RCF Company Profile

Published: MEA

RCF Company Profile

Having led Italy’s charge into professional audio, RCF found itself derailed by international business arrangements before returning to its original course and renewed international success

The rich agricultural area of Emilia Romagna is better known for its fine balsamic vinegars, Parma hams and parmesan cheeses than the mechanical and electronics industries that grew up here after the World War II. In the same year that the Italian nation mourned the tragic loss of the Torino football team in the Superga air disaster, Radio Cine Forniture began OEM manufacturing of transducers in Reggio Emilia. The year was 1949 and the seeds sown in the breadbasket of Italy and RCF were poised to lead Italian professional audio onto the world stage.

 RCF’s first product to be developed was a ribbon microphone, whose design rights were eventually sold to University Sound and RCA in the US. However, it was the manufacturer’s development of medium-powered transducers for sound reinforcement – attracting the attention of pioneers such as Dave Martin (founder of Martin Audio) – in the late 1960s that put RCF on the road to success. Concert sound was going electric in a big way at this point in history, and many loudspeaker pioneers were searching for high-powered devices to use in their designs. An increasing number started working closely with RCF’s engineers, and a range of 12-, 15- and 18-inch loudspeakers became the backbone of the company’s catalogue for many years. At the same time, RCF also found a great demand in the production of 100V line electronics, amplifiers, mixers and PA equipment and, even today, it is common to see and hear RCF horn speakers announcing late arrivals on Italian train platforms. Export sales gradually rose and the RCF logo finally appeared on the company own products rather than being hidden away as an OEM concern.

 The arrival of Giuseppe Bozzoli as RCF’s new president in 1990 had a dramatic effect on the business, for it was he who recognised the enormous potential that the export market could offer RCF if it were to start loudspeaker cabinet production. RCF had a good design team, but the capture of George Kampera helped to put RCF on the mobile PA map in the 1990s. ISO 9001 certification followed and, shortly afterwards in 1996, Mr Bozzoli stepped aside to be replaced by Arturo Vicari. The new MD was well known in Italy as a leading developer of OEM radio microphones and transducers at AEB (Acoustic Engineering Bureau) and he shared the same vision as his predecessor in that he recognised the music and professional markets were vital to RCF’s growth. ‘Outside of Italy, the European and Asian markets are expanding,’ he said at the time. ‘All our export markets and the growing fixed installation market offer RCF unrealised potential.’ By expanding the business overseas, it also took a lot of strain off domestic sales, which had generally been maximised.

 The Art Series of composite-moulded loudspeaker cabinets was instrumental in helping RCF gain brand recognition overseas, and helped build sales in the wider MI market. Although common today, the Art Series was one of few portable, plastic loudspeaker designs available earning critical acclaim from users who sought a portable plug-and-play speaker at that time. A shared belief in active loudspeaker technology with Mackie Designs and the American console manufacturer’s desire to move into the PA market led to the eventual takeover of RCF by Mackie in June1998. ‘We had reached critical growth,’ confessed Mr Vicari. ‘RCF is a great company, but we needed the additional power in order to enjoy further growth and we now have this with the investment that the takeover will bring.’ As Mr Vicari stepped down and headed eastwards to AEB in Bologna, a new dawn beckoned for RCF, bankrolled by US dollars and the benefits of company synergies. Little did he realise that he would be returning to rescue the company after five years…

 During this period, on-paper electronics and electro-acoustic synergies were unfulfilled, communication problems festered and product development was largely stunted. Having increased the initial workforce to almost 500 employees, RCF was rudderless in a tranquil sea. Ultimately, Mr Vicari heeded the call to return to Reggio Emilia in December 2003 and purchased the remnants of Mackie Designs (Italy) Spa putting together an investment plan for the restart of RCF activities. The group of investors led by Mr Vicari bought all of the assets of Mackie Designs Italy Spa and the new company was immediately renamed RCF Spa, and headed by Mr Vicari.

 From 2004 a new era began for RCF, and the company has gone on to design, put into production and deliver a substantial amount of new products to the market on an annual basis. Alessandro Manini and his team of R&D engineers were more than up to the task. ‘We had designed many new innovative, exciting products, but unfortunately, we weren’t given the consent to develop them,’ Mr Manini explains. ‘When I was asked to start developing once again in 2004, the process was relatively straightforward.’

