The ugly truth? Some loudspeakers are available in a high-gloss black or white finish (ELAC, Voxativ, Yamaha, KEF). A few add splashes of colour (B&W, Nubert, KEF). A tiny percentage of manufacturers drench their enclosures in ROYGBIV to offer a range of RAL-coded options (Focal, Crystal Cable, Spatial). However, the majority of loudspeakers arrive as wood-veneered or vinyl-wrapped boxes, particularly at the entry-level where budget constraints are at their tightest (Klipsch, ELAC Americas, Pioneer).
Electronics fair a little better. A handful of manufacturers (Devialet, NAD, Micromega) have bent their amplifiers, DACs, streamers and phono stages into fresh shapes but the traditional 44cm-wide box form factor dominates still, largely unchanged since the 70s. Would Sir prefer silver or black?
And yet in other areas of life, industrial design choices have evolved to break from the norms of yesteryear. Computers were anonymous beige/black boxes until Apple gave us colour variations and shape deviation. The iPod wasn’t the first portable player to market – just ask Creative, Cowon and Archos – but it was the first to step out with a superior sense of ergonomics and style.
James Dyson’s vacuum cleaners, cooling fans and hair dryers sell not only because of their utility but because of their outward aesthetic. Dyson reinvigorated previously pedestrian product categories not necessarily by elevating their performance but by ensuring performance didn’t suffer as he elevated their visual appeal.
Would you rather own an Alessi Juicy Salif, designed by Philippe Starck, or a considerably cheaper but far less attractive alternative? Would you prefer to do the job in style or would you prefer to just get the job done?
In the hi-fi world, we often hear the maxim that it doesn’t matter what it looks like, it’s the sound that counts. It’s not a truth to which I personally subscribe but the hi-fi world is bigger than me. Not only is visual taste as subjective as aural, how much it matters to us as individuals will vary from person to person.
Nautilus aside, I’ve always found Bowers & Wilkins loudspeakers visually confronting but it was love at first sight with the Devialet Phantom. Judged on looks alone, I’d take a Metaxas & Sins Memento Mori over a Benchmark HPA4. But what if the Benchmark bested the Metaxas on sound quality? And how much does appearance play into our subjective enjoyment? Quite a bit according to this BBC article.
That had me wondering: were hi-fi enthusiasts sacrificing their aesthetic sensibilities in order to live with gear whose sound they dig but looks less so? I took this question to Darko.Audio’s social media channels.
YouTube quadrupled the sample size:
The takeaway is that yes, around half of the respondents were living with gear whose outward visual presence they did not appreciate. In around 50% of cases, it doesn’t look as good as it sounds. That’s an ugly truth for audio hardware manufacturers to ponder.