More than 30 years of ‘thinking sound’ in Berkeley

Meyer Sound factory off Heinz Avenue. Photos: Meyer Sound

Sound is life at the Meyer Sound facility on San Pablo. The 32-year-old Berkeley business continues to churn out professional sound products for concert halls, churches and traveling bands from around the world.

“We’re a family-run company, privately owned still,” said Helen Meyer, executive vice president of Meyer Sound. “We’re still private to this day. That’s kind of a unique feature of our company.”

I sat down with the Meyers to discuss sound, local lifestyles and new technologies.

CEO John Meyer founded the company in 1979 after he and Helen attended an inaudible Donovan concert at the Oakland Coliseum. When they sat down to take in the performance from one of their favorite folk singers, the couple soon realized they couldn’t hear a thing.

“It was barely louder than if someone was just there without anything,” John said. “Everyone in the audience was dead quiet and we still couldn’t hear. We said, ‘there’s got to be a better way.’ “

John combined his history in high-fidelity audio with his love for sophisticated technology and set out to create the company. It wasn’t long before Helen stepped in to lend a hand. She took to the administration side of things — cataloging parts, organizing sales and answering phones. Her involvement left John free to construct his ACD/John Meyer studio monitor, which he developed while heading an acoustics laboratory at the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland.

A demonstration of the ACD monitor led to a gig on Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Meyer Sound added a thunderous low-end frequency to Coppola’s Academy-Award-winning film. From there, the company took off, gathering a reputation for quality sound in the entertainment industry.

Today, Meyer Sound is one of the remaining factories that contributes to Berkeley’s GDP. They do so by focusing more on the quality of an individual product rather than the batch quantity, John said. That means constructing speakers by hand, in house, and under strict quality control.

“There’s much more of a tradition in our field to repair things over a long period of time, which means you have to make all these things last for 20 or 30 years,” he said. “So, our paradigm is different than larger companies.”

Meyer Sound’s contributions to arts and culture stretch across the Bay Area and to the rest of the world. They perfected the sound system at Ashkenaz, adding a crisp sonic quality to the vibrant dance venue. Berkeley Rep recruited them to engineer the live stage rendition of Green Day’s American Idiot. They’ve also worked with world-famous Bay Area bands like The Grateful Dead and Metallica for several years.

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  • chris

    I got to tour the factor earlier this year. Frickin wow! More than I ever imagined. So proud they are in Berkeley – WEST Berkeley nonetheless. Also a proud owner of their speakers, and yes, they are worth every penny.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bobertmills Bobby A.M.

    The tour is awesome. Way better than the Jelly Belly Factory – and that’s saying something.

  • Tsouthern

    I believe they did the freight & salvage sound system as well. As close to perfect sound as you can get.
    Thanks John and Helen!

  • Alan Saldich

    I took the tour earlier this year with my son, and I agree, it was amazing. I was blown away by a) that a company that size who leads their field is located right here in Berkeley b) the fact I never knew they were there despite driving by probably thousands of times (they are essentially at the corner of Ashby and San Pablo) c) that they manufacture a high technology product from start-to-finish right here and d) that they make such an incredible product that we all benefit from when we go hear live events.

    They are a testament not only to what can be done here in Berkeley but also to the idea of not succumbing to the siren call of outsourcing and moving manufacturing offshore. Good job John and Helen!

    If anyone ever gets a chance to experience the tour or hear their Constellation system in action, don’t miss it!

  • Ateeman

    and Helen and John give back SO MUCH to the community – thank you to them both

  • chris

    You can hear Constellation at Zellerbach Hall!

  • carolyn

    Great, generous neighbors!  Who could ask for more?

  • TN

    I have a question for the Meyers. Meyer’s Sound looks like a manufacturing business that will be around for a long while. If a high school student not planning to go to a 4 year college wanted to work in this type of business, what skills would they need to develop? Are any of our local high schools educating them adequately for Meyer’s to consider hiring them when there are available entry level positions?

  • Ak

    I have used many speaker systems, but when you use Meyer people can hear the difference. It’s not an easy task to have clarity across the board with vocals and entrustments. Meyer in your set-up brings across the board clarity that will enhance your listing enjoyment and smooth sound experience. Meyer a Bay Area Blessing, Blessing the world one note at a time.

  • toketee1

    These people are the most generous, kindest and most highly honorable entrepreneurs in Berkeley and we are all so lucky to have them in our town.  They are truly citizens of our world as we would want it to be.  We should give them highest honors for combining commercial success with true community involvement.  I praise them for their brilliance and generosity.

  • GUEST

    I worked for Meyer right out of high school without any degree or college experience. Best advice, start as an intern and work your way up :)