What’s inside Sennheiser’s Mirrorbox at Vivid Sydney?

Mirrorbox at Vivid Sydney
(Image credit: Sonova Consumer Hearing)

As part of Vivid Sydney’s celebrations, Sennheiser is setting up an “immersive AI audio experience that blends sounds with emotion to create a musical journey for participants”, taking place in a space called the “Mirrorbox” in Darling Harbour’s Tumbalong Park, as part of Vivid Sydney’s Light Walk. 

Sennheiser says that this ‘FLOW’ experience, which is free to visitors during Vivid, reflects the Vivid Sydney 2024 theme of ‘Humanity’ in a three-part experience reflecting the journey of water, but somehow incorporating an AI analysis of your sound personality, mental mood, and biometric signature, together providing a “unique sonic fingerprint”.

We had no idea what they’re talking about, and the published explanation from their marketing release didn’t much help: “Our Mirrorbox will embody Hear More – through a dedicated space where visitors can reflect on the sounds that surround them,”  it says.

So we headed down to the Mirrorbox for the full experience (see pictures below). We won't insert too many spoilers here however, lest you are heading there yourself. 

Meanwhile we spoke with Anthony Brady, who is General Manager at Sonova Consumer Hearing ANZ, based in North Sydney.

That’s ‘Sonova’, you’ll note, not Sennheiser. Sonova is the Swiss company which purchased (more accurately ‘licensed’) all of Sennheiser’s consumer business a few years back, and has since rebranded it variously, depending where you look, as Sennheiser Hearing, or Sonova Consumer Hearing. But before untangling that, we asked Mr Brady to explain the Mirrorbox.

ANTHONY BRADY: So basically the Mirrorbox is doing two things. It’s obviously creating an experience with sound and emotion, but also we’re blending artificial intelligence. And how that came about, there’s a back story.

We have partnered with Music Health, and those guys have a very interesting proprietary technology called Precision Music. They use this in aged care, mainly, and the original partnership came about when they came to us saying they were looking for headphones with cables, good quality, not wanting to spend a fortune bcause they’re a start-up, and we did them a favour, gave them a product at basically cost – so that’s how it began. 

So we’ll have their technology at the Mirrorbox: iPad, facial recognition, and our headphones. The Mirrorbox will be dark — with a light installation as you’d expect at Vivid, and it’ll also have haptics on the floor. So essentially you will have an audioscape and a lightscape, blending sound and image and vibration, all to affect emotion. 


Sennheiser CEO Anthony Brady in front of the Mirrorbox in Darling Harbour. It's mirrored, so you can't much see it, but it is there... (Image credit: Future)
Sound+Image mag feature


(Image credit: Future)

This interview was prepared for Sound+Image magazine, Australian sister publication to What Hi-Fi?. Click here for more information on Sound+Image, including digital editions and details on how you can subscribe.

SOUND+IMAGE: So you connect your own headphones? What’s the procedure?

ANTHONY BRADY: When you walk into the Mirrorbox you’ll be handed a pair of Momentum 4 headband [overears]; you’ll be connected to the system. You’re given an iPad, you’ll fill in some information, then the iPad will scan your face for mood, it’ll take a temperature check, we’ll see how you’re feeling. So maybe if you had a few wines it might make you feel better! But the idea is that it gets a 'before' and 'after'. 

You walk into the box, it’ll play some sound – water flowing, buses passing, all sorts of things going on. The lights will also be going on in front of you, and the floor might vibrate for different sounds. And it’s really quite a quick event, three to four minutes you’ll be inside the box – Vivid was very clear it couldn’t be longer than that because there will be queues round the block.

Then when you come out the other side, you again get your face scanned as the ‘after’ reading, and this will give you a unique sound and sonic identity, your sound profile, of which there are apparently seven of these personalities – I didn’t know this – and whatever one you are, it will measure and generate a unique playlist for you that you can download on Apple Music or Spotify or wherever. 