 RCF decided that it would re-launch the brand in three market sectors – transducers, mobile PA and fixed installation, and managed to complete a number of woofers, drivers and a range of 100V line amplifiers in addition to the Art Series II. The market had changed significantly since the initial launch of the Art series, however. ‘You may ask what the world needs with yet another plastic loudspeaker cabinet,’ Mr Vicari states somewhat frankly. ‘But when people listened to the second-generation cabinets, they appreciated why we made it. Asian competition had made life difficult in which to compete, but we knew that we could compete on quality.’ Product development accelerated faster than a Ferrari on the 50km Autostrada between RCF and AEB.

 Except that someone in R&D forgot to take their foot off the pedal and development has continued at break neck speeds with significant new launches of products. Between 1990 and 2004, RCF had made the transition from manufacturer of transducers to both a designer and a producer of speaker systems, amplifiers, cabinets, control electronics, conferencing solutions – and, of course, transducers. The acoustic, electronic and mechanical engineering departments worked closely with one another in implementing new designs for common design goals.

 The speed of R&D development increased significantly in 2004 and it shows few signs of slowing down. AEB’s strength in electronics coupled with RCF’s platform in electro-acoustic expertise has helped to widen the RCF product catalogue at a rate in which most of their competitors can only stand back from and admire. Returning back to their roots as a transducer manufacturer, however, RCF now offer a comprehensive range of compression drivers, woofers, mid-range units, coaxial speakers and horns using neodymium, titanium and carbon-fibre materials, all of which are designed in-house. It was another bold step for RCF, given both the growth and the dynamism of this market sector. ‘We had to face reality that we face stiff competition,’ Mr Vicari had said. ‘However, I believe that with our know-how, technology, work with neodymium and strong branding will make us competitive.’

 Today, RCF’s products are grouped into six families, including precision transducers. From large-scale concerts to large, complex installations and theatre sound to conference system, the RCF logo pervades a variety of vertical markets. The TT+ High Definition Touring and Theatre Series use RCF produced transducers and class-D digital active amplifiers with DSP capabilities, and include the TTL55-A, TTL33-A ad TTL31-A line array modules, together with the TT45-A and TT25-A stage monitors, a number of active subwoofers and a host of accessories. Passive models are also available.

 It is, perhaps, the generic ‘professional systems’ family that extends the company’s reach most widely. The 4-Pro series of two- and three-way speaker systems cater for most sizes of venues, while the NX Series is a ‘modular system’ of active loudspeakers designed for rental companies and musicians. Scaled down from the TT+ series, the NX range comprises line array modules, two-way monitors for PA systems and monitoring applications, together with high power subwoofers. In 2008, the launch of the extremely lightweight and versatile Art 7 series, including seven active and three passive designs, represented a significant step forward for RCF. The plug-and-play design includes new amplification modules and neodymium transducers in very compact cabinets for live sound, playback, monitoring, corporate events and presentations. A number of professional and class-H amplifiers round off the series.

 The Installation family of speaker systems fills every possible niche for systems integrators, including the Compact Series of close field, ‘two-way direct radiating’ loudspeakers. The Acustica family consists of the P-series of indoor and outdoor coaxial designs, H-series dedicated for large scale applications and Acustica series of bass reflex, band-pass and horn-loaded models designed for permanent installation. Further, the L Series of column speakers provide speech intelligibility in harsh acoustic environments, while the RCF Monitor series serves fixed installations, and the Monitor Q series is dedicated for applications that require a modern industrial design. The Art series has been evolved in this category into the Art-I series, which is an optimised two-way composite speaker system. A line of power amplifiers and processors, together with high-quality transformers are also available.

 A range of public address products and systems caters for voice evacuation applications, in accordance with international security regulations. These include audio management and control systems for evacuation and BGM needs; column, ceiling and in-wall speakers; horns and monitors; together with amplifiers, sources, rack components and microphones. The sixth and final product category is the Forum congress group, offering the Forum 9000 digital conferencing and voting, Forum 2000 simultaneous translation and Forum 6000 digital conferencing and discussion systems. Together with recent launch of the Mytho studio monitor, the Forum congress systems have penetrated niche markets never before tapped into, thus prompting RCF to seek new distribution channels.

The return of Arturo Vicari to RCF in late 2003 should have been marked by a tidal wave of human emotion, except that it wasn’t. He immediately revealed a set of ambitious goals that would steer RCF to market leadership. ‘We will be looking to get back some of the key people that left the company during the last few years,’ he remarked. ‘This will propel RCF to a prominent position in the market which it had held previously.’

