Headphone startup Nura was hired by Denon’s parent Massimo

Every now and then, a new startup crosses your radar and reminds you just how exciting hardware can be. It’s a relative rarity in consumer electronics dominated by corporations like Samsung, Apple and Sony, who are (perhaps understandably) somewhat risk-averse.

Melbourne-based Nura was one such company. I vividly remember when the startup visited TechCrunch’s New York offices shortly after I started here. The early prototype was something to behold – effectively a jumble of wires and circuits inside a large box. But the point was clear. Wireless audio can be a lot better than we’ve slowly grown over the years.

According to the company’s various headphones, there were customizable audio profiles, highlighting the unique architecture of the wearable ear. I asked a colleague for a second opinion (and to make sure I wasn’t hearing things). You’ve proven that something is next-level – repetitions and what you miss completely on a different pair in music.

The startup was recently acquired by Southern California medical device firm Massimo Corp. for an undisclosed sum. Nura will join the consumer audio brands under that umbrella, including Bowers & Wilkins, Polk Audio and Deno, which it brought into its portfolio when it bought Sound United in April last year.

The news was quietly announced a few weeks ago in a press release titled “Nura Joins Battle With Denon.” What could easily be mistaken as a partnership deal was access to Noura’s talent and technology.

“It was important to put the consumer first,” Massimo COO Blair Tripodi told TechCrunch when asked about the new revelation. “We chose to highlight Denon’s long-standing heritage and sound acoustics so that fans of the Massimo AAT and the possibilities it opens up will be as excited as we are.”

Tripodi, however, confirmed to us that “Nura has acquired engineering talent and acquisitions to support the Masimo Adaptive Acoustic Technology (AAT) platform.”

The company is on to something special here, but the short version is that Nura’s technology is being integrated into Denon’s competing offerings. Employees previously involved in research and development will be combined into one team at Denon. The company did not directly confirm the layoffs, instead offering the line, “Our goal is to retain key talent and integrate their employees into our business with the goal of growing the AAT platform.”

Unfortunately, it’s easy to read between the lines. As for the former startup’s executives, Tripodi said Nura’s existing leadership team will remain intact and will report to several Massimo leaders depending on the department’s functions.

According to Massimo, the plans do not currently involve Nura’s offices or require the employees who occupy them to relocate. Regarding the timeline, Nura Founder and CEO Luke Campbell added, “Nura’s integration into Massimo AAT is well underway with the goal of bringing personalized audio to more customers around the world.

In past conversations, Noura prided herself on remaining steadfastly selfish. I’ve previously discussed the topic of acquisitions or technology licensing, but startups remain committed to building their own hardware products. The portfolio grew rapidly, as the startup explored different revenue models, including exploring the hardware-as-a-service model, which was seen as an increasingly viable strategy for the consumer electronics market.

“It’s always been our vision to share our award-winning technology with as many people as possible,” says Campbell when asked about the change in direction. “Masimo and the Masimo AAT platform have given us the opportunity to improve our existing technology framework and I could not be more excited about the future. Massimo’s industry-leading signal processing capabilities combined with Denon’s commitment to sound quality open up possibilities that can take the personalized audio space to new heights.

No one ever said hardware was easy. And while Nura continues to offer variety, the headphone market is getting more crowded every year. It can also be a punishing category for hardware makers who don’t make their own handsets. For many—indeed, most consumers—there is a benefit in the interoperability of those devices. Often people who choose another option are looking for a less expensive product, and then the prices are significantly reduced. Nura’s products, meanwhile, mostly sit between $150-$200.

Add to that supply chain issues and seemingly endless economic headwinds, and it’s easy to see how the road ahead is suddenly cloudier than it seemed three or four years ago. Nura declined to comment on what circumstances ultimately led him to sell to Massimo. Co-founder and CEO Kyle Slater left Noura in 2017 and most recently served as CPO of the Melbourne-based medical technology company. A third co-founder, Dragan Petrovic, left in December.

In a previously released statement, the company outlined what the future holds for existing Nura users, in part:

All Nura products continue to be supported during the warranty period. Existing Nura customers can feel confident that their Nura device will be supported during this transition, including customer support and warranty support. The Nura app will continue to work as it does today, so you can still create personal listening profiles and use all app functions.

Massimo says it will sell off the rest of its Nura inventory, at which point the Nura brand seems to be completely sunset. The startup’s core technology will be exclusive to Denon going forward, with no plans to license it to third parties. Details about the first Denon product to support integrated adaptive sound technologies will be revealed sometime this summer.

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