Wheatstone History from Radio Guide 2010

Wheatstone – A True American Success Story  
by Ernie Belanger from Radio Guide, Nov-Dec 2010, Vol 18, No 6

Wheatstone founder Gary Snow working in The Gray Barn in the late 1970s. 

As you travel through the countryside of Connecticut, over narrow winding roads through rolling hills and “quaint” New England villages, it’s hard to believe that this area would be the birthplace of a company that has developed into one of the world’s top broadcast audio equipment manufacturers.

But it’s true – for three decades now Wheatstone Corporation has designed and manufactured professional broadcast audio equipment that has become world renowned. And it all started back in the 1970s in a little town outside of New Haven, Connecticut.

Early Beginnings

The Wheatstone we know today was originally founded 35 years ago as Audioarts Engineering by Gary Snow and his wife Kathy. A classic garage start–up, Audioarts began with $400 cash in hand, in the attic of the Snow’s small one bedroom home in rural Bethany, Connecticut.

At that time they designed and hand built small mixing boards for live bands, as well as a club mixer – remember disco? A year later in 1976, a parametric equalizer, a feedback suppressor, and an electronic crossover for high-end sound reinforcement systems were added to the product mix.

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SO YOU WANT TO BUY AN EQUALIZER? A 1980’s ad that never made print. It was 'shot down' as too edgy. The 45 is real – one of Audioarts’ employees was the town constable, and it’s his “equalizer” in the photo.

Gary Snow – A Life Rooted In Audio

RG cover article Page 2 Image 0002Gary Snow’s interest in audio came early – “By age 12, I was running a neighborhood radio and TV repair shop. I built my first stereo system at 15 and then moved on to guitar amps and loudspeaker enclosures,” Snow said. After high school, Gary took a job repairing amplifiers and special effects devices while attending Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York, where he majored in electrical engineering.

Snow’s career then progressed to larger companies, where he engaged in more sophisticated high fidelity repair and installations. “I was sent to KLH, McIntosh Laboratories, and the Allen Organ Company for further technical training.” He continues “In 1971, I was offered employment at Theatre Sound Inc. in New Haven, Connecticut, where I expanded into electronic circuit design, and large system design and installation.”

An AES Debut

Audioarts Engineering exhibited its equipment for the first time at the 58th AES show in New York City in 1977. Word of mouth about the new Audioarts products rapidly spread between club owners, and demand for the low-noise low-distortion equipment began to ratchet up.

In 1978, again at AES, the company showed it first larger multi-channel sound reinforcement console.

The response was through the roof – the small attic space was soon bursting at the seams. A move was immediately in order.

The Gray Barn

GaryBarnJust down the road from the Snow’s house was an old rebuilt turn-of-the-century carriage house/horse stable that had just become vacant – the “Gray Barn.”

Audioarts moved into the building, which now afforded enough space to hire some half a dozen assembly workers. It also allowed the design and assembly of larger mixing consoles. Though Gary’s original intent was always to streamline product and make it easier to build, his love of design led things otherwise.

As Michael Shane, the first employee hired by Audioarts all those years ago, reminisces: “Every time Gary set his sights on a new board, he took it further and further; it was so easy for him add features as he worked out the circuits. As a result, every succeeding console design got bigger and bigger. Before we knew it, we were building boards that took two or more people to move from one room to the next.”

It was in the Gray Barn that things started to take off commercially, as word got out about the amazing sound quality of Audioarts gear. Dealer inquiries grew, and soon regular shipments were leaving Bethany to all parts of the country.

The rackmount signal processing line evolved and expanded, and larger multi-channel mixing consoles became part of regular product sales. Naturally, space became a problem once again. And that prompted move number two to a new 5100 square foot building.

Wheatstone Appears

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LM–80 The “Wheatstone Project”

In 1981 Audioarts Engineering officially became Wheatstone Corporation – named after its largest Audioarts mixing console to date, the LM-80 “Wheatstone Project.” Now established in the new building, the company began serious forays into larger mixing console markets – multi-track recording consoles and serious “front of the house boards,” as well as some of the first dedicated professional side stage monitor mixing consoles. It was in 1983 that Wheatstone introduced the A-500 Radio On-Air board at the 64th AES show. The console attracted the attention of the CBS Radio Network, whose chief engineer wanted to replace the mixing boards in all of their stations with one standard audio console. CBS chose the A-500 to be that console.

