Midas Consoles Japan
The story of live console maker Midas is as eventful as it is important. A new dedicated Japanese distribution office brings its story into focus...
The origins of Midas consoles can be traced back to the UK at the beginning of the 1970s, when the live sound market was in full song. They brought together the evolving demands of live concert productions, ongoing developments in electronics and an integrated approach to sound system design. Like other key moments in pro audio’s history, it was unscripted and unprecedented…
Established by electronics design engineer Jeff Byers, Midas Amplification began manufacturing back-line amplifiers in 1970, exploiting the possibilities of solid-state technology. The move toward ‘modular’ PA system design, using matched loudspeakers, crossovers, power amplifiers and multicore cables, prompted the design of its first mixing consoles. Working with Martin Audio founder Dave Martin, Mr Byers produced a modular PA system for the Sundown Rock Theatres chain in the UK in 1972, where the output levels from the console were correctly set for the crossovers and the amplifiers were matched to suit the loudspeakers. ‘This was the first time that a PA system as a total concept had components that were exactly matched and the difference was very audible,’ recalls Mr Byers.
By the mid 1970s Midas was firmly established, with clients including Pink Floyd and Supertramp. Design ideas from Supertramp’s Crime of the Century tour in late 1974 appeared in a range of modular live sound and recording consoles. The mixers represented a quantum leap in technology; each being built up in blocks of input, output, communications and aux send-and-return modules plugged into a separate section of the main frame. Not only this, but the construction allowed them to be particularly roadworthy and cemented Midas’ reputation.
Monitor consoles followed in the form of the Pro2M and Pro4M input module designs, and in 1977 Midas supplied the FOH mixing desk for the Pink Floyd Animals tour, offering separate master quadraphonic and stereo outputs, along with a monitor console. These were also used on the The Wall tour and Frank Zappa’s 1980 world tour. Further innovation followed, including the release of the XL Console system in 1986. But while international business flourished, the company faced financial trouble.
A succession of acquisitions followed, with Klark Teknik purchasing Midas in 1985 before becoming part of Mark IV Audio. Mark IV was then purchased by Greenwich Street Capital Partners and renamed EVI Audio UK. Greenwich SCP subsequently merged Mark IV with Telex Communications Inc, and in 1999 the Klark Teknik Group (UK) was created.
But throughout these events, the technical innovation continued, and Midas remained at the top of live sound engineers’ preferred mixing desks. Released in 1989, its XL3 console was an industry standard for 10 years until the Heritage 3000 superseded it in 1999. The XL4, meanwhile, created an entirely new market position at the high-end on its release in 1995. The Heritage 3000 followed in 1999, while the Venice console brought new affordability to the Midas catalogue in January 2001. With the Legend 3000 appearing in March 2002 and another cost-effective console, the Verona, launched at the 2004 Namm show, there was no doubting Midas’ standing with engineers, tour companies or concertgoers. As long as you wanted an analogue mixing console…
‘Our sales figures reflect the fact that we have had a number of major product launches recently,’ Mr Cooper had said in mid 2004. ‘It’s extremely gratifying to see that your products are successful – Verona, for example, has taken the market by storm and Heritage 4000 has exceeded our annual prediction in just four months. We’re up to our 500th Legend 3000 already, and of course, the world’s favourite ever console remains the Heritage 3000. What is interesting is that all of this has been achieved without a digital console. That said, we are well into the process of developing our groundbreaking digital platform that, when it is ready, will be, like our analogue consoles, the very best the market has to offer.’
Even so, the XL8 was a surprise to almost everyone in the field on its launch at the Frankfurt Musikmesse in 2006. ‘This is not merely another digital mixing console – XL8 offers an incomparable design combining exemplary sound quality, flexibility and reliability with an ease and familiarity of use unrivalled by other digital control surfaces,’ the company boasted. ‘XL8 is the first of a new generation of open-architecture, cross-platform, integrated audio control and distribution systems, which brings control of not only audio, but other aspects of a live performance to a single, intuitive control centre.’
‘We had to wait until the technology was available to deliver Midas’ core values – especially the Midas signature sound – digitally,’ Mr Cooper elaborates. ‘One thing we can’t afford to do at Midas is deliver a product that doesn’t meet our customers’ high expectations. It should be noted that XL8 is close to outselling XL4 in half the time, and has easily surpassed our forecasts. Global XL8 sales continue to be strong, and the Japanese market is no exception.’
To its critics the XL8 was too late to market, as it followed digital desks from just about every other player. Its cost, meanwhile, limited its commercial appeal to the high end of the market. But there was no doubting its power and flexibility, opening the door for the 2008 introduction of the Pro6 – a small footprint, cost-effective console that made a perfect counterpart to the prowess of the XL8.
In the interim, there were further developments in the boardroom, as German industrial giant Robert Bosch declared its acquisition of Telex Communications ‘through the merger of a wholly owned Bosch subsidiary into Telex’ for a purchase price of US$420m. The Telex Communications brands – Electro-Voice, Dynacord, Midas, Klark Teknik and Telex now found themselves part of a hugely diverse business covering everything from automotive parts to power tools. The Telex operation fell under the billion-dollar Security Systems division, announcing Bosch’s entry into professional audio market and expanding its communications lines.
Previously, EVI Audio Japan had been the distributor for Midas and Klark Teknik in Japan from 1994 to 2009 and, although this acquisition appeared an odd fit for the niche console manufacturer, it did nothing to hinder the take-up of its consoles – worldwide. This included the establishment of Midas Consoles Japan in early 2009 with general manager, Takayuki Ozaki, promising ‘stronger support for the concert sound market’.
