Open Labs – still alive, kicking, and reports of demise overstated
MuseWire Update: As a long time supporter and customer of Open Labs (see my reviews of the Neko TSE and XXL models on this site), I was surprised, like many, to see the notice of auction for OL’s assets and IP announced July 30, 2010. Rather than jump in and comment on the potential demise of the company, or erroneously rant that “Windows might be the cause of its demise because Mac has been hitting a home run” (what a crock of sh*t), I waited patiently for an official statement from the company, past/future owners as to the status.
Over the past week, a number of speculations, crazy stories, “we won’t miss them” comments from non-customers (=trolls), and mean-spirited comments about company exec Victor Wong being injured in a balcony collapse filled the blogosphere in the circles that follow electronic music instruments. I found the comment that somehow the “old” company over-spending on facilities to meet with clients in the music business was the cause of the financial crises, and then somehow the financial crises of the company had something to do with Wong and more than 20 other party guests being injured. Really?
Other folks sent me personal messages like, “If you only knew the REAL story of Open Labs,” as if there were some deep dark insider story of devil worship and pimping going on in addition to building music instruments. All small companies have unique interpersonal situations, working conditions, management shake-ups, and staff migrations. One blogger wrote that the products need to be cheaper, made in America, and with free lifetime support. Of course this was one of the people who wanted to take up 10 hours of phone support time on stuff he should have looked up himself, but then complains when he can’t get instant tech support on why his monitor doesn’t change resolutions properly (um, try using the video control panel?). Sheesh. The vitriol from so many was really a surprise to me. Certainly there are people out there who “hate” the products they don’t use, and others who complain about their waitress not bringing them lemon in their tea (“you never asked for lemon, sir”), but really amazing how abusive and violent some of these people write about a company simply having some hiccups in a tough economy.
All of this hullabaloo started from the classified in the Texas newspaper:
Original auction announcement in the Statesman: NOTICE OF PUBLIC SALE OPEN LABS, INC. MUSIC PRODUCTION EQUIP. Notice is hereby given that substantially all of the assets of Open Labs, Inc. will be sold at a public foreclosure sale to be held at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, August 4, 2010, at the offices of Open Labs, Inc., located at 3701 Drosset Drive, Suite 150, Austin, Texas 78744. The assets of Open Labs, Inc. consist primarily of the patents, trademarks, copyrights, and other IP associated with the following Open Labs products: NeKo XXL 61-Key Music Production Stations, NeKo QX6 61-Key Music Production Stations, MiKo LXD 37-key Music Production Stations, MiKo QC6 37- key Music Production Stations, DBeat Mobile Music Production Stations, SoundSlate Rack Units, SoundSlate FW Rack Units, Open RiFF 2.0 Software, MimiK Software, and other Open Labs products. The assets to be sold also include furniture and equipment, office supplies, artwork, and musical collectibles. For more info, contact Greg Young, Okin Adams & Kilmer LLP, 7004 Bee Cave, Bldg 1,Ste 110, Austin, TX, 78746, 512-681-3732.
Generally the comments from those who said they were in the know was that the bank and/or investors who had put up money one year ago wanted their money, and when the one year payment was due, the money wasn’t there and so they put the assets and IP (intellectual property) up for auction to recoup their investment. Unofficial statements after the Aug. 4 auction in Texas, indicated that some of the existing staff/owners bought back the IP with the help of new money, and this new group makes up the de facto “new ownership” and everything is moving forward.
In fact, customers were receiving product all week, warranty work was being performed, tech guru Michael Corley was helping customers who didn’t want to read the manual (“RTFM”) or understand which jack on the back was for MIDI, and which was for a mic (seriously, some of the wing-nuts in the OL forum make me want to cry as to the future of the music business; and go ahead, call me a cry-baby troll-boy and I’ll kick YOUR ass).
Late Friday night (Aug. 6), a statement was finally posted on the Open Labs website, which reads as follows, and so far is the only truly official statement regarding the whole issue:
“Thank you for being a customer of Open Labs products. As you probably heard, there are new owners of Open Labs. The primary reason we acquired the assets was the outstanding relationship that the artists and producers had with the old company.
