EI Interview: John Bagby, Paradigm, Anthem, And Martin Logan MD

EI spoke with John Bagby, MD of Paradigm, Anthem, and Martin Logan brands to get the inside track on the past present and future of these high-performance audio brands. 

How did you get into the AV/Install business?

I grew up surrounded by high performance audio and cool gadgets, so I have always had an interest in this area. After university, I worked as a custom AV installer for a Toronto-based custom integrator. I spent four years there learning everything I could about audio, home automation and control, and networking and system design. I remember seeing customers just so blown away by the performance of their new systems, what they were experiencing in their new home theatres, or their kitchen or backyard, all around their house. That was my first real ‘ah-ha’ moment. I realised that the experiences people have with our products can really be something special.

I originally interviewed for an analyst position with Paradigm, but they determined that my skillset was more technical, and they asked me to work in technical support. This was probably one of the most impactful roles I’ve ever had, in terms of how I viewed the business. Later, in the lead-up to the new MRX/AVM launch (Anthem’s AVR line), I was asked to handle dealer and product training for Western North America. I really enjoyed the time I was able to spend on the road travelling, having the opportunity to meet and interact with so many of our dealers. 

This eventually led to my assuming the role of Anthem Product Manager in 2016, which is the position I held until the acquisition in May. (ED, John and Scott Bagby – one of the founders of the company – purchased back all three brands in May of this year with Shoreview Industries, a private equity firm out of Minneapolis, exiting the company having purchased the brands in 2005). 

How did it feel taking ownership of the Paradigm/Anthem/Martin Logan brands? 

In two words, it felt ‘good’, and it felt ‘right’. 

You decided to take ownership because you felt that the company had grown too subordinate to the bottom line. What difference will this change make? 

I think the biggest difference will be seen in a new freedom to explore possibilities that may not make sense when viewed from a balance sheet. The teams behind all three brands remain incredibly passionate about exploring innovative ideas and directions and delivering high performance products. We want to push boundaries. We want to explore. We acknowledge that not every path you go down is going to produce a monetary benefit. Sometimes, the journey will take us in unexpected directions. But we believe that as long as we are learning and growing, increasing our knowledge, then our explorations and innovations are well worthwhile. 

You were recently in the uk at Pulse Cinemas, training dealers on updates to the range and ARC: Genesis room correction software, how did it go?

It was an incredible trip and a great experience getting to see what Pulse is doing with their facility and how they are approaching the market. The support they are providing for their dealers is top notch, and shows what can be accomplished when you treat those relationships as more than just business. They are real partners both to their dealers and to us. We’re excited to see what the future holds. 

After your first trip to the UK, do you have a view on the differences between the US/Canadian markets and the UK? 

The events thrown by Pulse were a great opportunity to interface directly with UK dealers, and to have discussions with them about what they’re seeing in the market. I think that what consumers are interested in remains largely the same: a great entertainment experience. Because of differences in basic construction techniques, dealers and installers in the UK sometimes have to use different tools to achieve this. But our mission is to build products flexible enough to provide UK dealers with as many different ways as possible to deliver this excitement to their customers. 

Can you break down the most important enhancements to the ARC: Genesis platform? 

The ARC platform received a dramatic overhaul in the recent year. We decided to approach this from a fresh perspective and spent a great deal of time understanding the pros and cons of the legacy UI/ UX; user feedback, or voice of customer, is very important to us. Our objective was to improve easeof-use while providing even greater customisation for our customers. In addition to many qualityof-life improvements, we spent time refining our proprietary algorithm for even greater results. 

If I had to rank the top three enhancements, it would look something like this:

1. New User Interface and User Experience; greatly simplifies the look and feel while providing easy access to commonly used features. Allows for even greater user customisation. 

2. Cross Platform Compatibility; even greater flexibility with OSX and Windows support. 

3. Proprietary ARC: Genesis algorithm; for superior results. 

ARC: Genesis is a very advanced platform, and yet it is surprisingly user-friendly. Has auto-room correction technology completely taken over from manual EQ setting, or can the two work together? 

I believe that, for now, there is room for the two technologies to coexist. They are not yet mutually exclusive; however, it’s worth noting that including both technologies can be counter-productive. In the hands of an experienced technician, manually adjusting a system EQ can result in a surprising level of performance. But absent the presence of a highly trained technician, an auto-EQ system such as ARC: Genesis effectively balances this same capability with flexibility, ease-of-use and nearly instantaneous high-performance results.     

We believe that the boundaries of what is possible with a sophisticated auto-EQ like ARC: Genesis have yet to be fully explored. 

We’re investigating technologies now that we are very excited about. At some point, the performance of auto-EQ systems will so far outstrip manual EQ that manual EQ will be rendered obsolete. In true reference systems, where sophisticated measurement and analysis are being conducted by a uniquely skilled human operator, we may not have crossed that threshold. But it’s only a matter of time. And for high performance consumer equipment, we may actually have already passed the point where a manual EQ can compete with a system like ARC: Genesis. At best, in this situation, manual EQ can be a subtle adjunct to the advanced EQ protocols of ARC: Genesis. In such cases, manual EQ should still use instantly summed, averaged, and smoothed multipoint frequency response measurement, such as you get with ARC: Genesis, due to its being more effective than the usual manual single-point of measurement which is still the standard for manual EQ. This has been verified through research.  

