Viewpoint: Sascha Riedling, IC Audio on PA/VA and EN54

We speak to Sascha Riedling, business analyst and controller, IC Audio, about the PA/VA market and how EN54 legislation is affecting this particular product segment.

How much of a barrier is a lack of recognisable worldwide standards to the PA/VA world?

EN54 regulation is a good move for everybody in the business, but especially for the people who are in a building at a time of emergency.  On the standards side, it has many positive effects, on the other hand it forces every stage of the market to provide quality – from the manufacturers to provide quality products, but also to the integrators who have to provide a quality installation.  The focus is now on safety.

In the beginning there was a lot of confusion but like anything new you have to learn it.  In the end we are very, very positive about it, we were one of the first to bring out a large range of EN54 loudspeakers because we thought it would be a fast growing market, and it’s still proving to be that. For example, if you look at the German market, it is a very specialist market.  Clients were fast to implement EN54 into projects and nowadays I would guess it’s between 80-85% projects are done with EN54 tenders in Germany.    Southern European countries like Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal have been very slow to implement it, and EN54 projects are very low.  They haven’t seemed to care about it from the very start.

If you compare EN54 speakers to non-EN54 speakers there is a huge price difference.   This is because the manufacturers have to do the development and the certification, so the products are on a higher price level.  So when comparing the two prices they have asked themselves ‘do we really need that?’.   At the start many decided they didn’t need it.  Because EN60849 had some safety regulations in it, some projects were adhering to that, in order to save money.  EN54 was seen by some as ‘over the top’.

The big change came when CPD became CPR.  Certification was driven by CPD.  The CPD changed to CPR in July 2013.  This change has forced national legislative bodies to implement the directive itself more effectively.   This was also a signal to countries which had been slow to implement EN54 to start doing so in greater numbers.  

IC audio DLS 10-130 T-plus

I don’t think we’ll ever see a global standard, because the requirements are so different.  The Indian market is completely different to Europe.  The quality of a product in India doesn’t take the same key role it does in Germany.  It is a far more price sensitive market.  If you try and set up a global standard it should reach a certain quality level, which is probably in the middle.  We can’t accept a lowering of quality levels just to get other nations into the boat.  On the other hand the other nations can make the higher standards to get in the boat.  

Its not impossible, but we just don’t see it at the moment.  From a manufacturer’s point of view it would be very good to have one global standard.  You could make it to that standard and export it easily to any country in the world.

How much do PA/VA systems differ from country to country?

Poland is a key example, because you also need separate certification, which means it take more time and money to get the products right.   If you have a ceiling speaker for indoor use, EN54 says it has to have IP21 ingress protection.  For COA for the Polish market it has to be at least IP33.   You can imagine, as a manufacturer you have to build the product so it fits this market, but that then affects the pricing of that speaker. It’s very complicated, and can be an exhausting process.  Our staff have to be aware of all the different legislations in each country.   

Is there still a lot of confusion out there about EN54?
The overall message is really clear, I think EN54 has reached its destination, acceptance is very high, and knowledge is much better compared to the beginning of the process, where there was a lot of confusion, and more questions than answers.  But that has all changed, the market has learned.  

EN54 will have to be revised at a certain point.  There is still no regulations about active loudspeakers, another topic in the future will be the IP space.  I would say the audio market is a slow moving one, but everything is becoming network converted so it will have to react.   

Do consultants fully understand how to meet emergency audio recommendations?

There isn’t a straightforward answer to that.  On a complicated project the consultants are normally experts, and highly qualified and highly trained.  And have a great understanding of different interfaces etc.  For smaller projects, maybe there is some confusion, but even that has improved in the last few years.   We are seeing projects in the Middle East with EN54 being stipulated, but we need to get more education and information out to that area but they are learning quickly.  We are seeing more and more EN54 projects in the Middle East, and all the key projects in places like Dubai are already all asking for EN54.

Is EN54 still viewed as an expensive ‘box to tick’ rather than essential part of a project?

That has also changed.  It was the case at the start f the regulation, but as everyone has understood it more the acceptance of it has also risen dramatically.   We have invested a lot of money and time to push EN54 products, so we are happy it’s moving this way

Does having EN54 products help to drive sales, or is it more to reinforce brand values?

Both are connected.  If you started early, you get to learn about the laboratory requirements and testing procedures, which are all connected.    So you have an advantage to your competitors who enter the market later, you have to learn your lessons and if you start early you can be ahead of the game.  

It was pretty clear when EN54 was on the horizon it was going to be a big change so we need to be ahead of it.  Our focus as a company is on IP and EN54.