“There is a real flood of cheap plastic speakers”

A coffee with Michael Friedsam, Senior Product Manager at MONACOR INTERNATIONAL

Late summer 2022, a warm afternoon. We don't meet Michael Friedsam in his office next door, but instead arrange to meet him in the lobby of a hotel in Bremen. Although Michael could be at work at our headquarters in Bremen at any time, he travels frequently. Very frequently. All in the service of good audio solutions. We asked him over coffee exactly what he does, why he looks at the glut of cheap speakers from two different perspectives and what it has in common with violins.

Hello Michael! Please introduce yourself briefly.


I'm Michael Friedsam, 38 years old and I've been working in the music industry for over 20 years. I previously worked for a large music store for 17 years and moved to MONACOR in 2019. First in sales, now in product management for two and a half years. My tasks are sourcing, so I'm looking for new products for our range. At the same time, I am cleaning up our range and making it more compact. I am a musician and sound engineer myself and had a small recording studio for a while. I have also mixed concerts.

What does “product manager” mean as a field of work?

For example, I write our roadmap for new products together with Tom Mikus. This is how we plan our product range internally for the next few years and coordinate sales and marketing.

“There were times when MONACOR had a huge range of products. Our focus is much sharper and clearer in 2022. Today we are a solution provider for audio technology and do exactly what we are best at."

How do you know which products the MONACOR brand needs and what customers need?


It's about a lot of intuition, because we as manufacturers want to set the trend. We are strong enough as a brand to say where we are going. A pandemic is a special situation. We realised that there was a lot of demand for recording and DIY material. But also for audio technology, for equipping your own party or hobby room with good low-impedance speakers. There is also a comeback in DIY, to a certain extent.

In addition to the DIY idea, many industries also experienced sudden digitalisation during the pandemic. Was this the case for PA applications as well?

Not so much in terms of the products. In Germany, we still have a bit of catching up to do when it comes to digitalisation. That's great – because it means we can see a little into the future. Either to Silicon Valley or even further into the future, to Shanghai. Audio-over-IP is much more routine there than here. But there are now some exciting and interesting investments coming up, things are moving a bit, the benefits of digital PA solutions have been recognised and everyone now wants to get involved.

“For example, the proportion of audio-over-IP solutions such as DANTE® is increasing. We are one of the very few contacts for this in Germany. There is a generational change in the area of decision-makers and engineers."

How has the industry changed and how has your everyday working life changed? How might the industry change in the future?


If I just look at myself now, going paperless is a massive change. Otherwise, we all know that PA technology was not selling during the Covid-19 peak phase. Many good people in the entertainment industry are no longer there today because demand dropped away. In the area of commercial PA applications, some people were hit hard and unprepared by the fact that trade fairs were cancelled and investments also fell.

Do you think the trade fairs in the PA application industry will come back?

I don't think they'll come back to the same extent as before the pandemic. There will still be a small number of large trade fairs worldwide, but significantly fewer than before.

Why fewer? What has changed?

I think it's becoming increasingly clear that there are more efficient formats. Companies simply have to do a sober calculation of what they could otherwise do with the large budget for a trade fair stand. They could invest these funds into roadshows or in personal invitations for customers. In those situations, brands have the potential customer’s entire attention. At a trade fair you are just one of many, the stand costs money and staff is tied up.

“At MONACOR we offer free DANTE® training courses here on site. This often creates the most valuable personal contacts."

You are a product manager – have the products changed in recent years?


What is noticeable in PA technology is that everything is becoming smaller and more compact. In the past, “big and heavy” was often synonymous with quality. “That will be up to the job” they said. Today, small column speakers are in demand. They're great too. This kind of small column with several drivers on top of each other is often no thicker than your upper arm and produces a good sound.

"In installation, the aim is to make PA technology invisible. Nobody wants to see cables. But the speakers should also be as inconspicuous as possible.“

The other approach is that some customer groups have developed very high demands for the design of speakers. But these two approaches are different application scenarios.

On the subject of invisibility: speakers cannot become infinitely small for purely physical reasons, right?


According to our current understanding of physics, this is true because the cone requires a certain circumference. But the technology will continue to develop. The audio industry hasn't been very innovative in this area over the last few decades. Speakers still work like have for decades. Microphones too, by the way. There were technical changes, but they were more like optimisations. If the principle of the cone is replaced at some point by an innovation, it will be groundbreaking.

Have the demands on the quality of the sound or the behaviour of customers changed in this product area?

