How One Salesman Is Changing an Entire Manufacturer

Jon Ralston of Transformative Engineering talks about transformers and cables the way Galileo probably talked about constellations and the laws of nature. Excited yet poised, he could speak fluently for hours on the intricacies that make these little black boxes and wires both run and break down.

As a former custom A/V installer, he can also tell you what exactly are in the walls that people work and live in. He can relate with techs and reminisce on nightmare products with the best of them, the frustration of it sometimes giving way into an almost joke. Ralston could also wax poetic for you about any number of reasons why Transformative Engineering is better for the installer and end-user. After all, Ralston used to work at Tweeter and has played a major role in the way many Transformative Engineering products are made, sold, and supported.

By the time he was nine years old, his parents had bought him architectural drafting tables. Ralston knew he was going to be an architect. In the fall of 1990, he went to Arizona State, one of the best architectural schools in the nation at that time. As fate would have it, the program fell apart. Ralston traveled back home highly disillusioned.

After a stint studying criminal law, he started working at Tweeter, a now-defunct CE retail store that many A/V veterans will remember well. One day, he walked into an audio store off the street to apply for a job, and what would you know, an old friend from Tweeter was there working as a satellite installer. He would stay there for 10 years until three industry veterans hatched a plan.

Now in their seventh year of business, they’re on the verge of cracking one million dollars in sales this year. But if you hear “Transformative Engineering” and only see Ralston’s face, you’d be remiss to never know of the three other mysterious men working behind the curtain at their operations.

Combined, they’ve created nine companies and tens of millions in profit. None of them have a photo headshot.

The trio includes an engineer who also owns his own OEM/ODM manufacturing business, an innovator who has founded several legendary HiFi brands, and an A/V wizard who started and ran one of the most well respected service centers in New England. Engne Tang, Peter Tribeman, and Jay Trieber met each other over 20 years ago and have never looked back.

Engne Tang, or just “Tang” (like the drink) as everyone calls him, is Taiwanese. Tang is soft-spoken, quiet, and the most laid back of all the owners. Tang is responsible for designing all of Transformative Engineering’s products and is directly responsible for the already famous reliability of the products. You would never know this, though, because Tang is so reserved.

Tang also owns VAC-com, a producer of OEM/ODM products. He quite literally knows what’s involved with making and producing products. All of Transformative Engineering’s products are designed in-house. Often, Tang is a liaison between many companies in China and Taiwan since he speaks fluent Chinese, in addition to English and Taiwanese.

Peter Tribeman, Vice President of Marketing, is the innovator of the group. You’ll get out of breath trying to say all the companies he’s owned, run, or founded—Outlaw Audio, Atlantic Technology, Proton, NAD, and HPASS. He has entire message group threads about the products he’s been associated with. Because of this, he has an indispensable wealth of connections. Tribeman has a dry sense of humor and loves laughing—but tilt the conversation toward business, and you can literally see the wheels start turning in his head.

Tribeman is fully cognizant that he’s not an engineer and knows how to talk to people because of that. Have you ever entered a conversation, and a person starts talking way over your head? That will never be Peter. He knows how to reassure someone and not make them feel stupid, because he knows what he knows and knows what he doesn’t know.

When Jay Trieber was in high school, he started helping the school with their A/V work. Eventually, he was completely in charge of it. He’s famous in the Needham, Massachusetts, school district because of that. He founded the A/V club in his high school. To people who knew him growing up, Jay Trieber has made a natural progression to being the President of Transformative Engineering and Home Theater Concepts.

Trieber got his start by running a business out of his mom and dad’s basement. One lone employee would make the trek down the stairs every morning. Eventually, he grew to be able to afford to feed his car addiction. He owns a land yacht for a Thunderbird that’s longer than Ralston’s GMC full size extended cab truck. He also has more items recorded on his DVR than anyone I have ever met.

A big trend at InfoComm 2017 was HDMI over IP. As Ralston walked the floor this year, he counted 57 vendors showing just connectivity solutions. That’s 6% of the exhibitors.

Now, Transformative Engineering has released what could be their biggest product yet—the HDU-1. The HDU-1 is a connection of a HDMI or VGA source, a fully synchronous USB device, Bi-Directional IR, and an auxiliary audio feed—all over a single category cable. The goal since inception has been to build a better, more adept, more custom integrator-centric solution to everyday problems, and they’re doing just that—for half the price. It’s incredibly affordable at $729 in comparison to competitors that are at least twice as expensive.

They’ve also introduced the HDC-2 HDMI Conditioner for HDCP 2.2 sources. It handles full 4K 18-Gigabit throughout while stabilizing and correcting for non-compliant signals and maintaining HDCP security. “It stabilizes and corrects HDMI signals that may have been compromised by nonconforming HDMI devices. Many HDMI products may not present a signal with correct EDID, ‘handshake’ or HDCP protocols. The HDC-2 identifies and solves these issues by establishing a proper ‘handshake’ between the devices so that the display will operate properly,” said Ralston.

TE's HDC-2 conditioner supports ARC (Audio Return Channel) and HEC (Home Ethernet Connection). The HDC-2 also supports 3D, 2K x 4K, Deep Color, xV Color, and High Speed transmissions as well as all current HDMI Audio Formats. It is powered by an included 5V Power Supply. In addition, they provide a USB port for future firmware updates. It’s currently available for an MSRP of $269.

Their third new product is the SB-2 Dual Stereo Audio Balun, which can be used to connect two pairs of stereo components over 300 feet apart using a single CAT5/6 network cable. The SB-2 Dual Stereo Baluns provide full signal preservation compared to the noise problems and signal losses typical of standard RCA stereo cables at long distances.

The SB-2 Balun converts each of four unbalanced RCA line inputs into balanced signals to send over four twisted wire pairs of a CAT5 or CAT6 network cable. A second SB-2 at the other end converts the balanced audio signals back to four unbalanced RCA line outputs.

Compared to conventional RCA cables, which are only fully effective for 25 to 50 feet maximum, the SB-2 maintains full frequency response and signal-to-noise for a full 300 feet and beyond. Current MSRP is $109 per pair.

Transformative Engineering’s slogan is “for installers, by installers” and that rings true when you delve into the service aspect of their business. They’ve been able to help both small and large dealers thrive through phenomenal customer service and superb products.

CE Pro 100, Maverick Integration, can attest to this more than anyone; “Transformative Engineering has been a great partner, because first and foremost, they make products that work. I can feel comfortable about selling an $800 balun, because I know it will work. Jon Ralston has been a fantastic rep for Transformative Engineering. He has driven as far as Maine from Boston to help my techs on a jobsite. He has also helped on jobsites with problems that had nothing to do with Transformative Engineering. For those reasons, Transformative Engineering is the kind of partner we love to support,” says Jack Gattinella, service manager of Maverick Integration.

Sean Hammond, CEO of Intelligent AV, learned of Transformative Engineering while working for a previous employer. “It was the first HDMI extender product we used that actually worked and didn't require constant service calls. The reliability coupled with the exceptional customer service made it a no-brainer when starting my own company to choose Transformative Engineering as my exclusive vendor for the type of products they offer.”

Hammond’s main point of contact is Ralston. “Jonathan treats me like a person and not an account number. On the extremely rare occasion there is an issue (I believe that’s happened twice in six years with hundred's of products sold), a replacement is on its way to me, usually the same day. If I'm in the field and my back is against the wall, I can always count on Jon to not only answer the phone but stick with me until we get it figured out. While the products are excellent, the customer service they provide goes well above any expectations an integrator would have, and that alone is worth its weight in gold.”