We want to assure you that we are committed to you and the products that allow you to create, produce and perform. We will honor the warranties, orders, and upgrades that were taken by the old company and look forward to servicing your needs in the future.
While the IP is impressive, the products are outstanding, and the customer service is world class, we know that the company is dependent upon you for success. Therefore, we would like to present you an opportunity to upgrade to RiFF 2.0 at a reduced cost. We are offering a 25% discount to all current customers that would like to upgrade the products to RiFF 2.0 in the next 45 days.
Thank you for your support in the past. We look forward to a mutually beneficial relationship going forward.
The Open Labs Team and Owners.”
Here’s hoping the “new” company returns to full power, and has shiny new gear to demo at the upcoming January NAMM show. I truly think they have a unique product, and the deliverables are more than the sum of their parts.
Editor’s Note: updated 1:35pm PDT to correct typo of the auction announcement from June 30 to July 30, 2010.
Aug 8, 2010 @ 10:15 PM PDT
I would assert that having a bank put up all your company’s assets for sale at a foreclosure sale is more than just “simply having some hiccups”. It’s great for the new owners but I wonder how much money the bank lost in the transaction?
Regarding speculation during the last few weeks, what do you expect when the company provides zero information about what is going on? Even long-time fans/owners of OpenLabs products were worried due to the lack of information being provided.
Regarding the “Windows killed Open Labs” discussion, I wouldn’t be so fast to dismiss those comments. While many hobbyists use Windows-based computers, the majority of pro musicians use Macs. OpenLabs charges premium prices for their premium products, while most Windows users are more price-sensitive.
Only time will tell whether the new owners can make enough changes to keep OpenLabs afloat.
Aug 9, 2010 @ 3:01 AM PDT
Great article, Chris. Thanks for the shout-out 🙂
Aug 9, 2010 @ 4:14 PM PDT
Response from Christopher Simmons:
All companies have hiccups, but many don’t have them shared in the public eye. Many companies are simply purchased/acquired when in these situations, and so it’s certainly not uncommon for the company to remain silent during the process. Although, I have to admit it was a longish 7 days for the company to post ANYthing at all in the OL forum, on their site, blog, etc., and might have been wise to state something (you may note I also requested some kind of update from both the staff and on the OL forum, but they were unable to say anything concrete).
I totally disagree with the idea that the fact that OpenLabs using Windows had anything to do with their situation. What else would they use, Linux? They cannot use Mac OSX. Their target market has generally been the same folks who would buy a Korg, Roland, or Kurzweil workstation, all of which are $3K plus products. The assertion by the Mac fanboys that Windows doomed OL is nuts. More people are making music with Windows than with Mac right this second. Both on the low end and on the high-end. Products like Cubase, Nuendo, Sonar, and Pro Tools all work just fine on Windows. And, the folks who want a crap $599 laptop, a bunch of ‘warez’ and the bottom of the line M-Audio keyboard controller are not the target audience for Open Labs products.
Granted you could buy a couple of high-end keyboard controllers, buy something like a PCaudioLabs, Carillon, or similar high-performance PC, and a touch-screen, buy some apps like Forte, and do something similar yourself, but OL make a niche product. People who try the notebook route and hate it, and who are thinking “I wish somebody would do ….” is exactly who OL products are for. Savvy musicians are more interested in making music, and not the platform. The operating system is only that, the software you run on the OS is what you make music with. So, the OS is not that critical for “most” people.
Of course, I should disclose I just sold my Neko XXL and setup an 8-core 3ghz Mac Pro with 48GB RAM, an SSD, two velociraptors, a Euphonix control surface (doesn’t work with Windows, YET), and am enjoying using Logic 9 very much.
My main complaint with the Gen6 OL products was more the choice of sticking with Windows 7 32-bit, over making a 64-bit offering. That is where they lost me.
But, I’m hopeful they will “refresh” and “reboot” their focus, and look to the future to conitnue their innovation. For the workstation market, and for those who want an “all in one” product, it’s a very cool solution being offered and they do use very good components inside the boxes, whereas most “cheap” Windows PCs have crap (or in the case of Dell, who got caught knowingly putting defective stuff in their products – total crap) do not.
