Milestones: Where Has The Time Gone?
Eastern Acoustic Works as it turns 25


Berger, Forsythe and Frank Loyko celebrating EAW’s new manufacturing facilities following a fire in the mid ‘90s.

Some companies have such an impact that you tend to think they’ve been around a long time. While most certainly this is often the case, I was a bit surprised to learn that EAW (Eastern Acoustic Works) is marking its 25th anniversary.

Only 25? Sure seems a lot longer... See what I mean? And this comes from someone (yours truly) who had the opportunity to work with the company during one of its periods of most dramatic growth in the mid-’90s.

So I should know better. Time can play funny tricks on the mind.

EAW officially opened its doors in 1978, founded by Ken Berger and Kenton Forsythe, a dynamic combination of engineering/design (Forsythe) and what’s perhaps best described as “go for it” (Berger). They staked out turf in an old automotive plant in Framingham, Massachusetts, and with the help of less than a dozen staff members, set about building and selling professional loudspeakers. And, building and selling the abilities of a company to a market yawning “Oh, more new loudspeakers. Yeah, that’s just great. (sigh)”

CREATIVE COLLABORATION

Having spent a good amount of time in and around “things EAW,” I’ve developed my own theory as to at least one of the primary reasons the company has survived and thrived. Simply, they have been able to identify opportunities to fill market needs that weren’t being met at a particular point in time.

What stands out most in my mind, in this regard, was the willingness to develop custom products at the request of sound designers, back in an era when the de facto response usually ran along the lines of “this is what we’ve got ­ take it or leave it.” Rather, Forsythe would partner with sound designers, collaborating on creation of loudspeakers to meet the specific objectives of a project.

And then comes the really interesting part. EAW could turn around and offer the successful designs as part of a growing line of products. Play this out in your mind. It’s expensive to develop custom products, but on the other hand, nothing like getting “free” real-world input in the design process, presumably making the product more appealing to the market, and then being able to take that “free” R & D and apply it to products for mass consumption. The R & D price tag just dropped dramatically.

Capping it off, these custom products were generally utilized in high-profile projects that could be maxed as marketing opportunities. Certainly other companies offered custom services, and for many in the modern era, it’s now a matter of course, a fact of business life, and the market is all the better for it. But a driving force behind where we are today is EAW.


An early KF850 array out with Ten Thousand Maniacs in the mid ‘80s.

Unless you’re living under a rock, you probably know all about the KF850, and in fact, have probably heard these loudspeakers more than once. Introduced in 1985, this tri-amplified, horn-loaded loudspeaker was a pioneer in “out of the box” concert loudspeaker systems. Remember, up to that point in time, many loudspeakers for live applications were of the “home brew” variety.

The KF850 was among a select few products that changed all of that, and again, had direct implications as to the way things are at present.

Much of the KF line was touted as providing “Virtual Array” capability, presenting the idea that consistent horizontal coverage could be attained successfully from trapezoidal loudspeakers in arrays. Not an original idea, by any means, but the company was able to convince the market of the validity of the concept.


The beautiful old mill building that EAW still calls home.

A DIRECT LINK

A side note was establishment of the VATA (Virtual Array Tec-hnology Associa-tion). This network of companies with KF loudspeakers were put in direct communication, whe-re they could easily sub-hire systems from each other and exchange info-rmation about applications and the like. This was a true community, and the benefits of it helped lead to the KF850 probably being on more tech riders than any other loudspeaker by the late ‘80s.

Along the way, Forsythe was joined by other skilled design engineers such as Dave Gunness and Jeff Rocha, and the product cycle goes on unabated. The company continues to push the envelop in the marriage of the acoustic with the electronic, most recently seen in the interesting DSA (Digitally Steer-able Array) Series that was detailed in our October issue.

By now established in a historic mill building in Whitinsville, Mas-sachusetts, the company saw strong growth throughout the ‘90s and made entries into new markets such as cinema and high-end dance clubs. The acquisition of SIA Software Company, developers of SMAART analysis tools, in 1999, has proven a useful companion to the core loudspeaker business. And a short time later, after more than 20 years of climbing, Berger decided it was time to pursue other interests, selling controlling interest of the company to Mackie.

EAW continues to operate from its New England base, and after founding ProSoundWeb (the industry’s portal web site), Berger found he missed the action on the manufacturing side and accepted an offer to rejoin Mackie as vice president of marketing.

Sometimes time does go by fast, indeed.

 

Keith Clark is editor of Live Sound and can be reached at kclark@livesoundint.com

November 2003 Live Sound International

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