a multi-functional sound system. Also, we had huge numbers of point source products for 15-20m max throw, and we have these incredible arrays that will do 100m, but there’s a big gap in our portfolio between 15-30m.”

He continues: “So we’ve just launched a product range called TORUS, which is our take on constant curvature arrays for install and touring. It has some really cute technology, like  horn flares that completely change their geometric shapes so they have perfect dispersion regardless of what they are set at. The other massive thing for us is the software. DISPLAY 3 is a 3D piece of software for designing sound systems. We’ve never had anything like this. That was obvious to me on day one, but it takes years to develop. Effectively it’s 3D CAD software that interfaces with things like Sketchup and can import really complicated models of buildings and map sound all over the walls and put speakers in. Those are two examples of things we knew the company needed but can’t be done in 18-24 months. They are 3-5 year projects.”

A new Focus
Alongside Harter’s product strategy upon joining Martin Audio was a plan to find the company a long-term home – a plan that came to fruition in late 2019 when it joined the Focusrite Group. According to Harter, the impact of the acquisition on the business was seismic.

“It’s as important as the day the company was founded,” he asserts. “It had been in and out of private equity and it never really fitted Loud. This is the perfect place for the company, with like-minded individuals who want the company to run itself and have its own destiny. It’s no secret that they are performing incredibly well financially, which puts us in a very secure footing. And if you really want to test that relationship, chuck it into a pandemic 12 weeks after they buy it! They have been absolutely fantastic.”

For now, as for the rest of the industry, the future is all about navigating a path out of the pandemic and restoring some semblance of normality to the business, particularly on the touring side. And while any forecast for when we may see a return to some semblance of normality would be fanciful at best, Harter is optimistic that he and the company will be able to deliver on their next five-year plan.

“Let’s be brutal, this year the industry has to rebuild itself,” he states. “The installation industry has been affected as well, just not as badly. As we move to the back end of the year that means getting back to having events with our customers present. It’s about fine tuning the next five years. At this point we have a framework of exactly what using and interfacing with Martin Audio will be like in five years’ time. And it’s really, really exciting.”

“We had to pivot in 2020 but need to tell the industry that we have done so”
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