By Robert Mills
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.