Our Business In Audio series is a set of interviews where we delve into the challenges of growing and developing a company in today’s audio market and economy. This is a slightly different slant from the usual product-focused discussions.
Here we are more focused on the people and the business challenges in staying relevant in a competitive and ever-changing environment. The companies we will speak to are from all around the world both big and small.
Our second company for this feature series is the highly respected Vision Ears from Germany.
If you want to read some of our specific VE reviews you can find direct links to them below. Thank you again to Amin, Marcel, and the team at Vision Ears for working with us on this feature and kindly allowing us to reprint some of their pictures as part of this interview.
Both Amin and Marcel form the backbone of Vision Ears. They are also the two guys whom you most often see at trade shows around the world.
Both actually come from interesting backgrounds with Marcel originally making his name for 10 years with legendary German folk-metal band, Suidakra, as their lead singer and guitarist. If you hunt on YouTube you will find plenty of their vids and some with Marcel in them. Which we did! Looking strong there Marcel!
Marcel actually met Amin at the same company they worked for in 2005 and received some excellent training in in-ear monitoring in the years up to that point.
Amin’s specialism in product design is one of the driving forces behind some of those beautiful VE designs you see on their website today. By 2013 they put together the brand Vision Ears and set up their office and labs in the central south of Cologne, Luxemburger Straße.
A lot of readers will know your brand and products but maybe not so much about you. Can you give us a little background on your career and why you started or worked with this brand?
We both started (Marcel in 2000 and Amin in 2004) our professional careers with a 3-year training in a company that was a pioneer and leading at that time in the In-Ear market in Germany. After drifting apart for a while, we (Amin + Marcel) met again in a company that Marcel had founded in the meantime with another copartner sometime before.
When this company closed and was divided between the partners, the idea for a new company and brand rose in us that would be built on pure quality in sound, visual appearance, and craftsmanship. What we are doing with Vision Ears is the result of this idea.
What are the challenges in launching a new product into the market?
The audiophile and music market are both very different but yet became faster in the years since we started in this business. Yet we are trying not to let us provoke into a rush but to listen to what the people are looking for and what makes sense in our portfolio that has its main focus on quality and not on a high number of different models.
On top of this challenge in market research, it is the main challenge always to come up with something new and innovative and not to sell “old wine in new tubes” as we say in Germany.
If you could define your typical customer, what would they be?
As our customers are not driven only by their solvency but mainly by their desire for a perfect product, they come from many different backgrounds.
We broadly need to distinguish between professional users (musicians and technicians) and audiophiles who are buying our products for personal pleasure. Musicians might (job-related) belong to categories D-A (according to NRS scales) and audiophiles might rank a bit higher between C2 and A.
All have in common that they share their enthusiasm for sound and music.
Right now, which geographical and vertical markets hold the most traction with you? Is there a different pitch you need to work within each of your key markets?
We see a huge potential in the Asian market for sure, which is mainly rooted in the audiophile community. But also the musicians and technicians market in the European countries is not to be underestimated.
Of course, different customer groups from different cultural backgrounds have different demands and another way to express that. We are not distinctly advertising towards a certain market, but try to communicate with the customers and our local partners a lot and respond to their needs in communication and service.
How significant or important do you think partnerships with other audio companies are in this day and age? Does secondary product marketing play a strong influence on how you approach your core product marketing? For example, cables or cables and IEM manufacturers.
We are in steady contact with other audio companies in order to analyze trends and compatibilities with their products. We are aware that there is a lot of mixing and pairing going on in the market with different products of many different companies in the field.
We do have a very good relationship to Effect Audio (Singapore) because they produce great CIEM cables in a very good quality – that fits perfectly to us. But generally, our products stand for themselves and can be experienced as such. Third party products always are an add-on and we do not want to force customers in a certain direction. Pairing is a journey.
How much of a factor are personalities in driving a brand’s success? For example, Steve Jobs and Apple often went hand in hand. Is that something you believe in or do you prefer the product to stand on its own two feet?