S+I: To clarify, the AI and the idea of seven sound personalities [Music Health seems to call them your 'VibeDNA'], that’s all from Precision Music and Music Health?

AB: Exactly – the core of this technology is Music Health’s VibeDNA analysis. It's more than simply genre and artist – it focuses on how the music makes you feel. They’re using this system in aged care for dementia patients, to make their quality of life better. Those patients wear our headphones, they get a playlist that allows them to unlock memories; it just makes them feel better. Obviously at Vivid the environment is very different, people will be coming from work or the pub so their mood may be quite different to what you’ll find in an aged care facility! So we’ve been doing the tests and it’s definitely working, but the guys have certainly had to work hard for this speedier environment. They’ve done a great job.

S+I: The use of music in aged care is a fascinating area.

AB: And Sonova, if you think about it, we’ve got the medical in-ear devices, cochlear implants and so on, so it’s a good partnership, it makes total sense for us to be involved. And it just works in this environment as well. What we’re trying to do is create that emotional connection, and this is a really meaningful way to do it, because we’re really personalising your sound. We sometimes say we’re magicians with sound but that sound is really what we’re about. So if we can create that connection, all the better. We’re expecting about 6000 people through the Mirrorbox and hopefully people get something out of it.

The Mirrorbox experience: first you answer questions and sample music on the iPad before entry, then inside for the full visual and sonic experience, of which we won't include too many spoilers, other than to mention that the haptics are in the seats, not the floor. Our correspondent can be seen mid-Mirrorbox at top centre. (Image credit: Future)

SOUND+IMAGE: And new exposure for you.

ANTHONY BRADY: It’s very exciting for us. We’re launching a campaign globally called ‘Hear More’, an overall brand campaign, and the theory behind our brand is that we have lots of users who really love our products – if you think about our audiophile community, they are fanatical about Sennheiser and the product. And obviously our consumer customers are very happy and love the product, but our penetration and market share there are relatively low comparatively speaking, if you think about somebody like Sony or Bose.

So at Vivid we get access to a whole group of customers who may not ever have heard of Sennheiser. That’s kind of the synopsis. We’re trying to get an emotional connection with some new consumers, and possibly some current consumers who see the brand and already love it and come along. Vivid is a fantastic event in Sydney, so to be partnering with that we’re super proud, and we can’t wait to get started.

Mirrorbox at Vivid Sydney

A new 'Hear More' campaign aims to widen the community of Sennheiser users.  (Image credit: Sonova Consumer Hearing/Adobe)

Audiophile versus consumer

S+I: Interesting that you differentiated there between ‘audiophile’ and ‘consumer’ markets; is that something that you do?

AB: Well yes, in essence we’ve got very differing market shares. So if you look at audiophile we’ve got huge market share, we’re a leader in that category; we can have prowess, we can launch a product and we have immediate success.

If you think about the consumer side, I call it more ‘CE’, the mass retailer side, that’s not as pleasant, obviously: we have lower market share, lower profitability for sure and less penetration, and that’s where price is much more prevalent. Price is a problem there and we don’t necessarily want to trade on price: we try to excite consumers with better technology, better sound, bringing that into the consumer channel without necessarily going into discount mode – we want to make some money, we’re not a charity! And we’re part of a PLC now which has shareholders, so we’ve got to think about that. 

And even within the consumer channel I subcategorise that, because if you look at headband, we’re very strong on headband, particularly in Australia. People love to travel, they buy our products, the Momentum 4 has 60-hour battery life, great sound, very comfortable for a long journey. 

The in-ear market is a little bit more volatile – it’s very price-led, so we obviously have the Momentum True Wireless 4, we’ve just launched the Accentum True Wireless, but we’re not at the price point the market is at. The market is sub-$100, our entry is currently $299 or $249 depending on where you go, so we can be double the market price, and we’re not in it for mass market. 

But we want to bring really good quality products to the market: good sound, comfortable, with technology that’s relevant to the consumer. Then if the price is a little bit higher, people will pay it, for better. We’re about considered purchasing. 

