A quarter century goes by fast. Real fast. It seems like only yesterday that I recall going to a NAMM show and seeing products from a company that I had never heard of before: Behringer. Over the years, with each NAMM show I show attended, I saw this company’s product line expand almost exponentially, each year adding new amplifiers, speakers, analog mixers, DJ gear, processors, microphones and their various other audio lines.
For Uli Behringer, who started the company that bears his name and is the current driving force and CEO of the Music Group, the timeline for the last 25 years began with a risky move from manufacturing in Germany to production facilities in various rented locations on mainland China. An entrepreneur in the strictest sense, Behringer began building audio products as a teenager in Switzerland. With an obsession for creating and recording music, Behringer was greatly discouraged when he and has bandmates were unable to find decent gear at an affordable price. So decided to change that. With a background in engineering and a classically trained pianist, he began designing and building various audio devices, first from his kitchen table, and then from a critter infested barn.
As interest in the growing line of Behringer branded products began to grow, he looked for ways to expand production without increasing cost. After suffering through numerous painful and expensive “learning experiences” in trying to get products made by Chinese contractors, he decided that the only way he was going to be able to fill the void for affordable audio and PA products was if he could control every aspect of the manufacturing with his own factory, from R&D through packing and shipping.
Today, products imported from China are common everywhere but a quarter century ago, that was not the case. Most often, anything stamped “Made In China” was perceived (and often, correctly so) as cheap, unreliable and of poor quality. Behringer, along with many other US manufacturers, had their hands full dealing with quality control issues intensified by the language and cultural barriers. But Behringer persisted, and it paid off. The company now produces some of the top selling products in pro audio, such as the Behringer X32 digital mixer. The failure rate on products leaving the factory is a fraction of what it once was, and one of the lowest in the industry. As a result, the attitude toward products produced in China has undergone a great change and those who, like Uli Behringer, persisted in learning how to work within the system are now reaping the benefits of the production power of the Chinese people. It’s easy to forget that 25 years ago in China, to own a bicycle was a luxury. Today, the Chinese are purchasing automobiles at a rate of one every 22 seconds (source: TopGear). They want good jobs. They want a better lifestyle. And, they are willing to work to make it happen.
Over the past 25 years, Behringer has invested and reinvested his profits not only expanding production of the product line that bears his name, but in the acquisition of established iconic brands including TurboSound, Bugera, KlarkTeknik, and most notably, Midas.
By combining acquired technical expertise with his own vision for specialized, highly automated mass production, he has proven that even a respected, largely hand-made product such as the massive Midas XL8 mixing console and the Midas Pro line can be quality manufactured in China with cost savings that will make the product affordable to a greater number of people.
With his focus now on innovation and creating, to quote Uli, “Insanely great products,” Behringer has made his largest, and some say riskiest, investment to date with the construction of a new 3 million square foot, $100 million (USD) “Music Group City” just 30 minutes outside of Zhongshan, China, a short ferry ride from the airport in Hong Kong.
Projected to open by the end of this year, Music Group City will be home for the company’s aggressively growing catalog including the X32 line of digital mixers and the pro line from Midas.
A lot has changed in the last 25 years, especially in countries like China, where people are just beginning to see what they can accomplish through their own efforts, and the right opportunity. For the projected 10,000 future employees of Music Group, there’s a better lifestyle on the horizon and for music products users everywhere, a greater choice in affordable, quality gear for making, recording and sharing our music.
As part of the 25 year celebration, Music Group recently invited their global partners, and members of the audio press to tour the current factory near Zhongshan and see, first hand, the progress on the new Music Group City set to open by years end. The visit included a brief address by MG CEO Uli Behringer, and while musch of his talk was proprietary information, here are some excerpts. — Robert