QSC Audio Products, Inc.
QSC Audio Products, Inc.
Incorporated: 1968 as Quilter Sound Company
Sales: $80 million (2002 est.)
NAIC: 334310 Audio and Video Equipment Manufacturing
QSC Audio Products, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of high-power sound amplifiers and speakers as well as computer control, signal transport, and digital signal processing products for audio applications. Many of the company’s amplifiers utilize the firm’s PowerWave switching power supply, which is significantly lighter in weight than standard designs for high-power amplifiers. Other QSC products include the QSControl remote audio monitoring system, the RAVE ethernet audio transport system, and the ISIS and QSC-ACE lines of speakers. The company’s products are used in stadiums, concert halls, churches, and other public spaces where amplified sound is needed and have been chosen for such high-profile events as the Super Bowl, the Indianapolis 500, and the Academy Awards.
The origins of QSC date to 1968, when Patrick Quilter borrowed money from his family and friends to form a small business in Costa Mesa, California. Quilter Sound Company, as the firm was named, initially produced guitar amplifiers for local musicians. Among its early offerings were the Quilter Sound Thing and the Duck Amp, as well as the PigNose amp, which was made for a larger company. At first Quilter rented a 400-square-foot garage space in an industrial park where a loose-knit staff helped build the equipment. An early recruit was Barry Andrews, who had chanced upon Quilter when his motorcycle broke down near the firm’s space. Needing help to build wooden enclosures for his gear, Quilter soon enlisted the new acquaintance, who was an experienced cabinet maker.
In the beginning, the small company was run in a relatively disorganized fashion, with Quilter focusing more on the construction of equipment than the bottom line. When Andrews asked if he could manage the books, Quilter readily agreed to let him. Andrews later brought in his brother John, who had worked summers for the company while attending the University of Southern California business school, and gave him control of the firm’s finances. Quilter remained in charge of designing amplifiers, while Barry Andrews began to oversee sales and marketing. In 1975, the company was incorporated and its name changed to QSC Audio Products, Inc.
QSC had originally focused on production of guitar and box-type amplifiers, but after analyzing the market Quilter and the Andrews brothers decided to limit themselves to making professional power amplifiers. A larger manufacturing space was needed, and the firm moved into a 2,500-square-foot site on Placentia Avenue in Costa Mesa. New products were soon introduced, including a 150-watt monophonie amplifier and a 200-watt-per-channel stereo amp. A 300-watt stereo amp was added in 1977, which was then followed by six “A Series” models that put out as much as 325 watts per channel.
Expansion in the 1970s–80s
During the latter half of the 1970s, the company began to refine its manufacturing processes and the design of its products to improve reliability, sound quality, and cost. In addition to purchasing the best available parts, giving workers more training, and testing thoroughly for defects, designs were simplified so that production became less complicated.
In 1978, Quilter patented the AC Coupled Amplifier Circuit, which allowed the mounting of high-voltage transistors onto a grounded metal heatsink. The new design yielded greater cooling efficiency and power flow, was safer and more reliable to use, and further simplified the manufacturing process. Other QSC innovations of this period included a feature called PowerLimit, which protected against short circuits. The company’s products were by now gaining a sleeker look, which included LED displays and modular designs.
In 1982, QSC introduced its highest-power amplifiers to date, the Series Three line. The top-end model was capable of 1100 watts per channel and utilized convection cooling, a big plus over the sometimes noisy fan systems found in most power amps. This series soon became popular with customers in the touring sound industry who supplied audio systems for rock concerts and other live events. QSC’s smaller Series One, which was introduced the same year, found a major customer in Dolby Laboratories, Inc. for use in their movie theater installations, then being adopted industry-wide as the standard for high-quality cinema sound.
In 1985, the MX 1500 amp debuted, and its combination of high power and a list price of less than $1,000 made it QSC’s best seller to date. It was especially popular with musicians. Other MX series amps, which were based on the company’s Series Three technology, were later added. QSC now had a total of 50 employees and had grown to occupy four buildings in the same industrial park in Costa Mesa.
In 1988, the company’s EX Series bowed, the firm’s first to incorporate a new “open architecture” design which could interface with digital, fiber optic, or computer control systems of other manufacturers. The initial model in the series, the EX 4000, put out 1600 watts per channel.
In 1993, QSC moved into a new 51,000-square-foot facility on MacArthur Boulevard in Costa Mesa. This location housed both manufacturing and corporate offices. The company’s production capacity increased substantially, to 200 amplifiers per day, and its staff grew to more than 100.
QSC was now in the process of developing its most revolutionary product line to date. Based on its exclusive “Power-Wave” switching power supply technology, the new Pow-erLight Series offered high power and great sound with a dramatic decrease in weight—as little as one-5Oth that of a standard amplifier. The new design used high-frequency switching, rather than the low-frequency type normally seen, and did not require the standard heavy transformers to convert power from AC to DC. The PowerLight line was introduced in 1994 and immediately began to win acceptance in the marketplace. The PowerWave technology would eventually be incorporated into six of the firm’s eight amplifier lines.
The year 1994 also saw the principals in QSC invest in New Jersey-based Raxxess, Inc., a maker of audio equipment racks and accessories, to help fund that firm’s expansion to the West Coast. In 1995, the growing QSC was reorganized to improve customer service, and four sales managers were appointed to oversee the Retail/Musical Instruments, Engineered Sound, Cinema, and Touring/Live sound markets.
During this period, QSC was also beginning to branch out into other audio products, following several years of research by the firm’s Advanced Systems Group design team. In 1997, the company introduced QSControl, which was a computer application that could be run on a personal computer to facilitate remote monitoring and control of audio amplification systems. Buyers included the Southeast Christian Church for use on its campus in Louisville, Kentucky, and Petronas Towers in Malaysia, where it was installed in a concert hall.