Mirrorbox at Vivid Sydney

Visitors to the Mirrorbox will don Sennheiser Momentum 4 wireless noise-cancelling headphones for their immersive experience (Image credit: Sonova Consumer Hearing/Firefly)

Sonova versus Sennheiser

SOUND+IMAGE: So your website is called Sennheiser Hearing, but you’re Sonova Consumer Hearing, or you’re Sennheiser Australia? How much can you tell us about how this works?

ANTHONY BRADY: I can probably give you the corporate answer, which is that we’re Sonova Consumer Hearing. And we license the Sennheiser brand from the Sennheiser family. So we use the brand under licence, and we licenced it in perpetuity, a lifetime licence. 

So how it really works, if you want to get into the nuts and bolts, there is a brand board, which has two members of the Sonova board and the head of marketing, then the Sennheiser brothers and someone from their business, so I think there are six people on the brand board. They meet on a monthly basis and they discuss everything. 

So as an example, if we’re launching a product like the Momentum Sport, which was one of the first True Wirelesses that we launched that was not from the old Sennheiser family, it was a brand-new look and feel completely different form factor – that would all be approved well in advance by the brand board. So would this Mirrorbox campaign. 

Because obviously we have to live in harmony with the pro business, they’re also in the Australian market, they’re about the same size as us from a revenue point of view, so everything has to be shared somewhat. 

In terms, then, of the management of the business, we’re still actually in Hannover [Wedemark], our head office, because we’re one of four divisions. Sonova has four divisions – wholesale, the people who make the hearing aids; you’ve got audiological care, that’s the retail business which sell the hearing aids; there’s CI, cochlea implants, so that’s Advanced Bionics basically as a company, and they’re making and marketing cochlear implants…

Mirrorbox at Vivid Sydney

Conversation Clear allows users to dial down background noise and focus on conversation. (Image credit: Sonova Consumer Hearing)

S+I: Sorry, is that connected to the Australian Cochlear?  

AB: No, completely independent, a competitor actually. I think they bought Advanced Bionics four or five years ago, so like us fairly new, and a similar revenue to the group as us, so quite large. 

Then we came in two years ago. Sonova has an ambition to speak to people earlier on their hearing journey, so the purpose of buying Sennheiser was really to say, ‘OK we speak to mostly people who are at the end of their hearing journey, how can we speak to them at the very early part when they’re not actually in distress, so we’ve got profiles and we know how people’s hearing is evolving and so on’. 

So that’s the theory. Also they want access to core retail, because they sell only in clinics, where you get a clinician to do your hearing test and so on, whereas what they really wanted is access to the mass market. 

We’re at the early part of that journey, of course; it’s a longterm strategy from their point of view, but they do believe the assisted hearing business in core consumer electronics stores will be valued circa $10bn in the longterm as a global business, and all the hearing companies are scrambling to be part of that journey; naturally enough, they want to get in early. We’ve launched certain products in that channel, such as Conversation Clear, a clever product, obviously niche…

S+I: It’s not that niche, the number of people who have trouble hearing conversations in ‘hard’ restaurants etc. You should go around Sydney’s worst acoustic venues and hand them out, get the message out…

AB: We’re actually working on that with Harvey Norman in the main, they’ve got the right demographic in terms of customer age profile for that product, and they’re doing quite a good job of demonstrating in-store. That’s the tricky part, the demonstration, trying to bring it to life. Marketing is hard, but when you do the demonstration it’s very clear if you’ve got an issue.

So Sonova bought us for that reason, but we’re very much managed from Hannover, still, the original Sennheiser office…


Sennheiser HQ at Wedemark, Hannover, Germany (Image credit: Sonova Consumer Hearing)

S+I: Engineering is still in Wedemark too?

