SCN Hall of Fame 2023: Ralf Zuleeg

Ralf Zuleeg, SCN Hall of Fame 2023
(Image credit: Future)

The Pro AV industry is loaded with talented people, and at SCN, we're proud to celebrate the achievements of the newest members of our Hall of Fame. 

You’ve probably enjoyed Ralf Zuleeg’s contributions to the Pro AV world, though you may not know it. He is the mastermind behind d&b Soundscape, the object-based mixing system from d&b audiotechnik that revolutionized live audio.

[SCN Hall of Fame 2023: Michael Blackman]

Zuleeg began building professional speaker systems as a teenager for a mobile disco and then churches and schools around Stuttgart, Germany. In 1983, after college, his first professional job was on the lighting side.

“A couple of years later I decided I have no clue about lighting, and my heart was still beating for sound and making sound much better,” Zuleeg recollected. “Since then, I really thought about how we can make sound reinforcement more sensational for the audience.”

In the early days, it was a complex process, and often not reproducible. You pulled off a sound system, it worked great, and the next show was something entirely new. That is, until Zuleeg was introduced to wavefield synthesis.

Working at the Zapata Club at the time, Zuleeg realized it was the perfect venue to play around with the idea of object-based mixing. “This was the birth of the idea of Soundscape,” Zuleeg said.

[How d&b Soundscape Pushes the Boundaries in Art Exhibition]

It was around Christmas 2012 when Zuleeg, still at Zapata, realized that Soundscape was something special. Working with the German band Kraftwerk, Zuleeg had them test out the system. “They brought their gear, and they were just so blown away," he said. The test led to touring with the band.

Soundscape was on the road. Momentum was slow, but eventually it shook up the sound industry forever. “If you wanted to convince somebody, you had to make them listen,” Zuleeg said of Soundscape’s early start. “You can use a million words and they won't get it. Give them one minute of an example—they know exactly what it's all about.”

Where does d&b and Soundscape go from here? What started as the ideal solution for classical music and theater can be applied to many use cases, but Zuleeg thinks there are many more. “We have still plenty of segments, but it is also about spatial intelligibility,” Zuleeg said.

Today, Zuleeg still gets out to shows and events to hear his game-changing solution in action. “There's a reason why I started this job, and it was not sitting behind the desk.” Zuleeg explained. “I started this job to make people happy. The biggest success for me is when I put up a show—either I mix it myself or somebody else—standing there, if I have tears in my eyes, then I fulfilled my job.”

[SCN Hall of Fame 2023: Chris Jordan]

He does take time for himself, with a 12-year-old that keeps him busy, an old house and car that need tending to, and a fondness for sailing. Professionally, however, Zuleeg is nowhere near finished.

“I think the limitations of the technology are not drawn yet,” he said. “What happens if you're thinking about immersive and hybrid things? Can you do something on air traffic to increase security? I don't know yet, but we should not underestimate the possibilities."

Wayne Cavadi
Senior Content Manager

Wayne Cavadi is the senior content manager of Systems Contractor News. Prior to taking a leap into the Pro AV industry, Wayne was a journalist and content lead for Turner Sports, covering the NCAA, PGA, and Major and Minor League Baseball. His work has been featured in a variety of national publications including Bleacher Report, Lindy's Magazine, and The Advocate. When not writing, he hosts the DII Nation Podcast, committed to furthering the stories and careers of NCAA Division II student-athletes. Follow his work on Twitter at @WayneCavadi_2 or the SCN mag Twitter page.