Educar regularly “sits down” virtually with industry veterans worth listening to, and asks questions about their careers and what they’re working on now.

This month we talk with Manville Smith, car-audio veteran, and VP of Marketing at JL Audio. Manville is a wicked-smart guy, and his answers show a lot of thought. Many thanks to Manville for agreeing to be our inaugural interview at Educar Magazine.

How did you get into car audio, and when?

In 1986, I was looking for a job after I decided I didn’t want to work for my Dad. So, I saw an ad for “Stereo Sales” in the newspaper. Since I had a decent audio background as an enthusiast, I figured that might be a fun job. So I applied at Speaker Warehouse in Hollywood, FL, and got the job.

Manville’s Cadillac, demonstrating the VX line of DSP amplifiers

What’s the biggest change from back then to now?

The store I worked at originally was pretty cutting edge for the mid 1980’s. They were already selling big car amplifiers, doing subwoofer systems and selling signal processors. A few years after I joined they were also heavy into car audio competition at the national level.  If we take a snapshot of that time and compare it to today, the biggest change is the need to integrate with ever more complex factory electronics. The  head unit swap is the exception today, rather than the rule.

What are your job title and responsibilities now?

I am VP-Marketing by title, but I also have responsibilities in product line management, development, support and training.

Your company was one of the first to commit to OEM integration, with the original CleanSweep. Now JL Audio has around a dozen DSP-enabled products – several products dedicated to OEM Integration, and several products dedicated to in-vehicle tuning.

The Cleansweep was a leap into the unknown for us. We had never done DSP before, let alone auto-EQ. We did it to address a growing problem, the notion that “newer cars were impossible to work with.”

What have you learned about these categories?

That it’s really hard to get rich from them directly, but they are necessary to provide solutions that enable the sale of speakers and amplifiers.

What is some of the installation channel picking up quickest about these categories?

Training is an ongoing challenge due to turnover and confusion about the technologies and audio. The dealers who are getting integration, tuning and measurement are separating themselves from the pack. I’m waiting for them to pull more dealers along with them.

What is some of the installation channel still struggling with about these categories?

In my opinion, there exists a deficit in fundamental audio knowledge which makes it very hard to explain the functionality of today’s complex products.

JL Audio developed its own DSP software suite

If you had a magic wand, what would you change about our industry?

My magic wand would turn every salesperson and installer into an audio expert, which would result in more satisfied customers, greater market awareness for car audio and better pay for the professionals in our industry.

Over the past decade, JL has expanded the number of speaker and subwoofer products made in the US at its Florida facilities. Dealers can now install a complete subwoofer and component speaker system with US-made drivers.

Yes, that is pretty great, we think. We employ over 500 people in the USA, many more than our competition, and this is due to the fact we have a factory here. About 300 of our employees are dedicated to building our audio products here.

JL employs hundreds at its US facilities
A JL Audio subwoofer as it’s Made in the USA

How has that gone for you guys?

The “re-shoring” initiative started in 1998, when we moved into our present facility and began building two subwoofer models. Mr. Proni’s vision was to increase that over the years, leading us to where we are today, building six out eight car subwoofer lines in Miramar, plus all of our Stealthboxes, most of our wooden enclosures, home subwoofers, and more recently, the C7 component speakers. We also build all of our marine loudspeaker in Miramar. It’s quite an operation.

We need to be continually curious, and continually absorbing new information.

Manville Smith
The JL Audio C7 midwoofer, midrange, and tweeter - all Made in the USA!
The JL Audfio W6v3, another Made in the USA product
The Stealthbox line of vehicle-specific enclosures is another success story

Any hope for US-made amplifiers?

It’s a scale issue. The infrastructure costs to build a U.S. electronics factory are very high and the volume needs to be there to make the math work. The factories that build our electronics in Asia are extremely sophisticated and produce outstanding quality products. It would be a challenge to match that in a smaller scale U.S. operation. But, it has been discussed and recent shifts in global sourcing may lead in that direction in the future.

You’ve introduced amazingly well-reviewed home subwoofer products. Did you learn anything applicable to the car-audio side from entering that market, or was it more applying what you’ve learned in car audio to those products?

A lot of car audio technology went into the home subwoofers. The W7 drivers used in Fathom® and Gotham® products, for example. Also, the Class D amplifiers in the subwoofers share a lot of DNA with our car amplifiers. That being said, it wasn’t as simple as plopping a woofer and a class D amp in a box. Many people don’t realize that most home subwoofer are severely undersized in box volume and rely on a lot of equalization to achieve flat response… this puts a big strain on the amplifier, as there is typically a ton of boost at very low frequencies and some fancy footwork in terms of dynamics processing to keep the system from self-destructing. So, there was a lot to develop on the signal processing side and the power supply side. We also set out to enter the market at the top, with high end product. This made the stakes really high and the work of tweaking the designs for maximum performance very intense.

JL Audio recently brought its small-enclosure subwoofer experience to the home install category

Finally – if you could tell dealers and their staff one thing about car audio, what would it be?

I don’t want to preach too much, but it really boils down to professionalism, not just enthusiasm. We need to be continually curious, and continually absorbing new information. There’s a tipping point where a person gathers enough knowledge to start “getting” audio at an intrinsic level. Once that tipping point is reached, the person has the framework to be a pro and the knowledge acquisition goes to a higher level. We need to encourage all our employees, at every level, to drive themselves to be pros.

Manville, I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to talk with me about yourself, JL, and 12 volt at large.

If you have an idea for someone you’d like to have interviewed for Fundamental Tone, drop us a line here.