Why on Earth did a small startup just buy Bowers & Wilkins?

Wireless streaming system rumored

Bowers and Wilkins, the audio company behind the iconic Zeppelin wireless speaker, has been sold to a small Silicon Valley startup called EVA Automation.

B&W has been operating in the UK since its founding in 1966, and has operated factories in Worthing continuously since then. It also operates a factory overseas in China for its cheaper products.

It's currently unclear what this deal means for B&W's existing operations in Worthing.

Other products in the Bowers and Wilkins lineup include high-end speakers, headphones, and 120kW sound systems meant for festivals.

The sale was agreed to by B&W CEO Joe Atkins, who has owned his majority stake in the company for the past thirty years. Eva Automation meanwhile is owned by Gideon Yu, who previously worked for Facebook as its chief financial officer.

EVA's plans

EVA Automation is typical of many Silicon Valley startups. It has yet to release a product into the market, but is flush with venture capital funding. Bloomberg estimates that it is currently backed by at least $20 million in funding, and cites analysis that suggests it is looking to raise $252 million more.

It's not yet clear what plans EVA has for its shiny new acquisition. Its website says that as well as being passionate about home entertainment, the company wants to create "easier and better ways for people to use the products they love."

At present the most popular theory is that EVA plans on releasing a wireless multi-room streaming system, and its current list of staff would appear to support this theory. Its VP of Hardware Engineering, Wayne Miller, previously worked at high-end wireless networking provider Ubiquiti Networks as well as wireless solution provider Mimosa Networks.

If we had to speculate, we'd say that the team EVA has assembled suggests it's working on a proprietary wireless music streaming technology. Existing solutions such as AirPlay, aptX and Sonos all commonly stream music at CD-quality 16-bit/44.1kHz, which suggests there is room for EVA to differentiate its technology by offering hi-res audio playback.

Hi-res audio streaming is currently an area of focus in the industry. At CES this year Qualcomm announced its intention to support 24-bit audio encoding with aptX HD.

The acquisition flies in the face of how acquisitions normally work in Silicon Valley, where older, more established companies acquire smaller startups in an attempt to shake up their existing approach and introduce some new ideas.

That's not to say that under Atkins' leadership B&W has remained a traditional speaker manufacturer. In 2008 it released the Zeppelin Wireless speaker, which brought wireless streaming into an unusual-yet-stylish form factor.

B&W's headphone range, alongside Beats by Dre, also focussed on turning over-ear headphones into a fashion accessory at a time when most brands were still focussed on appealing to an audiophile market which was far more niche at the time.

EVA Automation is yet to officially confirm its plans for the company, but if B&W's existing product lineup is anything to go by, it's unlikely to be cheap.

  • Check out our review of Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin wireless speaker