Thank you for the rational discourse, however. 🙂
Aug 10, 2010 @ 9:15 PM PDT
Yep, it’s always the Mac “fanboys” who are standing at the sidelines hoping OL will fail. And they are pissed off right now because OL did not fold as a company as they wanted them to.
I try not to have anything against Mac computers because they haven’t done anything to piss me off. It’s the Mac users who give Macs a bad reputation. I’ll take a PC over a Mac any day of the week, but that’s just me. I don’t need to go around proclaiming PC superiority over Macs, like Mac people do. They need to let that old false and tired myth go.
Hooray for Open Labs is all I have to say.
Sep 15, 2010 @ 10:26 AM PDT
I follow Open Labs for some time now. The idea and the products are well thought out. Thing is when I’m buying a 7000 dollar workstation, I’m buying top of the line. I don’t want to find a budget CPU, but at least a decent i7. It may do the job for most people, but that’s not the point. Make it 7,500, but top of the line should be just that. 64 bit indeed would be needed, at least as a future upgrade.
It was also announced over a year ago that KARMA (KarmaLabs) would be implemented in these workstations. For me that would have been a major motivation. Never heard of again.
That does not give confidence. That might not be a problem with a 200 bucks controller, but at this price level it makes me think twice.
I hope it will turn out ok for them, as I have the utmost respect for these pioneers. To be successful in this niche market compromises should be avoided.
Dec 15, 2010 @ 8:14 PM PST
Eazy I agree with you totally on the price and 64 bit points. But when I saw that they were finally going to offer 64 bit, which is must for me I began checking Ebay for a good price on any of their 61-key keyboards. But upon seeing the ridiculous upgrade prices to get an i7 cpu, Windows 7, RAM, etc. I’m seriously rethinking buying one now. What’s even more bizarre than those steep upgrade prices is why does their top of the line XXL only come with a measly i5? But they only offer the i7 for upgrades? So if you buy an XXL for $7000 you still are going to have to at least buy a new cpu and vid card which really doesn’t add up? It could be me but something still isn’t right with this company. I’m going to err on the side of caution and check back in about 6 – 8 months to see if the prices have dropped any or if they are still alive and kicking as the title of this post states?
Feb 24, 2011 @ 10:48 PM PST
I agree with Eazy too. 7k for a PC… are you serious?!i Who builds a Rolls-Royce with a Nissan engine and sells it as top of the line. The neko should have cost no than $4500. Why? BECAUSE IT’S A PC!!!!!! You could build a killer PC for about 1k and most PC users don’t spend thousands on their systems. But MAC users will drop 3k on their apples. Most pros use MAC. It’s pretty much a standard in the industry. Yet the 7k neko was on windows. This is not about MAC or PC (which I have both). It’s about good marketing. The neko is a great piece of gear but was overpriced considering that it ran on windows. If the neko was MAC based, then 7k wouldn’t be an issue. In fact we wouldn’t be having this discussion. You can whatever about MAC but its reason why most pros use them. Openlabs comprised on this unit.
Jun 15, 2011 @ 8:53 PM PDT
I think it’s about time for Open Labs to get it going with this business and to continue strong! I do support this company and that it will never disappoint its customers. The fact that most OL haters knew nothing about the potential this company has; surely, every company, young and old, are going through the crisis these days. But that does not stop any company from continuing their progress as business innovators. I believe that the haters are overtly jealous of this company as far as the status in the computer atmosphere. In truth, I am no Mac hater for I love these computers. However, I’m a PC person and I’ve been using PCs (custom-made from scratch) since I was in Job Corps. Or, as a matter of fact, my experience goes way back as far as 1989 when I was 11 when I first use an Apple computer at school, then in 1992 and 1996-1998 using the PC while in junior and senior high school.
I’ll stick to Open Labs no matter what anybody say. Those haters are just a bunch of senceless, arrogant, whining babies. It is time for them to GROW-UP, period!
I will like to say to Christopher Laird Simmons concerning this report: you are the best, keep up the good work!