The Harman Experience
Harman has consolidated its regional offices into one Singapore HQ. Pride of place is the Harman Professional Customer Experience Centre. We take a tour.
Text:/ Christopher Holder
The aircraft carrier is definitely turning round. As you might imagine for a company with around a US$7b annual turnover and 29,000 employees worldwide, it’s not a quick and painless process. The Professional segment of the Harman business might be small compared to its connected car division but it remains by far the largest group in our sector – so there are plenty of eyeballs trained on Harman’s every move.
I spoke to Harman Professional’s regional boss, Ramesh Jayaraman (read the full interview later this story), and the prevailing mantra is about shifting focus to ‘solutions’, ‘experiences’, and to the ‘end customer’.
AV Asia Pacific dropped by the new Customer Experience Centre in Singapore. It’s impressive, and it’s a tangible manifestation of Harman’s pivot to solutions and users, and not just traditional ‘sales channels’.
Built into Harman’s new regional offices it provides a nexus point for distributors, technical support people, integrators and installers, as well as key customers to meet, consult, be trained, and be inspired.
All of Harman Professional’s big-name brands (the likes of JBL, Crown, Soundcraft, Studer, AKG, Martin, AMX, BSS, dbx, Lexicon) are present but they’re organised in terms of application rather than product group. In fact, the theme of the centre is ‘Engineering a Connected Enterprise’ and there are spaces for those interested in venues, theatres, recording studios, commercial facilities and hospitality. Through interactive touch panels and live demonstrations, guests can experience the latest in networked AV, broadcast 4K video and other audio, video and lighting technologies.
“With the opening of our new Customer Experience Centre in Singapore, we are demonstrating our commitment to expanding growth and customer engagement in the Asia Pacific region,” said Ramesh Jayaraman, Vice President and General Manager, Asia Pacific, Harman Professional Solutions. “The new location will help us develop closer relationships with our enterprise and entertainment customers, as they experience firsthand how we can meet their needs through innovative, integrated and holistic solutions.”
Ramesh Jayaraman: One of the big markets for us in the Asia Pacific is hospitality: hotels, bars, nightclubs, shopping malls, etc. The hotel industry in the Asia Pacific is huge, with developments in the Philippines, Australia, here in Singapore and elsewhere.
In this area, we showcase our Martin brand of lighting which is great for retail theming, mood lighting in a hotel lobby or something more dynamic in a small bar or club. With the audio options on the other hand, we want to help customers to look, feel and experience our vast range of ceiling speakers The little JBL Control 42s working with a sub is quite a revelation for many, as are the pendant speakers — perfect for situations that feature industrial interior designs with exposed ceilings.
Not forgetting the AMX Inspired signage platform, which is also a great fit for Hospitality. Whether it be inside a hotel room, hotel lobby or shopping mall wayfinding.
Ramesh Jayaraman: The idea of the Experience Centre is to better demonstrate all the various markets Harman is engaged in. You see, many customers’ experience of Harman is confined to our individual brands such as Soundcraft, Studer, or JBL. We want to change that experience and showcase to customers how Harman Professional Solutions is a one-stop solution provider to your audio, video, lighting, and control needs.
Everything you see and hear is all within one converged network. So all our audio, video, lighting, and control, is sitting on the one converged network. This is quite a unique selling point as far as selling a solution is concerned.
The purpose of this Experience Centre is to showcase how everything works together. We’re leveraging Harman’s technology even when we’re presenting something as basic as a set of headphones. There’s an AMX control panel controlling a BSS media server, which is playing back media on demand for the customer to listen to, whether that’s a speaker or headphone using the mixing console.
Ramesh Jayaraman: This is using the SVSI technology to do the video wall processing. We have a decoder behind every single screen, but otherwise you do not need any external processing in order to achieve a video wall – it’s all programmable by a web browser interface. For us here, we use the video wall and the stage for presentations and showcase our offering for large venues like stadiums, outdoor arenas and large displays.
