Who is Calum?

Calum Young has been working full time in audio for the past 6 years. He started by spending 3 years running his own speaker building company before deciding to go and get a job in audio actually using speakers day to day. The year spent in industry as the Technical Production Manager for well known Sheffield venue Yellow Arch Studios served to better educate him on what his clients really need from a speaker cabinet. 

Following the Covid-19 pandemic and being made redundant at Yellow Arch, Calum decided he had enough knowledge to start a second business building speakers. Following a brief stint working for another speaker manufacturing company, Calum formed Calum Audio Ltd in June 2021 where he currently serves as Managing Director.

With a background in CNC based manufacturing and CAD along with being blessed with an innate drive to achieve excellence, Calum is intent on setting a new standard in the pro audio world.

The Story - in his own words

Everyone that works for themselves starts in the same place. Working for someone else and feeling like they're doing all the important work themselves, but they're not being valued properly. I was no different, my first manufacturing based job building climbing walls left me unsatisfied. Whilst I enjoyed the work of running the CNC router, doing CAD work for climbing holds and physically constructing these walls on sites across the UK, I wanted more. My dissatisfaction led me to seek distraction when out of work, in the form of going out and partying. Living in Sheffield at the time I was lucky to have a great music scene to rely on for this distraction. I spent more and more time drinking in the culture, making life long friends along the way and accidentally getting a taste of the industry I would serve in the future.

The events were good; good music, nice people, good vibes, but more often than not the audio quality was poor. Frustratingly poor. I didn't understand how there was a whole industry dedicated to audio reproduction with clearly a lot of money being spent in clubs, yet it still sounded so bad. There were a handful of events I went to that were noticeably better, I decided to try and visit these nights more often. What I had discovered was the underground Sound System scene in Sheffield; other individuals who had also been disappointed with the audio quality in most clubs and had decided to do something about it. No one was perfect, most crews only had one passband in their system that was especially 'good', but it was more effort than clubs were putting in and it showed. I found out that these crews were using a mix of pro audio and DIY or 'homebrew' speaker cabinets, indeed many of them built their own speakers.

Around this time I moved house and found an old set of speakers in the cellar. With (what felt like at the time) a solid founding in electronics and access to a CNC router, I decided to re-build these speakers and try to improve them. I now understand what I made all those years ago to be acoustically awful, but I was proud of my work and didn't know any better. What I had created had taken surprisingly little time, especially with the CNC router to cut out all the parts. It was also much more fun than building climbing walls, you get to actually play with the things you've made once it's complete.

I began to ponder, what if I could make more of these speakers and sell them to be people? There seemed to be a clear market for it and by CNCing cabinets I could make the whole process nice and efficient. There was a large selection of free to use plans available online, they were what people wanted to buy as well, I could just reproduce these. I had already spent several years running CNC routers and proving to myself that I was capable of manufacturing stuff, as that's what my day job had been until then. There was only one problem, my knowledge of acoustic theory was seriously limited at this point.

By chance one day I bumped into someone I'd gone to school with at the pub. I shared my misgivings of the audio world with him, along with my idea of selling speakers. I told him how I was good at making things, but not so good at the design work. He keenly informed me that he was a talented acoustic designer, but not so good at building things. Things happened pretty quickly from here. Within a few months we'd joined forces, left our respective jobs and sunk what money we had into renting a workshop and purchasing a CNC router. 

The following 2 years were spent finding out quite how difficult it is to a) launch a new business, b) manufacture complex speaker cabinets. Looking back, a lot of what we sold were products for the sake of products, not 'solutions'. We made a lot of custom cabinets, in doing so we refined our processes for taking an idea through multiple design stages and on to a finished and usable cabinet. Dogged by delays due to buying an ancient CNC router from the late 90's, progress was slow.

Following a disagreement about the fundamental direction of the business, we parted ways and I took the helm. What followed was a difficult year, I found that without a solid foundation in running sound systems I was unable to anticipate what clients needed from speakers. Hungry for knowledge and with a 'what's the worst that can happen' attitude I kept the prototype cabs of our flagship product line as my own personal sound system, shut down the company and took a job as the Technical Production Manager at a local venue. 

