Mr Henke, Burmester is all about the audio experience. We don’t listen to music, we experience it. You used to work for Porsche – are cars not the enemy when it comes to achieving good sound quality?
Yes and no. Of course, there’s no getting away from the noise of the wind, wheels and engine. But, you know, you can be at a concert and have someone near you rustling sweet wrappers or whispering away to their friends. Even in your own home, you might have the sound of the traffic rushing past outside or your neighbours slamming their doors. What I’m trying to say is that background noise is always going to be an issue wherever you are. However, once real emotions are involved, we do manage to block it out. The good thing when it comes to cars is that we know exactly where our listeners are going to be sitting. This allows us to make adjustments to the music within a defined audio space so that it is optimised for the people in the car. What’s more, the owner of a car isn’t in a position to make any structural changes. There is no option of moving a sofa or pushing a load of plants in the way. As a result, the audio experience can be adapted more effectively and with more predictability than in a living room in someone’s home. In this respect, a car has the potential to become an ideal concert hall.
Let’s take the Porsche Panamera as an example. According to the supplement price list, we are looking at an extra EUR 5300 at least. Are we really talking about a “must have” at this price?
Yes! And I am being completely honest with you. Plus, it’s not just a question of being able to enjoy the music. I am of the opinion that if you are investing in a highly emotional product like a beautiful car, literally everything in that vehicle should fit together. It’s not all about the chassis, steering, power or appearance. In the modern world, cars have come to be the place where you can take some “me time”. We might be talking about the only few precious minutes in your day when you won’t be disturbed. And there you can put on your music, perhaps the only form of art that genuinely everyone can appreciate. For me, immersing myself in music and experiencing the sound as the artist intended it to be experienced is incredibly emotional and satisfying. This is exactly what a high-end sound system makes possible. Plus, the system brings you so much more than just close to perfect sound quality in your car. Telephone functionality is also improved significantly. You can hear and can be heard better when driving, meaning you can be much more relaxed during your calls. This leaves you to focus more on what is being discussed, which will always end better than when your brain has to continually work away in the background to filter out low-quality or unnatural sound. In this respect, our systems are reducing the cognitive load on the part of the driver.
Looking at it a different way, the price is nothing considering that people are happy to pay well over EUR 100,000 for a home system from Burmester. And with the Porsche you have an amazing car to boot. You could even say it’s free.
When you look at it like that, this could be one of the cheapest ways of getting that sound experience Burmester is known for. Funnily enough, some of our Porsche and Mercedes customers have told us that they actually head into their garage when they want to listen to music.
But is there such a thing as the perfect sound experience – in a car or elsewhere?
I think it does exist but it is of course different for everyone. Listening to music is a really personal experience and everyone appreciates it in their own individual way. On that basis, I would perhaps say that there is a perfect moment to listen to music at maximum quality.
When is that moment?
Well that of course is down to the individual too. It might be on a road trip through the Alps or perhaps during those precious five minutes I mentioned earlier when you have some time all to yourself in your car.
Cars are currently undergoing major developments, with sights firmly set on the future. Does this mean scope for design and new technologies for sound systems?
Definitely yes! Electric vehicles will bring about different background noises, which for us means brand new opportunities as well as challenges. However, it will be driverless cars that will be revolutionising the most because they are set to change the way in which we use vehicles. For example, that bit of time between two meetings when you follow the motto: “The person you have called is currently unavailable.” You will then be able to fully enjoy your music or even video system. Or you could turn your car into a cocooning cell by blacking out the windows, sitting back and relaxing as you are driven around. Perhaps it will be completely the opposite and you will join a business phone or video conference call from your car. As we discussed earlier, sound and voice transmission quality are naturally extremely important in this latter case too.
Here we are talking about following the huge megatrends. To what extent can a brand like Burmester change that?
What is certain is that we will not be chasing after any old trends. Our focus will instead be on upholding our commitment to quality. We will use our independence as a business to push against the mainstream if we need to. We are not afraid to go against the grain if that is what it takes to ensure continuity. It is important to us that everyone knows what a Burmester sound system stands for in terms of the audio experience and beyond. We follow the same principle that you might expect from an iconic vehicle or a special watch. The Burmester philosophy is our top priority and it wins hands down over any trend.
On that basis, could it be possible that in future a sound system from a company like Burmester will be an even more powerful distinguishing feature and maybe even an argument in favour of buying a particular car?
I don’t wish that approach on the automotive industry and I also don’t believe that individual third-party components will come to be more important than the core discipline itself, that is creating the car and achieving individual mobility. Having said that, sound systems will definitely gain in status. And it will be absolutely essential for the premium brands to offer a sound system or a corresponding audiovisual unit that is on the same level.
You just mentioned the premium segment and Burmester is very much a luxury brand. In your opinion, what adds luxury to a moment experienced?
For me, luxury is a something of a complicated term. There is a traditional, worn concept of luxury that I personally cannot get on board with. It often all comes down to showing off and having certain standards that can supposedly simply be associated with a particular level of prosperity. I don’t see this as being very genuine. The way I see it, luxury is a quality that I would like to treat myself to and indulge in. Luxury means a very personal and deliberate experience that is not necessary to existence. Luxury is about enjoyment and value. This could be a wonderful holiday, a peaceful hour spent walking or a particularly delicious apple. Anything that I consciously choose to enjoy as a treat to myself. It could also be taking delight in an amazing car. Basically the list is as long as it is varied and it is down to everyone to write their own. It is my opinion – and I see this every day – that anyone who has ever indulged in the sound of a Burmester system would add that experience to their own list.
Changing the subject slightly: You had a long and successful career at Porsche. What do you enjoy about this extremely challenging role right at the top level of Burmester?
Our company is a very manageable size and growth is not one of our objectives in itself. What is important to us is adding value. Our independence is our biggest asset. When Marianne Burmester and I share an opinion, we can get things done with speed and efficiency. The freedom we have and the speed with which we can act would be rare to find in bigger companies. Aside from that, I have turned another one of my three main passions – cars, music and photography – into a career. Plus, is there anything better than setting yourself another really steep learning curve?
Do you play any musical instruments yourself?
I have been playing the piano for a long time and I have just started to learn to play the bass guitar. One of my reasons for this is that it was one of the main instruments that Dieter Burmester used to play alongside the guitar. When I left Porsche, my colleagues gave me a bass guitar as a gift so that I could follow in his footsteps so to speak. The team at Burmester have now also found me a very good bass teacher. There is no chance that I will ever be as good as Dieter, but I find it rather charming to indulge in this bit of nostalgia.