Meeting Topic: Microphone Manufacturing in Australia
Moderator Name: Graeme Huon
Speaker Name: Peter Freedman - founder & CEO of RØDE Microphones
Meeting Location: SAE Lecture Theatre, South Melbourne
On Monday October 10th, AES Melbourne members and guests assembled in the SAE Melbourne Lecture Theatre to hear Peter Freedman, the founder and CEO of RØDE Microphones speak to us on Microphone Manufacturing in Australia
Peter started out by describing the company and touching on the acquisition of the Aphex and Event Electronics businesses, and teased us on an imminent but yet-to-be-announced acquisition.
He then took us briefly through his family history — his father working in Sweden on Dynacord equipment, and mixing bands. The family came to Australia in 1966. Peter was 8 years old at the time and couldn't speak English!
His father had acquired the distribution rights for Dynacord in Australia, which was the main reason for moving to Sydney, establishing Freedman Electronics- the predecessor of RØDE. He commented that next January marks the 50th anniversary of Freedman Electronics
He told us that, after a particularly non-stellar school experience, he parted company early with formal education and went to work —mostly with his father. His early audio career involved mixing bands in clubs, then he spent 11-12 years working full time at Freedman doing A/V installs.
He even started his own nightclub at Souths Juniors which turned out to be a financial success, with audiences in the thousands, but it was not a lifestyle he could sustain.
Following his father's death in the 80's, Peter — back in the family business - borrowed money to expand, and with the recession the business suffered, ending up owing a million dollars.
To survive he was selling "anything that moved".
He had a sample of a cheap Chinese condenser mic which he'd picked up on an earlier buying trip, and his top salesman managed to generate a lot of interest in this product. They modified the mics to improve performance, and RØDE microphones was born, with this modified Chinese import becoming the NT1.
The timing was right with the advent of cheap digital recording with the ADAT. The budget and home recording outfits that the ADAT revolution spawned were not willing to spend multi-thousands of dollars for the German condenser mics, so the $500 RØDE NT1 filled that niche nicely.
He recounted his experiences on his first US selling trip — where his passion for the product resulted in orders in unexpectedly high quantities, and at their first NAMM show they also signed up distribution in 4 or 5 countries.
Peter then explained how they expanded into manufacturing to ensure the availability and quality of their future product.
RØDE now has 30 million dollars' worth of machinery. He commented that owning the machinery (unlike other major manufacturers) reduces the cost base so cheaper products can be quickly realised. He quoted Greg Mackie as saying "He who tools, rules". He explained that this meant owning and controlling the manufacturing capability offers the power and agility necessary to succeed.
He also described their investment in test equipment - laser interferometer, RF & audio analysers, and the recent commissioning of a top-grade anechoic chamber.
Peter commented about how much electronic work was done in-house, with their own ASIC designs, along with other chips and FETS, as well as winding their own transformers. He claimed that they have the best SMT assembly line in the country, and remarked that robotic assembly keeps cost down.
He also described some microphone designs, an early valve condenser mic based on the C12, as well as the more recent mics for video, the iPhone, and radio mics - commenting that now broadcast and video has eclipsed studio microphone sales.
The evening finished with a lively Q&A session where Peter was quizzed on a range of topics ranging from microphone design, through business considerations, to more personal topics.
Written By: Peter Smerdon