With B&W and Marantz, Masimo, a maker of medical devices, makes the push into audio

Masimo must have been the biggest, most valuable company at AXPONA by far. Its market valuation is slightly north of 10 billion dollars. The NASDAQ-listed firm had more than two billion in revenues last year. And yet it's a safe bet that most expo-goers who saw the Masimo name on one of the demo rooms thought, "Who?"

Well, see if you recognize these names: Bowers & Wilkins, Marantz, Polk, Definitive Technology, Classé, Denon, HEOS, and Boston Acoustics. Those eight brands are owned and managed by the formerly independent Sound United. Masimo plunked down a cool one billion dollars for that company a year ago, explaining that the buyout provides "access to an established distribution channel with major retailers and a potential to cross-sell [our] products."

That still left a lot of people scratching their heads. Masimo sells medical technology: its signature products are pulse oximeters and other health-monitoring devices. Other than (maybe) audiology tech such as hearing aids, where is the synergy with high-end audio? Initially, investors didn't see it, sending the company's stock price plummeting by more than a third (it has since recovered).

A lucrative Masimo sideline, planned or not, is patents. Earlier this year, a court sided with Masimo in the company's lawsuit against Apple. The Cupertino colossus had to pay up after the pulse oximeter in the Apple watch was found to infringe on two Masimo patents. One market analyst noted that "even a modest royalty of $1–$2 per watch could add $60 million–$120 million to Masimo's annual revenue." The company has also won patent suits against giants like Philips and Medtronic.

Both culturally and in terms of the markets they serve, Masimo and Sound United seem like an awkward fit—a Venn diagram whose circles touch but overlap nowhere. But I admit I'm no business sage, and since this is Stereophile, not Investor's Business Daily, let's finally take a look at some sweet gear . . . and listen to great music.

In the Masimo room I visited, I encountered a spiffy-looking, $6999/pair of Bowers & Wilkins 702 S3 speakers. The connected components were a Marantz Model 30 integrated amp ($2999); an SACD30n Marantz disc player ($2999); and a Marantz TT-15S1 belt-driven turntable ($1799). An aside: it's disappointing that at almost 15,000 simoleons (no small amount!), this was one of the more affordable setups I saw and heard at AXPONA.

To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive about the B&Ws. Before I joined Stereophile, I once decided not to review a pair of B&W 603 speakers because I found them harsh and dry—in my room, to my ears. Better save my efforts for worthier candidates, I thought.

Did the 702 S3 loudspeakers also fall short? I'd feared they would, but am happy to say that I found them captivating. (Was it the higher-quality model that made the difference, or the room, or the associated equipment? No idea.)

Also, the 702s are timbrally talented. On "When Love Was King" by Gregory Porter, his caramel-colored voice was delicious, the sound of the brushed snare impressively real. Then we played Beyoncé's "Daddy Lessons," with handclaps and New Orleans-style horns that sounded excitingly alive. The system put in a consistently commanding performance.

Jazzlistener's picture

…you discarded an entire brand because of ONE listening experience. You just lost all credibility as a reviewer.

johnnythunder1's picture

shows you have no credibility as a legit commenter on this site. And your reading comprehension is at fault too. Did you read the entire posting?

Glotz's picture

JVB's honesty is a welcome. I also hated the entire 600 range for exactly the same reason.. dry, flat and aggressive at certain frequencies and music material. I have a local dealer that still supports them and I am grateful for that.

I am very glad that the S3 variants of the 700 series doesn't have those colorations. I would imagine that they 600 series also benefits from more 'wetness' err, refinements.

And I always dig Johnny's input. You rock man!

rschryer's picture

...JVB and Johnny guy is, but I'm sure he's no Rogier. :-)

Glotz's picture

I meant Rogier. He great.

RvB's picture

According to you, I did what now?

Please re-read the piece, point out to me where I did what you seem to think I did, and kindly explain why your accusation holds water.

PeterG's picture

No matter which explanation you accept for the acquisition--distribution synergy or financial engineering--it's bad news for the individual brands. In neither case is Masimo expressing interest in building a great audio company. Sad