Joerg Windhorst: “Phonak loves TV, Video, Film and Live Show productions and has the appropriate technology to face all their challenges.”

Our Technological Portal had the pleasure to meet with Joerg Windhorst, Sales Manager of Phonak Communications AG during his visit in Athens and the headquarters of Phonak's Distributor for Hellas (Greece), AUDIO & VISION. The discussion we had will definitely give useful information to all the professionals of the Broadcast, Video Production and Film Industries.

Text: Andreas Tzanakos
Images: Joerg Windhorst and Phonak Communications AG Archive

Joerg Windhorst’s experience and point of view might be quite interesting for several sound engineers and different kinds of TV, Video and Film productions, but also to other areas like referees communication and many more. It is good for our readers to know some things about you, so it is better to start our discussion by telling us a little about Joerg Windhorst.

Joerg Windhorst: Hello my name is Joerg Windhorst and I'm in my 50s, married with 3 kids. I'm living in lovely Switzerland, since 14 years after studying (Economics, Geography) and playing in several bands, I started in professional audio business in 1990 (Yamaha Europe, Manager ProAudio & MI). Please provide us with the "hologram" (route till today, fiscal situation, number of employees, factories, production chains, global presence and the fields that now covers) of Phonak Communications as a group.

Joerg Windhorst: To begin with I have to draw a slightly larger picture. Phonak Communications AG was founded in Murten, Switzerland, in 1992. It’s the global wireless competence center of the SONOVA group which has 18,000 employees around the globe and is of course mainly a medical device company. We are the hearing specialist and we are number one in the world in the development, design, production and worldwide distribution of ultra-miniaturized wireless systems.
Phonak Communications is the global competence center for all Wireless Solutions.
Wireless could mean Wireless accessory for hearing aids or Wireless Systems for example in broadcast, or security, or many other fields. Our systems range from dynamic hearing protection devices through to prompting earpieces, radio headsets and full covert communications systems.
Our success to date can be attributed to how we have built upon Phonak’s already high level of hearing technology expertise, and combined this with our ongoing independent research and product development to create a full range of wireless communication and hearing protection systems that meet the needs of our customers, whatever their field of operation.
These solutions offer market-leading sound performance, optimum wearer comfort and the highest design quality, and have been successfully deployed across a wide range of vertical markets. Only Phonak Communications is able to offer such a unique:
1.    Hearing intelligence. Our sister company Phonak has been producing hearing instruments since 1965. Phonak is an industry-leading expert in advanced acoustics and hearing technology.
2.    Miniaturization expertise. Our team has years of experience spent utilizing superior micro-electronics and micro-mechanics to produce ultra-miniaturized hearing and communications devices.
3.    Full system approach - our full breadth of product solutions, which includes earpieces, wiring systems, car kits, wireless PTT’s, radio adaptors software and more, allows us to offer fully scalable systems that operate perfectly ‘off the shelf’.
4.    Signal processing technology. Our advanced signal processing technology ensures our customers only hear the sounds they want to hear.
Our exclusive combination of industry-leading knowledge and technical expertise is why Phonak Communications systems are used around the world in situations where lives depend upon the reliability and acoustic performance of such equipment, even in the most extreme of conditions.
When it comes to intelligence, security and surveillance operations, the unparalleled discretion and effectiveness of our systems is an indispensable end-user benefit.
Our systems are the solution of choice for television and film studios that require 100% reliable, flexible, simple-to-use products, ensuring live broadcasts go without a hitch.
We are the only company in the hearing protection market with comprehensive competence and experience in hearing acoustics, advanced digital signal processing and wireless technology, meaning we can guarantee the user’s hearing whatever the noise level.
We must not forget that Phonak Communications AG is part of Sonova Group.
So in addition to supplying miniaturized wireless systems to sectors such as security, broadcast, aviation, heavy industry and more, Phonak Communications AG is the competence center within Sonova for the development and production of advanced wireless communication systems for people with hearing loss (also known as FM systems). We are also the developers of Dynamic SoundField, a new intelligent classroom amplification system for the education and corporate sectors. Why such a successful company in hearing aid and other fields involved in Broadcast and Film Industries? Phonak's communication solution concerning Broadcast, Production and Film Industries has a name: Roger. Although we know that is already very popular, can you remind us what are the main components (hardware and software) of Roger communication system and their mission? What's the philosophy behind the development, the design and the manufacturing procedures of all Roger products? What's Phonak's philosophy in general?

Joerg Windhorst: For any hearing aid User it's tremendously important to have wireless link in challenging listening situations.
For example you go to a pub where you would have a lot of ambient noise and you need way to separate the talk you just have with your friend from all the ambience noise.
A wireless microphone which sends your buddy's talking directly to your hearing aid is the perfect solution. In non medical markets we use same Roger technology to provide talents, news anchors, actors with discreet information directly into the ear.
Phonak Communications AG loves TV, Video, Film and Live Show productions and has the appropriate technology to face all their challenges.
The Roger technology uses the latest digital standard and operates on the license-free 2.4 GHz band. The wireless Roger communication system includes a transmitter and features an advanced microphone, which is used by the speaker, and a virtually invisible receiver that is hidden in the listener's comfortable, tiny earpiece. Roger systems are ideal for people working in broadcasting and show business, who rely on seamless communication with directors, producers, and sound technicians. They are utterly discreet, easy to use and install, and offer unrivalled intelligibility.
So our philosophy: top quality (design, manufacture, performance), easy and convenient use with reliability, minimum problems and quick set up. What are the basic characteristics and features for each component of a Roger communication system? Why a production studio, a rental, an OB services and a production company or a TV station should invest in a Roger system? What are the benefits that difference a Roger system from its competitors?

