HQ: Vienna, Austria
Best selling product: OC18 and OC818 microphones and Hi-X55 and Hi-X50 professional headphones
Fun Fact: Before becoming a vice president at AKG and then founding Austrian Audio, Seidl spent twenty years as a renowned singer and songwriter. In his current role as Austrian Audio CEO, he continues to be an active member of the Viennese jazz septet Der Herr Seidl & Die Jäzzpoeten.
How do you start your day?
I try to start it without stress — no alarm clock in my room. The exception is if there is a flight or early appointment on the schedule. I am not much of an early bird. I structure my tasks. Leftovers get written on a list before ending a working day, otherwise, the mind never stops working. Taking the opportunity in the morning to have time in the backyard is important to me. I use it to sort the tasks for the day and start with a coffee and a smile.
To someone who has never heard of your company, how would you introduce yourselves?
Austrian Audio is a company with lots of experience in creating high-end tools for creative producers and musicians. We have high respect for traditional values and requirements for high-end audio, and also a very unleashed and fresh mindset towards modern workflows and technologies — digital controlling of analog microphones [and] wireless headphones for professional applications. We are unleashed also in the sense that shorter decision processes and more individual solutions are possible with us than in a corporate environment. Austrian Audio is set up as a very agile and flexible company. We do not run hierarchies, just project teams that engage directly with markets and users during a development process. Austrian Audio is accessible for its customers.
What’s the story behind the company’s founding?
Founding a new company that quite heavily invests in defining, designing and manufacturing high-quality microphones and headphones was not really a long-term plan of mine. Since I was a musician, an educated sound engineer and later a business manager, AKG was a company I loved and admired. When its ownership changed in the ‘90s and Harman focused toward the automotive industry, the brand and products changed over time. With the latest change in ownership to Samsung in the middle of 2017, AKG headquarters in Vienna was shut down and all personnel involved in R&D, product management, and portfolio management and innovation for professional products were let go.
That’s quite a purge.
A brand is only as strong as the people who passionately invest time and creativity into it. When this strong and experienced team became available overnight, there was a huge drive to keep that same team together and find a new home for all of us. The day after AKG Vienna was closed, July 1, 2017, Austrian Audio started to operate. So, I love to refer to Austrian Audio as the first startup with more than 360 years of experience in what we are doing. Remember, the core AKG engineering team — we are forty-five people by now — works at Austrian Audio.
You’re a young company. How have you approached establishing yourself within the pro audio world?
Frankly, this was not as difficult as it may appear. Our heritage, history and experience helped a lot and the industry took us seriously right from the start. In fact, I was contacted by several friendly industry leaders congratulating us on the company’s founding and expressing delight that such an experienced team was continuing to work in the industry to create high-end quality products again. Of course, we invested in some PR and kept the story hot. Bear in mind, we had nothing to sell. We developed a completely new range of products from scratch.
How long did that take?
Two years, and we used the time well, not only by really diving deep into highest-end acoustic capsule development, but also by telling our story [and expressing] our plans and passion to the market, the industry and the press. I must say, I am extremely grateful for the open arms with which we were received by the media. We had visits in Vienna, stories about the brand and the people behind it coming out continuously. We got lots of support when the phoenix was rising from the ashes. And of course, we have a marketing department that communicates well via all media: social, online and print. And we exhibited at trade shows.
When you first started, with nothing to sell, how did you engage investors?
It was September 2016 when the closing down of AKG headquarters was announced. From that day on, I talked to people — friends in the industry, partners I had worked with in earlier days. At the end, it was bouncing ideas forward and back in a friendly way with potential investors who came from the pro- and lifestyle-audio industries. I never went through an official public financing process. The company now is privately owned by a larger partner and me.
How much of your manufacturing is domestic within Austria?
All the design, product assembly, and end-of-line measurement and calibrating work of the current product portfolio is done in Vienna. We do purchase materials and some parts made to our design from all over Austria and internationally as well.
How would you describe your Aurora system?
Aurora is Austrian Audio’s proprietary measurement and calibration system. It is a software-based system that gets customized for every product we design for ourselves or for external clients. It is the only flexible and multipurpose audio measurement and calibration tool in the market, as far as we know. Aurora can measure audio signals and check limits, and measure printed circuit board assemblies, wireless connectivity and other technical signals in a single testing process. And Aurora can even flash additional firmware to the final product at the end of the production line, if needed.
Vienna has such a rich artistic legacy. Does your location in that city impact your work?
I would say it does. There is so much music and culture going on in Vienna and Austria that the highest-quality microphones for producing and broadcasting all of that content always carry a high local value. It is not by accident that Austrian Audio is already the second globally well-respected microphone brand creating and making products in Austria. We work with a lot with orchestras and classical musicians, but also world-famous locations and audio engineers, including engineers from the Tonmeister Institute here in Vienna.
How has COVID-19 impacted your company?
It has affected Austrian Audio severely. It’s almost not worth mentioning that all live events, where our microphones would be used, are globally canceled and there is no light at the end of the tunnel yet. But, since there is a lot of home recording happening these days, our headphone line has had very high demand, and we are trying to catch up there. This is not easily done, as safety and security for our employees is our top priority.
How have you addressed safety in your manufacturing operation?
We had to add production space to better separate our operators from each other. We introduced shifts for production, as well as for any engineering jobs that need to be done in-house, utilizing our laboratories and measurement rooms. So, we kept going all the time, but with substantial precautions, social distancing and home office work in order to have as few people in-house as possible at any time.
What is an anechoic chamber, and why does Austrian Audio have one?
An anechoic chamber is a space that basically has no acoustic reflections from any part of the room — nothing from the walls, floor or ceiling. Such an environment is needed to measure microphones to the bones, to evaluate not only on-axis, but also all the off-axis performance characteristics. Noise-cancelling headphones involve between two and five microphones in one product, and they all need to be measured, tested and calibrated in conditions with no reverb, too. Without such a chamber, high-quality microphone testing is literally impossible.
How did you end up with such a resource?
We were lucky that we were offered AKG headquarters’ original anechoic chamber by the landlord of the previous AKG building, right when we started our new company. That way, we were able to disassemble it and rebuild it in our new facilities.
Can you describe the culture of the company?
One thing is totally important to us at Austrian Audio [is that] we want to have fun with what we are doing. Every single employee is passionate about some part of the music business, either the technical, the musical or both sides. That’s why our slogan [is] Making Passion Heard. We wanted to make long-lasting, quality products, paying attention to resources and business ethics.
What do you hope for the future?
In a year from now, our portfolio will have grown substantially. We are using the downtime from the pandemic to work hard to progress several projects. New products will come to life starting in January 2021, and there will be product launches throughout 2021. All I hope for our company is that the world progresses in the right direction.