Some brands are highly associated with a distinct person, which sometimes makes sense for different reasons. For us, it is the case that we never explicitly went for the spotlight. But in some markets, people are talking more about the brands and want to know the story behind the company and the people who create the products.
But in the end, the product needs to have the quality to stand on its own feet and compete in the market. Good and outstanding personalities can never cover for a bad product in the long run. We have a great team here, each one of us can identify with the product.
How much of a factor are trade shows and meeting your customers in person when it comes to your product strategy?
We visited trade shows from the very beginning of Vision Ears. Starting with the classic trade shows “Musikmesse” and “Prolight & Sound” for the professional market in Germany, followed by the major audiophile shows like CanJam in Singapore or Potafes in Japan.
In 2018 we will be on a number of shows in Asia and Germany in order to share some insight on what we have been working on in the last years. It is very important for us to meet also our customers and partners that are living far away in person from time to time in order to understand each other and show our appreciation for their interest in what we are doing every day.
I see some companies work a lot with feedback from previous product launches. Is this a good thing or does it bottleneck new ideas that your market has never thought of before?
We were lying if we said that we won’t take feedback regarding our new products seriously and that it won’t affect our thinking. But until now there have always been ideas for next projects in the drawer before we launched the current one.
Therefore we would say that the feedback gives us a general idea of what the customers wish for but single feedback does not affect or bottleneck new developments.
The perception in the market is that audio products are getting more and more expensive but the value proposition is dwindling. Would you agree with that or is the product itself becoming more expensive to make and market?
Sure, there have been launched products in higher price regions in the last years. But the starting prices for products also have been stable and there even have been launched products in lower price regions.
The higher priced products result from the demand for new flagships and inventions. We like taking this demand and bringing it to new products. And we are putting a lot into it in order to offer a proper return value for the money of the customers. If manufacturers use the willingness of the customers in the market to sell products far over value then this is not ok in our eyes.
What was the product that made your name as a brand in recent history and why?
When we launched the VE6 it was the first new development of the new company Vision Ears. With its 2 possible sound signatures and the possibility to switch between both (VE6 X-Control), we have been the first to do so in the market.
That brought us a lot of visibility and credit among customers worldwide.
For 2018, what is the key product from your brand that will be focusing on?
Regarding promotion, we are generally focusing on the latest product, of course. This is to give customers and resellers the chance to get to know the product and what it stands for.
Overall, we are trying to bring every single customer together with the In-Ear model that fits best for him and not to push him or her in a direction with too aggressive marketing.
But to answer your question, in 2018 we will launch of very first UIEM, the Erlkonig, and this will be anything but standard!
For the audio market in 2018, what do you see as the next big thing or the rising trend? What are customers looking for in their audio products?
Everybody is looking for the “real sound“ but how can you describe it? We don’t know! We only can do what we do best – perfection in sound tuning and craftsmanship.
That is the basis for our customers, the rest will be tuned by DAP’s, cables etc. This is the only way to get the “real sound“ for each person -the sound is a matter of taste!
I still can’t shake off the image of Marcel shirtless in the woods, a great voice man but the elves might kidnap you at some point. Do not go out at night, promise?
But do go on the road a lot more often with Amin because some of the VE events and feedback thus far have been fantastic. Meeting your customers, and putting a face to the brand is a great way to foster long-term loyal relationships that go both ways in terms of feedback and relevant products.
By now I am sure you guys have heard about the new Erlkonig 13-driver universal IEM from VE. I actually auditioned it in CanJam Singapore and it is one of the smoothest sounds I have heard in ages. It will not come out of its camouflage until Munich May 10th so I am very interested to see how the final look will be. If it is anything like our VE8 it will be spectacular.
Ironically my old VE6 came back reshelled also this morning as we published this interview. Still as excellent sounding as when we first heard it in 2014. It does go to show, as Amin mentioned in his interview, that your milestone product can make you or break you, and in this case, it really made them.