1979, UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim declared, was the International Year of the Child. Snow fell on the Sahara Desert. Pluto's eccentric orbit brought it closer to the Sun than Neptune. The Bee Gees, ABBA, Donna Summer and Rod Stewart headlined the Music for UNICEF concert in New York. In California, a corporation called Renkus-Heinz registered for the first time.
The first four events may have made bigger headlines at the time, but that small pebble dropped into the nascent pro audio industry continues to generate an expanding ripple effect, powered by successive waves of new technologies that deliver better sound.
For Harro Heinz, founding a company was in his blood. "I come from a family of entrepreneurs," he said recently, "so the itch was always there. Not being a gambler, I wanted to get solid experience in running a company before striking out on my own. That process took me a long time." Beginning as an engineer at Grundig, a German radio manufacturer, Harro eventually became President of Rauland Borg, the position he left to found Renkus-Heinz.
At a stage of life where many successful executives start planning for retirement, Harro was just beginning a new venture, in a new field. "Because I didn't start as a youngster and already had a family to take care of," he reflects, "conservative financial decisions came naturally. This was not always the most prudent approach: the company grew slowly. But in this economy, our timing is excellent. We have cash instead of debt, along with several years' worth of solid investment in networking and steerable loudspeaker technology." Taking care of the Heinz family has also proven to be a good investment: Harro's son Ralph is now Senior Vice President, with major responsibilities in R&D and product development, while Monika (Heinz) Smetona is Vice President, Administration.
Both the company's strong cash position and its systems-oriented product line reflect Harro's experienced guidance. "My background is in electronics," he points out. "I have always looked for ways to leverage loudspeaker technology with electronics first with analog processors and amplifiers and more recently with digital technology. Today, electronics are an important component of our overall business."
"Digital technology is re-shaping the pro audio landscape, just as in many other industries," Ralph Heinz points out. "We are leading the way with RHAON, the Renkus-Heinz Audio Operations Network, which connects all of our powered loudspeakers, including ICONYX Digitally Steerable Array Systems and the new IC Live."
Ralph, who trained as a mechanical engineer, "has a natural talent for understanding acoustics," says Harro. Patents for innovations such as TRAP (True Array Principle) and CoEntrant technologies reflect the truth of that statement. These and other unique concepts like Complex Conic horns and Reference Point Arrays are the foundation of Renkus-Heinz' well-established reputation for sonic excellence.
Reference Point Arrays proved that acoustical performance could be made significantly better with loudspeaker-specific signal processing. ICONYX takes an additional step, using multi-channel amplifiers with individual DSPs (Digital Signal Processors) to steer the output of linear arrays. It takes more than "digital magic" to make this concept work in the real world, though.
Proper acoustical design is essential as well. "The first ICONYX arrays were constructed of 4-inch co-axial transducers," Ralph explains. "They balance reasonably full-range output, high power handling with tight intra-driver spacing that allows us to effectively steer high frequencies. Our second generation ICONYX transducer uses a dual-tweeter array to control high frequency beamwidth. That reduces "grating" lobes in the highest octaves, a problem that DSP alone cannot solve.”
"The design target for Iconyx was permanent installations in large, reverberant spaces," Ralph recalls. "But some of our customers saw the advantages of the small profile, wide horizontal coverage and vertically steerable beams in other applications, such as corporate events and acoustic music concerts. It was clear that many more people could use ICONYX technology for live events if they could cover larger audiences."
Renkus-Heinz engineers did not stop with boosting SPL. They looked at the live event production cycle, from transport to setup, stage and projection sightlines, teardown and load-out. "IC Live reflects our understanding of the live event business model," Ralph explains. "For instance, we've developed two components — a full-range array module and a subwoofer — that combine in six different configurations. That allows a rental company to handle a wide range of events with just two inventory items. We've designed the electronics to be operated in a very simple, fast, preset-select mode, or with full customization for those who have the time, the computer skills and the audio expertise to take full advantage of digital steering and beamshaping."
It's no accident that IC Live came about as a result of customer input. Strong working relationships have been a pillar of Renkus-Heinz since the beginning. "It's a two-way street," says Vice President, International Sales Karl Brunvoll. "By working closely with each other on both the technical and commercial levels, we get better at what we are doing. Our shared investment stretches beyond simply selling loudspeaker products. We build business relationships that strengthen the overall value for the client."
Brunvoll, who started working for a Norwegian distributor of Renkus-Heinz loudspeakers, joined the organization decades ago. But he is by no means the longest-serving employee. "We have nine employees who have been part of the company for more than 20 years," Monika Smetona points out. "Over a third of our staff has more than 10 years of experience with Renkus-Heinz products and customers. The rest of our employees have an average tenure of over five years."
