With marquis installs and a sleek
new line array, Martin Audio seeks to up its clubland profile.
Operations director Rob Hofkamp spreads the word.
By John Landers
Rob Hofkamp is ready to mobilize. While his
brand, Martin Audio, has built concert-styled speaker systems
for over 30 years, and installed them in the world’s
top dance spots for 10, it remains obscure to clubland’s
coffee clutches. “We’ve got sound systems in clubs
all over the place,” he says, “but nobody seems
to know it.” But this year, armed with a hot new product
and fresh high-profile installs, director of U.S. operations
Hofkamp is prepped to fight for some brand awareness.
His mission isn’t impossible. In the mid-‘80s,
UK-based Martin discovered that their big touring rigs were
retiring to nightclubs after coming off the road, and decided
to create boxes specifically for permanent installs. In 2001,
the now-legendary London club fabric gutted their existing
system in exchange for a Martin Blackline, and since then
has loyally upgraded in pace with Martin’s new product
releases. The 2003 Club World Awards recognized Martin with
nominations for Best Sound Product (the W8LC) and Best Sound
System (Balanced Input’s all-Martin system at Providence’s
Therapy). And this year saw the debut of the W8LM, a shrunken
version of the trendy line array, perfectly suited for mid-sized
clubs; and the grand opening of Pulse, a lavish Florida lounge
featuring Martin from dancefloor to piano bar. All in all,
not a half-bad sales pitch.
Hofkamp spends a lot of time on the road, meeting with club
owners, liaising with sound companies, and showcasing Martin
Audio products at trade shows. We caught with him via cell
phone, while he was driving to yet another client meeting
somewhere in Arizona.
Martin Audio is a well-known name in Europe, and now
the brand is becoming popular in the United States. How did
the company get its start? Martin Audio has been
in business since 1971 and started out as a concert sound
company, building professional touring sound products. It
was started by Dave Martin, a wonderful speaker engineer who
designed low frequency horns, and was truly one of the pioneers
of large format sound system design. There were only a few
players in the business back then.
I understand that they were building
systems for Pink Floyd, and groups like that. Yes,
all of the supergroups in the ’70s. Back in those days,
there weren’t regional sound companies. The bands would
buy their own equipment and tour with it. When Supertramp
came over and toured North America in the mid-’70s,
just prior to the “Breakfast in America” tour,
they brought all of their equipment over, and all of their
own production staff, to do concerts. It was a way of insuring
the quality of their product, and it helped them get into
all of these venues where there was nobody who could provide
gear for them. Those are our roots. We’re truly a touring
sound company at heart, but today, we’ve gone into everything
from arenas, to convention centers, restaurants, bars, churches,
and any applications where high-quality audio is required.
When did you get involved?
In 1991, Dave Martin sold Martin to [British group] TGI and
stayed on as Engineering Director. He thought that it would
be beneficial to get more capital into the company, to increase
its engineering efforts and develop new products. He stayed
onboard, and the Managing Director, David Bissett-Powell,
came to head up the ship. That’s where I came in, because
I’d been working with Bissett-Powell since his days
at Tannoy back in 1982. Our North American operations for
Tannoy were also part of the TGI group, and we took on distribution
of Martin Audio in this market. In 1998, I left Tannoy as
Sales Director, and proceeded to create a new company, wholly
owned by Martin Audio in England, to distribute Martin Audio
products in North America. That allowed us to take a more
direct approach to the marketplace, and to the customers and
users; both in the touring sound business and the installation
business. It also allowed us to be a little more cost-effective,
because there wasn’t a secondary layer of distribution
How did Martin Audio get into nightclub
sound? Years ago, in the ’80s, when a lot of
our big touring systems came off the road and were ready to
be retired, sound companies would sell them to nightclubs.
Guys would end up installing these used tour sound boxes in
nightclubs. We looked at that, and decided to build some boxes
specifically geared for their needs. That was one of the things
that pulled us into the club scene is the ’80s and early
’90s. Our boxes have such an enormous life cycle; I
see guys using some of our subwoofer cabinets that are 15
years old. And they still work.
The Martin Audio W8LC was nominated
for the 2004 “Best Sound Product” Club World Award.
