Soundbites 2014: Sennheiser tackling changes head-on to maintain the Momentum

Over the coming days and weeks at Appliance Retailer we’ll be looking at the Australian audio market, finding out what the leading brands and suppliers are up to and looking at the best new products available.

(Part I: Yamaha)
(Part II: Parrot)
(Part III: Convoy International)

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It’s fair to say that change is very much afoot at Sennheiser, both in terms of the company’s global trajectory and its local presence. The above Tweet shows just how proactive the traditionally conservative brand is being at targeting the cashed up youth market.

Founded in Hanover in the same year the Allies took Germany, Sennheiser has remained privately owned and the in Sennheiser family over the past 69 years. In 2008, the third generation took the reigns, with Daniel and Andreas Sennheiser becoming co-CEOs. That same year, Beats was founded in Santa Monica, California, sparking an audio revolution propelled in part by its protagonist, Dr Dre.

Sennheiser, which always prided itself on professional grade audio quality, and the company also markets an extensive range of B2B pro-audio equipment to go with its topline consumer products, was suddenly confronted by a new consumer that was drawn more to style over substance. Local managing director Bjørn Rennemo Henrikson said this change in demand asked a serious question of Sennheiser: was it prepared to compromise on its core principles in order to reclaim its momentum?

“The market has turned and our competition has shown that headphones in any colour sells,” he said. “The number one and overall criteria for Sennheiser is audio — the pursuit of perfect sound — so the compromise is to say, we need to make something small for the Sport series in partnership with Adidas, but the sound quality needs to be there.

“We always thought that as long as we created great audio products the consumer will buy that, but today the consumers say they don’t care, because the youngsters have been listening to MP3s at 128kb compression for years and years and that is apparently good enough.”

At the same time Sennheiser was grappling with this challenge at a global level, it was enacting major changes here in Australia. After using a licensed distributor, Syntec International, to establish the brand and wholesale network in Australia, Sennheiser negotiated to take over Syntec and convert to a local subsidiary model, which is line with the company’s international expansion policy. In early May 2014, Michael Sloss, the grandson of Syntec’s founder, left the business.

With a direct path now from Hanover to Australian retailers, Sennheiser needed the products to meet the demand.

“The perfect compromise that we’ve come up with is the Momentum series. Not only is audio important to us, so is the craftsmanship of what customers want to buy,” said  Henrikson. The Momentum is in seven different colours, that product is built to last — you can’t break the band — and it sounds great.”

In a case of intercontinental intracompany cognitive dissonance, Madeleine Tan, product manager at Sennheiser Consumer Electronics (US), said at the 2014 International CES that in creating the Momentum series Sennheiser, “sought to achieve something new in the world of headphones by combining uncompromising sound quality with the finest materials, and a distinct, pure design. We’ve reimagined the concept of a contemporary, urban style with a classic, timeless feel.”

Sennheiser Momentum range (RRP $299).

Sennheiser Momentum range (RRP $299).

Reclaiming the momentum with Momentum has been the mantra since the latest collection was released. The official press spiel vacillates from pragmatism to Sennheiser’s atavistic and classically German engineering philosophy.

Joining Sennheiser’s Style Selection, the beautiful and compact Momentum On-Ear headphones fuse luxurious, elegant aesthetics to high performance sound. Available in a range of distinctive colours, Momentum On-Ear lets you stay in step with this season’s fashions while experiencing incredible sound on the move. Ground-breaking technologies like open-type headphones, electrostatics,  one way transducer or ring radiator driver.

Sennheiser will be showcasing this range and evangelising its philosophy at Semi-Permanent, a creative design exhibition in Sydney running 22-24 May 2014. Part of Vivid Sydney, Semi-Permanent includes presentations by legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk, filmmaker (and not member of REM) Mike Mills and Australian TV icon Andrew Denton.

“SemiPermanent is the leading creative and design conference in Australia, and at the event Sennheiser will have an experiential activation to showcase both content from the project, as well as the award-winning Sennheiser headphones,” a spokesperson said.

Next in our Soundbites series, we find out where Directed is heading

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