The prospect of turning 64 famously moved Paul McCartney to song, and frankly with allusions to multiple ills and ailments he didn’t make it sound like too much fun. By striking contrast, audio manufacturer Studer’s perception of the same milestone – which it celebrates in 2012 – is decidedly rosy in the wake of an intensive, 24-month programme of renewal.
Broadcast has long been the bedrock of the combined Soundcraft Studer console business, accounting for around 50% of revenue. But from basic workflow to service delivery, it is a segment that is evolving more rapidly than ever, and for some time there had been a feeling within the ranks that Studer needed to be more responsive to changing usage patterns.
So, in 2010, “we literally took a step back and started to review every part of the business,” explains Andy Trott (pictured), who is vice-president and general manager of the Potters Bar, UK-based Harman Group mixer, microphones and headphones business unit that includes Soundcraft Studer. “From components to after-care; ‘from soup to nuts’, as the saying goes. Then we put it all back together again with a real emphasis on quality.”
Enhancing the R&D operation – which now boasts 30% more employees than it did three years ago – has been a particular focus. “We wanted to make sure that we had the best engineers at every stage of the process,” says Trott. “The skills that we require are extremely specialised, so it wasn’t always easy to find them. But the result is that, frankly, we are now in a position to release products like there is no tomorrow!”
Certainly, this year’s NAB/IBC one-two punch hinted at a new-found profusion of product, with three major new launches on the agenda. Underpinning them all was a straightforward core design philosophy, which emphasises an appeal to “new broadcast markets with products that make broadcasters’ lives easier and which respond to a universal desire to reduce costs”.
Minimising space consumption is another priority, hence the arrival of the Vista 1: the most compact Vista console yet, the desk packs an integrated control surface with I/O connections, DSP and integrated control surface featuring 32 or 22 motorised faders into a single-chassis format.
The Vista 1 also acknowledges an increasing blurring of the lines between Studer’s two primary areas of application – hence Trott’s description of the desk as a “true broadcast/live console” that, for example, would be suited to handling live and broadcast feeds in houses of worship. Indeed, HoW is among the priority markets for the system, although plenty of interest is also envisaged in more ‘traditional’ portable (OB, ENG van) and fixed (newsroom, gameshow) broadcast applications.
“Flexibility and ease of configuration”, notes Trott, underline the two other primary developments pinpointed on the 2012 trade show circuit: the Compact Remote Bay portable controller, whose 12 motorised fader/40 rotary Vistonics control surface allows operators to stand in any place in a venue or studio and adjust console settings freely; and the Vista FX unit, which enables Vista console users to add up to 24 channels of Lexicon effects to their systems.
BRIC by BRIC
All three are due to commence full shipping this month on the back of an IBC showing that, avers Trott, was “phenomenally successful for us”. As ever, the exhibition proved to be a fruitful talking shop with existing, and potential new, customers.
Despite fervent competition, Western Europe and the US – where the company’s broadcast business doubled in 2011 – remain integral to that customer base. But Studer is looking further afield too, scoping out opportunities in all four BRIC nations. “We are in the process of setting up operations in both India and China,” confirms Trott. “There is a real commitment to the BRIC nations, which we’re approaching with a distinctive philosophy. Unlike some of our competitors, we’re not simply going to transfer our Westernised design principles and then make the products at a lower cost. Where Westernised products are relevant, we will offer them; where they’re not, we will provide bespoke systems.”
Such flexibility may also stand Studer in good stead as it navigates the persistently choppy waters of networking. As part of Harman, Studer is signed up to the AVnu Alliance project in support of Audio/Video Bridging (AVB), which is based on standards designed to work over IEEE 802 Layer 2 IP networks.
The initiative counts many of the industry’s leading names among its adherents, and was for some time widely assumed to be the future default for full networking. But with question marks remaining about the availability of sufficient AVB-compliant product, and a robust showing by the more broadcast-oriented, Layer 3-based Ravenna technology at IBC 2012, can we still count on any such clarity?
“In whatever form – be it Livewire, Ravenna or Ethernet AVB – it is evident that Audio over IP is going to be huge,” responds Trott. “From a Studer perspective, we believe that it is only a matter of time before Ethernet AVB becomes a key standard.” Nonetheless, he suggests that “political issues” have hindered the progress of AVB, and confirms that there will always be an impetus to “support whatever format is required. We are agnostic. The market decides – we provide.”
With a recent survey by TVBEurope sister publication PSNEurope indicating that expectations of full networking having a significant impact on engineers’ day-to-day working life are lower now than they were 12 months ago, market clarity in this area can’t arrive soon enough. In the meantime, Studer will be continuing to invest in multiple training initiatives designed to ensure that the engineers of tomorrow can cope with whatever challenges are thrown their way; an approach typified by the Studer Broadcast Academy, which invites students to get hands-on with Vista and OnAir consoles in a purpose-built 73ft truck.
“The Studer of today is quite different from the Studer of five or 10 years ago,” concludes Trott. “The average age of our employees has dropped considerably, so we are quite literally a younger company! But we are also more dynamic too, and that’s important given the rate at which broadcast is changing.”