Changes Everywhere in Audio

Written by Bill Leebens

There are major changes afoot in the audio industry, and few are being formally announced by press-releases. I’ll present info that is verified as reliable, and link to sources when such sources are available.

B&W/Classe: As reported in Copper #38, there’s been a great deal of upheaval at industry leader B&W. Informal reports indicate that possibly as many as 10 upper-level employees have left since the firing of longtime company President Doug Henderson. Two B&W regional sales managers went to Dana Innovations, parent company of Sonance; four were said to have gone to speaker manufacturer Paradigm; and Stacey Kerek, VP of Operations at B&W, joined Como Audio as President. (Como Audio is a fairly new company founded by Tom DeVesto,  co-founder of Cambridge SoundWorks and Tivoli Audio with Henry Kloss.)

In the midst of all this, B&W has only issued a remarkably uninformative letter to its dealers from Richard Campbell, identified as Chief Revenue Officer at B&W, but unknown to those with a history with or knowledge of the company.

Amongst reports that B&W-owned Classe’ may be shutting down, B&W has responded to inquiries by saying only, “Thank you for your inquiry. It is Bowers & Wilkins policy not to comment on rumors or speculation.”

I have been unable to learn if B&W’s distribution arrangement with Rotel will remain the same as it has been, or if there will be changes there, as well.

Gibson Brands: The company that most think of as Gibson Guitar is far more than a guitar-maker, and is deeply involved—-some would say bewilderingly so—in the audio industry. Gibson has grown to be a conglomerate that owns a number of musical instrument companies and in the audio world  owns Stanton, the accessories division of Philips, and Cerwin Vega, holds a majority share in TEAC/Esoteric, and has a minority share in  Onkyo. (And if that’s not confusing enough, Pioneer’s A/V division is a subsidiary of Onkyo, but acts independently of Onkyo. Sort of.)

How do all these companies fit together? Aside from Gibson’s CEO Henry Juszkiewicz, no one seems quite sure. The company has hit some hard times in recent years, including raids by federal agents related to wood that was allegedly imported illegally, along with a decline in the market for guitars, closely tied to woes at major retailer Guitar Center. The latest bad news is a down-rating of the company’s credit rating, tied to massive debt and the prospect of defaulting on its obligations.

It will be interesting to see how—or if—Gibson is able to ride out these latest challenges.

Thiel Audio: For many observers of the audio industry, few things have been as painful to watch as the de-evolution of Thiel Audio following the death of founder and designer Jim Thiel and the sale of the company by Jim’s partner, Kathy Gornik. The company was built upon Jim’s unique drivers and alignments and his brother Tom’s exquisite cabinet-work; in recent years the company divested itself of all machinery and facilities in Lexington, Kentucky, meaning that the company could no longer repair or refurbish legacy models. As incredible customer support had always been an earmark of the brand, that did not bode well.

It recent years the company has offered fairly conventional speaker designs, apparently made in China. A number of sales managers have come and gone, and the company just announced its fifth CEO in four years. The new CEO is Elyse McKenna, a Twitter-savvy veteran of artist agencies and web-marketing companies. We wish her and the company well, but the name Thiel has little meaning for audiophiles these days.

Lenbrook:  The name Lenbrook may not be familiar to many in the audio world, but it’s the parent company of the brands NAD, PSB, and Bluesound. Lenbrook began as a distribution company, then bought NAD and PSB, and recently founded Bluesound. In some markets they continue as distributor for brands such as B&O Play and Tivoli Audio.

The longtime President and CEO of Lenbrook Americas, Dean Miller, is retiring, and so is the Chief Brand Officer, John Banks. They moves have been in the works for some time, and Miller and Banks will be replaced by three employees promoted from within.

Artison: Artison is a manufacturer of  in-wall and custom-installation speakers, founded by Cary Christie; Christie also co-founded Infinity Systems with Arnie Nudell, back at the dawn of time. Artison was just purchased by smart-home giant Savant—and there is a great deal of speculation as to why Savant would buy a speaker brand, and how the companies will fit together.

Time will tell, no?

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