What are some of your favourite products from the current line, and why? 

Geeze, that’s like asking which is my favourite kid! There’s the smart one, the funny one, or the sporty one! Our brands offer such a wide array of products, intended to excel in multiple applications, and to address different market needs. I’ll try to keep it to just a few choices for each brand! 

Paradigm Monitor SE Atom Décor Persona 5F Elite E80-A The Atom has in some ways been our ‘flagship’ for 20 years. A no nonsense small bookshelf that sounds great for a great price. It’s been the entry point to the Paradigm brand for generations of customers and I think really shows our dedication to great performance at every price point. The Décor is an exciting new direction that leverages our North American manufacturing footprint to deliver truly custom solutions. It also shows that performance and aesthetics don’t need to be mutually exclusive, you’re able to integrate great sound into modern interiors without objection and I think that’s a really great thing to be talking about. 

The Persona 5F, for me, provides the best balance between size, performance, and looks in the Persona line. It’s not quite able to keep up with its big brothers the 7F and 9H but manages to punch way above its weight in performance. Combined with all the different colour combinations it’s something you can really personalise to your environment, a show piece that’s still modestly sized. 

Lastly out of the CI range I’d have to go with the Elite E80-A. It has so many of the advancements and technologies we have developed over the years: ART Surround, PPA Lens, RED tweeters combined with advanced motor geometries, split voice coils, and oversized magnets that combine for incredible performance in a discrete in-ceiling package. The fixed 30° angle has been optimised for use as LCRs while maintaining an optimal crossover arrangement between the drivers that you can’t get with down firing speakers that pivot. 

They provide the performance people expect from Paradigm without needing to compromise on the design of the room.

Anthem STR Int/Pre/Amp The STR series was for me a very exciting shift in where we are as a brand, the majority of my systems have been 2.0 or 2.1. They marry style and performance with unique Anthem technologies. Not to mention they’re what currently powers my home system and over the years I’ve really grown to love their ability to be both extremely delicate and nuanced with their sound, while also being able to drop the hammer and deliver huge sound when needed. 

MartinLogan Masterpiece Impression 11A: Electromotion The Electromotion was the first pair of electrostats I had the chance to experience in person and made me instantly fall in love with the sonics of the technology. They deliver incredible performance and are approachable in size and price while offering a window into the wonderful experiences that high performance audio can deliver. 

My first thought when I listened to them and heard the price was ‘why doesn’t everyone have a pair of these?’. We’re hard at work solving that problem. The 11A is a product that spoke to me the first time I managed to get in front of them, right now I’m deciding between the 11A and the Persona 5F for my home system. Like I said earlier it’s choosing your favourite child and unfortunately I don’t have anywhere to put a second system!

Today’s technology offers more convenience than ever. Do you see an opportunity to create a new type of ‘Hi-Fi’ market as technological convenience supplements high performance?

 This is a very exciting time in this industry. We believe that ‘Lifestyle Hi-Fi’ the marriage of convenience with performance, is a huge opportunity for us to engage a new wave of consumers who may have previously chosen accessibility over quality. We have always been big believers that technology is the great equalizer, and we are entering a period where performance and convenience are no longer mutually exclusive. With the rise and ubiquity of easy to access, high quality, digital content, we can return the discussion to audio quality and performance without placing limitations on how people use the technology, without requiring them to change their daily routine in order to enjoy it. Let’s talk about how we can reproduce that convenient digital content in the most realistic way possible. 

How do you see the future market for integrators? Can the market compete with cheaper, more ‘DIY’ type products? 

Actually, I see the rise of DIY products as being something that, over time, will be very beneficial for the industry. It has shifted the home technology conversation to the front of people’s minds. We are rapidly approaching a point where the discussion isn’t about whether you’re going to be integrating technology into your home, but rather how much technology you will be integrating into your home! Just as you wouldn’t consider building a home without electrical or plumbing, home technology is now part of the infrastructure of a home. The integrator channel is perfectly positioned to take advantage of this shift!   

Can you let us in on what the company is working on now; some hints about what installers can look forward to in the future? 

Product development is something we are taking in a few new directions. It may be a little early to talk about. I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise. Aside from that, we have spent the last few months having open and detailed discussions with our dealers about what they would like to see from us moving forward. One of the biggest changes we have in store, in the short term, is a reorientation toward a more customer-focused perspective as we build out the tools to better support our dealers and their customers. But I can say that we have more than a few exciting products in development, and they are definitely going to deliver on our mission of building innovative solutions that provide great performance at a reasonable price. 

Lastly, what is the very best thing about your role? 

My office has a bathroom. 

In the UK Paradigm and Anthem AV are supplied by Pulse Cinemas; paradigm.com, anthemav.com;  Martin Logan is supplied by PMC Distribution; pmc-speakers.com, martinlogan.com.

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