Martin Seidl, CEO, Austrian Audio and Bryan Bradley, president, Group One Ltd. join us to talk about growing Austrian Audio in the United States, the future of the company, and much more.
On Sept. 2, Austrian Audio, a Vienna, Austria-based pro audio manufacturer, announced that Group One Ltd. would be its exclusive U.S. distributor.
“We are confident that Group One’s experience, enthusiasm and reach into the market will enable us to take Austrian Audio to the next level of growth in the U.S.” Martin Seidl, CEO of Austrian Audio, said of the new partnership in September. “My team and I are looking forward to working with Group One very much, and I anticipate this to be a successful relationship for both companies.”
The Music & Sound Retailer talked with Seidl and Bryan Bradley, president of Group One, about the history of the Austrian Audio brand, how they plan to grow the business in the United States, plus much more; Austrian Audio has already been nominated for Music & Sound Awards the past two years, so perhaps the four-year-old brand is well on its way. For this discussion, Seidl joined us from Austria, while Bradley conversed with us from California.
For a Zoom version of this interview, visit msr.io/austrian-audio-us-growth-plan.
The Music & Sound Retailer: Martin, let’s start with why you began your company and what Austrian Audio is all about.
Martin Seidl: I get questioned often about how crazy it is to create a company in this environment. But I think the history explains a lot. I have spent more than 25 years in the pro-audio industry. I have been with some large companies in the industry, including a wellknown microphone and headphone name that comes from Austria and has a heritage of 70-plus years. But things change. This company was going more in an automotive direction.
The headquarters, here in Vienna, where the whole research and development, product management and basically where everything was based out of, was closed in 2017. I myself spent 16 years at Harman. I knew the people there, including the research and development team. It is a great team. They were the heart and soul of the company and offered a lot of expertise. So, the idea came up: Why don’t we regroup with the R&D team in Vienna and form something new, while clinging to the heritage and expertise of analog and high-end acoustic, and combine with a more modern approach [and] modern workflow? And that was the birth of Austrian Audio in 2017.
The Retailer: You already have a flagship product. In fact, you have been nominated for two Music & Sound Awards. Tell us about your flagship OC818 product and why it is cool.
Seidl: I refer to Austrian Audio being a startup company with more than 350 years of experience. That is rare. Our flagship recording product is a large-condenser mic. We started from scratch. We started by developing the heart and soul of a microphone; what a microphone should be. After more than a year, a beautiful largecondenser capsule was coming to light.
We all know the heritage sound of the ‘60s and ‘70s: a capsule that produces this warmth and a smooth high end. The capsule is the heart of our 818, [which] has a housing made of ceramic. What is the great thing about ceramic? It has this specific weight of the old brass capsules. But it is easier to manufacture, and the quality can be granted continuously. The other advantage: It is non-electric leading material. It is an isolator. So, all the electric problems you had in the good old microphone days are not a problem. So, it is leaning toward a more traditional sound, but in a modern way.
The other thing we thought: What can you do to improve a large-diaphragm mic? Austrian Audio will not make me-too products. We wanted to have this analog traditional sound. It is a pure acoustic microphone using the best materials in class, utilizing what we call open acoustic technology, so the largest possible cage. We have a diffuser in the microphone above the electronics, so you do not even have reflections inside the microphone body. We absorbed this to create the best possible free-field acoustic, which is the most wanted acoustic. We created the 818 as a dual-member microphone, where you can choose your patterns [by pulling] up patterns in standard switches.
But then, we thought there must be more. So we gave this microphone an extra outlet where you can record both capsules separately. Why would you do that? Because in post-production, you can decide after recording the event: Was this more of a cardioid or an omni? You can mix both in post-production. [This is] something you would have decided before the recording [when using a different microphone], because you [would have
to] switch the microphone pattern. If you have both patterns on your board, you can now, in post-production, create the pattern after the recording event. We also created a very smart plugin that works with all workstations.
Also, something that is completely new is that we gave it a Bluetooth input. There is nothing digital in the microphone. There is a nothing digital in the audio path. But you can plug in a Bluetooth dongle, and with an app, you can remote control the mic. So imagine you have a recording of an orchestra or choir somewhere high up where the microphones are not easy to reach. You can now switch your patterns on your mobile device. You can even add filters or create your own pattern and store [them] in the microphone, even without the remote control. You can create an additional pattern that can be anywhere between a figure of eight and an omnidirectional mode. You can do this in 254 steps. That is much more than the four switches you have on a usual selectable microphone. It is what we refer to a modern workflow. You sit in your studio, the creative process is happening in the recording room, and [if you need to make adjustments,] you do not have to go in, stop the creation of the microphone and go back to your mixing position. You can really experiment, where you are switching the pattern that works best for a voice without going into the recording room. So, these little things really help your workflow and recording. And apart from that, it is a really great-sounding microphone.
