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Ken Berger, VUE Audiotechnik: 'Our industry is not being served well'

Daniel Gumble
Ken Berger, VUE Audiotechnik: 'Our industry is not being served well'

Audio Pro International editor Daniel Gumble recently caught up with Ken Berger, CEO and co-founder of newly formed loudspeaker manufacturer VUE Audiotechnik, to chat about the company’s formation and its plans to reinvigorate the market.

With nearly four decades’ worth of experience to his name, VUE Audiotechnik CEO and co-founder Ken Berger finds himself in something of a unique position for someone establishing a brand new company. Not only taking his own wealth of experience into account – a founding member of US loudspeaker manufacturer EAW, no less – Berger also finds himself working alongside a partner of equal standing and experience within the industry; Apogee Sound founder and industry veteran Jim Sides. Formerly fierce competitors, the two have now teamed up to combine their collective experience and expertise to form a formidable prospect as a start-up company.

Clearly looking to tackle the loudspeaker market head-on, Berger wastes no time in outlining exactly where he sees the loudspeaker industry as a whole failing, and more importantly, where he believes VUE Audiotechnik can provide some much needed improvements. “While there are lot of loudspeaker companies out there at the moment, the market is not being served well,” he states. “There is no large, strong company that is committed to building long-term, lasting relationships with its customers. The larger companies in the industry have been busy with mergers and acquisitions and becoming big corporate entities, so much so that they have not remained focussed on our segment of the industry. Many of these companies have been around for a long time and are more concerned with protecting and managing their position in the marketplace than creating innovative new products.”

Meanwhile, Berger also appears determined to capitalise on what he sees as one of the distinct advantages of entering the sector with a new company. “Of course there are disadvantages to being a start-up company, but there are also advantages. One is that we’ve got a clean sheet of paper; we have no products to protect or sacred cows in terms of design, so we really can take a fresh approach to whatever we put our minds to.”

Further to this approach, Berger has firmly set his sights on utilising the current state of the economy to his and VUE’s advantage, with a belief that such a downturn in the economy could serve the company well where it has failed so many others. “We see the general market condition and the current economic climate as an opportunity for us,” he says. “If you are a larger company and have significant market share, the only way to weather any kind of downturn in the market is to cut back on things. That gives us an opportunity, as there are less people out there from the big companies supporting their products and interacting with the customers, and there’s less marketing effort from those brands.

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“Furthermore, there seems to be significant signs that the market is turning around, and as that happens we want to be positioned to own a significant share of the market based on our work while everyone else was busy cutting back.”

While a dissatisfaction with the corporate culture of the loudspeaker industry is firmly at the fore of Berger’s mind, he is also quick to suggest that VUE Audiotechnik’s approach to product development is equally at odds with many of its competitors, citing a philosophy of complacency among the industry at large as major opportunity for VUE to pursue its endeavours for product perfection. “In general, products are much better today than they were 30 years ago when I started EAW. But, at the same time, performance and innovation have somewhat stagnated in recent years. What we want to do is take the very best that is currently out there and use that as our baseline. Then we can look at breaking down the limitations of current designs and explore what is possible with today’s most advanced technologies and manufacturing techniques we really want to push things forward.

“A good examples of this,” he continues, “is our hs-28 subwoofer, a dual 18-inch design that introduces our patent-pending ACM technology. ACM combines band-pass and vented alignments – both sharing a common chamber – with sophisticated DSP that precisely aligns the outputs of a front-facing woofer and two vents. The design is a pretty radical and has never been attempted before because the technology necessary to align all three

outputs didn’t exist. Our unique application of DSP provided the solution and as a result, the hs-28 delivers higher output, lower distortion, and a great deal more definition in the critical 32-80Hz range than the more conventional designs out there.

“Another good example is our flagship h-Class full range speakers, which deliver a significant performance boost thanks in part to our decision to use beryllium diaphragms. Beryllium has an extremely high stiffness-to-weight ratio that allows it to deliver a much flatter response, lower distortion and more consistent long-term performance than aluminium or titanium. In fact, the benefits of beryllium have long been acknowledged but because of various cost and manufacturing challenges, it’s only been used peripherally. Very early on we forged a development partnership with Materion Electrofusion – the world’s leading supplier of acoustic beryllium.  - in order to deliver beryllium-based products that are both cost-effective and reliable. The h-12 and h-15 are the first results of this collaboration.

Integral to VUE’s vision of taking loudspeaker technology to the next level is the vast wealth of industry knowledge that lies at the heart of its team as a whole, placing the company in the enviable position of being a start-up company with a line-up of staggeringly experienced individuals. Berger elaborates: “We are in a unique position. We have a unique amount of engineering and manufacturing expertise for a start-up company. We have a team that is experienced on both the technological and marketing sides of the industry, something that is absolutely unique in terms of a start-up situation. When I started EAW it took me ten years to build a team and really understand what we were doing, but with the team that we are starting with here, from day one we had a team with capabilities beyond what many have after ten years.”

One particularly noteworthy member of the VUE Audiotechnik is head of engineering Michael Adams, who brings almost 40 years of top-level experience to the table, having served as a FOH/monitor engineer for the likes of Jimmy Buffett, Jackson Browne and Emmylou Harris, as well as working as a system designer for one of America’s top touring and installation sound companies. “Michael is a big, big part of the team. I’ve worked with a lot of loudspeaker engineers over the years and I’ve never met anyone with the combined technical and theoretical knowledge, along with such a vast base of actual application knowledge. He has spent decades working with some of the most notable systems in the world and brings a level of experience that is unsurpassed.”

As well as its impressive team of industry experts and its fresh approach to product development, Berger also believes that the relationships both he and Sides have cultivated over the years will serve as another major advantage when it comes to establishing the brand in an industry comprised of so many long-standing names. “The relationships with companies from around the world that Jim and I bring to the table from 30 years each in the industry is absolutely key for us. And the holistic approach of the company is centred on building and nurturing those relationships.”

So, having spent many years as competitors in the industry, what was it that led Berger to team up with Sides? “There’s a short list of people that I would put on Jim’s level in terms of sales, relationships and position in the loudspeaker business worldwide. So, going down that short list, and looking for someone who wasn’t from my circle directly in order to achieve an additive effect rather than just more of the same, Jim’s name came up. I then contacted him and we started talking, although I initially had to twist his arm a little bit to get him involved. I don’t want to speak for him, but I’m sure from the start he was very excited about the idea, but he took a lot of convincing that we had all the pieces in place to pull it off, but when he saw that we did he soon joined the team. Since then he has been phenomenally helpful at all levels, from building distribution channels, to strategic and marketing development, as well as lending his extensive experience in terms of applications to the product development department.”

Boasting such a unique partnership at its helm, VUE Audiotechnik looks well poised to shake things up in an industry that it believes is all too willing to rest on its laurels. And it doesn’t look like we’ll have to wait too long for the company to start making its presence felt. “We are just getting our first wave of products out. Over the next 60 days we will be very much focussed on travelling the world, setting up distribution channels and putting product in people’s hands.”

With this in mind, it’s fair to say that VUE Audiotechnik’s impending onslaught on the loudspeaker industry could well cause something of a stir. And having set such a clear and concise agenda for reinvigorating what Berger views as a faltering marketplace, not to mention the exceptionally high standards Berger and the VUE team have set for themselves, the loudspeaker sector at large will no doubt be waiting with baited breath to see just what VUE Audiotechnik is ready to bring to the table.  

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Tags: Live Sound, eaw, interview, ken berger, vue audiotechnik, apogee sound, hs-28 subwoofer, jim sides

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