Pro Audio Legends: An interview with Ralph Heinz of Renkus-Heinz

The success of Renkus-Heinz is a family affair, with three generations of the Heinz family, as well as a number of veteran employees of more than 20 years working together at the company’s headquarters in Foothill Ranch, CA, where the majority of the company’s products are still designed and manufactured in-house.

Ralph Heinz joined the company early on as a trained mechanical engineer who “has a natural talent for understanding acoustics,” according to his father and company founder Harro Heinz.  Patents for innovations such as TRAP (True Array Principle) and CoEntrant technologies reflect the truth of that statement.

As company CTO, Ralph Heinz has been the principal loudspeaker designer at Renkus-Heinz  since 1992 and is credited with developing some of the most advanced digital beam steering solutions on the market today. Renkus-Heinz developed the very first Unibeam – an algorithm that generates asymmetric beams and utilizes the entire array for all frequencies. This allowed for louder beams that could be cast further in a room – and allowed for a more manageable setup. These innovations, along with other unique concepts like Complex Conic horns and Reference Point Arrays, are the foundation of Renkus-Heinz’s well-established reputation for sonic excellence.

We sat down with Ralph to discuss the audio industry, his technical innovations and career at the company, and music in general.

What is your favorite album of all time and why?

That’s an almost impossible question to answer because I love lots of different types of music. However, my parents insisted on my taking piano and music theory lessons growing up. As a result, I did have an affinity towards the progressive stuff as a teenager. So the album I probably listened to more than any other (that’s some type of favorite, right?) was Jethro Tull’s “Thick as A Brick.”

What is the thing that made you want to be part of the audio/music industry?

Back in high school, I was a closet ‘audiophile.’ So I couldn’t have been more excited when my father, Harro Heinz, announced he wanted to start his own company, Renkus-Heinz, and it served the music industry with OEM Compression Drivers.

How did you get your start in the business? And the company?

I was attending San Jose State for mechanical engineering when my father asked me to join Renkus-Heinz as a manufacturing engineer. I took it as my shot to get working in the music industry, and get my own family closer to my parents, so they could see their grandkids grow up.

What is your current position?

I am currently CTO, the only acronym here that was not already taken. (Smile.)

How did your background influence the job you do now? And the company overall?

My background was in manufacturing and mechanical engineering, not acoustics or loudspeaker design. However, my background did provide me with the fundamentals of physics and I quickly learned how to improve our production processes for the drivers and cabinets that we were producing at the time.

To learn the fine art of speaker design, I was fortunate that a lot of smart people before my time, published their work on speakers, horns, crossovers etc. in the AES journals that we had at the office. I also credit Don Keele Jr, with my acoustics tutelage, as we had hired him to consult on our large format Constant Beamwidth horns back in the early 90s.

The CNC routers that I helped spec and procure early on are still in operation today! Not because we are too cheap to update them, in fact, they were simply so well made they survive today.

You and your company are legendary in the industry. In your viewpoint, what is the main reason for that?

Along with producing some of the best compression drivers at the time, my father, Harro Heinz, was one of the first people in the industry to recognize the importance of combining dedicated electronics to enhance a speaker’s performance while providing protection at the limit. Our processor-based Smaart systems gave our customers a reliable platform that lasted well beyond the traditional systems of the day while sounding great doing so.

Which product do you consider your company’s most innovative?

I am very proud of our new ICLive X series. The basic module, the ICLX, is no bigger than a typical 8” two way loudspeaker, yet is capable of adjusting its vertical beamwidth, and steering that energy into the audience (via our Beamware software) and away from reflective surfaces that can degrade the audio. So, on its own, a very powerful, high utility loudspeaker, with high output capabilities and studio monitor-like resolution and sound quality. In addition, the ICLX can also be combined with up to 12 additional cabinets to create a highly directional, fully steerable, line array suitable for up to 90% of the venues out there.

What do you think has been/is the single most important technological achievement in our industry?

Clearly the modern “line array” has changed the way that the industry provides sound for most venues. This drove the development of the digitally steered class of loudspeakers that we specialize in at Renkus-Heinz as an evolutionary improvement and culmination of the line array concept.

What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?

Believe it or not, that would be my very first loudspeaker for Renkus-Heinz, the C-2. That design would still be considered state of the art, if not for the other advances we helped generate. It featured horn loaded bandpass for the lows, and a co-axial mid/high horn based on a 10” mid driver, and two of our SSD-1800 compression drivers. The drivers were mounted to a manifold and compact constant directivity horn all of my design! Not a bad first effort, and the start of my speaker designer phase at Renkus-Heinz.

Tell us a little about your company culture and your philosophy.

At Renkus-Heinz, we are very much a family business, with my father, Harro Heinz, still firmly at the helm. My sister is the company CFO, and we now have third generation Heinz, my son Brandon Heinz, doing a great job as product manager. Everyone benefits from and appreciates the “family style” business climate my father has fostered, so staff turn-over is not an issue for us, and we have a generally happy and very hardworking team of customer-focused employees.

How is your company poised for the future?

Digitally steered, computer controlled and monitored line arrays are the future, and we are at the forefront of that technology!

What music do you enjoy listening to these days?

The music I listen to the most these days would be the simple straight-ahead rock that I am trying to teach myself to play on the guitar, from AC/DC to ZZ Top. One day I hope to see Muse and/or Rammstein (not on the same bill of course) perform live!