This was Wheatstone’s first real venture into the broadcast market. With the completion of the CBS contract Wheatstone had successfully entered the professional broadcast industry. The company never looked back.

Leaving behind AES shows and the recording and sound reinforcement market, in 1984 Wheatstone began exhibiting regularly at the National Association of Broadcasters annual spring show, where they soon gained a reputation for excellence in engineering and manufacturing standards at a market price that put them head to head with established broadcast brands. Soon Wheatstone was a buzzword in the industry for quality installations both large and small.


Wheatstone A-500 Console

Quick Product Roll Out

As a relatively small, nimble company, Wheatstone was able to bring out new product in unheard of turnaround times, with multiple new console and equipment designs every year. Relying on a small core group of dedicated people, manufacturing was kept in house as much as possible. If a problem developed with a supplier, the preferred route was to bring the offending part directly under company control, cutting out middlemen and their inherent delays.

A telling example of this was a supply problem for top quality linear faders. Gary Snow’s solution? “We’ll make our own.” And they did, with quality indistinguishable from the originals - even to company reps doing hands-on touch and feel in the Wheatstone show booth.

Wheatstone Takes Off

With the high-end console market firmly targeted, more and more broadcasters began turning to Wheatstone for equipment needs. The company relocated again, this time to Syracuse, New York – Snow’s hometown.

In this first Syracuse building, serious production space led to a plethora of new products – stereo production consoles, studio furniture systems, combo production/onair broadcast consoles, a larger family of signal processing gear, and an ever expanding line of mid-market mixing boards, brought out under the original Audioarts Engineering brand name. All of these products were conceived and designed by Gary Snow.

Wheatstone Enters The TV Market

In 1991 Wheatstone’s first television console, the TV-600, was shown at NAB. It won an industry excellence in engineering award – the first of many future awards to come.

The following year a flagship radio console, the A-6000, made its appearance, boasting all-electronic switching. By 1994 building number three was full with no room left to expand. Wheatstone then built a new Syracuse plant from the ground up at double the size, and moved again.

Wheatstone On The Cutting Edge

1995 saw Wheatstone unveil its first digital product, the D-500 radio console, again winning multiple awards. The following year brought the SP-8 stereo production console and in 1997 their computer controlled TV-1000 television master control audio console. In 1998 the TV-80 console appeared - also computer controlled - and yet again Wheatstone found itself with another full building and the need to expand.

New Bern North Carolina

This time the move was a major one, to a 51,000 square foot shell building at an industrial park in New Bern, North Carolina. After construction was complete Wheatstone was poised with a production plant that remains unique in the industry.


End-to-End Manufacturing

Manufacturing capabilities included a complete metal shop with computer controlled laser-cutter, bending break, Bridgeport, and multi-tooled punch press, as well as an automated surface mount line with real time individual component testing, a fully autonomous silkscreen department, in-house graphics, in-house powder-coating, computer controlled testing for all product lines, in-house automated furniture and countertop mills including complete in-house laminating, plus front end computer design R&D and prototyping, software coding, and the ability to program and burn in-house software chips—with everything under one roof.

With production capabilities like this, virtually any design direction became possible and new products once again began to roll off the line in droves.

The automated production facilities gave the original Audioarts brand line an incredible boost in manufacturing efficiency, greatly diversifying Wheatstone’s product base and giving the company an even stronger foothold in the small and mid-market arena.

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The New Bern, North Carolina hand assembly area. A long way from Gary and Kathy’s attic.

The Digital Revolution

New forays into audio networking changed the face of traditional products. Digital not only arrived - it took over. The Vorsis line of cutting edge signal processing was launched to great fanfare. Wheatstone’s Generation, Evolution and D-Series digital networked control surfaces became de facto standards in the industry.

As the Internet took over everyday life, audio-over-Internet protocol was embraced as well, and the WheatNet intelligent blade network was developed to interface seamlessly with the company’s digital audio control surfaces.

Wheatstone Today

Wheatstone today is well known, a major global player in the audio broadcast equipment industry, with product placement throughout the country and all over the world.

From tiny radio stations to huge institutional 30-40 studio installations, Wheatstone, Audioarts and Vorsis are there. It’s a far cry from those days of the seventies, when each unit was hand-built by Gary and Kathy Snow in the attic of their home in the New England countryside. But it goes to show what hard work and a dream can accomplish. Wheatstone is truly an American success story.

Red House

Where it all started – The Red House, Bethany, CT.

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