The next year and a bit was spent running my own sound system (True Resonance) and working at a venue. My responsibilities at Yellow Arch Studios included being responsible for all audio equipment within the building, as well as working with external sound providers for events. Between this job, the events at which I hired out my personal sound system and the festivals I was invited to sound engineer at, I started to gain true perspective of what people needed from a set of speaker cabinets.

Covid-19 came around, killed the events industry and my job at the venue went with it. I spent 6 months resurrecting and re-building True Resonance to offer acoustic consultancy during the initial stages of the pandemic, though this ultimately turned out to be a pointless investment of time - I couldn't generate any work. One day an old competitor from Sheffield offered me a part time job building speaker cabinets for him. He required someone to run the CNC router and build cabs, my main skills! I accepted with gusto and enjoyed 10 months of getting back to my main passion, building speakers.

Without getting caught up in details, we got to a point where I felt the company was capable of growing significantly - my partner at the time wasn't so sure. What followed was a very amicable parting of ways, I bought him out of all the equipment, stocks and work on the books. On the 28th June 2021 I got incorporated as Calum Audio Ltd, took out a lease on a new workshop and began building my empire.

Shortly after setting up shop and beginning to process orders, I found the Paraflex world. Intrigued by the community developed designs, I started offering built cabinets to my clients. There was a great amount of hype around the designs, they were suggested to be the newest, latest and greatest in acoustic developments. A few people came to me for builds and I was soon in possession of my first Paraflex builds. Always intrigued by how new cabinets sound, I went along to the client's test sessions and was very much surprised by the results. Exhibiting extremely high sensitivity, excellent cone control and very flat frequency response, I was sold. I stopped offering all my old product range and focussed solely on becoming a Paraflex specialist.

What has followed brings us up to the current day. 

Following bringing a member of staff on board, much of my time is now taken up developing the business alongside the ergonomic aspects of the cabinets. I have decided that while good acoustic properties are important, the deployability of cabinets is also very important. People don't want to buy things that don't fit in vans, can't be lifted easily, or don't stack well. I'm still very keen on the idea of open source designs, so much so that I'm now starting the process of taking all my designs fully open source and free to use. Is this the right decision or will it just become another chapter in my story before I try something different? I'm honestly unsure, but as with everything I do, I will execute my plan with excellence.

*Updated in June 2023*

As if often the way in life, we face unexpected circumstances that challenge us greatly. The past year and a half have been some of the most difficult, yet most rewarding times of my adult life.

Following a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications, my plan to take CAL fully open source resulted in a small disaster. My offer to release all of my internal CAD and design knowledge for free was somehow mistaken to instead be me trying to take design credit for all Paraflex designs. No discussions about finding a resolution were offered. What followed was a very public shaming and banning from the open source community by a leading figure in the movement, done in such a way that it seriously detrimentally impacted my business.

While it took us several months to recover from this blow, it opened the door to a much broader variety of ways we can support the global open source audio community. As I write this update, it’s been 12 months since this debacle occurred and the company is doing better than ever before. We’ve brought on a Sales Director to support myself and our cab builder, and are in the process of planning a move to larger premises.

Our current goal is make our services truly globally available, which in a post Brexit world means me becoming an expert in international tax and logistics… This is a far cry from what I set out do when I started this company, honestly I miss building cabs, but it’s what the business requires of me to keep it growing steadily.

As time goes on I find myself being increasingly interested in the day to day back end operations of the business, taking great pleasure in defining and implementing systems and procedures that allow us to work more efficiently. My love of LEAN principals have only grown year on year, allowing us to eliminate waste and ultimately cut costs for you, the customers.

I continue to go out and sound engineer at large events and festivals every few months, I vehemently believe this is an absolutely essential part of me being able to offer such high quality cabinets. How can a company offer market leading products if it doesn’t know how the products are actually used in day to day use?

As of June 2023 the future looks bright for the team at CAL, with new premises a 5 axis CNC expected in the next 24 months. Goodness knows what’ll happen next, I guess only time will tell.