NST @ Ten: We celebrate our first 10 years!

“Necessity is the mother of invention” would pretty much define the way NST Audio began on the 18th February, back in 2014.

The team of key people involved in the inception of the company came about because of the necessity to create a more modern solution to an essential tool in every live sound environment – the speaker processor.

How It All Began

Dan and Sally Cartman teamed up with Ian McCarthy (previously of MC2 Audio), Andrew Grayland and Phil Key (both previously of XTA Electronics) to devise a better sounding, better connected speaker management system, with remote support for Windows and Mac operating systems.  With the release of Apple’s iPad only a few years before, this seemingly consumer focussed media consumption device was soon to be accepted as a valid remote control platform in its own right. Becoming an early adopter of this was a great indicator as to the intentions of NST – to make products that continue to evolve and utilize the best technologies available.

And so we begin!  The D48 is born!

The original D48 – now in its third generation as the D48X

A 4 input 8 output speaker processor, it built on the most popular format of the time for live use, and added a host of new features to the mix including, most crucially, native Ethernet and USB remote control with friendly, modern new software.

That software, D-Net, has been constantly evolving and whilst initially only released on the Windows operating system, that soon changed to include Mac OS support too.

An early adopter of our DSP platform and collaborator to this day, was Full Fat Audio – a UK manufacturer of amazingly robust and incredible sounding professional amplifiers, used (to paraphrase FFA!) “at many popular live music festivals every year and can be found permanently installed in established nightclubs, Theatres and music venues in England and Europe and beyond.”

FFA’s distinctive amps get a shot in the arm with NST DSP

FFA began our close relationship with a DSP card that could be fitted to their amps, transforming them into a fully integrated solution that was also compatible with our stand alone processors, and all operating under the same remote software environment, keeping things simple for end users.

The result of this initial collaboration was manifest at Prolight & Sound in Frankfurt in 2015, where we took a combined stand between the two companies, and proudly showed the world what we could do!

This was also the opportunity to showcase the release of the installation version of the D48 – the ID48 (same powerful DSP, same remote control options, no front panel controls).  FFA showed their amplifier range, now augmented by a DSP injection.  The show was a great success and we returned home, uplifted by the interest and success of the start of things to come.

The original installation version of the D48 – the ID48.

Our promise to continue to innovate using the latest technology was further reinforced by the development of an iPad version of D-Net which we released in 2016, giving full system control and configuration on a platform that was still largely ignored by professional audio.

Initial resistance to the idea of “mixing on an iPad” has come a long way since those early days, and now, in 2024, this idea is not seen as a “poor man’s” option – it’s become a prerequisite in many applications, especially permanent installations where the budget for the audio may be lower down the list.

Software on an iPad? Surely they are just a fad?

Pull Focus – Live And Install

Whilst the live audio market was eagerly adopting our D48, the early introduction of the installation version – the ID48 – meant this model was also gaining traction in fixed installs.  To help installers with easier remote control (and make the system more tamper-proof), we began work on our first Venue Remote, the VR1 in 2017.

Launched in 2018, this diminutive remote control panel with its friendly combination of neat colour screen, physical buttons and a rotary control proved an instant hit.  Easy to configure for the installers, easy to fit due to a single PoE connection, and simple to operate for the end users, the VR1 became the default accessory when specifying an NST audio installation.

From prototype to production – the second generation VR1 with 40% reduced depth and slicker front panel!

It became apparent that customers installing ID48 units were requiring a format more closely dedicated to their needs – that was a full matrix, and with network audio support (instead of AES digital audio support).

So, in 2019, we launched the VMX88, an eight input, eight output processor, which also handled eight inputs and outputs of network audio, courtesy of Audinate’s Dante network.  This processor was a major leap forward in supporting the installation market, as it was not only easy to configure and use via D-Net, its audio performance was exemplary, and this quality meant it being snapped up by a variety of speaker manufacturers who valued sound quality as highly as features.

The versatile VMX88 matrix processor fits in any situation.

TPI, who design and manufacture incredible speaker systems for dance music, studio production and high-end cinema and hi-fi created the “Producer” to package with their systems, based on the VMX88.

TPI offer customers an impeccably engineered range of audio products, starting with speaker systems and encompassing amazing mixers like this, and processing such as the VMX88 (known as the Producer in TPI livery).

And Going On Behind The Scenes…

At this point in the NST story, we should pause and explain all of this development and manufacturing was still being achieved in the microcosm of Dan and Sally Cartman’s home in Malton, in North Yorkshire…

R&D was in the converted loft in their 100+ year old cottage, production was split between the loft, the kitchen and any other available space, with burn-in being back upstairs.  Packing (the biggest space problem!) was basically everywhere.

As production ramped up, it soon became impossible to house all the test and production equipment, the stores, the computers and eventually the finished units in a house with two adults and two growing children!

Contraction and Expansion

Dan and Sally made the decision to go it alone, and bought the other founders out of the company in late 2018, and became co-directors, and new premises were quickly sought in the Malton area.

