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Company Profile: Alcons Audio

Andrew Low
Should you have found yourself wandering around any large-scale pro audio show during the past few years, you will be forgiven for wondering just how many line array systems manufacturers think the market can absorb. Line arrays now seem to have become such an orthodoxy that everyone has crammed into the field to offer their own take on the concept. Which is, of course, fine – there’s nothing to compare with having a good choice – but it makes it hard not just for users to decide where to look, but also for manufacturers to differentiate their products from everyone else’s.

This is not a problem for Dutch company, Alcons Audio, however, as its take on line array is distinctly different – not least due to the use of the proprietary ribbon driver technology, which the company has dubbed ‘pro-ribbon’.

Ribbons aren’t new, of course, though they have their fair share of mythology about them, with conventional wisdom suggesting that while they produce a high quality sound, they have limitations due to fragility, limited power handling and in-built inefficiencies.

But that was then and Alcons is now.
With over 20 years design and development work and several patents behind the ribbon technology it uses, Alcons has come up with a unique offering which, managing director Tom Back believes, has addressed all the objections and resulted in a series of world-beating systems at the top end of the market.
“We started Alcons Audio in October 2002, with the intention of being in the top sector of the market and I think, five years later, that’s what we have achieved,” he says. “We started offering pretty general types of products – point source – but the difference is in the mid and high frequency transducer technology, where we use the pro-ribbon.

“My partner here, Philip de Haan, Dr Phil we call him, has over 25 years background with this transducer technology, which originally began with Philips and the isophasic tweeter. It wasn’t a success for Philips, because it was, and still is, a pretty expensive thing to make and Philips is in consumer electronics. But over the years, Dr Phil has worked on different generations of this technology and developed it. The materials have evolved and by the time we started, he had arrived at a different view of how to make a pro-ribbon transducer.”

The result was Alcons’  601, a six-inch pro-ribbon design. Since then, the company has continually pushed ahead with its pro-ribbon technology and now offers a wide range of systems taking advantage of the high audio clarity for which it is becoming increasingly well regarded.

“The system produces a completely different sound,” Back says. “We’re in a market where everybody is always saying they strive for the best possible sound reproduction, but for us that means what you put in should be what you get out, but the majority of the market doesn’t seem to recognise this, probably because they are so used to the sound that comes from traditional speakers that they have a problem dealing with the truth when they actually hear it.

“We strive for complete accuracy, so we design and make a complete package – not just the speakers, but the amp and the processors too, so it’s real ‘plug and play’. Our philosophy is that the engineer should only have to contribute ten per cent to adapting the system to suit the venue and for the rest he can concentrate on mixing. With older systems, and even some contemporary ones, they need a lot of time setting up and aligning and equalising and in the end it’s always a compromise. Mixing the band suffers because so much time has been spent getting the system right. We aim to remove most of that wasted time.

“Having said that, it depends on what sound the engineer is expecting. If he’s expecting the same sound he gets from a compression driver from our pro-ribbon system – well, that is impossible. We could come close if we put a compressor on the system, but you would still lack the distortion you get from a compression driver.”

This can actually create a serious marketing problem as some studio monitor makers have discovered in the past. Engineers used to a certain type of sound can react negatively when confronted with more accurate reproduction and this is, Back admits, sometimes a problem. Although it is a battle, he says, they are winning.

“It didn’t bother us too much because we started the business to cater for people who truly talk audio, who really understand what a natural sound is and who can deal with it. The company is doing very well from this philosophy. We sell around the world from Chile to the Far East, Russia, South Africa – just about everywhere. Generally, the rental companies pick up the product first, while installation companies tend to rely on consultants who are more conservative, so they come later. You can see this in Germany, where we started in 2003 and where we have the widest scope of companies using our products. Rental companies working in live sound, audio-visual and corporate events and we also have cinema customers – a market that is developing very quickly for us. So it starts with the rental companies and later, when the product is being used, consultants start to get interested in it. Then dealers get interested by the quality of the sound and that’s how the installation side of the market develops.”

The UK office is a recent development for Alcons, having opened in July. “When we started, as a Dutch company with a very small home market, we immediately looked to open in Germany and we have a product that will appeal to that market as it’s high quality engineering for a wealthy market which can afford quality products. From that experience we decided to have our own offices rather than rely on distributors, so we kept a limited profile in the UK ... Article continues below

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l we were ready, although we already had high-profile customers like Autograph and Orbital, who were using it in West End theatrical productions.”

But technology alone, as Back is the first to stress, is not enough. Realistically, he points out how you can never be sure someone else isn’t working on similar technology, so you must have more to offer than just that and in Alcons case, he says it is direct application support and giving a sense of involvement that makes all the difference.

“At the top end of the market where we are, the sound engineer wants an involvement and he wants to have his say and we listen to that. It’s interesting how the major audio companies each have their own typical customers, but at the top end, the true professionals, while they may have a preference, they aren’t dogmatic and they are open to new ideas. That’s the type of customer we appeal to.”

It may not be the archetypal rock n roll system (though Tom Back insists it can actually do a fantastic job with rock, providing the engineer understands the need to add compression to mimic the typically ‘squeezed’ rock sound) but for applications where ultimate quality is demanded: classical, opera, theatrical and the like, Alcons Audio’s pro-ribbon technology is winning increasing numbers of converts. www.alconsaudio.com
www.theribbonnetwork.net

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