Ramesh Jayaraman: Martin Professional is best known not only for its show lighting but also architectural lighting options. Everything from the LED floodlights — building-level fixtures — down to strip lighting (which is illuminating the graphic wall) to simple gobo projectors are featured in the experience centre. It provides another facet to the offering. Especially for customers coming from large venues — these days it’s just as much what you’re doing outside the stadium as it is inside the stadium.
Ramesh Jayaraman: We’ve got a miniaturised version of the sort of technology we would see at a Harman-powered concert or event. A small VerTec line array system, a Soundcraft Vi7 digital mixing system, a Martin M6 lighting controller, and a range of Martin Professional high-end lighting fixtures — Auras, LED washes, and a lot of the creative LED elements as well; from low resolution pitch LED dots to 6mm LED panels. Bring in live-recorded stems and you can mix a show in here. It is great training for FOH engineers!
Ramesh Jayaraman: We’ve got a new microphone demo app where we’ve recorded hours of different instruments using the different AKG mics. It’s about letting the customer hear. You can use that Perception microphone for vocals, but hear the difference when you use a AKG C414.
Ramesh Jayaraman: The network video section demonstrates the capabilities of our SVSI by AMX system. You can select from different levels of quality depending on your bandwidth and the level of latency.
We’re demonstrating SVSI’s first-generation 4K video over the network. With a side-by-side comparison of the raw 4k coming from a Blu-Ray source and the networked version. It’s quite impressive. There’s very little difference in the colour rendition, with just a bit of latency. What it does is it uses a derivative of JPEG2000 compression. Currently, we’re showing it using a gigabit connection. The newer version is down to 250Mbs of streaming data, which actually makes it considerably more usable.
We’re finding increasing interest in 4K quality video streams in meeting spaces, video walls and more.
RECORDING & PRODUCTION
Ramesh Jayaraman: The centrepiece here is the Studer Vista V console. Historically we send customers to the Studer factory in Europe for the sort of training they can now enjoy here — having the console here is a real treat. Broadcast, especially, is really based around providing a customised solution, so it would be great to sit with a customer here and understand their requirements and work with them on the options, and work through precisely how they’d like their console to be configured and/or their OB truck to be laid out. We can support multi-channel audio and have a JBL L7 series 5.1 system here.
JBL EON ONE
Ramesh Jayaraman: Lastly, the new Eon One. It is finding homes everywhere. Not just with portable PA users but AV rental companies, hospitality customers, somebody who wants to do a little town hall in the middle of their office, schools, and educations institution. Its handy, portable and can be used in both indoor and outdoor spaces. It is great for a small meeting to public performances.
Ramesh Jayaraman: The new Soundcraft Ui console means that as a guitarist, I can plug my instrument straight into the DI box and then access a bunch of dbx guitar modelling, and Digitech amp modelling built-in.
The Soundcraft Ui forms the core of our new connected PA solution we launched at NAMM. You can plug in one of our new AKG microphones and the mixer automatically detects the microphone model and recalls any saved preset you have configured for that microphone. Connect to our new JBL PRX800 loudspeakers, and the mixer knows you’re connected to that loudspeaker and you can control the DSP from the loudspeaker.
The future of live performance has indeed arrived. We are excited how this is going to evolve further.
Ramesh Jayaraman: This is our entry level Soundcraft product, it’s an all-in-one DSP core controlled by any HTML5-enabled browser. So there are multiple ins, outs, Dante GPIO control, the ability to plug in external fader bays. You can control it via an iPad, your phone or your laptop. There’s a built-in wi-fi access point so you can record into it. It’s all configured as you would expect an on-air console to be. Perfect for small radio stations, for ENG, in the back of a broadcast truck or somebody taking out in their rucksack.
Ramesh Jayaraman: Welcome to the world’s most professional and exhaustive headphone display area! It’s important to differentiate the professional headphones from the consumer alternatives. We do not have Bluetooth; they are not controlled by apps; they are all reference-quality product. Having the gallery here allows people to understand the tonal differences between a closed-back and open-back pair of headphones.