The appearance of most audio equipment is not given thoughtful consideration, and its impact on the domestic interior is regularly overlooked. No wonder these products are often hidden away.
Hi-fi products, widely adopted in the past, now appeal only to an ever-dwindling group of ‘audiophiles’. Even though these systems sound good, most consumers today simply refuse to put-up with its inherent requirements: Clutter, wires, significant floor-space, and its visual dominance in a room. Granted, many audio companies have attempted to make their wares more ‘house-friendly’, but in our opinion these attempts are mostly lacking. Surely a plastic or thin-metal loudspeaker or soundbar — dressed up in a designer fabric or offered in a contemporary colour — only have limited appeal to those better-versed in the makings of good design?
Fortunately, visionary companies and designers of the past have long since shown a better way of designing audio equipment. Some of these designs have even been recognised by art museums. These products have stood the test of time and still appear contemporary, despite their age (some are now more than 60 years old). It is therefore important to remind oneself that these products are of a particular time and place. Notably, several of these items can still be repaired so that they can still function to this day. (Compare that to the two-year lifespan engineered into most of today’s products!)
In this article we provide a brief overview of some of these design objects, and describe how they have influenced the Sound-Aesthetics' designs.
Audio Products by Dieter Rams (Braun)
Rams is a diligent designer, who is still active, but most argue that he did his best work at Braun, a German manufacturer. His large body of work received widespread acclaim and proved influential; it even helped shape the iPhone and many other Apple-products.
Rams’ products are showcased by numerous museums, including the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (Australia), the Victoria and Albert Museum (UK), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (US). He formulated 10 Principles for Good Design, most of which are evident in his designs highlighted below. From the clear arrangement of elements, to the restrained use of materials and colour, to the care taken even in the finest detail: His products are honest, durable — and beautiful.Braun SK4, Radio and Record Player (launched 1956)
Braun RT20, Radio (launched 1961)
Audio Products by Jacob Jensen (Bang & Olufsen)
Jensen was an industrial designer mainly associated with the Danish company, Bang & Olufsen. B&O was established in the 1920s, and was one of the first manufacturers to embrace modern design principles for its products, which encompassed audio, radio, phonographs, TVs and more.
Jensen’s designs are recognised by museums — most notably MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art, US). A few of these products are highlighted below. His designs are characterised by the clarity of its geometric forms, which often featured a strong horizontal profile; unconventional control layouts; the use of unusual materials for the time; and by featuring innovative technologies (the latter enabled by continuous collaboration with the strong in-house engineering team of B&O).
The MoMA makes an interesting observation: “Bang & Olufsen designers often mask the function of an object in favor of a handsome appearance that highlights the quality of its materials”. B&O still makes interesting products in this way, today.
B&O Beomaster 6000 Tuner, Amplifier, and Preamplifier (launched 1975)
B&O Beogram 4002 Turntable (launched 1975)
Audio Product by Koichi Futatsumata (Elekit)
With its monolithic body and geometric features, perhaps the following product could only have been designed by an architect. And so, it was. Architect-designer, Koichi Futatsumata, designed this amplifier for electronics manufacturer Elekit. It is a more recent example of an audio design object, and part of the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Elekit 22 [tu: tu:] Hybrid Tube Amplifier (launched 2010)
Influence on Sound-Aesthetics Products
In the design of our products we employed some of the design principles embodied in the fore-listed products.
In particular, our designs —
- Have a simple shape and geometric features, which emphasise a thin side-profile, but — at the same time — is engineered to reduce the concentration of internal reflections for improved sound.
- See temperance as a virtue: Just because modern CAD allows the creation of very complex shapes, doesn’t imply they should be used.
- Avoid visual clutter and keep the user interface simple (for the wireless audio product, there are a few dedicated buttons at the rear of the unit and the controls are otherwise integrated with existing streaming-apps to be controlled with a smartphone or tablet).
- Are minimalist, and made considered use of colour and materials. We used the limited colour palette of a classic black and white photograph. Materials are chosen for its effect on sound, and its durability.
- Are long-lasting, and therefore sustainable in the true sense of the word. In a throw-away age, we aimed for a lifespan much longer than that of typical wireless speakers.
- Are ethically made in the EU, and use only high-quality parts and components. We test our products for durability. We realize that our streaming-technology solution is subject to a shorter life-cycle (new technologies always are), but we also incorporated a second audio input (using a tried-and-tested RCA-input), for continued compatibility over the long-term. In this way our products should still be able to function after many years, and even in the very long-term they should still be able to exist as pure artworks.
- Offer carefully considered functions (wireless audio and sound absorption), which are masked. However, when examining our products more closely, form definitely still follows function: The cabinet shape may look good, but is also engineered for its effect on sound quality; the artwork-grill’s halftone dots are holes cut directly into the material, which also directly enables sound transmission.
- Are clutter-free. Although our wireless audio system incorporates all components of a traditional hi-fi system — including loudspeakers, amplifier, sound-source, switches, and wires — all are integrated and kept out of view; only a single AC-power cable is needed.
- Are honest. Do you agree? Some say that our products are audio products disguised as artworks. We disagree. We see our products as carefully considered design objects, synergistically combining artwork with a function.
As to our products becoming celebrated classics? This, only time will tell.
The S-A VOICE (launched 2019)