Like many of your company’s products, it has a reputation
for having a “British” sound. How would you differentiate
that from the “North American” sound? British
sound has a tonality that doesn’t come across the same
in American-made products. In our case, one of the reasons
for that is our horns, and how our horns are designed. Also,
we’re big fans of 1-inch compression drivers.
As opposed to the 2-inch drivers that
are found in certain nightclub speakers? Yes, the
large-dome HF elements that are used today in some horns.
I have to say that more and more of our competitors are beginning
to produce [speaker systems with 1-inch horns]. It’s
because above 8,000 Hertz, the large-format compression drivers
have a hard time reproducing those frequencies without increasing
the distortion, because of the size of the diaphragm. High
frequencies are very short in wavelength, and the larger the
diaphragm, the more difficult it is to reproduce those frequencies.
Another concern with the large format compression horns is
the 1,000 Hz to 2,000 Hz range. This is why we design our
systems with a paper midrange unit. They offer a more natural
sound with increased warmth and
And that’s a critical range for the human ear…
It creates a lot of the sparkle, without hanging tweeter packs
over dancefloors. That’s one of the advantages of line
arrays, too. You can generate an extreme amount of energy
in a confined space, on a dancefloor, with the right line
I’ve never been a fan of using
hanging tweeters to compensate for sloppy nightclub sound
system design. Much of our hearing depends on phase
shift and time arrival differences. [A poorly-designed tweeter
installation] just causes a tremendous amount of weirdness
for your ears. Some people like it if it’s used as an
effect, which can be interesting. When you think back to way
some of these clubs were designed in their day, the higher
frequencies were just not getting to the people on the dancefloor
in the way that designers felt they should. Their solution,
to increase that high frequency energy, was to put [tweeters]
up in the air so that sound was coming from everywhere. When
you understand the human ear, and the fatigue that goes along
with some of those driver installations, [then you know that]
it makes you tired when your ears sense all of this phase
shift and distortion. You end up with a tired group on the
Which is exactly what you don’t
want, if you want a profitable nightclub. Speaking of profitable
nightclubs, how did Martin Audio first get involved with London
superclub fabric? At that time, fabric already had
what would be considered a world-class sound system. They
needed some DJ monitors, so one of our application engineers
took them a pair of our F12 Blackline series speakers. The
DJs loved them, and the owners began asking, “Why can’t
we have this sound on the dancefloor?” They ended up
taking out the entire existing system and replacing it with
our equipment, which was a major step forward on their part.
We originally started out with a product that we had available
at that time called the W8C, which was a horn-loaded 12-inch
low-mid, a horn-loaded 6.5-inch upper mid, and a 1-inch high
frequency horn. We put some of those in, and we replaced their
bass cabinets with about half the number of boxes they had
previously, but they generated more SPL, because they’re
more efficient cabinets. It was a lot of money, but they just
wanted to be on the cutting edge of sound. They’re known
around the world for the sound in that venue. They were really
happy with it.
So, they got more sound and more floor
space at the same time? Yes, so they were very happy
with that installation. Then, about 18 months later, we tried
out some of our first-design line arrays called the W8L, kind
of as an experiment. They said, “We want to go up again.”
These guys are always investing money back into their club.
How very refreshing. It’s
nice not to just take money out, but to actually re-invest,
because if you don’t – as a club owner –
you’re better off just selling it and letting someone
else lose their shirt.
Because your patrons are going to
get jaded. Exactly. You have to create a reason for
them to come back. You need alcohol, women, and excitement.
Without that, your audience will go to the club that will
out-do you. In the club scene, re-investment is critical.
Being on the leading edge is important if you want to retain
your audience. So, we put in these line arrays, and they were
really, really happy with that.
Which model was that? In
fabric, we put the W8L in, but there are two new models that
we make now, the W8LC and the W8LM, the new mini line array.
That cabinet is 29 inches by 9.5 inches and weighs 53 pounds.
It’s a very small speaker with some great applications.
Some of our guys are working on designing specific systems
with them and double 15-inch and double 18-inch subwoofer.
Is that the future of nightclub sound?
As far as line arrays, they’re not necessarily the right
tool for every job. However, with the size of line arrays
shrinking, they’re becoming much more appropriate for
You don’t have to have a superclub
to take advantage of that technology. Especially
not with something like the W8LM, the mini, and it’s
very inexpensively priced compared to what else is out there.
