We assume you've heard the news that Sound United--the parent company of a growing list of top AV companies, including Polk Audio, Definitive Technology, Denon, Marantz, and HEOS--has acquired Classé from Bowers & Wilkins.
On paper, the move seems odd, as Bowers & Wilkins and Classé have been like peas and carrots in terms of global marketing, development, and retail all over the planet for ages now. However, you may recall that Bowers & Wilkins was itself acquired in 2016 by EVA Automation, Inc., an investment group headed by Gideon Yu (a former bigwig at Facebook, YouTube, the 49ers, and more). Since then, the company has made major moves to become a global leader in high-performance wireless headphones while at the same time strengthening its traditional speaker lineup. The flagship 800 Diamond v3 speakers ($30,000/pair) are awesome, and the company followed up the Diamond Series with trickle-down gems like the 700 Series. The new owners of B&W are moving fast in new directions. Unfortunately, Classé Audio was not part of that plan for the long term.
On October 6, 2017, Classé Audio closed its Montreal offices. The remaining staff members were given severance packages, and support for legacy products was moved to other locations. Soon thereafter, Sound United came in with a bid to buy the company, with the goal of getting a deal done before CES 2018--which they did. A new Montreal office will be set up, and much of the staff will likely be hired back--the goal is to retain many of the same talented, experienced designers and engineers. Production will be transitioned over to Sound United's facilities in Japan.
Classé Audio had three products ready to go that were designed to replace the existing audiophile-grade Delta products, including a Delta mono amp for $10,000, a Delta stereo amp for $12,000, and a Delta DAC-PRE for $9,000. These products will go into production under the guidance of Sound United and are slated for release later in 2018. Legacy Sigma products, such as the AV preamp and two- and five-channel amps, are still being sold. Future Classé products will be designed to coexist in the marketplace with Marantz products. One might expect a 2019 high-end AV preamp from Classé that has an audiophile pedigree but also incorporates technologies like digital room correction and support for object-based surround sound, AirPlay, etc.--a true flagship-type product priced more in the realm of a Trinnov or Datasat processor.
Current Classé customers have little to worry about. The previous owner has taken care of all current warranty claims and will continue to do so through the transition. Sound United will honor all Classé Audio claims going forward in 2018. Anyone needing support should call or email Classé through its website at https://classeaudio.com.
"Businesses spin off divisions all the time," says Classé Audio president Dave Nauber. "I loved working with Bowers & Wilkins for years and look forward to the new challenge of growing the company under the Sound United ownership. There are doors that Sound United can open for Classé that have never been opened before, and that is without question exciting for our team, our consumers, and our dealers. At the same time, I hope that Classé will still remain a part of the wonderful legacy of Bowers & Wilkins, be it at Abbey Road Studios, at B&W's design facility, and at so many dealer locations."
• Sound United Acquires Classé Audio From B&W at HomeTheaterReview.com.
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• Classé Sigma 220i Integrated Amplifier Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.