When you hear Sennheiser, the first thing you probably think of is headphones. But the German manufacturer has a lot more to offer – and an interesting story to tell.
Sennheiser is a manufacturer of professional audio and conference technology. The family-owned company also achieved great fame with headphones for consumers. At the beginning of 2022, however, the consumer electronics division was sold to the Swiss hearing aid manufacturer Sonova, which may continue to use the Sennheiser brand name for headphones, in-ear headphones and soundbars. But what is the story behind Sennheiser?
Everything starts with a move
During World War II, electronics engineer Fritz Sennheiser had worked at the Institute for High Frequency Technology and Electroacoustics at the Technical University in Hanover. Because the severe damage caused by the war soon made regular operations impossible, the institute was temporarily relocated to Wennebostel. Although most of the employees left the small town near Hanover after the end of the war, Fritz Sennheiser still decided to stay in Wennebostel. And just a few weeks later, in June 1945, he founded his first company, Labor W (W stands for Wennebostel), which initially produced measuring equipment for Siemens.
As early as 1946, however, Labor W launched the MD1 microphone, the first milestone from what would later become Sennheiser, followed just one year later by the MD2. In 1956, Sennheiser presented its first shotgun microphone. The shotgun or interference microphone, in which the microphone body is a conceptual part of the design due to a pre-mounted interference tube, is particularly suitable for situations in which close miking is out of the question (usually for optical reasons). Shotgun microphones are used, for example, as invisible microphones for cinema, film and television recordings. They can also be used as clip-on shotgun microphones on video and film cameras or for telemetry measurements on fast-flying objects.
Together with Norddeutscher Rundfunk, NDR, Sennheiser also developed a wireless microphone system for professional use in TV broadcasts, which was presented to the public in 1957. In 1958, the company was renamed Sennheiser Electronic.
Sennheiser – the gold standard for the TV and radio industry
In the years to come, Sennheiser’s professional microphones earned the reputation of being the gold standard for radio and television. To this day, little has changed. And the name Sennheiser also became a byword for quality among end consumers. A hi-fi euphoria had gripped the Germans at the end of the 1960s, and anyone who wanted to enjoy “their” music unclouded by any background noise reached for headphones from Sennheiser.
In 1982, the son of the company founder, Jörg Sennheiser, took over the management. Since 2013, the two grandsons, Daniel and Andreas Sennheiser, have managed the company. Since then, a number of major structural changes have been made. In 2017 and again in 2020, they were forced to cut jobs. The Corona pandemic had nearly brought the event industry to a standstill. As a result, audio technology, which was otherwise in such high demand, was no longer in demand on the usual scale.
However, Sennheiser announced probably the most significant change in the company’s history in the year, which came into effect on March 1, 2022. Sennheiser sold its consumer electronics division, which mainly comprises headphones and in-earphones as well as soundbars for TVs and hi-fi equipment, to the Swiss hearing aid manufacturer Sonova for 200 million euros. After almost 80 years, this probably means the final exit from the consumer business for Sennheiser. In the future, the company from Lower Saxony wants to focus on professional studio and DJ headphones, professional microphones and digital conference systems.
The brand name remains the headphones
Even though this decision probably came as a surprise even to many business experts, it could have been known almost twenty years ago that this division would not mean a sacred cow for Sennheiser. As early as 2005, for example, the company’s then CEO Jörg Sennheiser had stated in an interview with Manager Magazin that the company “must be able to continue to exist without the headphone division.” The business magazine had described this statement as a “drumbeat” and “as if Metro were to give up its cash-and-carry stores.” After all, the consumer division accounted for 20 percent of sales at the time.
But it was not least globalization and Corona that led to Sennheiser now, some 17 years later, being forced to act. For end customers, however, little will change. Consumer products will probably continue to be manufactured in Wennebostel, albeit now under the management of Sonova. And the name for the high-quality headphones and soundbars will also remain the same. Sennheiser has granted Sonova a perpetual license to use the brand name.