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When he decided to establish a new mic brand in 1984, Cliff Castle confided in a certain instrument store owner he knew, and was advised, “It’s a good idea but don't think of selling the mic at this store. It is absolutely impossible to beat the microphones of first-class manufacturers. " In fact, Castle says that at the time no one in the music industry thought the venture would succeed. However, Castle signed a contract with Fred Bigeh as an authorized agent of a Japanese microphone manufacturing company, and began selling it worldwide under the brand name AUDIX.
Initially, the industry's own response to AUDIX was very skeptical. The first product AUDIX started selling was the vocal mic that was available from stock at a Japanese factory. Quality itself was not a problem, but it was clear that the road to glory was long and steep for AUDIX compared to the famous microphones that were actually on the market.
"At the beginning it was really messy, but we were thinking about things in the long run, and Fred had a great deal of confidence in product design. So in less than a year, we went to a Japanese factory and asked them to make a product that could compete with the top brands,” says Castle.
In 1986 AUDIX introduced their first professional microphone OM1. OM1 was also highly rated in magazine reviews and was well-received by notable musicians such as The Beach Boys. In addition, many small retailers who were open to new products had begun to handle AUDIX products for the following three reasons.
1. The quality of the products was high.
2. Because there were not many AUDIX products on the market, they were able to make profits before others.
3. Castle spared no effort on his passion and to get the product on the shelves to be sold sale.
Still, OM1 could not be sold easily.
"I thought that the OM1 was better for sound quality and feedback than the SM58, and because the OM1 could be purchased with either the grille ball or the probe cap specs, it could be used as a vocal mic and instrument mic. Many engineers liked the sound quality of the OM1 over the SM58, but the OM1 was more expensive than the SM58, and also the name-values of the SM58 was beyond the imagination; for example, they had penetrated the market to the point of being the microphone version of "Cola" and "Kleenex". Yet we had a product twice as good as the SM58. We realized that it was going to be very difficult to beat the SM58 even if we offered it at half price. And by the time we announced OM2, the next AUDIX product, it was no longer the SM58, but instead, luxury European brand manufacturers such as SENNHEISER, AKG, or BEYERDYNAMICS that we would go up against, ” Castle recalls.
San Francisco-born Cliff Castle, who graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in the late 1960s, made a living as a bass player, mainly in the Bay Area. He played six days a week and lived a financially affluent life, but when he realized it would not be realistic to become the rock star he dreamed of becoming, he took on another more stable career and started thinking about other things. In 1981, Castle met Fred Bigeh, who studied accounting and broadcasting arts at San Francisco State University. "Fred liked technical things and was actually working behind the scenes, and I liked sales and was able to interact with people in a good way, so I think it was a very good match. As a result of being a band leader, I think I could learn various entrepreneurial techniques, especially how to think positively and how to communicate well with influential people in the future,” says Castle. Says. The new partners took on various product ideas and repeated experiments until they finally got a room in California to make and sell mics.
AUDIX mics had been recognized in the professional acoustics market ahead of the retail market. This is evidence of their policy since the foundation of AUDIX to actively expand mainly to audio equipment companies, musicians, audio equipment dealers, etc., rather than targeting the consumer directly. "I firmly believed that the sales staff at the dealers have the greatest effect on mic sales, and I still think so now. We sell good products under good brand names. Sales shops also have to strive to maintain a very good relationship. So the dealer you have can be rewarded if they tell me how sales of our products went up. Still, annual sales were not good for the first 5 years after the founding of AUDIX, and I did most of the work and worked really long every day.”
Castle thought that in order to run AUDIX, he had to first stop selling microphones to all dealers in a manualized autopilot manner. While Bigeh concentrated on product design, Castle established a network of distributors and visited many retailers personally. His aim was to make sure that the fact that the AUDIX microphones had very good quality, was understood by the store clerks and consumers. By the way, have you ever had a manufacturer that did a demonstration sale of a mic? Castle looks back on the days when he came up with the idea. "I thought there weren't many dealers who actually knew how good the quality of the microphones they were selling were, so if you make the microphones for demonstrations and install them in the dealership, you will see the difference between an AUDIX microphone and a third-party microphone, the slogan being "evidence from theory." This simple method has long been used as a very effective tool, particularly at trade shows. Also on the stage, AUDIX performed caomparison demos against other major microphone manufacturers.
