18 Nov 2022

NST AUDIO – A Software Driven Hardware Company

by John O'Brien

There is an old parable about the chicken and the egg, which came first? We know in audio world; hardware was the original player. But it is increasingly reliant on software to provide nuance, power and control. Which one takes precedence now?

NST Audio are a UK company providing a range of audio matrix switchers designed for both the live sound and fixed installation markets. Their hardware is underpinned by extensive software development, the real power behind their product.

CX talked to founder Dan Cartman to find out the story behind one of the recent entrants to the ANZ DSP market and how they found their way here.

Dan Cartman

The Backstory

After completing a degree in Acoustics, Dan ended up working with various audio manufacturers, such as BSS, Turbosound and XTA. Learning to program software came with the jobs and has been his mainstay since. A foray out of the industry designing sound level meters gave some external perspective. He pays tribute: “I’ve done a tour of the UK companies. Paid my dues!”

11 years ago, a redundancy forced his hand. Faced with the choice of uprooting a growing family to chase a career, he started working on NST and stayed in the pleasant environs of North Yorkshire.

Software first, hardware follows

Now an accomplished programmer with deep experience in audio signal processing, Dan realised the true power that lay in software. He identified that “The nature of our kind of business is we are a software company that sells hardware. One of the problems in that is there’s an awful lot of work involved before you’ve got anything to sell. That’s the biggest obstacle.”

Originally intending to personally focus just on software and employ others to build hardware and embedded systems, he soon found himself doing the lot. Some very late nights and long hours followed but he has since built up a team to take on the bulk of the work.


 Doing it locally has been important to him. “One of the things that is critical for me, for what we do, is that we do build and assemble everything in the UK.” Although sourcing base components through Asia and elsewhere, NST keep production as much under direct control as possible. Dan continues, “Metalwork is all built in the UK. A lot of the custom components are built in the UK. Basically, all the parts are assembled in-house.” Only just in jest, he tries “keeping it in the UK, despite our government’s best efforts to try and make it harder and harder!”

Born in the UK

NST could subcontract parts of the assembly process and it would lead to easier business scaling but at the cost of quality control. Dan has cleverly identified that “the primary thing about audio products is reliability. There’s not an awful lot of scope for ‘oh, it won’t matter if it crashes once in a while’. It’s got to be absolutely bombproof. That’s the important bit.” By taking this approach, NST have kept their quality up and increased their reputation as solid gear worth investing in.

Slow buildup

Like any new company, “growth happened very slowly.” This is not uncommon in our industry, and Dan was ready for the wait. “When you are a new brand, a lot of the market is very conservative with what they are willing to experiment with. They stick to a brand and stay loyal. There’s a vast part of the market that needs to see a brand name multiple times before they are even willing to give it a go.” So, they stuck to their guns and evolved with care.


Picking up regional distributors has helped heaps with momentum, which has increased over the Covid years. Dan finds “Our business moves around. The real key, as a manufacturer, is to not rely on one particular customer or one particular market.” This diversity of outlets has helped them ride through the storm.

Group Technologies

The ANZ distributor that they appointed is Group Technologies. Their crew and Dan had long ago met in Guangzhou at a trade show, and they kept in contact. Their goals eventually overlapped, and they set up an arrangement.

NST’s approach to partnership is as strategic as their gear development for Dan. “When we are looking at taking distribution on, we look at what other brands are involved. And the portfolio of brands that Group Technologies have is pretty much a perfect fit for us. They’ve got a couple of loudspeaker brands, they’ve got DiGiGo, Austrian Audio. They’ve got this whole suite of complimentary products, which is great for us, because we are part of a system. From Group Technologies’ point of view, they can sell a whole system to a customer.”


Getting past QSC

It’s no secret that QSC’s Q-SYS has a fairly solid hold on the ANZ audio distribution market. But they are not the only player and there is plenty of scope for other companies to find a space.

Dan keeps an eye on it all: “In the DSP industry, some of the more basic stuff has been commoditised in recent years but there’s still a gap for companies that are doing the more complex stuff. And those that are doing the bigger systems.”

Instead of hopelessly going head on with an incumbent, NST have focused on their strengths – software and sound quality – as they fit perfectly into small and medium sized installs. Their gear will work well for sending to any output but shines when it is used in a larger system. The NST DSP is designed to sound great in everything from ceiling speakers to 5-way club banger systems, something that conferencing based DSPs struggle at. This focus on audio quality is why NST have also found themselves regularly in high end home cinemas, particularly when Dolby Atmos is employed. “If you’ve got 15-20 speakers in a room, all of a sudden that 110dB noise floor, that’s not enough. Having an extra 10dB with our products suddenly makes a difference. Plus, the sound quality starts making a real difference with the dynamic range that you have in those systems.”

Controlling the future

As with much tech nowadays, control and integration are key parameters in a customer’s choice. With a wall plate in the range for small rooms, NST do their utmost to be readily integrated into higher level control when those platforms make more sense to take over and provide UI.

One very prescient customer experience in our game right now is getting hands on stock. NST took a tactical approach and have invested in a deep inventory.

When customers contact asking “I need to do this and this and this – what have you got?” Dan replies “you can do it this way with this product.” When asked “what’s the lead-time?” Dan is proud to say that “I can ship it to you next week.”

There are not too many AV manufacturers who can currently say that with the same confidence.


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