Try as one might, it’s all but impossible to broach any conversation about the current state of the pro audio market without at least mentioning the dreaded C word. From studio gear manufacturers to rental firms to loudspeaker brands and system integrators, there isn’t a corner of the industry that hasn’t been touched by the pandemic. Of course, the devastation and suffering it has caused have been documented far and wide, but amongst the immense challenges, slivers of the artistry and innovation that the pro audio world was built on have been able to shine through.
The studio sector has seen music creators utilise their downtime to upgrade their audio tool kits, while those on the live sound and installation side of the market, who have inevitably felt the brute force of Covid to the fullest, have found ways to diversify their offering and dip more than the proverbial toe into uncharted waters. French loudspeaker giant L-Acoustics certainly falls into the latter category.
A company that has always been synonymous with audio innovation, L-Acoustics was already on the way to significantly diversifying its offering before the pandemic struck, but the grinding halt of live events in March 2020 allowed the business to recalibrate, see where it could fast-track the moves it was making into certain quarters and explore new markets with a focus and lightness of foot that it may not have been able to do otherwise.
Last year, L-Acoustics launched its new L-Acoustics Creations division in earnest – a special division within the company aimed at high-end commercial and residential customers. Chief among its offering is Island, an experiential product designed for the most aspirational of consumers and for the company to showcase its object-based L-ISA technology without the need for a theatre or concert venue in which to do so. Driven by the vision of L-Acoustics founder, Christian Heil, Island takes the form of a literal island, with a lounging area at its centre, surrounded by an arc of speakers to create a 360° sonic environment, bringing the listener inside the audio experience. A range of variations on the theme of spatial audio have been unveiled over the past 12 months, with new products and innovations set to see the light of day over the coming months.
Another significant breakthrough came in the form of L-ISA Studio, a software suite that offers an L-ISA 3D control interface and audio processing on a personal computer. Through L-ISA Studio’s binaural engine, users can produce immersive audio on headphones with headtracking or up to 12 loudspeakers in any studio. This, too, will be elaborated upon yet further in 2022 and beyond.
To find out more about where the company is headed next, as well as the market trends and insights that have informed its movements over the past 18 months, we caught up with L-Acoustics CEO Laurent Vaissié for an exclusive chat about the ever-changing nature of the business…
Let’s rewind to March 2020. What were you and the company thinking when you realised that Covid was going to be a long-term problem?
First of all, it was a health crisis, so we shut down operations for two weeks to allow us to regroup and see what health protocols we had to put in place to protect our employees. We moved almost 300 out of 500 employees into remote work, which meant IT had to get everybody online very quickly. Two weeks later, we started resuming operations with health protocols in place. These were limited operations, but we had some backlog and projects we had to fulfil.
How are things progressing now?
It definitely feels a lot better. Q1 2021 was still very difficult, everything was shut down, and vaccinations were starting to roll in. But we’ve seen a big shift in Q2 and Q3, especially in America, so as a consequence, we’ve seen our backlog starting to increase in Q2. Some big projects that should have happened in 2020 were released, so June and July were very strong in terms of delivery, and much higher than we expected.
We’re still seeing a predominance of installation, around 60% of the business is still the installation market, but even on the rental side, we’ve seen companies come out of the pandemic who are now very busy. International tours are still not happening on a big scale, but festivals are taking place, and regional tours are happening, so we are in a good position compared to 2020. We planned for similar results to 2020, but we are going to be higher without a doubt. And 2022 is looking like a very active year, pending any new variants of Covid.
Many companies have been diversifying their offering during the pandemic. How much has this been the case for L-Acoustics?
It was an opportunity for us to take a step back and look at our mission statement to elevate the listener experience. So, in the first stage of the pandemic, we focused on something we started a few years ago, which is L-Acoustics Creations. Suddenly, the idea of bringing the concert home became very relevant, and we had already prepared for that. So, it was a chance to expand on that with some products for integration.\
We continue to develop installation market products, so K3i and K3, which were in the works, were launched, but we also saw the opportunity to work more on the content creation side; we saw the push for immersive technology. With L-ISA, we’ve been leading the revolution for a few years, and we’re seeing this happening on the consumer side with Apple Music, Amazon, and Dolby Atmos. So, one of the missing pieces we felt needed to be addressed was in the workflow and the ability for engineers and creators to prepare immersive content in any situation. The pandemic gave us a chance to release this early with L-ISA Studio, which has been really well received and closes the loop for us in terms of the full workflow, from creating the immersive content, preparing for production, then getting the design into Soundvision and then implementing it onsite. This changes the type of discussion we have with artists, their teams, and the production and FOH engineers.
We also developed a partnership with (IEM industry leader) JH Audio, collaborating with them on a professional in-ear monitor matching L-Acoustics live sound signature. This development was linked in part to the L-ISA Studio concept – it allows people to use L-ISA Studio anywhere with a binaural mix on a pair of professional headphones that would match the signature of our PA. It’s opened a new space for us and is a very interesting and successful collaboration.