Prior to Midas Consoles Japan, Japanese distributor Bestec Audio, which was set up by president Kunio Suzuki in June 1990 to bring the Apogee Sound line into the country, handled Midas and Klark Teknik. In 1997, the company’s focus shifted to L-Acoustics and expanded to cover Digigram, InnovaSon and Whirlwind – as well as Midas and Klark Teknik. Initially, the company worked from premises in Midori, Sumida-ku and Tokyo but later relocated the office from Midori to Ishiwara, Sumida-ku, Tokyo (the current main office) for business expansion. Bestec Audio concentrated on the concert market and installations, large live broadcasting spaces and fixed installations, and quickly built up a list of clients that includes the Shiki Theatre Company, MSI Japan, Tokyo Sanko，Hibino Sound, Yamaha，JVC，Panasonic and others.
Announced at the Plasa show in London’s Earls Court by Takayuki Ozaki, Tadato Nishimura, David Cooper and Midas managing director, John Oakley, the company is a dedicated division of Bestec Audio intended to offer the best possible support for Midas and KT in Japan. Having previously worked at EVI Audio Japan for 13 years, Mr Ozaki was a key component in the new company’s operation, which combined the best of both prior operations.
The move followed a period of distribution changes for Midas and Klark Teknik, including the appointment of new distributors in Europe, the formation of Midas Consoles North America and Midas Consoles Italy. ‘The most important reason in moving to the brand focused distribution model is to guarantee our customers total brand focus from all aspects of the business – from pre-sale demonstration through post-sale training, to industry leading after-sales support. It would appear that professional audio customers like to talk to “experts”, so it’s our philosophy to have accessible Midas experts in each territory.’
Nor were the corporate changes over, as December 2009 brought one of the shock developments of recent years when it was announced that The Music Group was to assume full ownership of Midas and Klark Teknik at the end of January 2010.
Behind the scenes, both Bosch and Midas/Klark Teknik had recognised that the companies interests were too diverse to allow them obtain the maximum benefits from their relationship, and an amicable search for a long-term solution had begun. The result of the search was the establishment of The Music Group by Behringer as a parent for both companies – instantly creating one of the world’s largest holding companies for pro audio and music products brands. ‘The more we spoke, the more we liked them,’ said David Cooper, of the Music Group team of Uli Behringer and Michael Deeb. ‘The Behringer brand does what it does extremely well, but Midas and Klark Teknik have unique brand values, operating in an entirely different sector of the market and we all agreed this must continue.’
While there are synergies that can be used to the benefit of both Behringer and Midas and Klark Teknik, the Midas/Klark Teknik company premises, structure and personnel were promised to remain unaffected, as were its distribution channels – including Midas Consoles Japan. ‘We have the best distribution in the world,’ Mr Cooper stated at the time. ‘Now we will prove by our actions that this is the best move forward for Midas and Klark Teknik.’
The decision to form Midas Consoles Japan had been at least as significant as the establishment of distribution channels in other territories, since the Japanese market represents in excess of 10 per cent of Midas’ business. ‘We have a very well respected pair of brand names in Japan,’ Mr Oakley says. ‘We’ve always had very good sales there but we believe that we can do even better now.’
As the 2009 InterBee show in Tokyo marked the end of the latest round of changes, it fell to Midas brand development manager Richard Ferriday and general manager Takayuki Ozaki to assess the effectiveness of the operation: ‘This is a much better route to market, with people focused on one brand’ said Mr Ferriday. ‘It is fortunate that Ozaki-san moved with the brand, both for us and for Japanese Midas customers as they know that they are talking to someone with in-depth knowledge of the consoles.’
It additionally provided an opportunity to measure the ongoing success of the Pro6 console: ‘Its interesting that we have sold more Pro6 desks in the first year of production than we did Heritage 3000s in its first year – and that was regarded as an overnight success,’ Mr Ferriday reported.
‘One of the nice things about this is that the people who were working for the old distribution channel – the main technical people and the service support people – have moved to the new distribution channel, so there is a continuity there,’ confirms John Oakley. ‘It made it a very easy changeover and the two distribution channels worked together to ensure that customers get continuity of support. It’s an example of how distribution should be changed.’
The Midas Consoles Japan operation has its main office in Tokyo, taking advantage of Bestec’s facilities. Here, there are four direct employees but its sales effort is shared with the Bestec Audio team. The first sale made by the new company was a Midas Venice console and KT Square One EQ – illustrating the close integration of the two brands’ equipment. A steady stream of Pro6 sales have followed, immediately finding use on live concerts for some of Japan’s best-known artists and building the reputation of both the new company and the console, Mr Ozaki reports.
The ongoing economic situation is affecting the Japanese console market, however, as Mr Ozaki explains: ‘The customer is much influenced by price, as a result of the influence of the economy, and risks becoming negligent about sound quality,’ he says. ‘But we must never forget the importance of sound quality, and must continue pursuing it.’
While Mr Nishimura admits that the company is not attempting to appeal to the mass market, this translates as strength against the prospect of competition from Chinese manufacturers. ‘It does not seem that there aren’t any competing products in the Chinese market,’ he observes. ‘In other words, this is our advantage.’
He is hoping for better times during 2010 as the predicted recovery takes effect. Meanwhile, there are plans to extend the facilities of both Midas Consoles Japan and Bestec Audio: ‘We will increase the number of staff starting with the sales department, and propose to enhance after-sales service including our training programmes,’ Mr Nishimura promises. ‘We want to enhance of sales services for digital products and digital network products.
‘In order for customers to be able to get amazing results, we are not only aiming simply to sell products, but also to provide technical support and know-how,’ he closes. ‘We intend to provide our customers with a proper understanding of the characteristics of our products.’
Published in PAA March-April 2010