Another new QSC product, RAVE (Routing Audio Via Ethernet), allowed the transmission of up to 64 channels of digital sound via a standard ethernet network and featured open system architecture for use with off-the-shelf hardware. Users of RAVE included the Sydney Opera House in Australia and the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints’ campus in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The late 1990s saw QSC introduce more new lines of amplifiers, including the PowerLight-based PLX Series, which was geared toward the retail and musical instruments markets, the CX Series for professional sound contractors, the PTX Series for live and touring users, and the DCA Series for movie theaters. In 1998, the firm brought out its most powerful amplifier to date, the PowerLight 9.0 PFC. This model, which offered 4500 watts per channel in stereo or 9000 watts in monophonie mode, was chosen for use at a variety of high-profile events, including the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, and the Grammy Awards. The new amp required as much as 40 percent less AC power than comparable models, which helped limit the strain placed on electrical supply systems.
QSC’s continuing growth had by now forced it to lease additional manufacturing space off-site, and in September 1998 construction began on a new 81,000-square-foot plant next door to its headquarters, which would triple manufacturing capacity. The facility, which opened in July 1999, had taken two years to design and enabled production of the company’s high-end models via a “build-to-order” system. Rather than keeping dealer shelves stocked with amplifiers, QSC streamlined its manufacturing process so that it could build an amp within several hours, shipping a freshly-built unit out the same day an order was received. Most of the company’s amplifiers were redesigned to use a common “motherboard,” and a highly computerized materials handling system automatically routed the specific parts for each item to workers on the factory floor. The end result of the new system was a reduction in labor costs per unit of nearly half, as well as substantial savings on inventory expenses.
QSC Values: quickly understand and exceed customer expectations; high quality is essential, low price is desirable; act with integrity and concern for others; people are our strongest asset; use the power of teamwork; work hard, have fun! QSC Business Focus: provide advanced power, signal, control, transport, and speaker products and services to audio professionals worldwide.
Late 1990s and Beyond
In November 1999, QSC arranged to partner with an Asian firm to produce a new low-cost series of amplifiers overseas. The following September, the company signed an agreement to license audio and video interface software and equipment from Digital Harmony Technologies, Inc., and in December 2001 QSC formed a strategic alliance with Audio Composite Engineering, Inc. (ACE) to produce loudspeakers using ACE’s patented Composilite material. The new speakers would incorporate QSC amplifier, signal processing, and transport technologies.
In the summer of 2002, the company lost a dispute with Bose Corporation in the U.S. Court of Appeals over QSC’s efforts to register PowerWave as a trademark, though the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board had initially ruled in favor of the firm. Bose had earlier trademarked the name “Acoustic Wave” for use on a line of audio equipment and argued that consumers would be confused by QSC’s use of the name PowerWave on its products.
The fall of 2002 saw QSC unveil a new corporate logo as part of a complete visual makeover of the company’s products. The move reflected the repositioning of the firm from amplifier maker to integrated audio systems supplier. During a transition period, the company would continue to supply its old logo design when requested and also made new logo graphics available for those wishing to upgrade the look of older components.
In 2003, QSC took on yet another high-profile job, installing a new sound system at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for use at the famed 500 mile auto race in May. The system relied entirely on QSC components, including speakers, amplifiers, signal transport, and sound processing equipment. QSC’s products were now sold in over 80 countries around the world, and the company employed a staff of 250 to make as many as 1,500 amplifiers per day.
After 35 years in business, QSC Audio Products, Inc. had grown from a small producer of guitar amplifiers into a leading supplier of integrated sound systems for large-scale applications. The company’s combination of innovative design, outstanding reliability, and high-tech manufacturing processes had earned it a reputation for quality that continued to attract a steady stream of customers.
Peavey Electronics Corp.; Harman International Industries, Inc.; Marshall Amplification PLC.
- Pat Quilter founds Quilter Sound Company to produce amplifiers.
- The firm is incorporated as QSC Audio Products, Inc.
- The production of amplifiers for Dolby Labs brings QSC into the cinema sound market.
- The company moves to new headquarters/manufacturing site in Costa Mesa, California.
- PowerWave amplifier technology is introduced in new PowerLight amplifiers.
- A new 81,000-square-foot high-tech factory gives the company “build-to-order” capability.
- The company expands into speaker manufacturing through an alliance with ACE.
- QSC provides an integrated sound system for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
“Bose Wins Appeal on ‘Acoustic Wave’ Trademark,” Audio Week, July 15, 2002.
Feare, Tom, “Pump Up the Volume,” Modem Materials Handling, March 31, 2000, p. 55.
Forger, Gary, “Learning a New Song Without Missing a Beat,” Manufacturing Systems, January 1, 2000, pp. 38–39.
“QSC Audio Goes Global,” The Music Trades, December 1, 1999, p. 48.
“QSC Audio Products,” Pro Sound News Europe, July 1, 1996, p. 45.
“QSC Audio,” Pro Sound News Europe, April 1, 1997, p. 53.
“QSC Roars to Speedway,” Systems Contractor News, April 1, 2003, p. 22.
“QSC Sets New Strategic Direction,” Pro Sound News Europe, February 1, 1996, p. 28.
“QSC’s New Factory of the Future,” The Music Trades, February 1, 2001, p. 204.
“QSC to Double Production Capacity,” The Music Trades, January 1, 1999, p. 32.
“Raxxess Expands; QSC Principals Invest to Fund Growth,” The Music Trades, February 1, 1994, p. 76.
Young, Clive, “QSC Debuts New Look,” Systems Contractor News, October 1, 2002, p. 104.