All About Audio: Q&A with Ashly CEO
By: Kelleigh Welch, Managing Editor of System Contractor News
SCN: You’ve held a number of positions in the industry before joining Ashly in 2008. How did your background lead you to your position as R&D manager, and how has it benefitted the company as you rose to CEO in 2011?
Wentling: I started out in high school performing in bands and building most of our own sound and lighting equipment. I began work after college with ASET, and BSEE degrees in electronics, and had my first job as a project engineer at the original MXR Innovations. I then moved on to chief engineer at Music Man, which moved to Ernie Ball, and then I moved to the new Fender in 1985 as a project engineer and eventually director of R&D. I also picked up an MBA during those years and got into E and E Exports, which was an export distribution firm. We set up the first overseas distribution for companies including QSC, RANE, Pro Co Sound, Symetrix, Galaxy Audio, Presonus, and a long list of others over the 14 years that I was there.
I then moved back east to my old hometown to be closer to family, and went back to work as director of R&D with the old MXR guys, who are now called ART and are part of Yorkville Sound. During the export days, I also distributed Ashly Audio, and Ashly called me back to become their director of R&D, which eventually led to the position of CEO. I have been so lucky to be in this industry, which is really a very small family of people who all love music, sound, performance, and AV. (Sometimes it’s hard for the team to stop talking about guitars and get back to business.) Having worked as a design engineer in so many companies, being mentored by a wide variety of industry people is the only reason I am here. During the export years, we typically carried a rotating list of about 10 product lines. Those contacts were invaluable, as I got to see inside of many different companies, and also meet many different overseas customers.
What qualities does Ashly Audio have that makes it stand out from other audio companies in the industry?
Ashly Audio is now more than 40 years old, and we have retained a wealth of industry experience. We still have a U.S.-based factory and have a number of long time employees, many that have remained active in the live sound business, which is where we came from before moving into the AV installation contractor sound equipment business. Our people live and breathe audio. We have a very tight group of design engineers that complement each other very well. Our customer service support staff is second to none, and Ashly is famous for going the extra mile for any customer, even if it’s outside our five-year warranty. It’s all about great-sounding, reliable audio, and when there is any problem, we take care of it to the complete satisfaction of the installer and his or her customer. The company is conservative, and is careful to place quality and service above all.
Ashly Audio has had a big hand in development for the pro audio industry. How do these products play into the AV industry and what specific qualities do you add to your innovations to fit the market?
Ashly first began making large-format analog mixing consoles for the touring sound business. Those consoles had additional built-in functions including full parametric EQs, comp/limiters, and active speaker crossovers. Eventually, people asked for those same designs to be sold as standalone products. We stopped making consoles and became famous for standalone active crossovers, comp/limiters, small format mixers, and EQs, both graphic and parametric. The dual 31-band GQX-3102 graphic EQ is still very popular to this day, even though it is all analog. These products found their way into many permanent installation projects. Ashly then came out with MOSFET power amplifiers, which became extremely popular in cinema, and we gained THX approval, further reinforcing our place in the installation market. Ashly is now making a full range Class-D amplification, with ethernet control and our Protea DSP, plus we have various DSP matrix mixing and DSP system processor products, as well as the PEMA Series, (Protea Equipped Media Amplifiers). All of these products are primarily sold into the commercial install AV market.
Working with AV professionals, what would you say is the biggest challenge you face when developing new solutions?
In today’s world almost everything is IT based. We are working hard to help our employees gain even more of the IT networking expertise that is required to commission and maintain large network-controlled audio systems. We are also adding experienced applications engineering sales support staff to our sales team, so that we can handle IT issues as well as we already handle audio issues, and thereby provide greater value and assistance to our customers.
In what markets do you see potential for growth? Is there a specific field where audio products are in a higher demand than before?
While the market is flooded with all sorts of standard power amplifiers, there is a big need for high efficiency (green), multi-channel amplifiers with full remote monitoring and control via ethernet, as well as network audio connectivity via Dante, Cobranet, etc., together with the addition of AES67 capabilities. iPad tablet control is also an important part of many modern day system installs.
Ashly Audio recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. Reflecting on this milestone, what advice could you give to other companies just starting out in the industry?
It’s all about that bass, no treble?? Just kidding. It truly is all about identifying, and then serving the customer’s needs, both with product features and with service. Reliability and quality first and foremost, over price, although price and value are very important. Resist the temptation to race to the bottom with price as that eventually hurts everyone, both the company and the customer. Product innovation is important as well, but will fail in the absence of the other elements. That, plus a lot of hard work, is how Ashly has had such a long undisturbed run, and will continue on.