‘We’re already using AI’: Lectrosonics execs on market trends and future of pro audio

Last month, Lectrosonics appointed Wes Herron as president of the company and promoted Karl Winkler to executive vice president of product design and distribution, following the retirement of former president Gordon Moore retires after 35 years with the company. In a Headliner exclusive, Herron and Winkler open up on what the future holds for the company, the trends shaping pro audio and the role AI is already playing in the business.

As president, Herron will be responsible for the business management of Lectrosonics, overseeing all aspects of the business and manufacturing operations. He has been with Lectrosonics since 1988, starting first as a machinist and then a mechanical assembler, while receiving degrees along the way, first with a BS in Mechanical Engineering followed with an MBA.

He has served as the vice president of manufacturing as well as on the Board of Directors of Lectrosonics.

“I’ve watched Wes develop his professional skills and community involvement over the last 35 years and I’m excited about his vision going forward,” says outgoing president Gordon Moore. “He has a great team behind him to help him continue the traditions and innovation at Lectrosonics.”

“I am honoured and humbled to assume the role of president of Lectrosonics, and I am deeply grateful for the support and confidence of the management, design and manufacturing team,” said Herron of his appointment. “I am excited for this opportunity to contribute to the company’s continued success and am extremely enthusiastic about the future opportunities that lie ahead of us.”

Meanwhile, in his new expanded role as executive vice president of product design and distribution, Winkler will bring his market acumen and knowledge of professional audio systems to bear as he spearheads the development and design of the next generations of new products for the variety of customers that Lectrosonics serves in the broadcast, film, music, location sound, houses of worship, live sound and theatrical markets.

Headliner caught up with the pair to discuss their plans for the company moving forward, the trends shaping the market as we know it, and more…

Congratulations to you both on your respective promotions. How does it feel to be taking on these new roles?

KW: It is exciting! Having been here at the company for 19 years, or about 1/3 of the company’s existence so far, I’ve seen a lot of changes in products, in technology in general, and in the industries we serve. The idea of continuing on ahead is what gets me up in the morning!

WH: I’m grateful and thrilled to have this opportunity with a company that I’ve served in so many different roles. I’ve seen a lot of changes over the last 34 years and can’t wait to see what the future holds for Lectrosonics.

Wes, how does it feel to be stepping into the role of president, replacing someone who had served at the company for some 35 years? What will be your approach to bringing both continuity and a fresh outlook to the position?

WH: Funny enough, the most jarring change has been moving desks. Other than that, it feels like home. Regarding continuity, there is a lot to be said for the collective 83 years of service -- Karl, Bob Cunnings (Lectrosonics VP of IT, Logistics, and QA) and I have between the three of us. Our management and design teams have always worked very well and closely together, and we will continue to do so. As for fresh outlooks, we are always alert for new markets or applications for our core wireless technology, and new ideas will continue to be strongly encouraged and welcomed.

The main trend is to bring extremely high technology to bear in a useable form. Karl Winkler

Karl, what will be your top priorities as you step into the role of executive VP of product design?

KW: Product quality is very important to me along with bringing innovation and thoughtful design to the product lines. We’re fortunate to be part of industries that are exciting: moviemaking, TV production, live touring, music, theatre, and so on. These industries rely on technology that not only works well but grows along with them. And, whatever the technology or innovation involved, the designs have to be based on human factors – i.e., to be logical and intuitive in their operation, as much as possible.

The company serves a number of sectors in the audio world, from film, music and live sound, to houses of worship and broadcast. What are some of the dominant business trends currently shaping those markets?

KW: Wireless everything! (laughs). The main trend overall really is to bring extremely high technology to bear in a useable form, in smaller packages, for the same money or less, as before. And, have it sound as good as before, or better. We are in the sound business, after all – whatever market segment sub-group we are talking about.

WH: With the shift to streaming, creating easy-to-use, intuitive products with no compromise in reliability and audio quality for speed and ease of production is more important than ever. Houses of worship continue to offer improved streaming experiences as well, and top-quality audio is now generally recognized as being just as important as the visual portion of the stream.

How closely together will you be working on areas such as R&D moving forward?

