Meet the HARMAN Luxury Audio Team
Name: Nicholas Clarke
Position/Job Title: Senior Director, Global Engineering
With HARMAN Since May 2013
With Meet The HARMAN Luxury Team, our goal is for you to get to know us better. Each edition we’ll be featuring a different member of the team, and this month it’s Nicholas Clarke, Senior Director of Global Engineering.
How would you describe what you do in your current role?
I am responsible for guiding some of the very best teams of engineers in multiple locations around the world. Together we have created award-winning products for many famous brands, such as Arcam, Mark Levinson, Lexicon, JBL Synthesis and Revel. A true career high point for me has been working on some great products such as the Arcam SA30, Lexicon RV-9, Mark Levinson 5805 and (I hope) a lot more to look forward to in the future that I can’t tell you about… just yet.
What did you study in school? Did you always imagine yourself doing something like what you’re doing now, or did the fates just take you in that direction?
Even as a youngster I think I was always destined to do something technical – I was 11, at the right time for the exciting early days of home computers. I started with a Sinclair ZX81 and soon after that, a Sinclair Spectrum that led to my first engineering “job.” A family friend worked for the Environment Agency and asked me for help automating a manual and extremely laborious flood planning. Whilst I am not certain I fully understood the use or reasoning behind the algorithm, it was an easy task to achieve using a multi-dimensional array. The accuracy of the result was also refined, with the benefit of automation. A few years ago (and some 30 years after the original work), the same friend mentioned at his retirement party that the same algorithm I wrote was still in use then, albeit on a different computer and now handling the flood planning for a much larger area.
Share with us a little bit of your career arc.
I began my “proper” career in electronics after leaving school and (foolishly at the time) deciding that I’d had enough of education and was going to get a job instead of going to university.
That first job was as a Test Technician, responsible for the design, testing, alignment and calibration of laser-based equipment for measuring sugar purity. Being a small local firm, we wrote our own software, stuffed our own PCBs and had a machine shop for fabricating mechanical parts, so I learnt a huge amount in a very short space of time about the entire design and manufacturing process. Also, and very luckily for me, the owner was a big believer in education, so part of my employment was one day a week at a local technical college where I enrolled in an Electronic Servicing course.
Moving on, I got my first taste of audio, joining the test team at Audiolab as a production test technician. That’s when I really caught the audio bug and I developed with the company to lead the test team and then the NPI team. Also, I’d corrected my initial mistake of not going to university by continuing the one day a week at college, gaining an ONC in electronics and then finally my electronics degree, fortunately locally in Cambridge – and I can strongly attest to anyone that continues their education while working, it’s no easy ride. My course effectively packed three years of full time work into four years of one day per week – 40 people applied for my year’s intake, 20 people started the course and only 11 finished.
AV was just starting to emerge as a category and Audiolab had decided to join that space, but before they could bring their first AV product to market, the company was acquired by TAG McLaren to become TAG McLaren Audio. I was proud to be part of the team that developed the legendary AV32R AV Processor. During the five years of TAG McLaren Audio, I advanced to become the Chief Engineer, with a hand in every product.
My next career “stop” was with IAG, owners of the Quad and Wharfedale brands (amongst many others). Here was where I discovered the joys of international business travel. As they were based in Shenzhen, China and had their own vertically integrated factory, my job there involved at least a week a month in the factory setting up new production lines or overseeing new product introductions. I also had a UK role, leading an R&D team based in Huntingdon. As I wind the clock back 30 years, it’s amazing how much China has changed in that time and it truly was an exciting time to be involved – while it could be a little “wild west,” it was certainly not boring.
Finally, I moved on to Arcam. As a brand that had a foot in each camp of traditional stereo as well as AV, it played well to my past experiences, taking a very much an “engineering first” stance and always punching well above its weight.
What is the most important thing you have learned over your career?
Be as aware of what you don’t know as much as what you do.
Any other advice you would offer people just starting out in this industry?
Know that it’s not all sitting around listening to music and pontificating about how a system is “slightly harsh in the upper-middle bass.” There’s a lot of engineering, hard work and frustration, but when it all comes together in a product and you see people enjoying it at a show, or posting how much they’re enjoying listening to music or watching a movie with something you designed, it’s all worth it.
What are you most proud of in your life?
Having the realisation and determination to correct my youthful mistake of not going to university by doing my degree while working a full-time job – never underestimate the power of education.
When did you first realize you had a passion for music or audio? Was there any one song, band or movie that did it for you?
While I enjoy music, for me it is movies. I went to the first public showing in the UK of Star Wars in London – as well as the significance in the development of cinema audio, when you hear the first notes of the John Williams score, you know you are in for something special.
What kind of gear are you rocking at home these days?
My main system is based around an Arcam AVR30 in a dedicated cinema room. I also have an Arcam Solo Uno for background music in the dining room and a JBL Partybox 300 for BBQ parties in the garden.
What current technology impresses you the most?
The amount of computing power you get in a modern smart phone and what it enables you to do. The other evening, while I sat in my garden in the UK, I watched a livestream of a rocket launch take place in the US, then tracked the rocket after launch – all on my phone, so that 20 minutes later I was able to see the satellites (ok they were small dots of light!) as they deployed over the UK.
What’s your favorite music genre?
Progressive rock – you can’t beat a good concept album.
The desert island question of course. If you were marooned for eternity and could only listen to three albums, what would they be?
Roger Waters – Radio K.A.O.S.
Jeff Wayne – War of the Worlds
Kate Bush – The Whole Story
In closing, please tell us anything else you want us to know about yourself.
I firmly believe Genesis was never as good after Peter Gabriel left.