What Next For Sennheiser After Sonova Acquisition?
Sennheiser has been a major headphone brand at JB Hi Fi and specialist audio retailers for decades, but the big question now is what is going to happen after Sonova a Swiss hearing Company purchased the Company in April.
Seen as a premium brand the Sennheiser brothers, co-CEOs Daniel and Andreas, have admitted that the business struggled with the rapid changes taking place in the headphone market especially the emergence of true wireless and active noise cancelling.
In the end the brothers sold the family’s consumer audio business in order to focus on the professional products division, which makes studio monitoring headphones and microphones.
“The market has changed, even for the audiophile niche,” said Daniel Sennheiser in a video call recently.
“The market has become extremely dynamic, with products such as true wireless.”
“And there are new technologies to improve the man–machine interface, like voice commands and curated hearing,” added Andreas Sennheiser.
“Is it being used in a noisy environment? In some places, you want the amplification of voices.” The brothers said they recognised that the consumer side needed to grow, but that only a larger company with deep pockets and complementary technology would be capable of the task.
That Company is Sonova who specialise in in miniaturization and high-end hearing aids which includes such brands as Phonak, Unitron, and Advanced Bionics.
Talking to European magazine Dealerscope Arnd Kaldowski, the CEO of Sonova claimed that the acquisition of the Sennheiser is an important step into a new direction for the Swiss brand who see similarities between the headphone market and the manufacture of premium headphones.
“There’s definitely technology we can share,” he said.
For Sonova, Sennheiser’s audio fidelity skills represent access to a new demographic. “In the hearing aid market, the average age of a customer is 71 years old,” noted Kaldowski.
By adopting sound reproduction technology from Sennheiser, Sonova is hoping to reach a younger audience before their hearing becomes a problem.
“There are people out there with hearing difficulties for whom a traditional hearing aid may not be an option,” points out Ben Arnold, NPD’s consumer technology industry analyst, whereas true wireless earbuds are the kinds of products people are accustomed to wearing and therefore could fill a unique need.
Both partners see particular potential in the market for speech-enhanced hearables and for true wireless and audiophile headphones.
Analysts and research professionals, are predicting that the headphone market alone will grow at an annual rate of 11 percent from now through 2026.
How much new investment Sonova is bringing to the headphone business in order to participate in that growth isn’t clear and financial terms of the sale have not been released.
As for Sennheiser’s existing research facilities in Wennebostel, Wedemark, near Hanover, Kaldowski said Sonova has no plans to move the department at this point in time.
While the hearing aid firm is headquartered in Stäfa, Switzerland, just outside of Zurich, Sonova has divisions around the world that can take advantage of expertise in particular areas, of which Sennheiser’s respected audio research will remain an integral part.
Currently, there are about 600 employees in the consumer electronics division of Sennheiser.
Daniel and Andreas insist the Sennheiser brand will persist and prevail. Sonova has made licensing arrangements for the future use of the brand.
Currently management are working on the direction for the headphone and audio market.
Andreas Sennheiser says that impressive new models will continue to appear in the near term.
The company has just announced the debut of a new set of IE 900 audiophile-grade wired earbuds, that in Australia will cost around $1,900.
“And not to worry, your HD 650 will continue to exist,” said Andreas, referring to one of Sennheiser’s most well-regarded over-the-ear headphone models.
“The entire market should rest assured that we will maintain our entire audio competency.”
Daniel Sennheiser concurred: “We’ve been good at understanding what the audiophile needs, and that’s not going to change,” he said. “There will always be audiophiles.”
Sennheiser was founded in 1945 near Hanover, Germany by Fritz Sennheiser, Daniel and Andreas’ grandfather. In its early days, the company began with microphones, but it wasn’t until 1968 that Sennheiser came of age by introducing the first open-air headphone, the HD 414. The five-ounce open-backed headphone was a revelation in a market dominated by heavyweights such as the Koss Pro 4AA, which tipped the scales at a hair-pulling 19 ounces.
From there the business went on to become at one stage the #1 selling headphone at JB Hi Fi.