The Retailer: Martin, although we have been going through a global pandemic, it seems that pro-audio products have sold well to the stay-at-home crowd. So have things been solid for your business lately?
Seidl: Yes, [sales] have been solid. We also have headphones, and there was an even bigger boost there, as a lot of people work from home, isolating themselves and doing home recording. Even artists who did not do much home recording before bought into some equipment, and headphones were really good. We struggled to make enough. Ask Bryan [laughs]. He knows about the shipping situation at some points. With microphones, I would say yes also, but Austrian Audio is not made for the low-end of home audio recording.
But despite the crisis, every month in 2020 was a record sales month in microphones. We have steadily grown. We probably would have grown bigger without the crisis, because what we are missing is usage in live situations. The mics did not get used for these professional productions. But the bright side is [live events] will [return], so there is a lot more room to grow.
The Retailer: Bryan, can you tell us when you met up with Martin and how your companies made a connection?
Bryan Bradley: I have known Martin a long time. I also was heavily involved in an Austrian microphone company that was around for 70 years. At one point, I was overseeing the company for Harman and was ultimately part of strategy that had to move that operation out of Vienna. I have known the company and all of its people a really long time. When I left Harman, I went to Group One, which has a strategy that focuses heavily on European brands and distributing those brands in the United States. Martin’s company, Austrian Audio, was an
early target for us. We knew the product and the people well. We were very fortunate we were able to get together. I think we were really lucky with the timing, because just before COVID hit, at [The 2020] NAMM Show, we had our first discussions about it and got far enough along before everything got [too] crazy to get a deal done. We really have a lot of high hopes for this brand. It has been going very well for us. It is an incredibly well-built product. The roadmap, as they start to unveil it to the world, is really going to impress a lot of people.
The Retailer: Can you highlight some of the goals you have for Austrian Audio in the United States?
Bradley: As you touched upon earlier, one of the positives of the pandemic has been home recording. People have a lot more time at home, and interest in this has increased. So those types of products have done really well — not just microphones, but across the board. However, on the flip side of that, there is a live business and broadcast business, both of which Austrian Audio has product and will create product for.
This is really an opportunity for us. Unfortunately today, this segment of the business has been slow, but we are doing all the groundwork now [with Austrian Audio] to position ourselves to really take advantage of these markets with both headphones and microphone products as soon as it starts to open up. When will live concerts happen again? When will we go back to broadcasting sporting events and actual productions with live audiences to be captured? That’s where we see a big opportunity, and [it is] one of the reasons we thought partnering with Austrian Audio would be a great idea. With DiGiCo, Calrec, SSL and other brands, we have good fingerholds in those markets.
The Retailer: Without events like an in-person NAMM Show, how do you get out the word about Austrian Audio in the U.S.?
Bradley: Austrian Audio does a fantastic job on the marketing end, especially on social media. For us, all we have to do is amplify that message. Their brand is strong. Martin and his team do a fantastic job of telling the story. So, all we really have to do is repeat it. In terms of outlets, that is a throw-it-against-the-wall thing right now. Every other week, we have marketing meetings [with] Austrian Audio, us and U.S. PR firms, trying to tell the story of the “wins” that happen as they do.
We are really trying to get product in people’s hands. Another positive, if you want to call it that, during the pandemic, is that with all of this down time, front-of-house engineers and audio engineers really have some time to kick the tires on certain products. So, if we can [get] products in their hands, it really helps. In the old days, they were so busy that maybe they could check out a product on the weekend. Now, they have the time. That is an easy win for us, because Austrian Audio’s product is so strong that every time we put [it] in somebody’s hands, it is a sale. In fact, before this [Zoom] call, I had three different requests for Austrian Audio products, headphones and microphones, with all three in the broadcast environment, that we are in the process of sending out product to. Martin, now I need you to ship it all. I need a lot more of it. [Laughs.]
