I sat down with Rick Santiago, Indy Audio Labs Co-Founder & CEO about forming the company and what they bring to the custom integration market. Part 1
Maureen Jenson: In 2009 Indy Audio Labs purchased two extremely iconic audio brands: Aragon and Acurus. Tell us what led up to this purchase and some of the history.
Rick Santiago: Aragon and Acurus are brands that were first introduced in the market in the late 1980s and early 1990s, respectively. Very quickly, these brands brought market-leading products such as amplifiers, preamplifiers and surround processors to the high-end AV market. The products were (and still are) known for performance, reliability and value, and carry the elite status of truly USA-made.
Purchasing Aragon and Acurus was an opportunity for co-founder and CTO Ted Moore and I that we didn’t really anticipate – it just sort of fell into our laps shortly after we started Indy Audio Labs.
While we would be called entrepreneurs for starting Indy Audio Labs, it’s important to understand that Ted and I are technologists by trade and at heart. Ted is a physicist with multiple patents in Semiconductor fabrication processes. I come from the perspective of an audio career spent mostly in the professional audio DSP and acoustics fields. Ted and I originally met while working at Klipsch, heading up their engineering and advanced R&D.
We had just recently parted ways from Klipsch in 2008 and were planning a new venture of our own to address a need we saw in the custom AV market. AV dealers and systems integrators were having headaches with control and connectivity of expensive AV gear ill-equipped for relevance in the IoT world. We envisioned a new generation of high-performance audio electronics that were fully connected to the web and enjoyed the benefits of modern control and connectivity but yet were simple to setup and operate. There weren’t any high-performance AV brands that combined all these attributes successfully, however, we knew that penetrating this market with new products from a new company (in the “vibrant” economic environment of 2009!) would be a tough road to travel.
And so, having become aware of Aragon and Acurus while at Klipsch, and given the brands’ reputations for performance and value, we approached Fred Klipsch with a proposal to buy the brands outright. Fred agreed, so long as we also took on support and service of the current products and customers. We moved forward after several months of negotiating purchase terms and thus our new company, Indy Audio Labs, had acquired the Aragon and Acurus brands.
MJ: Indy Labs recently announced a 20-channel audio processor, at what I understand is a very intriguing price point. Tell us more?
RS: As many of your readers will know well, high-channel count processors have been around for a while, however, they have been expensive ($15K to $30K and up…), difficult to set up and use, and challenging to keep up-to-date as technologies (such as HDMI, DSP and networking) change. Some products are so complex that they actually require a factory consultant to fly to the project site in order to set up the system at added expense to the end customer. Old technologies such as VNC and OSD (on-screen-display) are still being used to control and set up these products and technology upgrades such as HDMI 2.0 are slowly (if ever) introduced.
The Acurus ACT 4 immersive home cinema processor platform was designed in the USA from the ground up by Indy Audio Labs and first launched in 2016 to address the limitations found in most high-end home cinema processors. We engineered three aspects of the product in particular for modular upgradability — HDMI, DSP (decoding, channel count, etc…) and control (ethernet, RS-232, USB, etc…).
The original 16-channel ACT 4 launched in 2016 and was the first high-end DSP-based product to incorporate both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It was very well reviewed and received in the market and sold for under $10K retail.
In 2017, Acurus was the first to launch a hardware/firmware field upgrade for HDMI 2.0 support in the ACT 4. More recently, in February this year, the ACT 4 became the first DSP-based product to demonstrate native 9.1.6 Dolby Atmos decoding (to a group of dealers and end-customers in New York at our sales rep firm Digital Sales Group). This demo was a sneak preview of the 20-channel upgraded ACT 4 that is launching this month (May 2018).
Our latest 20-channel ACT 4 natively decodes 9.1.6 plus it has 4 additional output channels that can be assigned to drive more subwoofers or produce copies of any channels in the loudspeaker layout. In keeping with the Acurus upgradability promise, any existing ACT 4 can be upgraded to the current 20-channel configuration via hardware and software. Or you can simply buy a new unit from the factory with this new 20-channel configuration built-in. The good news is that the 20-channel Acurus ACT 4 remains under $10K retail — an unheard of price for a USA designed and built high-performance immersive processor.
MJ: So is it really for the CEDIA channel or do you encourage audio buffs to hook it up themselves for a fully immersive do-it-yourself experience?
RS: As a small but growing company, focus is an attribute that guides everything we do. We currently choose to focus our marketing and sales efforts and resources on the CEDIA channel and our direct customers whose jobs and reputation are built in no small part on the products they spec. When we design products, we spend time with customers such as CEDIA dealers and installers in order to ensure we internalize their true needs and the way they want to use our products in their projects. With home automation as the backbone of most AV projects these days, we feel the opportunity to support the CEDIA dealer with well engineered high-performance AV solutions is an ideal fit for our company.
Although we don’t market to “audio buffs” directly, we do have a strong following in that community. We field daily calls and emails from end users who love their Aragon or Acurus gear and either have support questions or simply want to let us know how happy they are that “we are back” to carry the brands forward.
Indy Audio Labs’ products are very well suited to meet today’s audiophile needs given our exceptional performance, build quality, reliability and ease-of-setup. In fact, our 20-channel ACT 4 immersive processor was not only designed for movies but for critical music listening as well. To that end, we include a phono input and an analog sound mode that transforms the processor into a 2-channel audiophile preamp.
Pride in owning Aragon or Acurus gear remains as strong in the high-end audio community today as it was 30 years ago.
Next week Rick and I discuss further Indy Labs opening up the world of high performance audio to more people and the company’s “Made In The USA” philosophy!