Joerg Windhorst: Main benefit is to provide audio directly into the ear of the talent without any visual distraction.
Also, the handling for the talent is very-very pleasant as there is no need for an additional belt pack, cable, or tube. In addition to that the speech quality (intelligibility) is perfect.
All you need to set up a system is an earpiece and any of our transmitters. Could be the touchscreen microphone, which is the mobile solution, or Roger BaseStation, which is the studio-installation solution.
Our wireless technology with the name Roger is Phonak’s own technology. We use adaptive frequency hopping to avoid interferences with any other source in the 2.4 gigahertz. We are not interfering with other systems and also we can operate many-many Roger networks at the same time, in the same room without any interference.
Roger Earpiece combines Phonak’s advanced digital audio technology with an ultra small, discreet form factor – making the receiver virtually invisible in front of cameras or audiences, without any belt packs or cables as a said before. And with a comfortable fit thanks to its tiny 1.3g weight, and hours of battery life, Roger Earpiece can be used all day. And what about the prices policy of Phonak concerning Roger system? And how safe is to work with 2.4 GHz wireless protocol? Can you describe in more details the set up and operating procedure of a Roger communication system in a busy studio with lots of wireless devices working at the same time, or in a location area in a very crowded center of a town, or in a stadium?

Joerg Windhorst: Our prices policy is quite decent. Our clients get the best quality in the right price.
To illustrate the strength of our Technologies please allow me to take an example from tour guiding in our largest site. At the US Capitol Visitor Center we are operating 30 groups, 20 visitors each, on 30 different networks at the same time, in one room.
And we do it without interference and we are not disturbing any other network like Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth, or any other. If you have the right technology and equipment then 2.4 GHz wireless protocol (with free and no license procedures) and infrastructure (you can find it easily in every country) can give the right performance without worries in every studio, location, or venue.
A Roger system can be deployed according to the needs and the challenges of each production (number of talents, distances, crowded place and many more crucial parameters). In fact there are no limits. The system has robust components and can expand and grow as the production needs arise. It is important for our readers (CTOs, Technical Directors, Freelancers Sound Engineers and many more) to know about the warranty and the services they will get from Phonak Communications AG and its distributors chain. What will happen if something goes wrong with the equipment? Are there any other kind of services available globally?

Joerg Windhorst: We provide 2 years warranty for all the Roger products, but be sure that their robustness guarantees peace of mind for more years. If our clients must have more components (Repeaters, BaseStations, Earpieces) for the Roger system they got, it is ease to buy them from our local distributor (there are many in several countries all over the world), or they can rent them from several rental companies based all around the world. If something goes wrong with a Roger product, then our customer can experienced our distributor’s service support, or in a rear-difficult situation the product can be sent to Phonak.

Our systems are the solution of choice for television and film studios that require 100% reliable, flexible, simple-to-use products, ensuring live broadcasts go without a hitch. Can you mention top broadcasters, production studios, film studios and rental companies that use Roger products? Will you be so kind to mention examples for the successful use of a Roger system in brief?

Joerg Windhorst: One good example comes now in to my mind is from the Film Industry. Steve Morrow, sound producer of the La La Land motion picture, is an advocate of the Roger technology having used it on the Oscar-winning film. Morrow has used Phonak’s in-ear monitors since 2001, and says they have always been a reliable tool: “The quality is great, the battery life is great on it, and they just work.” Greek Football (Soccer) Federation recently adopted the VAR (Video Assistant Referee). Can you tell us more about Phonak’s communication solution for the referees?

Joerg Windhorst: For sports referees we are providing equipment since 2006.
The headset, which we call Phonak ComCom, which you see for examples at soccer referees or many other Ball Sports referees, is our product. It is a customized light weighted and very ruggedized solution to communicate among linesman referees video operators and so forth. During your visit in Greece you had the opportunity to meet a lot of professionals from TV Stations, Freelancers-Sound Engineers and many more. So according to your opinion what are the prospects for Roger products in Greece? Are you optimistic? What is your opinion about the co-operation between Phonak and Audio & Vision, the distributor for Phonak's products in Hellas (Greece)?

Joerg Windhorst: We had a very good start and we both are confident the business growth will go on and benefit users and our partnership. Our final question focus to the future. So what are the future prospects and the future plans for Roger products and for Phonak Communication AG? What else should we wait from the company in the near future?

Joerg Windhorst: Future of Phonak Communications is very promising.
We will always focus on minituarized Audio solutions which are wireless and unique in the market. Thank you very much for the interesting discussion we had and I wish all the best for Phonak's efforts to improve the quality of communication in professional applications.

Joerg Windhorst: I thank you. Exciting things to hear in the near future.

Info: & & Audio & Vision*
* Distributor for Hellas