Marriage Of Convenience?

CH Precision acquires Swiss electronics brand Wattson Audio

By Roy Gregory







In a move that might surprise some (and should probably frighten others) CH Precision has announced the acquisition of Wattson Audio, a manufacturer of value-orientated, high performance streaming solutions. On the face of it, the two companies have little in common. Wattson’s four-model line of streamers starts at €1,500 and tops out around €6K: CH Precision’s core components start at around €30K and I’m not sure anybody has ever calculated an upper limit, for the modular, expandable range. But as is often the case, there’s more here than meets the eye and the real story isn’t immediately apparent.

First, a little background: when Florian Cossy started the ABC PCB high-end electronics consultancy in 2003, one of his first employees was Alex Lavanchy. When Cossy left in 2009 to set up CH Precision, Lavanchy carried on the consultancy business, changing its name to Engineered SA in 2015. Although Engineered SA worked with a whole host of high-end companies, one of their most successful and ubiquitous projects was a proprietary Ethernet interface, subsequently used by many of their clients including, you guessed it, CH Precision. In fact, the client list might surprise you, with many a high-profile electronics brand included, making Engineered SA something of a high-end (and highly successful) digital and audio engineering gun for hire.

In 2019, Lavanchy decided to start building a range of compact, value-orientated streaming solutions, based around the Engineered SA Ethernet interface, but aimed at younger, cost, space and environmentally conscious consumers. Thus was born Wattson Audio. The tiny Emerson streamers, with their milled from solid casework, choice of digital or analogue outputs (for maximum versatility when it comes to the system interface), ease of use, control App, excellent musical performance and affordable price were immediate hits. They were soon joined by the slightly larger, more versatile, Madison system controllers, with their mix of Ethernet and ‘legacy’ digital inputs, products that definitely have one eye on the future, rather than the established separates paradigm.

Fast-forward to today’s announcement and the immediate implications start to become apparent. CH Precision haven’t only acquired the Wattson brand and its products: they’ve incorporated the design and engineering team behind them too. By effectively gutting Engineered SA, they’ve not only created an unprecedented pool of concentrated audio design talent, they’ve denied a chunk of that talent to the competition.

Secondly, although the Wattson product line will continue and indeed expand, with a new product being launched in Munich, you don’t need to be Nostradamus to see where this is going. The CH sales-channel, customers and those who’d like to be customers but find the cost of entry too high, have long been calling for a more affordable, entry-level line from CH. Anybody who understands manufacturing costs will quickly tell you that chopping down the 1 Series to a more affordable level isn’t really possible without it changing out of all recognition – which kind of defeats the object. But by acquiring Wattson, CH doesn’t just add a deep pool of engineering expertise to what is already an engineering-heavy team, it creates the opportunity to combine CH and Wattson thinking to build a new, intermediate range that fits between the Madisons and the 1 Series. With the 10 Series building-blocks weighing in at €75K and the 1 Series at €30K, the prospect of a Wattson line that incorporates the modular, expandable, upgradable ethos of CH into a set of €10K ‘bricks’ – bricks that use smaller, more easily accommodated casework and further leverage software control of both the circuit and the system, is interesting – to say the least!