There’s a bit of a backlash or a rebellion in the marketplace
today, where people are saying, “Line array, schmine
array. I’m sick of hearing about line arrays,”
because they’ve been pushed so much on the marketing
front. But the benefit of that vertical controlled dispersion
in a nightclub is very positive, because it controls the energy
and puts it on the dancefloor – where you want it to
be. When a club owner and I do a walk-through, he’ll
say, “I want to have some chill-out areas, but still
have them within the actual club. I don’t want a separate
room that I have to herd my patrons into.” I’m
always challenged with the task of putting as much energy
on the dancefloor as possible, but not too much everywhere
else, so that people can still be in the room, but not be
physically assaulted by the PA.
So they can converse and order drinks.
If bartenders can’t hear their orders, that has an immediate
and significant effect on a club’s bottom line. I have
great sympathy for bartenders.
You mentioned that the W8LM is relatively
inexpensive. In this industry, there’s a perception
that Martin Audio products aren’t exactly cheap. How
cost-effective are your speakers? A lot of people
may think that our products are beyond their reach, but, in
truth, we’re very competitive with any of the four top
American loudspeaker manufacturers. It’s kind of funny,
a lot of our customers say to me, “Rob, your low frequency
boxes are really expensive.” They are when you look
at them on their own, but when you get down to the whole system
design and look at how many subs you’re actually going
to put in the room, and how few amplifiers you’re going
to use with our loudspeakers…
Because they’re so efficient?
Yes. You’re going to save money and floor space. You’re
going to end up putting in fewer cabinets with half the amount
of amplification, and get more SPL. Our subwoofers hit 107
dB @ 1W/1m. That’s a lot of horsepower.
With the growing interest in line
arrays for club sound, do you think there will still be a
place for traditional speaker systems, such as Martin Audio’s
Blackline series, for the foreseeable future? Most
definitely. Line arrays will not replace everything, but they
certainly are part of the next generation of club sound. It’s
part of the evolution, always improving the quality of the
audio experience for the club-goer.
What’s next for the nightclub
audio industry? I don’t see club sound slowing
down at all. If anything, I think it’ll continue to
expand and flourish. There’s definitely a demand for
nightclubs, and the expectations for quality audio have increased
exponentially for the last twenty years, from the advent of
the CD. People are less and less tolerant of poor audio.
New Florida venue showcases Martin's many moods.
New Orlando uber-lounge Pulse is an
example of the distinctive Martin Audio personality.
According to installer Jeff Kenney of Florida-based
Heavier Than Gravity, the venue’s owners were
seeking a specific sonic experience: “They wanted
the kind of ‘wow’ sound they’d heard
about in London’s fabric club,” explains
Kenney, “and that’s exactly what they got.”
The three-room venue features a variety Martin Audio
loudspeakers, most of which are part of the club-specific
Blackline series. The plush red Jewel Box room, for
instance, is equipped with two-way F15 speakers for
both the dancefloor and the DJ booth. Below the booth,
Kenney notes, “Blackline F8s provide all we need
and more as stage monitors, while doubling as VIP room
The basic black Adonis room was a challenge for the
installer. The long, narrow dimensions demanded a different
approach, so Kenney placed two Blackline F12’s
up against the ceiling at one end “to provide
enough throw to get the tunes down most of the length
of the room.” Additional cabinets were arranged
to compliment the main speakers. “A pair of F8’s
at the back of the room are used to pick up the rest
of the sound,” says Kinney, “and we used
another pair of F8’s as stage monitors.”
The all-white Martini room features a more architectural
approach, with a dozen C115T surface-mount loudspeakers
from Martin’s Contractor Series. Also, three compact,
trapezoidal-cabinet EM15T’s work as piano monitors
for a Yamaha baby grand in the satellite bar.
According to Kenney, the speakers need minimal fine-tuning.
“From the start, with flat EQ and no processing,
the rooms sounded nice,” he says. And the end
result, in each of the three areas, is a unique “British”
sound that pleases patrons, employees, and management
alike. “The owners were knocked out by the sound,”
Kenney says, “in all parts of the club.”