A dedicated building that could be fitted out to requirements, but close to the town for other staff’s convenience was found on the picturesque Espersykes farm and the move was soon underway in early 2019!

Meanwhile, back in the world of engineering…from the success of the VMX88, the installation friendly VMO16 was designed and launched in 2020.  This offered a huge amount of expansion to a system with 16 fully processed outputs from Dante in a 1U package, with the guarantee of the same pristine audio performance.  So, in 2U of space, a 16 input 24 output highly configurable matrix could be realized with a unified control interface through D-Net and still simple access through the VR1.

Sixteen fully processed audiophile quality outputs from Dante in 1U – the VMO16 Matrix Processor

And then guess what happened?

That Gap In Everyone’s Life

The world shuts down as Covid-19 takes over everyone’s life.

We all go home.

We all stay at home.

The only possible upside to this sobering and terrifying situation, as far as NST Audio is concerned, is that both Dan and Sally have the experience of working from home so we do not have to totally cease operations.

No-one is made redundant, and no-one loses their job.

Dan uses this quiet period to work on development of the next generation of D48 and ID48 processors, now in their third iteration. These latest versions come right up to date with the best ESS Sabre ADCs and DACs, swap out USB-A for the now standard USB-C connectivity and improve their Ethernet connection offering in the form of a 2 port switch on every device.  And all with no increase in price.

The third generation D48X and ID48X

A Place To Call Our Own…

As we come out of the other side of the pandemic, the silenced world of live music, of bars and clubs and people mixing (both together and with audio!) slowing begins to come back to life.  And we run out of room again after three years at the farm. More staff and increased production means we really need to find somewhere that doesn’t just work for now, but has scope and headroom for expansion for years to come.

The search begins again, with an eye on keeping things local, but this time being…

  • Warm – the farm’s outbuilding was freezing and Yorkshire does get cold in Winter!
  • Modern – lovely as it was on the farm, access via a long, often treacherous, drive is not ideal for staff or for lorries…
  • Not Victorian – which is our polite way of saying we wanted inside toilets. Yes, really.  We had to cross the farm yard in all weathers to use the facilities.

And in early 2020 we find the place.  Just four miles from the farm, on the opposite side of Malton, a perfect new factory unit is available.  Whilst not quite as picturesque a location, it does overlook the river Derwent and is excitingly up on stilts at the back of the building to prevent flooding.

Actually closer to Malton than before, but across town, the new location is ideal…

…and we still get views of the river Derwent and countryside out the back!

Plus, it’s a blank canvas so we can tick everything off that wish list – we can have heating and AC, a tarmac drive with car park and a dispatch door, and…toilets inside!

After the excitement of getting to decide on the layout of our new factory, with dedicated R&D offices, production and test, a real kitchen and toilets (!) plus a massive warehouse for packing and despatch, work must continue on new product development.

For installations firmly in the analogue domain we introduce a variant of the VMX88 – the 88L which has all the features of its sibling, but without the network audio support.

VMX88L – everything a VMX88 does but without Dante. “L” for “Light”…

Ducks In A Row

Now that we are set up in the factory, we also are in a position to place more emphasis on improving our business efficiency, and maintain our high levels of customer support.  Production and test planning, software testing and bug tracking, design specifications and workflow in general all get put under the spotlight.  After much hard work by everyone involved, in the summer of 2023 we are granted ISO9001 certification.  Not only does this improve how we do things day to day, it sends a message to all our customers, suppliers and distributors that we care about our business and strive to keep on improving.

Better processes, better products – everyone benefits from our ISO9001 certification

And we are nearly up to date!  After the great success of attending ISE in its new home in Barcelona in 2022, we keep our focus on installer support, with the development and introduction of the second Venue Remote – the VR2.  This builds on the useful feature set of the VR1, adding a touch screen, a scheduler for automated scene changes, and even OEM support for control of other IP connected devices such as projectors or distro units.

We augment our support for both the VR1 and VR2 with an extensive series of support videos online to make configuration of either device a breeze.

At this year’s ISE in 2024, we are overwhelmed by the interest in not only the VR2, but the soon to be released V-Remote – an iPhone application putting the power of a VR2 into a roaming format – your phone!  Carefully considered to be as easy to configure as either of the fixed Venue Remotes, V-Remote offers installers another remote option.

V-Remote offers roaming convenience with simple control of key audio system features

The crucial feature of V-Remote is that even though D-Net is used to configure the app, the config file is stored within the memory of the audio system itself, so anyone can download the app which will then discover the file when connected to the system and configure itself, with the users (and PINs) pages and controls as defined when the system was commissioned.

And for now, we are up to date!

Back from the show, working on new products and finalising the release of V-Remote, supporting current customers and starting conversations with all the interesting and interested people we met.

If you’d like a poster-style summary of our first ten years – download it here!

Thanks to everyone who has helped along the way so far and here’s to the next ten years!

Mexican tapas in York – isn’t that what everyone has for Christmas dinner? NST Audio with FFA honorary member 😉