Replay: This is one of our older articles, so some info may be dated. However it offers a fascinating insight into the company. Craig Marshall visits RØDE's headquarters in Sydney for RedShark and finds out what it takes to make high quality microphones that sell worldwide
Peter Freedman is a man who knows his microphones as well as his motor cars. Twenty six years ago in Sydney, a young Swedish born school boy with a keen ear for sound worked alongside his father, helping out in the family audio business. During the 1950s, it took the German manufacturer of quality sound equipment Neumann, three years to sell a thousand U47 microphones. One to each of the world’s best recording studios. Individually hand-made, they still sound wonderful but they were labour intensive so very expensive.
Australia’s 1960s post war boom saw Henry Freedman’s audio consultancy design and install high quality sound systems in clubs and pubs right across the country. The business prospered but as the 1980s dawned, the phone kept ringing for Peter who only worked there at weekends and school holidays. “As I began to take on a managerial role in Dad’s business, customers wanted to talk with me,” Peter remembers. “Before long, our own people kept calling me: sales, service, they all wanted me. I couldn’t get any work done. It was insane. When I eventually took over from Dad, it became all about me so I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere that way!” Throughout the ‘80s, the business began to grow. As Peter reflects: “Back then, like many fathers, I used shoot my son’s football match with a great big clunky video camera. The picture was crap but the sound was even worse so I looked around for an affordable microphone to improve the audio. All I could find were big shotguns or crappy little dynamics that didn’t sound any good. I couldn’t find one so I made one, it sounded great so that’s when we started the Rode Video Mic project.”
DSLR video revolution
Those ‘hand-made’ days of Neumann’s U47 microphone are now virtually a thing of the past as recent years have witnessed a gradual ‘democratisation’ of the sound, film and video industry. This has been driven by the release of low cost, mass produced equipment like portable DAT recorders and more recently, the ‘DSLR Video Revolution’ where companies who traditionally produced ‘still’ cameras, began adding HD video recording features. Consequently, many opportunities have presented for enterprising businesses to expand into that growing and demanding market.
Positioned conveniently on the banks of Sydney’s Parramatta River, Rode Microphones is now surfing the crest of a wave of popularity, re-ignited by that most recent Revolution. The casual reader need only to browse the dozens of on-line video forums to find the words ‘Rode Video Mic’ embellished with lavish praise. “We now own that space” said Peter.
Bucking the trend
With so many Australian companies preferring to save on labour costs and contract out production to China, Rode have bucked the trend and continue to produce all major products on-shore. Over 120 Australian and international staff design, engineer, hand-assemble and test each and every Rode Microphone. “A massive investment in state of the art SMT and CNC machinery has allowed us to remain competitive, even in the current climate of high labour costs” said Peter. “Initially, China produced the components to our design and they made them very well. We imported the parts then assembled and tested each microphone here but I could see that very soon, we would have serious competition as they (the Chinese) realised that if we could do it successfully, so could they.”
A common theme behind the growing wave of successful Australian entrepreneurs is their ability to think laterally. Like Grant Petty, CEO of Blackmagic Design who recently wowed the digital cinema world with new and exciting camera product at NAB, Peter Freedman is a man with an endless quest for innovation and the quiet pursuit of excellence. “I have so many ideas in the pipeline,” he said “I’m tingling with excitement!”
One recent innovation which certainly excited both the audio and mobile phone market is the Rode iXY microphone. This is a miniature stereo condenser pair in ‘XY’ configuration designed to clip into the top of an Apple iPhone, turning it into a broadcast quality location sound recorder. “No other similar device records at 24/96 resolution” said Peter. “It’s a world first for iPhone. We fought hard to gain Apple MFI certification so our device is fully compatible but we design and build our own preamps with great A/D electronics but to make the product complete, we bought a software application from the US to control it all.” Peter explained: “Apple makes the best system for audio. Android does not work that well, in my experience, for audio so we’re firmly aligned to Apple. We’ve spent a lot of time and money designing then debugging it to the point where it really works.” There’s also smartLav, a clip-on lavaliere mic for the iPhone and soon there will be a full range of accessory products from Rode which will turn the once humble mobile phone into a complete production tool.