Martin Audio Execs Talk New Gear, Brexit, And The Trends Shaping Pro Audio


June 14, 2023

It’s been one of the busiest starts to a year in recent memory for Martin Audio, with a flurry of new products entering the market and a fulsome programme of festivals on the horizon as the global live events sector returns in earnest. MD Dom Harter and brand marketing director James King sit down with Headliner to serve up their 2023 midway report and open up on what the rest of the year may hold…

The first six months of 2023 may well have provided the majority of pro audio firms their brightest start to a year since the dark days of Covid, but for Martin Audio it’s been one of the most fruitful in its storied history. As we discover through the course of our chat with two of its most senior executives, the company is, “in the best shape I’ve ever seen it,” according to brand marketing director King. The reasons for this are manifold. Of course, the return to normality on the live events front is plain for all to see, but Martin Audio’s efforts to bring a raft of new, potentially game changing, products to market have made it a notably buoyant first half of 2023. The new FlexPoint Series for the premier rental market was described by Harter as “the finest live sound offering in the company’s history”, while the new TORUS 8 for small-medium-sized applications marks a significant addition to the brand’s portfolio.

Here, Harter and King elaborate further on what these launches mean for the business, as well as the trends shaping the market and much more…

How would you sum up the first half of 2023?

Dom: As a global manufacturer, I think it’s really easy for people to forget that Covid has been in different places at different times all over the world. And the first six months of this year is the first time, particularly with China and Asia opening up, that we are really seeing the world market back, and also at a time when the supply chain crisis is not completely behind people. So, in the most positive sense you have this latent demand on the installation side where you’ve had projects that were put off due to the pandemic and they are now catching up, while the live sound stuff is back with vengeance. So, it’s been an incredibly busy first six months, but we’re not grumbling.

James: I still pinch myself to see the industry being back and looking healthy when you wondered whether that would be the case, and the demand for Martin Audio is off the charts. It’s an exciting time, and we’ve introduced lots of new products. The company is in the best shape I’ve ever seen it in the 10 years I’ve been here.

Tell us about FlexPoint and the market it is designed to serve?

Dom: It’s very easy, especially at this time of year, to go and see all these line array systems and think that that’s the touring solution. But the reality is that our rental partners are doing everything from small conferences all the way up to the biggest stages. We had some successful products in range called DD and XD, but they were a bit long in the tooth and it felt as though they had been designed in silos. What we wanted to do with FP was have a broad series of small point source products - nothing a customer could look at and not see why it would be a benefit. And we wanted it to have this unified voicing and approach so that people get that signature Martin Audio sound from a complete range. Over and above that for a rental provider it has really made the strongest line-up that we’ve had for live events solutions in the company’s history. We have a decent number of big arrays using all of our optimisation technology; we came out with our constant curvature stuff over the last couple of years; and to now extend that down to four-inch speakers really means there is a proper up to date flexible solution for any production environment. We were very cautious about launching anything in the last three years that had too much of a drain on capital expenditure as they were going to be recovering themselves, and now we’ve seen the buying come back, so to bolster our product ranges in those areas makes a lot of sense.

FlexPoint has made the strongest line-up we’ve had for live events solutions in our history.

Dom Harter, managing director, Martin Audio

Another key launch was Torus 8. Tell us about that.

James: That was our second addition to the constant curvature family. The Torus 12 that had been out for two years did particularly well, it was another long-awaited product in our portfolio filling that key gap for throwing distances between 12-30m where maybe point source doesn’t quite cut it and a line array wouldn’t be the right solution. So, the Torus 12 really took off when we launched it, especially in installation because live sound was a bit intermittent, but we’ve increasingly moved out into live sound, and its flexibility across different applications has proven to be a real winner. People have liked the dynamics of the product and the sound consistency. And it was just inevitable that we needed to look at a smaller format. It’s just a really strong addition to the portfolio.

Dom: For those that don’t know us, you might hear us saying that we’ve been here all this time and think that we’ve only just figured out we didn’t have sound system that were good for 15-30m of throw! But it’s worth highlighting that we don’t enter a market unless we think we can change and improve it. There has been a number of competitive products over the years that were targeting those sorts of areas, and when I joined the company our existing markets needed furnishing with lots of new product development, so we focused on strengthening areas where people already knew us. That gave us time to innovate and look properly at segments that Martin Audio didn’t operate in and figure out where we could do things differently and solve customers’ problems.

What I would say about Torus 8 is, because Martin Audio had this presence in rock’n’roll touring, houses of worship and production aspects, we didn’t really have a big presence in theatre. And with Torus 8, alongside FlexPoint, it enables us to give our rental partners or installation companies something that’s geared to mid-sized theatres where you need a lot of coverage and a varying amount of throw.

What does the market split between rental and installation look like today?

Dom: In some respects, we were pretty lucky at the beginning of Covid because a lot of the install markets that we are successful in were either not that affected, or they were such long-term projects that they were also not affected. And on the live side, we got quite involved in the We Make Events stuff because there was no point in making a load of live sound products and waving them in people’s faces when they haven’t got any money. And broadly today, the live install split is on its way back to normality. It’s not quite there but certainly we are making a lot of sales to new and existing rental partners over the past 12 months or so and then reinvesting moving forward.

In install land we are still going through a latent demand, so there are people who were always going to put a new sound system in venue X and are now feeling confident enough to do it. For us, we are on the way back to it being almost split down the middle. But there is going to be a rubber band effect as different markets come back, deal with latent demand, settle, and then go back to growing how they were before.

At the start of the year, you partnered with new rental firm 22live. What makes them a good fit for Martin Audio, and what does the launch of a new touring company say about the health of the market?

James: They are a great partner. Well run and lots of great experience. They have also been pushing us as well. We have already been involved in several tours and they are looking at ways in which products can be improved in the future or aspects they want to know more about or how to get the best out of something. That back and forth is great in any relationship. We want to take those insights from the user base for future development. It’s excellent to have them onboard.

The company is in the best shape I’ve ever seen it.

James King, brand marketing director, Martin Audio

Dom: With rental companies in general, we don’t sell a sound system then disappear. We recognise that it’s a long-term relationship. They’ve made an enormous investment in us and it’s our job through the life of that product to continue to develop its software, tweak its performance, its hardware. So, it’s important to have that feedback as these products are out there for 10-12 years plus so it has to be this long-term commitment.

How is Brexit impacting the business in 2023?

Dom: It’s really difficult. Has it had an effect? 110% yes. I’ve got two more warehouses in different countries that I didn’t need two years ago, therefore I have a load more stock I didn’t need. We aren’t doing much carnet type stuff, but anything that causes uncertainty for our customers ultimately causes uncertainty to us. And the difficult thing for us and any manufacturer is that obviously you have the industry coming back with aplomb post-pandemic, but then you have whatever negative effect Brexit is having, so to quantify it with a number is almost impossible. We are the last big speaker manufacturer in the UK and we are part of one of two large groups of audio manufacturers in the UK. We spend every single day trying to make it easier to do business with us and better to own our stuff. So, anything the political environment does to get in the way of that has to be a negative. Simple as that.

What does the remainder of 2023 hold for Martin Audio?

Dom: This is always a really exciting time in the year, as we get to see all the amazing things our rental partners do across the summer with our products. Beyond that, we have a lot going on in and around some of the green initiatives we’ve been running. And there are at least one or two cheeky products…

James: There is going to be some more development in software as well, so it won’t be quite as busy on the new product front as the first half of the year, but there will be some nice additions to the portfolio, and we’ll be continuing the momentum.

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