We ven­ture into the World of Mcin­tosh

International ex­pan­sion is the name of the game at Mcin­tosh Group, with a fo­cus on high-end hi-fi

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

It has al­ways been our mis­sion on What Hi-fi? to keep things real-world and af­ford­able, which is why we con­cen­trate most of our re­views on prod­ucts at the lower and mid­dle part of the price spec­trum.

Each month, we cover the high-end in our Temp­ta­tion sec­tion, where price is not an is­sue. We ap­pre­ci­ate most peo­ple won’t be able to af­ford those prod­ucts but, like yearn­ing for a Fer­rari or Lam­borgh­ini, it’s nice to dream.

If you’re look­ing for a com­pany that has made a splash for it­self in high-end hi-fi in re­cent years, then World of Mcin­tosh is a good place to start.

Global ex­pan­sion

Born out of the Fine Sounds Group, which bought Ital­ian speaker spe­cial­ist Sonus Faber in 2007, the com­pa­nies that now come un­der the WOM um­brella read like a Who’s Who? of high-end hi-fi: Mcin­tosh, Au­dio Re­search, Sonus Faber, Wa­dia, Su­miko and most re­cently Pryma.

You can see the time­line of how the group came to­gether in the panel on the left. Suf­fice to say that un­der the lead­er­ship of CEO Mauro Grange it has made a de­ter­mined push to ex­pand its port­fo­lio, cul­mi­nat­ing in a man­age­ment buy­out with LBO France and Yarpa in 2014.

“We don’t want to change our DNA, but we do want to move for­ward,” says Grange. “In this jour­ney we will never for­get who we are.” That DNA is summed up as com­bin­ing “his­tory, crafts­man­ship and qual­ity”.

Mcin­tosh Labs, which gives its name to the group as a whole, was founded in 1949 and Au­dio Re­search in 1970, so there’s plenty of her­itage there. Sonus Faber was born in 1983 in Italy, while Wa­dia was formed more re­cently, in 1998, by a team of en­gi­neers from the 3M Cor­po­ra­tion – and, like Mcin­tosh, is based in Bing­ham­ton, USA.

Lux­ury brands

The lat­est ad­di­tion to the port­fo­lio is Pryma, a lux­ury head­phone brand with sound by Sonus Faber, launched to­wards the end of last year.

It’s clear WOM is on an ex­pan­sion drive and, more wide­spread eco­nomic chal­lenges notwithstanding, the com­pany is con­vinced the mar­ket for high-end hi-fi re­mains ro­bust.

But it is not obliv­i­ous to changes in con­sumer be­hav­iour, and the fact that for most peo­ple to­day their mu­sic is ei­ther streamed or stored on a smart­phone, tablet or lap­top. That led to the cre­ation of the Pryma ‘life­style’ head­phone range, and most re­cently the un­veil­ing of the ex­tra­or­di­nary-look­ing Sonus Faber SF16 all-in-one hi-res wire­less mu­sic-stream­ing sys­tem. Even here though, the com­pany drew on its her­itage: the con­cept for the SF16 was de­rived from the fa­mous Sonus Faber ‘snail’ speaker sys­tem from 1980. It’s a highly un­usual de­sign, and likely to re­main rare, as only 200 will be hand­made each year, sell­ing for £9900 each.

“It was a huge chal­lenge to de­velop this crazy idea, it was the tallest moun­tain to climb,” says Paolo Tez­zon, head of R&D at Sonus Faber. “Ini­tially I saw a large num­ber of prob­lems to solve. The real prob­lem was to keep all the ba­sic qual­i­ties of tra­di­tional hi-fi, but re­duce the com­plex­ity of the prod­uct for the cus­tomer and make it a plug-and-play so­lu­tion.” The re­sult is the SF16.

Pre­mium pric­ing

Price is another area where the WOM brands do things dif­fer­ently: they are unashamedly ex­pen­sive, lux­ury prod­ucts and Au­dio Re­search’s re­cent re­lease of a “more af­ford­able” Foun­da­tion range of elec­tron­ics, at just un­der £7000 each, gives a clear in­di­ca­tion of where it sees its po­si­tion in the hi-fi mar­ket. Given that AR’S Ref­er­ence range runs from £12,000 up to £30,000, the term “more af­ford­able” is rel­a­tive here.

Mcin­tosh takes a sim­i­lar ap­proach: the forth­com­ing MVP901 Blu-ray player comes in at $5500 and its first phono preamp, the MP100, at $2000.

How­ever, there are signs that WOM has its eye on prod­ucts with real-world prices as well. New kid on the block Pryma un­veiled its first range of head­phones, with sound by Sonus Faber, last year with prices start­ing from £380.

“Pryma is a new brand, so the rules are dif­fer­ent,” says Livio Cu­cuzza, who heads the WOM De­sign Lab.

Fash­ion state­ment

“We are work­ing in fash­ion, cre­at­ing a lux­ury life­style prod­uct, it is some­thing you wear. We need to build a new brand im­age, which is a big chal­lenge for us.”

“By the end of 2016, sales of head­phones glob­ally will reach $30bn, and $70bn by 2022. We want to tap into that mar­ket,” adds Natascha Klein, VP of sales and mar­ket­ing, life­style divi­sion.

Cu­cuzza and his team are also work­ing on a range of Mcin­tosh life­style prod­ucts, in­clud­ing head­phones and smaller speak­ers. The Mcin­tosh RS1000, un­veiled at CES 2016 and one of our Stars of CES, is a case in point: it is the com­pany’s first small wire­less speaker to fea­ture DTS Play-fi tech­nol­ogy, and can be used as part of a multi-room stream­ing sys­tem. A big­ger ver­sion of the RS100 is on the cards too.

The adop­tion of DTS Play-fi is another sign of the times: Ron Cor­nelius, Mcin­tosh’s prod­uct man­ager, says the tech­nol­ogy of­fers high-res stream­ing (up to 24-bit/192khz) that’s in keep­ing with the brand’s im­age.

Reach­ing new cus­tomers is about more than just new prod­ucts, though. To that end, the firm has cre­ated its first World of Mcin­tosh flag­ship town­house, in New York. More are planned in 2017, in­clud­ing one in Lon­don.

It doesn’t stop there. It has also built its first World of Mcin­tosh “ex­pe­ri­ence cen­tre” in Ann Ar­bor, Michi­gan, and plans to roll out the con­cept else­where.

This is re­tail­ing at the high end, and a clear sign that WOM is sell­ing a life­style as much as the tech­nol­ogy it makes.

What’s next? Well, at a re­cent press launch there was a hint at new prod­ucts to come from Wa­dia, but no specifics. There will be a new Foun­da­tion se­ries power amp from Au­dio Re­search this au­tumn, fol­lowed by a Foun­da­tion stereo in­te­grated amp in 2017. What­ever hap­pens from here on, it’s clear the WOM group won’t be rest­ing on its lau­rels.

“We don’t want to change our DNA, but we do want to move for­ward. In this jour­ney we will never for­get who we are”

The World of Mcin­tosh has kit­ted out a New York town­house with its full range

Sonus Faber’s orig­i­nal ‘snail’ sys­tem (above) in­spired the new SF16 (right) 4

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