Seidl: We are working 24/7 for you, [Bryan]. I want to add that, just before the lockdown period, NAMM 2020 gave us the chance to show our product for the first time ever at our own NAMM booth. A lot of people came to our booth. We had retailers, broadcasters and sound engineers come by. The lucky piece in this unlucky situation was that, before the lockdown, we had a presence at The NAMM Show. Bryan and his team have spread the message everywhere. It is so fantastic to work with people who know the local industry so well. As a European brand, you have an idea where to go, but [it] is really great to have the Group One team, and we have a fantastic relationship.
Bradley: I also want to mention that, regarding your getting-themessage-out question, the retailers are really good at it. We’ve done a lot of partnering with them to use their channels and mechanisms to talk to their customers. I find that, from the big guys all the way down to independents, in MI, most of the businesses are very good at developing relationships with their customers. Whatever way they find is most successful to communicate with those customers, we want to partner with them. I think it is one of the most effective ways to get the message out.
The Retailer: Let’s talk about Believe in Music Week. How did you handle the virtual show? Did you set any goals or decide instead to see what happens?
Bradley: I believe that NAMM plays a critical role in our industry. I liken it to the town square of a small town where everybody gets together and exchanges ideas. For several of our brands, and all brands that are appropriate, we participated in Believe in Music Week with virtual stands and live streaming events. We believe in NAMM and will always support NAMM.
As for its effectiveness as a tool, I do not think it is as effective as a regular show. It is just verydifficult to build virtual relationships online. To me, The NAMM Show is all about building those relationships. But this is a pandemic, and [this] is what we can do. NAMM is doing everything it can, and we will do what we can to support it. But because of [being a virtual show], we did not set any sales targets. We did not hold it to a strict return on investment like we would with other shows. We looked at it as: we supported the show, and hopefully next year, it is back to live, and we can pick up where we left off.
Seidl: I can echo that. NAMM has always been the big thing happening every year and is a great way to build new relationships. It was great being at The NAMM Show last year in just the second year we were selling products. We were also lucky that the trade show in Europe took place. [But] NAMM is the most critical show for us to build relationships and introduce products. We have a lot of plans to introduce products and show our road map to dealers and friends in America.
We did utilize the virtual show to tease [this information] a little bit, but it is not the same thing. If you can present live and put a new product into the hands of a guy or a girl, who can feel, touch and [even] smell what a product can do, that is simply different than creating a video. Some of the money we would have spent creating a booth was spent creating video. It is as good as it can be, but it is not the same as being live. We will support NAMM. NAMM supported us. It is a great relationship. I really hope to be at The NAMM Show next year with a nice booth. I do not know when travel will start again. I am a little bit skeptical it will be before summer as some people hope, but next year for sure, it will be the family coming together again.
The Retailer: Let’s look ahead. What does the future look like for Austrian Audio?
Seidl: The company has grown steadily at a reasonable ratio. It will continue to do that. We have four products out on the market now, the OC818, OC18 microphones, and the HIX50 and HI-X55 headphones, as well as some accessories. 2021 will be a big year for us. Due to the lockdown, we had reduced opportunities. We have had to social distance in the laboratory and in manufacturing. We have to do shifts; we cannot have more than one person at a time in the laboratory or measurement room. That has slowed us down a little with new products.
That is one side, though. The other side of the coin is there will be about 12 new products in 2021 coming from Austrian Audio. That is a lot of new products. It will be microphones. It will be headphones. We will have products for the live-event market. We also have very smart headphones coming to market in 2021. We are very optimistic 2021 will be as significant growth year for us. We even think we will double our [sales] numbers from 2020 to 2021.
Bradley: [Laughs.] I think this is probably the only time I have said this in my career, but Martin, I think you are right. I will actually sign up to double the business in a year because I believe that. The product is that strong. The number of retailers that have figured it out and are signing up for it is growing steadily. It is a great brand as a retailer to have in your high-end arsenal. It is unique and establishes you as a smart retailer that finds new and exciting stuff. We are getting that message out. I am signing up for doubling the number. That is not a problem.
The Retailer: Anything you would like to add?
Seidl: Thank you to all the people who have entrusted in us so far and gave us the opportunity. There are a lot of people in America who gave us a chance and tested it. A lot of producers are using our products. They are making a lot of nice statements. I am very happy. Both the OC818 and HI-X55 were nominated for TEC Awards. That is a great achievement after such a short time. We are really grateful for being nominated for these awards. I want to thank everyone who trusts in us, believes in us and makes nice statements about us. Keep doing that please, and I promise we will come up with great products that will support that.
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