KW: Very closely. And this isn’t anything new, really. We’re a small company, after all. Since starting here in 2004 I’d say I’ve steadily worked towards bridging the gap between the users out there in the real world, and what we’re doing here in engineering & development. Often, we try to predict the future, with limited success (laughs) by having ideas that no one has even thought to ask about. But most often, the goal is “careful listening” where we really work on interpreting the various requests and “wish lists” as to the core issue driving those needs and develop based on that.

WH: Karl’s deep understanding of what the market desires and intuitive sense for ‘look-and-feel’ design coupled with my engineering and manufacturing background complement each other very well.

As AI becomes an increasingly dominant discussion point across all areas of society and technology, do you have a strategy on the potential role of AI in the pro audio business? Or any concerns about its place in the industry?

KW: We’re already using it in some minor ways, but I suspect that certain elements of design work will be easier or possibly quicker due to AI. After all, it is a great ‘aggregator’ of existing information. Why shouldn’t we have AI point to existing circuit design elements that have already solved certain issues? AI has also been proven to do a good job of summarizing reports that perhaps weren’t cogently written to begin with.

That said, there are certainly the concerns that we share with many others, including no desire to plagiarize other work efforts or intellectual property. But the big one for us is that we feel creativity is still very much a human endeavour. Scripts, music, and art should be created by people.

WH: As an optimist, I see AI evolving as a tool to be used to aid in creative workflows and solving problems. But safeguards must be put into place to protect creators – artists, engineers, etc – from plagiarism, unethical exploitation, and other key challenges. AI should be used as a complement to human ingenuity, but never as a replacement.

I see AI evolving as a tool to be used to aid in creative workflows and solving problems. Wes Herron

What have been some of the biggest/key moments for the company in 2023?

KW: Shipping the long-awaited DSR4 portable 4-channel receiver in January, and the 2-channel version (DSR) in August were highlights. Seeing the Duet digital IEM system catch fire this year was exciting! We’re out on tour with the Foo Fighters with that system now, along with several other artists.

WH: Bringing the DSR4 & DSR to the marketplace, and a seamless management transition.

You’ve both been with the company for many years. How crucial has that stability at senior level been to the brand’s success?

KW: I certainly believe it to be critical. It is one thing to bring in new leadership with new ideas, which can be beneficial. However, one of our strong points is our vertical integration, and for that, institutional knowledge is very important. Having high-level experts in their various disciplines within the company, and their willingness to share their knowledge, has always been part of our culture here.

WBH: We are quite lucky in that we have a great mix of new talent and long-term stability in senior management. New talent brings fantastic new concepts, skills, and ideas – and institutional knowledge prevents many historical mistakes from being repeated.

How different is the Lectrosonics of today compared to the one you each joined decades ago? Which aspects of the company have experienced the most significant developments?

KW: We are leaner now, we have more and different competition, the market expects everything to be solve-able via software updates, and truly, many more things are solve-able via software updates than ever before! However, some of the thing that haven’t changed are the level of vertical integration, the fact that employees tend to stick around a long time, and that we remain an engineering-driven company.

WH: Manufacturing technologies have improved unbelievably. 34 years ago, we had one three-axis CNC machine; we now have over half a dozen CNCs, one five-axis mill-turn machining center, lasers, and so on. The surface mount technologies are equally amazing, with the speeds of the machines and the miniaturization of the components. One thing remains, though – we have always been focused on creating the best products we possibly can, and that goal will continue no matter the technologies employed.

Are there any new areas/markets you are looking to push into?

KW: We’ll continue our push into the Theatre, House of Worship, and Live Sound/Touring markets – started years ago but only just begun, really.

WH: We’re striving to earn deeper acceptance into the touring & live sound markets, and we are always on the lookout for new markets in which our products can be problem-solvers.

What does the future hold for Lectrosonics?

KW: The future looks bright. The products we make now are some of the most innovative and high-performing units available in their respective fields. And we accomplish this with a smaller size company and fewer resources than some of our competitors. What’s not to like?

WH: We are very optimistic. We have a long history of innovation, quality, and reliability; no compromises will be made on any of those fronts. Our team is excited and exciting products are in development -- we can’t wait to see what the future holds.