Depth of experience is a key ingredient in the Foothill Ranch factory's unique ability to deliver customized built-to-order products on an off-the-shelf time schedule. But as Vice President, Operations Rik Kirby points out, the build-to-order model dedicated to meeting customer needs is truly a core competency. "We do have an extremely skilled and experienced production staff," he emphasizes. "Because Renkus-Heinz has always built to order, they are used to working this way. From the online ordering system and the web product Configurator, to the way we manage work orders and QC, our information systems and production lines have evolved to meet customer requirements for specific, often unique applications."
"We design, prototype, and manufacture in house," Rik points out, "so our build-to-order methodology begins with the design process. We aim to cut complete cabinets, or multiples thereof, every time a sheet of wood is laid on the CNC machine, rather than doing a run of tops, another of bottoms and so on. This allows us to customize each order to the customer's requirements during the normal production process rather than having to wait until we're doing another run of that SKU before we can satisfy the customers' order."
Plant investments are also focused on the build-to-order model. "With our new Surface Mount Technology (SMT) pick and place machine," says Rik, "we can manufacture our electronics quickly in house rather than relying on outside vendors." The skilled production team and flexible facilities also accelerate the design cycle by rapidly delivering prototypes to the engineering test lab. Even many international shipments are built to order, going straight to the job site instead of sitting on shelves in an overseas warehouse.
Correct application is particularly important with new technologies and tools that solve previously intractable problems, but demand new ways of thinking and working. "Because of this," Karl says, "we are always looking for local representatives or distributors who share our enthusiasm for the forefront of audio development, and who have acoustics and system design expertise.
They are local extensions of the knowledge, expertise and experience we have developed over 30 years. Without local expertise and know-how to properly apply this technology, Iconyx would still be sitting on the shelf. Instead, our representatives are taking it to new levels, and becoming true 'beam steering experts.'"
One of the newest additions to the Renkus-Heinz family is Vichai Trading (1983) in Thailand. "We have recently added many new brands in response to a distribution consolidation by one of our previous manufacturing partners," says Thaweesak Thamsirisup of Vichai Trading (1983). "Renkus-Heinz is well ahead of many other manufacturers we work with in terms of both product development and support. Business partnership is more than a nice turn of phrase with these people."
Sales Managers Ladd Temple and Phil Van Peborgh maintain the same kind of network with US manufacturers' representatives, says Rocky Gianetta. His company, Layer8, has been part of the Renkus-Heinz family for well over a decade. "We accept and embrace the challenge of a changing role that requires us to provide services and help educate the marketplace," Rocky says. "The rewards are greater than just selling boxes. When you go into a room that has had maybe four different sound systems in its lifespan, and the owners tell you that they can hear for the first time — that's quite a payoff for the integrator, the specifier, and ourselves."
As part of its focus on better sound, Renkus-Heinz has consistently championed the use of objective data in system design and commissioning. Generations of audio professionals, including many from other loudspeaker manufacturers, have attended EASE classes at Renkus-Heinz. Renkus-Heinz also supports other software programs developed by AFMG (Ahnert Feistel Media Group) such as EASERA and SysTune. Test and measurement tools such as these have become increasingly important as products have evolved and technology has advanced.
"It is extremely important to us, to our sales partners, and of course to the end client, that sound systems using our products are well designed and installed by competent technicians," Rik Kirby emphasizes. "We require that our dealers become certified on Iconyx products before they can gain access to the line, and as we are often called upon in the final commissioning stage of RHAON and Iconyx projects, it made sense to enhance existing relationships with our consulting colleagues. Factory Authorized Commissioning Specialists are invited to the factory for an extensive training program. We educate them in the theory as well as the practice of our products, and show them the troubleshooting techniques we have developed in the past few years of supporting Iconyx and RHAON.
As the market's adoption of RHAON has gained momentum we have included this in our consultant commissioning training so we can continue to offer quick, effective, support as required."
For Harro Heinz, education, product development and manufacturing processes work hand in hand to solve sound reinforcement problems. And the task is far from complete.
"There's a lot to be done with the integration of DSP and acoustical engineering," says Ralph Heinz. "The growth of RHAON has created an opportunity to integrate test and measurement software like EASERA and SysTune with loudspeaker-specific and even location-specific DSP. I believe we are just touching the surface in terms of integrating large, facility-wide sound systems to deliver a consistently high quality audio experience."
It's clear that for Renkus-Heinz, the next 30 years will be much more exciting than the last. Of course, if you want to build the future, you have to build a company to do it. "Fortunately, we can continue to invest in our business, even in the current economic climate," says Rik Kirby. "We are hiring new engineering staff, developing new technologies, and adopting the latest in manufacturing techniques to keep ourselves and our partners at the forefront of the loudspeaker business. We are the only manufacturer who can offer networked control and audio delivery via Ethernet across our entire product range. We view this as a very strong platform for a future in which AV and IT continue to move closer together."
Even non-gamblers like Harro Heinz will bet on Renkus-Heinz meeting that challenge, and whatever else the next 30 years may bring.