 It was hardly a mass exodus, as the good ship RCF steadied itself for sustained growth, but prominent engineers and designers returned to the payroll. Having served with distinction for many years as the sales director, Fausto Incerti continued his career with the promotion to general manager in 2007, relieving Mr Vicari of the day-to-day running of the business. His position was created through the return of, Alberto Ruozzi, who now assumed the sales director role. ‘More than the products, the team is the most important asset to any company and we have the very best here at RCF,’ remarks Mr Vicari.

 Mr Vicari had not only built up his dream team, who were penetrating old and new markets with gusto, but he also fulfilled another ambition three years into his second term: ‘My dream was to go public in two to three years time and we achieved that.’ In July 2007 the RCF Group comprising RCF Spa and AEB Industriale srl, was listed on the Italian Stock Exchange. This was achieved having increased the group’s turnover to almost €50m in 2006, representing impressive year on year growth of 26 per cent. ‘I hope to announce the integration of a third company shortly into the group,’ he announced. Within two years, this ambition was made public at the Frankfurt Pro Light & Sound show, where the RCF Group had acquired a 51 per cent controlling share of Tavullia-based lighting manufacturer SGM Technology. ‘The companies in our group share the same level of passion and dedication and we immediately found a perfect understanding with SGM, sharing a common vision for the future,’ offers Mr Vicari. ‘SGM will focus on their existing business model, developing their own products, while benefiting from additional synergies and resources at the same time.’

 Export manager Federico Lugli was charged with the task to both strengthen existing and create new distribution channels in the export market: ‘We were able to carry on where we left off with most of our previous distributors in 1998, which goes to show just what strong relationships we previously enjoyed,’ says Mr Lugli. He wasted little time in reaffirming previous relationships with Kairos Multijaya in Indonesia and Group Technologies in Australia. Acoustic & Lighting took over the lead from Digistar in Malaysia and Singapore, while Leifull Engineering replaced EAD as RCF’s main Chinese distributor in 2007. ‘It’s a pleasure for us to have the chance to distribute such a well known Italian brand throughout China,’ commented Leifull’s chairman of the board, Mr Zhou. In addition, Forerunner Technologies and Sound Solution are RCF’s distributors in the Philippines, and South Korea respectively. RCF has invested heavily in recent years establishing dedicated offices in France, Germany, Spain, the UK and the US.

 As a further testament to its positive approach to reinvestment, RCF acquired a large facility adjacent to its Reggio Emilia production area, converting it for use as a wood shop for all their loudspeaker cabinets. ‘Our previous facility was several kilometres away,’ comments sales director Mr Ruozzi. ‘Having production here provides us with much more control, together with great savings in terms of time and costs. The finished cabinets are simply fork-lifted across the yard.’ Baltic Birch wood is imported in and precision-cut with advanced Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machinery for maximum precision and quality by a team of carpenters who hand-finish each cabinet prior to painting and finishing.

 In total, RCF now employs more than 250 people and exports to more than 100 countries worldwide. GM Mr Incerti knows that such tremendous growth would not have been possible without a certain catalyst: ‘Without Arturo and the synergies within our Group it would have been very difficult to achieve what we did in such an incredible short space of time.’ Constant innovation provided by a group of dedicated sound engineers, has created a staggering range of groundbreaking products that has helped to make RCF a protagonist of ‘Made In Italy’ in the audio sector throughout the world today. The initial penetration of ART series portable speakers into the Asian Pacific and Middle Eastern markets in the late-1990s was but a prelude to what has become an onslaught invasion of blue-circled logos. Churches, venues, airports, stadia, clubs, restaurants, government buildings and educational establishments continue to fill the order books – the Hard Rock Cafe in Penang together with Club Azzura, Club Ratchada and the Centre of New Life Church in Singapore are good prime examples of RCF’s public image of today.

 ‘I have so much fun doing this,’ Mr Vicari sums up. ‘Once I have achieved my goals here, I will take more time to spend with my family. But I derive so much satisfaction driving RCF forward that it is going to be hard to prize me away from here.’ The manner in which Mr Vicari picks teams and achieves his goals, it could be rightly assumed that a career in Serie A should have beckoned at some point in his eventful career. Luckily for the town of Reggio Emilia, his captaincy has made RCF worthy champions in their league.

 www.rcfaudio.com

www.rcf-group.com

Published in PAA May-June 2010