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Coming Down with Acquisition Fever

By Clive Young. Major acquisitions were a constant part of the pro audio landscape in 2018.

The turn of the year always gives one pause and inevitably causes a moment of reflection as we look back at the year that’s come to a close. In the process of doing that this month, I’ve noticed a new pro-audio holiday tradition, and the only words that come to mind to describe it are “Acquisition Fever.”

Maybe it’s the need to finish a deal before the end of the fiscal year or even just the desire to close the calendar on a high note, but any way you slice it, December has become the month where every few days, PSN winds up reporting that one entity has purchased another.

In December, 2017, Highlander Partners bought Biamp, Listen nabbed ExXothermic’s Audio Everywhere brand, ACT Lighting took home RapcoHorizon and DPA acquired Sound Network.

Now, a year later in December 2018, L-Acoustics brought in HGP, Solotech netted SSE Audio Group, DiGiCo subsumed KLANG:technologies, BTI Studios picked up Berliner Synchron, Pioneer was acquired by Baring Private Equity Asia and DPA was bought by RCF Group. [Update: Two days after this hit the net, .]

Increasingly, however, Acquisition Fever is not just a seasonal thing. In truth, acquisitions were everywhere in the pro audio field in 2018, regardless of whether they were between manufacturers, distributors, tour/event production companies or other entities.

2018 kicked off with a surprise announcement at The NAMM Show in January that Radial Engineering was now part of Ultimate Support, and things snowballed from there.

SSL was sold to console conglomerate Audiotonix. B&C Speakers got Eighteen Sound and Ciare, while Williams Sound purchased Pointmaker and Guitar Center expanded its business solutions group by buying AVDG. Logitech acquired Blue Microphones, and RapcoHorizon lassoed in Lava Cable. Presumed dead, Cakewalk was saved by Bandlab. Loud Technologies sold off a trio of major brands, with Ampeg going to Yamaha, EAW going to RCF Group and Martin Audio going independent via a management buyout. Sound Devices bought Audio Ltd. in the UK, while Riedel bought Archwave and R&D Hub. On the live sound side, VER was purchased by PRG, UltraSound saw a management buyout, and SSE Audio Group bought Capital Sound prior to its own acquisition in December. At a price of $170 million, DCC’s acquisition of MI and pro audio distributor Jam Industries was likely the most expensive deal of the year. And even Pro Sound News itself was acquired, when our parent company NewBay Media was purchased by FUTURE last spring.

Change can often be a bit unnerving, but while seeing parts of the industry roll up can create a sense of unease, acquisitions can also bring new players and approaches into the industry. Likewise, they can breathe new life into brands on the brink—a fact exemplified by Bandlab’s purchase of Cakewalk last spring. Also, in many cases, the decision to enter into an acquisition isn’t due to dire necessity, but rather to gain the resources to vault a company to the next level, whether the plan is to make inroads into consumer audio, increase the ability to invest in R&D or something else.

Regardless of these changes, pro audio remains an industry that’s still small in many ways and which has an entrepreneurial spirit at its heart, as I’ve often noted here—and the consolidation of different players won’t change that. In fact, some recent acquisitions hinged on that independent mindset; RCF Group’s pair of 2018 purchases—Eastern Acoustic Works and DPA Microphones—hinged on the expectation that the companies would continue to chart their own courses.

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Whether they’re big or small or part of a larger corporate entity, many of the pro audio businesses around us have the potential to radically change the industry. A key example can be found in our January issue’s View from the Top profile of Christian Heil, the founder of L-Acoustics, who spent more than a decade running his 10-employee boutique loudspeaker company until his seemingly esoteric idea—the line array—caught on in the latter half of the 1990s. The rest is history.

All that acquisition and consolidation is arguably a sign of a healthy industry. Pro audio’s corporate landscape may keep changing, but that also means our industry remains ever agile, shifting with the times and technologies to keep moving forward.