Eminence Celebrates its First 50 Years

by Kevin M. Mitchell
in Milestones
Eminence speaker #1 rolled off the assembly line on February 23, 1967.
Eminence speaker #1 rolled off the assembly line on February 23, 1967.

Yes, Eminence has just celebrated its first 50 years of success, yet there’s no resting on proverbial laurels. “The market has changed a lot in the last 15 to 20 years and we haven’t always kept up,” owner Rob Gault admits. “We’re investing in our engineering capabilities to become the best in the world at power handling, low power compression, and low distortion — all while remaining affordable. We’re simultaneously stretching into lower-cost transducers and cutting-edge transducers, smaller sized drivers, particularly in the 2- to 5-inch category, but also larger drivers in the 21-inch size with larger voice coil sizes than we have done before.” 

Based in Eminence, a sleepy hamlet of about 2,200 people in north central Kentucky, Eminence Speaker is a powerhouse audio company in this most unlikely place. Rob’s father Bob Gault chose this location as it was ideally situated for shipping products all over the U.S. The Eminence and Henry County community could also provide the labor needed to manufacture products on a large scale. Today they are distributing their products to more than 90 countries worldwide, and have created tens of thousands of products for the MI, pro audio, and auto market over the years to great success.

But they are not looking in their rearview.

Jerry McNutt and Cobi Stein

The First 50 Years

In the 1960s, Bob Gault was an engineer working for Magnavox, which was then bought out by the Chicago Telephone Supply (CTS) company. Ambitious and motivated by the idea that he could build a better speaker, he pursued a design to start his own company. Everett Hull, founder of Ampeg, was a close friend, and a handshake commitment was all Gault needed to launch Eminence in 1966. Doing the math, “all” he had to do was produce three 18-inch speakers out of his garage for Ampeg a day, and that could support him and his family. But two others from CTS quit and announced they were joining him, so a better plan was needed.

Rob Gault explains that radio and television speakers for RCA and Magnavox constituted a substantial part of Eminence’s early efforts, but some of the earliest pro audio customers were Yorkville, Peavey, Community, and Electro-Voice from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. “By late 1980’s to early 1990’s, we had picked up more customers in that category including JBL, Sound Tech, Numark, Carvin, Yamaha, and numerous others,” he explains. Around the year 2000, they stabilized with close to 50 percent MI and 50 percent pro audio business, which continues to this day.

Along the way, to keep up with their international growth, another factory was developed in China. As for Rob, he grew up in the business, loving 1960’s rock ‘n’ roll, southern rock, blues — all of which depended on guitar speakers and concert sound, and was inspired by his dad. “Following in my dad’s footsteps seemed like the natural thing to do,” he says. He went to Georgia Tech for college and elected physics as his major. After his MSEE degree in 1986, he returned to his dad’s factory. Rob took over in 1992, and runs the company today with president Chris Rose.

Rob, like his father before him, embraces the old saying that “it takes years to build a good reputation, but minutes to destroy one.” And they are taking that idea forward into their future.

Company owner Rob Gault with picture of his father, founder Bob Gault

In 1999, Eminence stepped out of the OEM shadow and started producing its “Genuine Eminence” branded speakers. These are made at their own factory. “We can produce transducers in the USA or China as suits the needs of the customer,” says Gault. “We’re vertically integrated, which allows us flexibility in design and control over quality. We have an efficient production system with quick changeover, which is uniquely suited to the pro audio market. We have relatively short production lead times and excellent on-time delivery. Lastly, we are honest (including with our specifications), dependable, and accessible and our speakers are available nearby in America and around the world.” And it’s not just transducers — in 2009, Eminence offered an original digital loudspeaker protection technology called D-fend, which protects passive speaker systems from being overpowered, by monitoring the amount of input power being passed to the loudspeaker — resulting in fewer blown speakers.

50 years after it was founded, the company is still based in Eminence, KY

The Next 50

“We have some pretty aggressive plans for 2017 and beyond,” says Eminence marketing and artist relations director Cobi Stein. “We’re going to be more focused with our OEM partners and get more plugged into their product development. We’re upgrading on every level, internally and externally, in both personnel and manufacturing processes and retooling for next year and beyond.” Eminence is also looking at expanding the branding of the company that has served it so well for so many years. “We’ve always been known as the value brand, offering excellent quality at a fair price, and sometimes that translates in some people’s mind of being ‘middle of the road.’ You’ll be seeing high-power, high-performance products for end users and OEM customers on the high end, and you’ll see some really amazing quality products on the low end.”

For the pro audio market, Eminence offers four categories of products: The Professional Series, the Neodymium Series, American Standard Series, and HF products and components. “The Neodymium series are popular because they are very light and very affordable, helping our OEM partners control their own cost,” Stein says.

On the second floor, the Eminence R&D department has two engineers devoted to pro audio — Jerry McNutt and Matt Marcum — with Anthony Lucas focused on the MI side. McNutt started working with speakers while at college at Auburn University in 1984, and has been with Eminence for 19 years. “Most of the time what we develop is based on what our customers tell us they need. Lately we’ve had requests for more power in smaller boxes, with everything handling lower frequencies at higher volumes,” McNutt says. “There’s been a major shift in the last 10 years to have speakers sustain much lower frequencies, which has been driven by the EDM genre. And today’s subwoofers are completely different than what they were in the past. But in general, much of our development is based on the principles of power handling, lower distortion and lower power compression.”

Eminence components can be found a lot of line arrays, and the trend is for smaller drivers in high-performance column arrays. “Our Alpha 4 and Alpha 3 are two or more popular drivers for that application.” McNutt adds that the Definimax family features the most popular subwoofer drivers. “They play really low frequencies with really low distortion and they also have our most advanced motors in them.”

Going forward, “we’re going to look at every new project differently, especially for our pro audio clients,” McNutt says. “Pro audio professionals want the latest and greatest, and we’re excited about exploring new technologies and giving people more output from smaller boxes. That is what excites me — I love subwoofers! I love bass… I’m all about the bass.”

For more information, visit Eminence at www.eminence.com.