Focal & Naim to Merge Operations
Summer's end is traditionally known as "the silly season" in European newsrooms, but there was nothing silly about the bombshell of a press release that arrived on the desks of hi-fi journalists on August 19. Two of Europe's most successful and best-established high-end audio brands, Focal and Naim Audio, announced that they are joining forces to create a new company, Focal & Co., under the chairmanship of Focal founder Jacques Mahul. With a combined annual earnings of nearly £50 million ($82 million), ca £31 million for Focal and ca £18 million for Naim) and more than 300 employees, Focal & Co. will automatically become a European hi-fi leader in terms of sales and resources.
There's little overlap in the companies' product ranges: Naim has primarily made electronics, Focal loudspeakers. The plan is that in most respects the firms will continue to operate autonomously, retaining their separate dealer networks. The main purpose of the merger is to combine the resources and capabilities of the companies' R&D departments, which should help to more efficiently meet the increasing costs of innovation and accelerate the bringing of new products to market.
Exactly what those innovations will be remains unclear. I could speculate that one source of inspiration might be the considerable commercial success enjoyed by the Zeppelin iPod dockand related products that Bowers & Wilkins has introduced in recent years. Certainly, while traditional hi-fi components will continue to enjoy considerable success in the fast-growing markets of the Far East, in Europe and the US, younger customers in particular will more likely be looking for hi-tech convenience. Two days before the Focal & Co. announcement, Naim released details of its new SuperUniti, essentially an upgraded, DAC-equipped SuperNait integrated amplifier, but that now includes high-resolution streaming capabilities. I'd be amazed if it didn't prove a huge success in Europe and America, and see it as the sort of component for which expanded R&D resources might have been very helpful.
There's bound to be plenty more speculation about the long-term future of this exciting joint venture, especially as the younger, French company appears to be the dominant partner. Naim and Focal have stated their intentions to maintain their distinctive and complementary brands' separate identities.
Shown in the photograph are, from LR): Roy George (Naim), Gérard Chrétien (Focal), Christophe Sicaud (Focal), Paul Stephenson (Naim), Neil Carden, Jacques Mahul (Focal), and Thierry Guggenheim (Focal).