December 11, 2023

Every once in a while, a new startup pops up on your radar, reminding you just how exciting hardware can be. That’s relatively rare in consumer electronics, a category dominated by the likes of Samsung, Apple, and Sony, which are (perhaps understandably) somewhat risk-averse.

Melbourne-based Nura is one such company. I vividly remember the startup visiting TechCrunch’s New York office shortly after I joined. The early prototypes were a sight to behold—literally a mess of wires and circuits in one big box. But the point is clear. As it turns out, wireless audio might be a lot better than what we’ve slowly gotten used to over the years.

Underlying the company’s various earphones are customizable audio profiles, created by mapping the unique structure of the wearer’s ear. I flagged a colleague over for a second opinion (and made sure I didn’t hear anything). They confirmed that there really is something higher – frequencies and elements in the music that you completely miss on the other pair of headphones.

The startup was recently acquired by Southern California medical device company Masimo Corporation for an undisclosed sum. Nura will join other consumer audio brands under the umbrella, including Bowers and Wilkins, Polk Audio and Denon, which entered Sound United’s portfolio when it acquired it last April.

the news is quietly announced A few weeks ago, in a press release titled “Nura joins forces with Denon.” What could easily be mistaken for a partnership deal was actually an acquisition of Nura’s talent and technology.

“Putting the consumer first is important,” Masimo COO Blair Tripodi told TechCrunch when asked about the new news. “We chose to highlight Denon’s long heritage and acoustics so fans will be as excited as we are about the future of Masimo AAT and the possibilities it opens.”

However, Tripodi did confirm the acquisition, noting: “Nura is a company that technically absorbs and acquires engineering talent to support the Masimo Adaptive Acoustic Technology (AAT) platform.”

The company is being cautious about details here, but the short story is that Nura’s technology is being incorporated into Denon’s competing products. Employees previously involved in development at Nura will be integrated into the same team at Denon. The company did not explicitly confirm the layoffs, but said, “Our goal is to retain key talent and integrate their workforce into our business to advance our AAT platform.”

Unfortunately, it’s so simple that it can be read between the lines. As for the former startup executives, Tripodi said Nura’s existing leadership team will remain in place and will report to various Masimo leaders based on departmental functions.

Masimo said the plans will not currently affect Nura’s offices, nor will it require any of its retained employees to relocate. As for the timeline, Nura co-founder and CEO Luke Campbell added: “Nura’s integration with Masimo AAT is ongoing with the goal of bringing personalized audio to more customers around the world.”

In past conversations, Nura has prided herself on remaining very independent. I’ve discussed acquisitions or technology licensing before, but the startup has long been committed to building its own hardware. The portfolio has grown rapidly as the startup explores various monetization models, including a fairly early exploration of a hardware-as-a-service model, which has been seen as an increasingly viable strategy in the consumer electronics market.

“Sharing award-winning technology with as many people as possible has always been our vision,” Campbells said when asked about the change in direction. “Masimo and the Masimo AAT platform present us with the opportunity to improve upon our existing technology framework, and I couldn’t be more excited about the future. The combination of Masimo’s industry-leading signal processing capabilities and Denon’s commitment to high-quality sound will open up the space for personalized audio opportunity to reach new heights.”

No one ever said hardware was easy. While Nura continues to offer differentiation, the earbud market is getting more crowded every year. It could also be a penalizing category for hardware makers that don’t make their own phones. For many people and even most consumers, there are benefits to the interoperability of these devices. Often, those who opt for a different option are looking for something cheaper, so the price then drops significantly. Meanwhile, Nura’s products are mostly priced between $150-200.

Add that to supply chain issues and seemingly endless economic headwinds, and it’s easy to see the path forward suddenly looking cloudier than it looked three or four years ago. Nura declined to comment on the circumstances that ultimately led to its sale to Masimo. Co-founder and CEO Kyle Slater left Nura in 2017, most recently as CPO of Melbourne-based medical technology company Seer. A third co-founder, Dragan Petrović, left in December.

In an earlier release, the company outlined the future for existing Nura users, writing in part:

All Nura products will continue to be supported throughout the warranty period. Existing Nura customers can rest assured that their Nura devices will be supported through this transition, including customer support and warranty support. The Nura app will continue to work as it does now, so you can still create personalized hearing profiles and use all app features.

Masimo says it will sell its remaining Nura inventory, at which point it appears the Nura brand will be completely out of date. The startup’s underlying technology will be exclusive to Denon and going forward, with no plans to license it to third parties. Details of the first Denon products to support Combined Adaptive Sound technology will be announced sometime this summer.