February 4, 2014 in Business

AudioControl’s Spokane shop helps create high-end sound systems

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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JoLynn Gamble, rework touch-up operator at AudioControl, cleans up a circuit board before it is shipped from their facility on East Francis Avenue in Spokane on Wednesday. The board is used for upgrading auto audio systems.
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A little-known Spokane manufacturing shop is helping a Seattle-area audio-equipment maker grab a bigger share of the growing market for high-end sound systems.

From its north Spokane office, AudioControl helps make circuit boards for buyers wanting to deck out their cars or juice their home theater with high-performance audio gear.

One of the reasons AudioControl’s fortunes are rising is its “made in America” marketing, a big selling point for overseas audiophiles, said Alex Camara, the company’s CEO.

Camara, who joined the company in 2011, purchased AudioControl from Tom Walker. He’s betting that a resurgent economy and housing market keep AudioControl on its hot streak.

AudioControl has had double-digit growth the past three years. About half its sales come from home theater and home audio systems, Camara said. The company doesn’t disclose annual sales.

The company sells car stereo products such as signal processors and bass restoration units through dealers. It also sells an assortment of equalizers for cars and for homes, allowing for customized and higher-quality sound reproduction.

“Our company mission is simple,” Camara said. “It’s making good sound great.”

Frank Denn, supervisor of Spokane’s AudioControl facility, said “made in America” is a key draw for customers in Asia.

“They want our products because they’re reliable and because it’s a source of pride to have (audio systems) made in America,” Denn said.

Americans spend 16 1/2 hours per week in their cars, and more want better quality sound systems for their vehicles, Camara said.

On the home front, the housing market rebound equals home theater upgrades or audio systems, Camara said.

For the auto market, the company’s prices vary, from its popular $100 LC2i unit – a line-converter and bass tweaker – to $5,000 for audiophiles seeking premium AudioControl installation.

A former Boeing engineer launched AudioControl in 1977. In the 1990s, the firm chose Spokane for its satellite production office.

That office, with 13 workers, is AudioControl’s board-preparation site. Boxes of printed circuit boards arrive at the Spokane office and are divided into product groups.

Using machines or working manually, the workers insert small microcomponents into the boards.

The boards are dipped in solder to seal the leads on the back side, then shipped to Seattle where they’re installed inside metal enclosures and sent to distributors.

Recently the Spokane office has shipped more than 1,000 circuit boards a week to Seattle, Denn said.

AudioControl’s reputation for high-performance equipment is deserved, said Shaun Keenan, an editor with Toronto-based Performance Auto and Sound Magazine.

He regularly covers several North American audiophile competitions involving drivers with customized sound systems. Those contests measure volume and sound quality of the car audio systems.

The goal is having both the loudest and clearest sound, Keenan said.

“You won’t find a competing vehicle that doesn’t have an AudioControl component somewhere,” Keenan said.

The first two Spokane AudioControl employees hired 23 years ago, Denn and Eric Knudson, are still there.

Denn, the site supervisor, said its local identity has been intentionally low-key. That was the preference of Walker, the owner when the Spokane office opened, Denn said. Even the company name on the shop’s front door is small and unobtrusive.

Knudson, the shop’s test technician, spends most of his shift testing circuit boards before they’re shipped to Seattle.

“We don’t send any boards that aren’t right,” Knudson said. “We want people to feel confident that what they get works the way it’s supposed to,” he said.


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