General managers in dialogue
Looking to the future
Wolfgang Luckhardt and Edgar van Velzen, general managers of beyerdynamic, talking about tradition and innovation, Germany as a centre of research and development, and the new generation of headphones with Mimi sound personalisation
In June of this year, Edgar van Velzen joined beyerdynamic as co-general manager alongside Wolfgang Luckhardt. Both want to guide the established Heilbronn-based audio specialist into the future. As co-managers they are demonstrating team spirit – with clearly distinct jobs. A glance at the new products earmarked for IFA 2017 shows how well the twosome works.
A new general manager often brings fresh stimulus to a company. Are the history and tradition of beyerdynamic more a curse or a blessing?
Edgar van Velzen: A blessing, definitely. Reconciling history and tradition with the modern day is a fascinating task. Combining the knowledge that has been accumulated, and the standardised processes, with the requirements of the present and the future is a challenge I embrace. There is no denying that we have some major challenges ahead of us. Nowadays, we have to accept that the digital transformation and the new role of consumers as co-designers of products and companies are here to stay. Success is now contingent on speed and focus. Knowledge is much easier to come by, which is reshaping the competitive environment. Brands are springing up all over the place, new markets evolving, and new opportunities arising. Anyone can build headphones if they want to. Having said that, our knowledge, technologies, quality and history give us the credibility and authenticity that a lot of other brands are missing. Added to which, it’s like being in a kitchen – the same recipe never tastes as good regardless of who cooks it. Having a history that gives a company and its products a soul is a blessing. Customers feel that, and appreciate it. Staying on the ball and constantly challenging the status quo is, however, essential. Otherwise we would not be able to continuously improve and move our products, processes and indeed the whole company forwards.
Wolfgang Luckhardt: To come to the point, I also believe that history and tradition are a huge blessing. It is outstanding that a company has existed for so long. Keeping going for more than 90 years – and as a family business – deserves respect. And yet, a long family tradition must never be used to argue in favour of always looking back. Looking forward is crucial. Now that Edgar has joined us, we are firmly moving in the right direction. His experience in the digital world and his passion for product innovations, coupled with our technological innovations but also the ongoing modernisation of our production facilities in Germany, puts us in a promising position from which to drive the expansion of the success story that is beyerdynamic.
Edgar van Velzen, before joining beyerdynamic, you were CEO at loudspeaker manufacturer Teufel. Does sound via headphones hold the same sexy appeal as a good surround system in my home living room?
van Velzen: There is no one answer to that question. Especially if you’re talking about a living room at home and the circumstances permit the usage, I personally would prefer a conventional loudspeaker. But two trends are recognisable. People are travelling more, and do not want to dispense with optimum sound when on the road. And relaxing somewhere without being interrupted is becoming increasingly important. This is where I see headphones clearly as the better solution as I can withdraw fully from the world around me. And compared to a lot of loudspeaker systems, beyerdynamic headphones offer an audio experience that is excellent by comparison, bringing concert hall quality straight to your ear.
The number of headphones for private and professional users continues to soar; the entire audio market is growing. Do you see sufficient potential for differentiation at beyerdynamic to benefit from this trend?
Luckhardt: Definitely. In recent years, we have been able to close all financial years with higher figures, with our headphones segment recording significant growth. This is owed, not least, to our innovations – such as Tesla technology, which is being permanently improved and is meanwhile even found in in-ear systems. Out of our efforts to reproduce sound authentically and our passion for development grow products that set us quite clearly apart from the competition. Having our own production facility here in Heilbronn also offers the enormous advantage of being able to respond particularly fast to market drivers.
van Velzen: Despite the numerous other brands, I see enormous potential to grow sales worldwide. At present, we are more a brand for connoisseurs. On a global level, we have plenty of scope to raise recognition. Those customers who are familiar with us know how approachable we are. I see this as a huge strength. We can easily translate customer requests into products, and incorporate regional requirements. Our location, quality standards and intimate knowledge of our craft are, moreover, distinguishing features that support our growth.
Do you see promising innovative potential in the market for headphones?
van Velzen: We are nowhere near exhausting the innovation capabilities of the headphone market and our performance capabilities as a company. The technology market is evolving at such a high speed, there is still ample scope for headphones, as well. We are witnessing more and more “intelligent” headphones – and are looking forward to smart headphones. I love playing around with product ideas and am always close on hand when products are evolving. Having our own in-house development and production working hand-in-hand to bring product ideas to life is something I find enormously fascinating. Not many companies go to that expense. On the contrary, many of them just buy in. Having said that, we also value cooperation agreements with partners around the globe, but always keep our own team of experts on board. And even if, exceptionally, a beyerdynamic product is not built in Heilbronn – we make no compromises when it comes to quality or innovation.
Are we already going to be seeing any of these promising product ideas you mention at the IFA?
van Velzen: Yes, indeed. Our slogan “Make it yours” stands for a number of great products and innovations.
Now you’re making me curious ... what exactly is behind the slogan?
van Velzen: The core idea is product personalisation. A product that is optimised for me alone. We have been adhering to this philosophy for quite some time in all sorts of areas – our customised manufacturing division and gaming products, for example. We are taking things a few steps further at the IFA 2017 and will be presenting our Aventho wireless Bluetooth headphones, the Impacto DAC and amplifier, the Tesla In-Ear Xelento wireless and the revamped version of our popular MMX 300 gaming headset. The one thing all these products have in common is that they enhance the personal audio experience. The MMX 300 will be available in a customised version with new design options so that all gamers can adapt their headsets to perfectly match their style or their clan. The Impacto is a pocket headphone amplifier and quite possibly the smallest high-end system the world over. The In-Ear Xelento wireless opens up further new dimensions for mobile audio applications. And the headphones are an absolute delight to look at. Very special, without doubt, is the new technology built into the Aventho wireless. The headphones have features for individual adjustment of sound and use so that they can be tailored to a user’s personal preferences.