"What I was most concerned about was how important it was that the person performing the demonstration had a good idea of the progress of the demonstration. It would be better for the customer to have two microphones, and be able to hear which one sounded better. It is more important to hear the original function of the microphone when the salesman performs a demonstration, rather than having them selected based on a look at the specs of handling noise, off-axis rejection, SPL, etc.,. I can show you the advantages of the AUDIX mics, and you’re listening to the salesman's voice through various mics throughout the demo, so at the end of the demo, you too can hear that the AUDIX mics’ sound is very clear and you can see that it has a flat response: after all, the person who controls the demo increases the sales, which is a cardinal rule. "
A year after Castle started his demo revolution, in agreement with Bigeh, he moved AUDIX's manufacturing base to the United States and put the product development in his own hands. This decision became the major turning point in determining the future of AUDIX.
"At first, there were a lot of mistakes and we only piled up piles of scrap, so I thought it would be a life-saver," says Castle. However, after trial and error, Bigeh developed the technology to connect the capsules together, and the performance of the AUDIX microphone was also polished.
This technology is called VLM (very low mass) technology and refers to the ultra-lightweight diaphragm inside the capsule. "VLM has dramatically improved diaphragm response," Castle said. "With this invention it is possible to capture the sound accurately and naturally."
Less than a year later, Bigeh developed the OM3 and OM5. The OM3 and OM5 are both unique appearances and have very high performance specs, which are what determined the future of the company.
In addition, the change in pop music history also boosted Bigeh's invention. Seattle based grunge music had emerged on the pop music scene. "At the time, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, etc. were seen as nothing more than mere rock-and-roll bands of evil, and the music industry itself had not given them much attention," says Castle. But over and over again, Castle met Dave Rat, the owner of Rat Sound, which works with powerful bands including Red Hot Chili Peppers, and gave him a look at the latest prototype of the AUDIX OM7. "Dave was very surprised. The OM7 had better sound quality than the mics he had used before, and it was a good product for feedback as well. All the bands he worked on were playing at high volumes, and it would have been very big for him to be able to improve his feedback with the monitor even a little," he said, nostalgically. From that point on, Dave decided to use the OM7 for the lead vocals for this kind of band. As a result, the sound engineers of each band recognized the beauty of the OM7. The rumor of the OM7 ran through the industry, grunge music finally reached the mainstream in the music industry, and it was embellished by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, who shouts on the cover of the October 1993 Time magazine on the OM7.
Also around the same time, a sound engineer was asking for AUDIX's opinion on the feedback problems that came up on an Alanis Morissette tour, who was still unknown, so Castle sent him a few microphones. From the start, when Morissette held it, she has since loved the OM5. "She doesn't sing without the OM5, which is something like her signature model," says Castle.
In the first few years, there was one policy that could not be surrendered by AUDIX. "We do not offer our products free for endorsement by artists". Although this policy was a bad measure that originated from scarce capital, it had resulted in a significant delay in advertising compared to other companies that were allowed huge promotional budgets. However, AUDIX's products still penetrated the market, and the top artists were paying the full price without discounts and still promoting them. As AUDIX did not use endorsing, Blink 182, George Strait, Crosby Stills & Nash, Bonnie Rait, Blues, in addition to Alanis Morissette, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc., as well as various grunge bands, all AUDIX users, including Springsteen, bought the mic at full price.
From the launch of the OM5 to the OM7, it was a huge boost for AUDIX. AUDIX built up a relationship with an MTV "Unplugged" engineer, the popular late-night talk show. "If you turn on the TV, the AUDIX mic will always be in view. It appeared with famous bands such as Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins etc. It was a great commercial, I think it was a really exciting time, I realized that my hardships had really come through. And I felt really good because it was actually seen through the CRT," Castle recalls.
In 1991, the same year as the OM7 was released, AUDIX moved from California to Tualatin, Oregon. Later, as the company grew, it went through two moves and finally settled down to 78,000 square feet in 1998, just 13 miles southeast of Portland, in the same Oregon area.
