"There is a dramatic lack of knowledge in the field of PA technology."

A coffee with Thomas Saucke, Key Account Manager North at MONACOR INTERNATIONAL


Winter in Bremen. Late afternoon. The headquarters of MONACOR INTERNATIONAL in Bremen-Mahndorf is pretty quiet, from time to time employees pass through the hallways. Thomas Saucke is sitting in the showroom drinking (actually!) Coffee. He is an seasoned expert in commercial audio installations and has installed speakers everywhere sound is conceivable, from the smallest restaurant to a mega amusement park. We chat with him about exciting projects, architecture, pragmatism and the shortage of skilled workers.

Hello, Thomas! What problem do train stations actually have? The quality of the public address system, the voice announcements, is always poor.

 

Train stations are very difficult. The noise level is extreme, the acoustics very bad. There are lots of people making noises, trains pull in that are very loud, and there are gigantic concourses, sometimes half open. And these concourses are also very reverberant – concrete and glass everywhere. It's also hard to take measurements in a train station concourse.

Reverberation is measured, for example, with an alarm gun and a sensing microphone. But it's never empty in a station concourse. You can't just fire a shot there.

Airports at least have interior spaces that are closed, as opposed to multiple tracks. Still difficult?

Still, yes. Lots of people, big halls, lots of hustle and bustle. Speech intelligibility in particular suffers from this. And then many airport buildings are also built with a sophisticated architectural design, which doesn't always help either.

Does a sophisticated architectural design stand in the way of a good audio installation?

No, they do not have to be incompatible. But it requires particularly good cooperation from engineers, planners and architects. Aesthetics experts, for example, often want a lot of glass, often smooth, coherent stone surfaces like marble. This is always acoustically challenging. Then speakers must match the lighting systems.

It's not architecture "against" audio technology, it's more aesthetics versus pragmatism – and then you still want to stay within the budget.

In addition, the legal requirements for voice alarms in compliance with EN-54 still have to be met. A large chain store installs 100–130 ceiling speakers with a voice alarm system. The price-performance ratio has to be quite tight. There are also many standards that planners have to comply with. Many electronics engineers and in-house technicians are happy to accept help with planning and product selection.

A good segue: As a field representative, how involved are you in the planning of the audio installation?

Sometimes only in an advisory capacity and often very involved. But I often provide strong planning support, including concept design drawings. I am also certified as a specialist for voice alarm systems according to VDE-0833-4  and DIN-14675. Our customers are always happy about that. This is because planning offices for technical building equipment are rarely specialised in PA systems.

What other sound system scenarios are particularly complex?

 

Every sound system scenario is different, every space is special. It is always exciting when very many zones have to be very distinct. I am currently working on a project with 16 different massage rooms, upmarket, all with individual sound systems that also have to be voice alarms. Then there's a system concept and the speakers are all only allowed to have a certain colour. I need to wrap my head around that before I start drawing. I have to take interfaces into account, I have to make phone calls, and that's a complete solution that takes several weeks to plan. Otherwise, outdoor space is not always easy either.

Do you have examples of outdoor projects?

Maybe two examples: Amusement parks are a challenge. It's completely outdoors. To put it bluntly, the challenge for amusement parks is as follows: The speakers are in the dirt, in the rain, wind in the ugliest corner – under the worst conditions for technology. I have already worked for several amusement parks. We even modified speakers specifically to accommodate these more "extreme" conditions.

Specification of the customer: Despite all the stresses and strains over many months, the speakers have to sound like they did on the first day. Also with speech intelligibility. Announcements can be important for safety.

And the other example of a complex sound system project?

A well-known Bremen football club wanted to equip the A and B pitches with a PA system. There, the audio routing is performed via fibre optic lines that I have designed. On the A pitch we only did the routing, on the B pitch we also did the PA itself. We did this according to the special requirements of the DFB. A challenge for the PA application is that you have to achieve a volume of 95 dB across the board. Across the entire sports field at a height of 1.70 metres. Horn speakers and line arrays combined with classic 2-way speakers are used. The challenge again: Outdoors, spoken language has to be understandable, and it is a very large area with a high volume, but the DFB's specifications for a professional pitch also have to be met.

UEFA also has its own guidelines for PA systems on football pitches. The grandstands reflect the sound very strongly, that was really a challenging project.

In the best case scenario, who is supposed to have this knowledge about planning PA systems, when you say that even the planners need help there? Not really you as a key account manager?

This is almost a controversial question. Because there is a dramatic lack of training in the field of PA technology. There is no longer any training for radio and television technicians. That is why there is often a lack of knowledge in the field of audio installation. There are electrical engineers from the university who have a lot of impressive theoretical knowledge. But they are engineers, they lack experience. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the "electronics engineer for energy and building technology" – but they have completely different concerns in projects than ceiling speakers and wall-mounted speakers . There are exceptions who are audio-savvy. But these tend to be people of conviction who also tinker with speakers at home. They are not the rule.

So a new occupation that requires training would be needed? The trained "electronics engineer for PA technology" for example?

 

Yes, that would be nice. There are some expert installers for audio technology who also pass on their knowledge. But there are far too few of them in Germany. The apprentices in radio and television technology used to learn this, but this trade is dying out.

What is your most important tool, in the broadest sense?

Especially when I advise and plan early in the building process, having a spatial sense is important. I then get to the construction site early and have to plan the sound system based on the construction drawings. Sometimes you have to look at it with a colleague. I am happy that I have so many good people with different skills here at MONACOR.

How did you come to MONACOR?

It was a long road, I was self-employed first and then worked somewhere else. But I grew up with MONACOR and have known the brand since my training. At that time there was still a big, thick catalogue. And it was crystal clear: You need ceiling speakers? MONACOR is the answer!

Are you more of a planner or a salesperson?

I am not a salesperson. Not in the classic sense. I listen to our customers, let them tell me what is needed. Many customers are now calling on their own. Then I sit down and talk to those involved.

I don't sell features, I serve the needs of the customer. I primarily provide the right functions, not a product.

Has the MONACOR brand changed since back when?

We are slowly but steadily becoming more and more of a complete solution provider. This service is growing and is starting to get traction with customers. Reliability is a value of MONACOR products that has not changed. Our PA speakers have been installed in some places for decades and they just work.

But the industry is changing, isn't it?

It's getting more digital. What stays the same is: Music should come out of a speaker, sometimes speech, that's the most important thing. However, more and more superficial knowledge is becoming widespread. PA systems are not easy – distinguishing competence from superficial knowledge is likely to become more difficult. It is still a business between people on site.

Why is being present particularly important?

If someone has equipped a large conference room with high-quality conference technology and nobody can hear the speaker in the front, you cannot check that on the internet.

You need a professional on site to look at the set-up, measure, have conversations and run simulations. Because it is also a matter of trust. And trust is built better in real face-to-face conversations. For example, DANTE. The technology is great, some areas of application are much easier than before. But it also requires intensive consultation and a great deal of explanation. DANTE is not a solution for everything. There has to be some programming involved. The concept and technology are behind it, the user doesn't see that and not every user wants to pay for it.

„Customer support during the pandemic was a real challenge. We wanted to do it in person and met with customers in green spaces. Once we were under a carport with a customer and it started to rain heavily. Those are appointments you don't forget to easily."

Let's go back to the industry and changes: What do you want the future of audio installation to be like?

I think one recipe for future success is making PA technology easier for the user. For example in gastronomy. The in-house service must be able to operate the sound system. Without much instruction. Technology prevails because it is easy to use.

Thank you Thomas!

Fancy more peeks behind the scenes? You can find an interview with Tom Mikus, our current CEO, in our magazine.

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