Anyone who has the choice always chooses better sound quality. But there are limits in the project business. There will always be people who want better, better, better. If someone says they have a 7,000-euro budget, then an offer over 20,000 euros doesn't make sense for that customer, even if the technology is good and the offer is very fair – the customer doesn't have the money. My experience is that people make compromises if they want something. Someone might be looking for a PA application for a shop. Then he or she will implement it within their budget and not go without it just because something better is available. Speakers exist where compromises are made, but these compromises are better than they used to be. But I also say: you have to be careful today. More and more companies are springing up that import PA systems very cheaply and also offer them at extremely low prices.

“There is a real flood of cheap plastic speakers. We as MONACOR even benefit indirectly from this."

What do you mean?

Because we often offer high quality, often also at a favourable price, but never cheap. Let me tell you something: a friend of mine is a violin maker. He builds violins that cost 10,000 euros or more, which is a normal price for a good violin. Then there are also cheap dealers who sell violins for 200 to 400 euros. And my friend thinks that's a good thing, because they always break. Then the cheap buyers go to my friend and want the violin repaired. And the people who really want something good buy a better violin from him. They have an aha moment. It's the same with PA applications: there is inexpensive, good PA technology and there are totally cheap speakers. Those who get burned on cheap speakers go to a dealer with somewhat higher expectations. The cheap speakers are a starting point for even thinking about PA applications, for example in a shop. Ultimately, they are always just the starting point of the journey. That is the economic point of view.

Is there any other point of view?


This flood of cheap speakers is of course a catastrophe for the planet. Our aim is that MONACOR speakers are so stable that they can hang on the wall or in the ceiling for decades. This is sustainability in the most original sense.

In the last part of our conversation, let's go back to you: you said that you are a musician and sound engineer yourself. That probably helps in your profession, right?

When I add a product to the range, I always think very clearly about the end customer. This is the most important thing in everything we do. If the user cannot or does not want to use it, the product is of no use to us. Of course, my user perspective helps here. So I'm a practitioner. By the way, that's something I value at MONACOR and also in the industry itself: there are many people of conviction. Many people do PA technology as a career and then tinker around with amplifiers or mixers in their own garage. You quickly have a basis for a conversation, with sound engineers, with installers, with musicians.

17 years of music, why did you change – and why to MONACOR?

MONACOR has already been around for over half a century. This is good because we are an established brand with many loyal suppliers and customers. The brand has history. On the other hand, we always have to actively work to ensure that we stay up to date. Many of our good products have been around for a long time, some for decades. Others are new and shape the future of PA applications. So here at MONACOR, I can work very explicitly on the product orientation, which is a great challenge.

When you say that your products have sometimes been well received for decades, is PA technology that timeless?

The reason that these products have been around for so long and our partners still buy them is because our installation products have an extremely long life. This is due to the product category. At the same time, we have a large customer base that is very experienced and specialised in certain installation products, such as 100-volt technology. It offers exactly what many installers want: reliable results, efficient cabling and easy operation. MONACOR is one of the few brands that still offers this to this extent.

“Anyone who has been successfully installing 100-volt speakers for 40 years may have neither the desire nor any obvious reason to start using audio-over-IP and cloud computing. That's quite all right because there are different areas of application."

With your long experience, do you have any tips as a product manager that you can share?

If someone tells me they need an inexpensive two-way speaker in red, then I know exactly who I have to write to. I have a specific set of criteria that must be met and criteria that should be met. And then the real art is to find the right supplier, somebody good, fast and inexpensive and who no one else knows. There are big companies that everyone knows. It makes no sense to me to knock on the door there. We want to find someone for our brand who is reliable, builds good equipment and trades at a reasonable price. In the best case scenario we get exclusivity. This is the supreme discipline.

Do you work a lot in silence or more in conversation?

I rarely speak to end customers. This can happen with larger projects. For example, we had a very large installation for a mosque. This was the second or third largest mosque in Germany. A very exciting project, where I was also on site. In mosques, the combination of a large room with very hard, bare stone and glass walls is a real challenge. Then there is reverb that is desired. And also reverb that is undesired. The voice has to come across perfectly. We can work with simulations and of course perform a detailed inspection. But that's not my usual field of activity.

As a product manager, how closely do you work with your engineers in the technology department?


Frank Kuhl is our Acoustics Development Engineer and the ear of the entire company. Every speaker I source has to pass his ear. Frank improves the speaker concept and thus gives speakers a unique fingerprint. Other colleagues in our company also do this, each with different products. For example, so that every mixer has the same input level. When you plug a microphone into our mixers, you know what will come out. So in short: I work very closely with them because the engineers get their hands on what I source.

Thank you Michael!

Would you like more peeks behind the scenes? A conversation with Tom Mikus, our current CEO can be found in our magazine.

MONACOR INTERNATIONAL offers a high quality and perfectly adapts products to their target groups. Look on our respective brand website to find out what our product brands got in store for you.