Bigeh and Castle had decided to turn AUDIX into a manufacturer of high quality, mainly high-end products from the early days. So having a factory in mainland USA itself would be half the battle and hardship. The real hardship, the other half, was to invest heavily in technology to improve quality and reduce costs while reducing labor costs. Over the past few years, AUDIX's management, Fred Bigeh (Product Design & Production Director), Cindy Bigeh (CFO), and Castle (Sales & Marketing Director), has invested in the construction of a production plant in the US.
The state-of-the-art machine shop at AUDIX headquarters in Wilsonville features two turning centers that process metal and plastic parts. These consist of two parts: one for automatic tools, parts for products, parts for prototypes, and the other for grinding, wrapping, and cutting machines. "In a general milling machine, the part itself does not move by turning the tool itself, but in the case of a lathe, the part turns around and the tool stays still. However, the machine we use runs at 4800 revolutions per minute. Both the parts and the tools rotate, 2 pivots and 2 turrets, all 60 tools at the same time work, and move on 8 axes. It becomes possible to operate such as cutting, etc. to make a complex designs such as for the D6 and SCX 25. Even considering the machines and the overhead involved, outsourcing just the body of the microphone D6 would exceed dealer prices," Castle explains.
Products with low production volume like condenser microphones can be engraved with model numbers and serial numbers by hand, but for mass production microphones, IBM robots, lasers and audio analyzers are used for automatic marking and operation tests.
AUDIX aims to always overcome the limits of microphone development and production, making use of its own equipment to take care of every detail. For example, they are developing a laboratory that can adjust the temperature and pressure of air and are introducing a self-developed robot system as well. First, the robot places the coil precisely in the gap where the magnetism is generated, performs a very small amount of UV treatment, and then monitors it through a high-performance magnifying video camera. "We're making the diaphragm as light as possible by adjusting the amount of adhesive we use for the diaphragm," says Castle. They monitor the charge in real time using a typical magnet used to charge the microphone's diaphragm and a computer control system with a flux meter that is about 4 times larger and 8 times stronger. "I think there is probably no other company that has this system in place," Castle explains.
When parts are completed, they are assembled and processed in the production department. However, in order to avoid typical assembly work, AUDIX does cross-training of technology so that everyone can do it on any process when making one microphone. An anechoic chamber equipped with complex test equipment is also incorporated to measure any changes in specifications and experimental changes due to new parts or model changes added to the product. An additional 6,300 square feet of live sound room and studio is at the heart of product development and testing.
It can be said that investment in these advanced technologies also helps control quality. "I was really keen to try both R & D and production levels," says Castle. "For all models of AUDIX products, we have a reference microphone to test the frequency, phase, proximity effect and directivity of response based on it. I haven’t seen anything like this anywhere in the domestic market. ”
Cutting-edge technology and its fully controlled quality control have allowed AUDIX to grow exponentially and rise to the top of the market .
Following the OM series of vocal microphones, which are early hits, AUDIX released the D series drum microphones, DP series drum packs, and the D6, which became an industry standard in the bass drum mic category, one after another. In addition to the fusion series drum packs set for an affordable price and the I-5 multipurpose microphone, other high-end microphones are also compatible with other acoustic instruments, including lead vocals, back vocals, woodwinds, etc. The SCX-25A "Candy" large diaphragm condenser mic also added to the very rich product lineup. Also, a new series of mini-condenser microphones with the name "micro" has attracted attention. AUDIX has recently been focusing on their wireless product line and is expanding its reach even further.
AUDIX is also currently producing new products targeting drummers, which is a very good reflection of Bigeh and Castle's view of the audio market.
"Before the D series came out, drummers and sound engineers used to have one or two microphones for every instrument, but I think that they mostly used Shure's SM57 and Sennheiser's 421. We wanted to provide a wider range of products with better performance and more specific applications than the D. The D series is not a product originally created exclusively for drums, but is considered suitable for other musical instruments. However, while selling the D series for drums and percussion, the dealers noticed that there is also a demand for high-end drum mic packages, depending on the market, and the D4 was only for bass drums. It was thought that some engineers and artists would like them to make a larger version of the kick drum microphone. From there, they started working on the D6. Three years after the start of the production of the D6, and after only two years on the market, it is now recognized as the microphone beat. "
Drummers, etc. are the best customers for the microphone industry, but why has this favorable condition been left untouched? "Do you know what instruments use the mic most on the stage? Drums. Drummers spend more money on instruments than anyone on the stage, and when you're satisfied with the sound you get from a good mic, you want it, in order to play what you want the audience to hear," Castle points out.