AB: The core team of consumer still sits in Wedemark — some just transitioned across. That said, they’ve got more resources now, and also Sonova obviously does a lot with hearing and ears. An example of that is the Accentum True Wireless: the form factor of that is new, but it’s actually from Sonova’s knowledge of all the different ears from around the world which they’ve 3D-scanned, and when we’ve tested that product independently against other products, very much 5-star comfort level, and that’s because we have this knowledge. So we’re bringing some of their hearing prowess into our products.

The Momentum Sport is a clever one as well, because with their hearing aids they do a lot of tapping in to the clinician and doctor, taking body temperature, scanning for heart rate, and so on. The new Momentum Sport has that built-in heart-rate and body temperature monitoring – we partner with Polar to do that but some of the technology is coming out of Sonova, and even the form factor is again total different to what went before. So the fit is very good, it sits well, and you don’t have to wear a heart-rate monitor. 

S+I: The market move to Headphone 3.0, chip in your ear, Ultra WideBand as well, looking at that, is it imminent?

AB: Not imminent. We take a more considered approach. We are looking in the True Wireless space at some new form factors which are totally different – that’s probably more like late 2025 into 2026 for us, but a fairly big step change in our technology. 

The one thing we want to do is make sure the sound is magical, that’s ultimately it. Our transducers that we make ourselves for the True Wireless give you that deep bass, that really strong sound that you don’t get elsewhere, in my view. Recreating that in an open true wireless is much harder, to get that bass and so on, so we’ll be a little more considered about that. But definitely you’re going see some form factors that will probably excite a younger audience. 

And in the headband space, which is where we’re really strong, if you  think about audiophile we’re really already there, we’ve got the market share, we’re number one most places in the world. So how can we blend that with the Momentum 4, as an example, a wireless audiophile product… That’s longer thinking as well, because if we do it, then we have to do it really well, because we’re the best in audiophile. Back-end of 2025 into 2026 – naturally there will be range refreshes as well, but also some good new technology that will excite, which is what we’re all about.

S+I: On the importance of sound, is that why we’re seeing a decline in design, the featureless black plastic of the Accentums and so on. Is that going after Sony, or it’s a change in team, or what?

AB: It’s an interesting one, actually. We did some market research, and it’s a bit like the Hear More campaign, the people who like, say, the Momentums with the metals and the more engineered look, they really love it, the Sennheiser look. But they are a very small percentage of the market! Unfortunately the reality is that the wider market is quite polarised. We have that challenge of being small and niche, or to get to more consumers, and that was a trade-off. The materials are quite good, actually, quite expensive to make… but I would tend to agree that it’s a bit mass market. But honestly, if we don’t have more sales in the mass market, we have less money to invest, it’s quite a simple thing. So I really loved the Momentum 3, the one that came when I first joined in 2019, with the metal on the side, I really loved it. But are we selling more Momentum 4s? Absolutely. So that’s the answer. We do listen to our customers, and that’s what they’ve told us. 

So definitely with the Mirrorbox and the new brand campaign, the theory behind that is that we have a cohort of customers that really love our product. We just need more; we want to create a bigger community.

Vivid Sydney

Image: Destination NSW (Image credit: Destination NSW)

Sennheiser’s Mirrorbox is situated in Tumbalong Park, Darling Harbour, part of Vivid Sydney’s Light Walk. The Mirrorbox will be free for all visitors and open for the duration of Vivid Sydney, from 24 May to 15 June 2024.

Jez Ford
Editor, Sound+Image magazine

Jez is the Editor of Sound+Image magazine, having inhabited that role since 2006, more or less a lustrum after departing his UK homeland to adopt an additional nationality under the more favourable climes and skies of Australia. Prior to his desertion he was Editor of the UK's Stuff magazine, and before that Editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine, and before that of the erstwhile Audiophile magazine and of Electronics Today International. He makes music as well as enjoying it, is alarmingly wedded to the notion that Led Zeppelin remains the highest point of rock'n'roll yet attained, though remains willing to assess modern pretenders. He lives in a modest shack on Sydney's Northern Beaches with his Canadian wife Deanna, a rescue greyhound called Jewels, and an assortment of changing wildlife under care.

With contributions from