The Hi-Fi industry rests securely on the shoulders of its pioneers…
Many of the industry’s iconic brands have come about through the vision and determination of one person. Industry giants like Mark Levinson, who founded Mark Levinson Audio Systems (and later Cello), Saul Marantz of Marantz fame, Sydney Harman of Harman Kardon, James B Lansing of Altec Lansing and JBL, John Bowers of Bowers & Wilkins fame, Frank McIntosh of McIntosh Audio, Dan DÁgostino of Krell (and later Dan DÁgostino) – the list is lengthy and impressive.
Many of these pioneers are no longer with us, but they have all left legacies that are still revered. However, the industry itself has undergone a remarkable transition in recent times. Today few notable brands are headed up by a founding figurehead. Individuals like Paul McGowen of PS Audio and Dan DÁgostino are rarities rather than the norm.
These days high-end audio brands are more likely to be owned by corporates than individuals.
Harman International owns (among many others) JBL, Mark Levinson, Infinity, Arcam and Harman Kardon and is part of the Samsung organisation. Investment firm Highlander owns McIntosh (along with Italian speaker manufacturer Sonus Faber).
Sound United (which in turn is owned by Masimo Corporation) lists Bowers and Wilkins, Marantz, Denon, Polk, Definitive Technology, and Melbourne-based distribution company Qualifi among their portfolio.
So what does this mean for our industry?
Some fear this is the beginning of the end of the entrepreneurial spirit that has been an integral part of this industry for almost a century. In contrast, others believe that it is a sign that the industry has matured and that the influx of capital will bring with it better R&D and manufacturing processes.
I believe that the latter is closer to the truth, assuming that the new owners treat the brands with the respect they deserve rather than as cash cows.
Thankfully to date, this appears (in most cases at least) to be the case. There is still room for the likes of Paul McGowen of PS Audio, Herman van den Dungen of Prima Luna and Edwin Nieman of Perreaux to continue as industry mavericks.
There is another very positive advantage for the consumer in this trend. In the past, each of the brands above went to market in isolation. Today it is possible to go to market with packages, usually at a significant saving to the end user, and it takes the guesswork out of what product is a good pairing with another.
A great example is the recent Bowers and Wilkins/Marantz packages released by Qualifi (part of DEI Holdings above). For example, the package consisting of the Marantz PM6007 integrated amplifier and CD6007 CD player with matching 606 S2 bookshelf speakers with necessary cables is selling for $3,299 – a saving of $589.
Another example is the current offering from Naim Audio and Focal speakers (both are now part of the Vervent Audio Group). They have released two promotional packages, and both represent significant savings.
- Naim Uniti Atom integrated streaming amplifier with Focal Aria K2 906 speakers – with cables – for $6,799. Given that the Uniti Atom sells for $6,000, and a few hundred dollars worth of speaker cable is involved, you are effectively getting a free pair of speakers, valued at $3,250.
- Naim Uniti Nova integrated steaming amplifier with Focal Kanta No2 speakers, again with cables, for $18,999. This is a saving of over $7,800.
Both of these are of exceptional value and are only possible due to the common ownership of the two brands.
While the offerings from both companies are limited – they run until the end of this month – it is an indication of what is possible under current ownership, and I am sure it is an indication of things to come.