Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Naim bought by Focal or not? New merger announced

Much as we might imagine hi-end specialist manufacturers live in a world of their own where their destinies are tied only to the quality of their products, the more mundane aspects of business came to the fore this past week with the news that venerably UK audio brand Naim will 'merge' with Focal. On the main Naim discussion forum there is a PR piece to whit:

A new company Focal & Co will own and manage Focal and Naim as independent brands, retaining their own philosophies and product ranges, but collaborating on research and development. Focal & Co, owned by Jacques Mahul (founder and chairman), CM-CIC (long-term shareholder in Focal) and the management teams of Focal and Naim, will employ 325 people at its facilities in St-Etienne, France and Salisbury, UK. By bringing together the research and development teams of both companies, Focal & Co will create "an industry-leading R&D capability to propel the Naim and Focal brands to the next level".

Jacques Mahul says: "For future success, the key point is that there is no future for a speaker or electronic company alone. Partnership and collaboration are the way forward both in terms of investment and R&D."Paul Stephenson, managing director of Naim Audio, says: "It is a merger of European minds. In Focal, we have found a partner which shares our passion for music and will help us take Naim to the next level. "We can achieve far more together than would have been possible alone, yet at the same time we are able to retain everything that is unique about Naim and everything that our customers love us for. "We have some incredible developments in the pipeline and this alliance will help us get those to market as quickly as possible."

A Naim spokesperson adds: "A key aspect of this merger is the joint R&D opportunities it will give both companies – a crucial benefit as the industry evolves." The spokesperson confirmed that each company's product lines – and branding – will continue as before. "You're not going to see joint branding on products," they said, also stressing that it's "business as usual" for Naim's speaker ranges.

Monday, August 15, 2011

PBN does DIY

Interesting development from PBN, a company that has a long reputation for producing very large (and reportedly very good sounding) speakers as well as a chief, the engaging Peter Noerbaek, who takes out full page adverts in the mainstream audio press explaining his designs. Tired of expensive speakers whose price is determined by labor costs more than design and parts quality, PBN has taken to offering kits of a sort. The new 'Pennywise' series allows you to buy the parts and plans or the parts and the cabinets, with the rest of the labor on you. Having built a couple of kits I'd say this is an interesting approach, especially if the resulting product is both good looking (very important if we are honest) and decent sounding. I'm keen to learn more, so if you bite, drop me a line. Peter, if you ever read this, let me know too, HiFi'Zine would be interested in trying these out.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sony's new flagship speaker and you

Sony's new AR1 flagship speaker has launched with the kind of press many manufacturer's can only dream about, including two raves in Stereophile and The Absolute Sound. I am sure these are wonderful though I am equally sure snobs will ignore them because of the Sony name. For me, the idea that resource-rich manufacturing companies like B&W, Sony, SME etc put their efforts into audio excellence suggests real advantages and potential gains that smaller companies cannot afford.

But the real point here is just how divorced the launch and the reporting are from real audiophiles. "Go and listen for yourself'" is the mantra of reviewers but just try to do that with these speakers. A quick check of the Sony site reveals six dealers in the US carrying these new speakers, and the nearest one to me is only 300 miles away (guess that puts me nearer than most!). This reminds me of the time I tried to locate a pair of the TAD-induced Pioneer flagship line to audition, with a serious intent of buying if they hit the mark. Of course, no dealers were even listed as carrying them and an email enquiry to the company brought a polite reply asking me to clarify my request as they could not find those speakers themselves!

I suppose if you want to spend $25k on speakers you are supposedly able and willing to fork over a few more dollars to go hear them in a strange dealers or an audio show. OK, can someone please tell the reviewers then to stop hiding behind the 'hear it yourself' defense?