What are these features you just mentioned in the Aventho wireless?
van Velzen: In the case of the Aventho wireless, there are three of them – Mimi sound personalisation technology integrated into the headphones, innovative touch control, and a tracking function. Mimi is a revolution. Anyone who has ever dreamed of headphone sound caressing their ears like a tailor-made suit can now make their dreams come true. A unique experience, regardless of the source, as it is integrated in the headphones. The MIY app is available for individual sound checks. It provides a scientifically based hearing test that provides the basis for sound personalisation. The touch control on the Aventho wireless can be used to playback media or adjust volume by means of finger movements on the earpad. The tracking function keeps a record of daily audio habits and tracks how much of a daily ration has been used up in percent. This way we hope to keep the enjoyment of music healthy.
Let’s start with Mimi: How does the technology work – how do we picture the result?
Luckhardt: Mimi sound personalisation was developed by Mimi Hearing Technologies in Berlin. We are proud of Mimi’s decision to enter into the highest level of partnership with us, and thus to work directly with a headphone manufacturer for the first time ever. Mimi has developed a technology that provides a scientific basis on which to produce a phenomenal audio experience that is tailored to the personal hearing ability of a user and their voice and music playback preferences. So Mimi has found a way to personalise sound. This personalised sound profile and music enjoyment can now be permanently fixed and stored in our Aventho headphones. What makes it so utterly genius is that your sound profile is automatically available, regardless of the source. The new beyerdynamic MIY app, which will be launched at the same time as the new high-end Aventho headphones will enable easy sound checks to produce any sound adjustments.
How did this cooperation come about?
Luckhardt: Edgar brought the idea of Mimi to us and I was immediately struck by the innovative strength, professionalism and drive in the company. We got the cooperation up and running very quickly, and a beyerdynamic team started work, as did a Mimi team. The fact that Mimi is headquartered in Berlin is a very good match. After all, Eugen Beyer founded our company back then in Berlin and we are delighted to have this opportunity to honour his inventive spirit so charmingly. Audio scientists and the Berlin Charitè hospital were involved in the development, which enabled the creation of the medically certified app. As a result, Mimi had meanwhile built up a contact network of more than 1 million people, which was very helpful for our partnership.
Why is the technology only being integrated in the Aventho wireless to start with?
Luckhardt: The Aventho wireless is the most promising launch pad for applying the technology developed by Mimi. The Aventho is a technological platform that we have developed and which will enable us to integrate this same technology in other headphones. We want to further expand our cooperation with Mimi Hearing Technologies and equip a host of other headphones with this technology. We see genuine potential for the company to establish Mimi’s sound personalisation as the standard.
What are your views on Germany as a site for development and production?
Luckhardt: By focusing our strengths and running our key processes in Heilbronn, we are on a permanent learning curve. We manufacture our top products – Xelento, MMX 300 and Aventho – with enormous precision and passion. The lion’s share of our revenues is generated through products that are made in Germany. Working closely with supply and development partners around the globe is also important, of course. There is no point reinventing the wheel every time. We will do whatever it takes to remain competitive or even gain advantages. The opportunities offered by Industry 4.0 are huge. We have already put some technologically sophisticated projects in place in our value chain, such as the use of collaborative robots who work with our production team. Over the past years, we have built up an in-house level of expertise for our core processes that is virtually unmatched.
Do you plan to increase the share of supply parts, from Asia for example, in the product portfolio in future? Is there a question mark hanging over your production capability in Germany?
Luckhardt: Our production facility in Heilbronn is not up for discussion. We will definitely be keeping it. The question that is constantly being raised – and has been for the past 15 years – is which value creation processes we want to focus on here in Heilbronn in future, and how we can assure a good value creation mix to drive our planned growth. Added to which, the markets will necessitate accumulating local content in key sales markets.
As far as supplies from abroad are concerned, I can only say that we already work closely with supply partners in Europe and Asia and plan to expand this collaboration carefully. All product developments will involve our development department in Heilbronn. As already mentioned, we plan to focus even more strongly on co-development in future, as demonstrated impressively by the example of Mimi. Both partners can get involved, learn from each other and become faster, better and ultimately successful together.
How relevant do you think “Made in Germany” is for beyerdynamic?
van Velzen: Made in Germany continues to be hugely important, although, for example, a quality seal “Made in China” is gaining ground as the quality of products manufactured there is improving constantly. At the same time, the quality of other countries and suppliers is also growing. Many of their products have already reached a very high standard, as well. I therefore feel that the issue of “Made in Germany” remains relevant but believe that “Made in China” or made elsewhere will become increasingly significant. Although both attributes will be able to co-exist alongside each other. Everyone can learn from everyone else.
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More than 90 years’ experience in the development of audio electronics
Headquartered in Heilbronn, Germany, beyerdynamic GmbH & Co. KG stands for innovative audio products with the highest sound quality and pioneering technologies.
The two divisions (Headphones and Audio Systems) provide customised solutions for professional and private users. All products are developed in Germany and most are manually produced – from hi-fi headphones and stage microphones to conference and interpreter systems.