At the time, hybrid amplifier modules were just coming onto the market, so you could build power amplifiers with just a few external components. In the following years, I discovered the electric guitar. I started to build effect devices like fuzzers and reverb units (at that time still with spring reverbs) just as a personal passion.
We visit Hermann Helmke on our company premises. The path leads past storage rooms and production halls. Finally, the door to the company's development area opens. A large desk laden with technical drawings and measuring instruments clearly stands prominent in the room. This is where MONACOR's Hermann Helmke sits and works on new audio gadgets. In a technical discussion, he explains how he turns ideas into market-ready products and what challenges he has to master in the process. A look at the innovative products already enriching the MONACOR range gives an idea of the creativity and technical expertise combined in this room.
I built speaker systems for myself and my friends when I was a teenager. Initially from speakers from disused radios and televisions; later from kits from electronics mail order companies. The speakers got bigger and the existing amplifiers (e.g. dual turntables with amplifiers) were no longer powerful enough, not even for my hobby requirements. I then turned to electronics magazines (like "Elektor") to learn how to easily build AF power amplifiers.
This decades-long passion has made you a leading product developer with us for years. For example, you invented and developed the TCB-22 from the MONACOR range, a 2-channel audio balancing transformer. What was the process like?
The initial impetus for its development was, for one thing, a desire among many customers for such a device. At that time, we also lacked a tool to quickly check whether supposedly symmetrical inputs of effects units and amplifiers were really symmetrical. There was a signal generator with a symmetrical output on every test station, but that is not very flexible if you also want to test large active speaker systems without having to move all the equipment onto the lab bench.
Yes, almost every technician has a smartphone with a headphone output at hand at all times. This is how the idea came about to develop a passive balancing transformer in a stable steel box. It lets you quickly link your smartphone to the balancing transformer input using a 3.5 mm jack cable. A simple XLR cable is the connection between the balancing transformer and the test object. The balancing transformer does not need a source for the power supply.
The biggest challenge was to make the balancing transformer as flexible as possible in use. Nevertheless, we didn't want to exceed a certain price limit. That is the difference between pure invention and product development: the latter has to survive on the market and not just solve a problem.
Strictly speaking, the SLA-35 is not a new development, but a further development. It is based on the SLA-48 developed by an earlier colleague. The SLA-48 was developed at the time of the first CD players. Unlike many other audio sources, which had an output level of 100mV to 1V, the effective output level of most CD players was around 2V. As a result, many input amplifiers were overloaded and distorted by clipping. That was the reason to construct a level converter. In order to be able to use the unit as flexibly as possible, it became a level and impedanceconverter. The SLA-35 is therefore a device adapted to our time.
I developed the 2-channel audio balancing transformer within 2 weeks using a sample board. The SLA-35 took a little longer to get ready for production, despite the existence of circuit diagrams and a predecessor unit:
I wanted to take into account the requirements of as many customers as possible in terms of functions and housing design. The development time was about four weeks.
Many suggestions and product ideas come directly from our customers. But there are always product developments that reflect the zeitgeist. For instance, we have been working on audio transmissions via Ethernet for a long time. There were always two major challenges:
The still clearly too high latency between transmitter input and receiver output and
an insufficient number of audio channels to be transmitted due to the low transmission rate of the networks.
A product idea must be implemented on the market as quickly and reliably as possible. We can then always implement product improvements in a device update.
I have to keep up to date with new electronic chips and other components. There are always new contemporary component developments. With these new components, with the right imagination and technical knowledge, we develop new devices that are not yet on the market. It's a dynamic industry.
Digital signal processors are increasingly displacing component-intensive analogue and digital effect components. Getting to grips with DSP programming for your own products is essential, since it's a relatively new take on audio engineering.