With the D-series at the mercy of the market and other products responding immediately to the needs of engineers and artists, Castle says AUDIX's most innovative and selling product was, in fact, Fred's originality and humanity, and his desire to do something no one else has done. "The OM7, D-Series, VX10, SCX25,
the products of his originality. I didn't really wonder if the market would accept these products. He has a personality, he is standing alone, and has been developed as a new tool in the industry. ”
Castle continued, “Let's take the micro series, M1244, M1245, and M1290 as examples. One day Fred came to my office with a small microphone the size of a cigarette, and I could just hear all the voices asking, "Cute, what do you use it for?" To make the world's smallest condenser microphone with removable cables together." He has the sense to determine the value of things, and if something is good, he becomes devoted to the development of the product potential. And whether or not the mic gets to beta testing or not, the Micro is already more than other microphones. It turned out that it was far superior and had a huge range of applications: Micro was able to achieve great success in both the live performance and PA markets.
The situation was slightly different for the latest product, the i-5. In a sense, when he was trying to enter the market with OM1, Castle was honest in that he might be forced into “the fight between David and Goliath” and experience something he had experienced at that time again.
"For about 40 years there was no one to compete against the multi-purpose microphone SM57. Everyone challenged the SM58, but the SM57 was unbeatable, so AUDIX took over. Most of the hit products were limited to the microphones for musical instruments, so I think it might have been a good opportunity, indeed, drummers occupied most of the musical instrument microphone market. i-5 was conceived not as a product targeting only drummers, but for live performance or studio, whatever kind of instrument it may be."
It was only in the division of ultra-low cost capacitors that AUDIX decided not to do anything in the mic market. Condenser microphones and electret microphones are easier than making high quality dynamic microphones, and the equipment needed for production is much cheaper. Many of the manufacturers (mostly Chinese manufacturers) have jumped at great opportunities if they could take advantage of this. Castle said, "There are many companies that make condenser microphones, but there are only a handful of companies that make dynamic mics. I think there are good reasons for this." Of course, AUDIX also has some of these products. But they are focusing on developing more profitable, high-performance products.
"20 years ago, no, ten years ago, I had no idea that a cardioid condenser microphone with a gold sputtered diaphragm could be bought for $ 59.00 with a shock mount and a case. Cheap microphones imported from China have lowered not only the price but also the margin of the dealers: Once a supplier joins the "low price competition", there’s no going back. We have built trust in quality, and we would like to gain trust with fixed customers by continuing to supply “good things cheaply” from now on. It depends on our arms," says Castle.
Support for victory over "the biggest influence on microphone sales" has become more accessible year after year, says Castle. "In short, it means that there are many clerks who use our products. Isn't it easy for anyone to sell well-known products?" AUDIX is a special treat for dealer employees as we have created a program that allows our excellent clerks to earn AUDIX products as a bonus. We also made sure that dealers sell AUDIX microphones under fair competition conditions. We recommend MAP (minimum advertised price) and instruct dealers not to advertise below it. "We are trying to increase the discount rate and raise the rate of return to those distributors that contribute equally. If the distributor does not sell the product, the profit of the distributor will not increase naturally. Similarly, the profits of AUDIX will not rise, so we want all dealers to be successful regardless of their size."
It has been 20 years since Fred Bigeh and Cliff Castle started with all the predictions and good advice surrounding them. Now, Castle is in a solid, much-anticipated place, looking at AUDIX's bright future. "First of all, if you enter our office, you feel that everyone is doing something special," he says. "Everyone who works here has pride in his work and enjoys it. It doesn't have to be a big job. I just want to be the "best". From now on, I will go on in exactly the same way as before. We want to deliver superior products to discerning artists and engineers who understand the difference, and to offer low-cost, reliable, high-performance products at a low price to increase brand awareness and increase the number of fixed customers. I cannot predict what 20 years down the road will be like, but it is only certain that we have been chasing the slogan "Performance Is Everything" since the time of our founding. "