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Tonelux Ramps Up Under PMI’s Wing

GARDENA, CA—PMI Audio Group has found a comfortable niche in the pro audio business, acquiring, and often reviving the fortunes of, a number of well-loved and classic analog audio brands.

GARDENA, CA—PMI Audio Group has found a comfortable niche in the pro audio business, acquiring, and often reviving the fortunes of, a number of well-loved and classic analog audio brands. But while the company’s Greater Los Angeles area headquarters have until now served as the marketing hub and distribution point for its brands— which include Joemeek, Toft Audio Designs, Trident Audio Developments and Sound Projects—the acquisition of Tonelux in March 2010 has seen PMI set up manufacturing within its building for the first time.

At PMI Audio Group, technician Zack Downes (left) and
Barry Stone, director of technical services, are busy
with the inhouse manufacture of Tonelux products.
Tonelux owner and designer Paul Wolff has known PMI Audio Group founder and CEO Alan Hyatt for many years. “One day, I said, ‘Why don’t we have breakfast and you can buy me!’” recounts Wolff.

The acquisition has added a significant marketing and distribution infrastructure to Tonelux, which was essentially a one-man operation. “We’ve got all the dealers, distribution and a European office in place,” Hyatt points out. In addition to its HQ in Gardena, CA, PMI also maintains an office in Torquay, Devon, on England’s southwestern peninsula. In the past, Tonelux was marketed via Gil Griffith’s Wave Distribution, then Brad Lunde’s TransAudio Group.

One year on from the formal acquisition announcement, PMI has ramped up production to keep pace with demand, having built out an assembly and test facility and staffed it with Barry Stone, director of technical services, and technician Zack Downes. Not surprisingly, the move from the East Coast to the West has taken quite some effort. “I’ve worked harder in the last year than two years added together,” remarks Wolff.

“It’s been difficult, but the road blocks have not been based around stupid things; they’ve been based around an entire crew of people learning an entirely different product line, and learning how to manufacture things and manage manufacturing,” he continues. “It wasn’t stuff that everybody was used to doing, so it took some time for everybody to get their heads around it.”

With the acquisition, Hyatt set about focusing the Tonelux product line. “I said, ‘We have to clearly define what’s best to do, and look into the direction that we think it needs to go,’” he reports.

“That meant 500 series modules,” Hyatt elaborates. “And I needed a plug-and-play, in-a-box console that competes with the Neve 5088 and the API 1608. So I came up with the concept of the 1628, which led to the 2428, 3228 and now the 828.” Warner Bros. was an early adopter of the 1628, he notes.

More recently, customers have been asking for a summing device, says Hyatt; the 1RU, 16-channel (each with panning) Tonelux OTB16 is about to go into production. “With Paul’s ability and with our conceptual design of products and marketing, we were able to knock that off in five or six weeks. We can come to market very, very fast.”

Hyatt admits that the acquisition is a two-way street. PMI has added significant marketing power to Tonelux, to be sure, but “the Tonelux brand does elevate PMI as well. It adds to our perceived reputation.”

The brand also slots in nicely at the top of PMI’s current portfolio of brands. Hyatt enumerates, “Here we are with the Studio Projects line, which is really considered an entry to just below mid-level line of good quality microphones. Joemeek is more of a midrange line, with a very good reputation. We created Toft; that’s well respected, and we’re selling amazingly well with the consoles.” Toft customers include such luminaries as Ringo Starr, John Cale and the Chemical Brothers (who recently purchased two).

PMI has also acquired CLM Dynamics and Valley People. New products from those brands will be appearing in due course.

But while Tonelux might at first appear to compete directly with Trident, Hyatt is quick to point out, “I think there’s a clear defining point, even if they’re butting heads at the same price. I’m not going to convince a Tonelux customer to buy a Trident, or vice versa.”

Plus, he says, who better to compete with than yourself? “Do I want to compete with API, Harrison and some of these guys, and let them take business away? Because I’m going to lose; people buying those consoles are not going to buy a Trident. But if I have Tonelux, I can take sales away from them. So I thought, I might as well be my own competition. And it has worked out well.”

PMI Audio Group,