Listening to music on premium audio products is a treat. To tempt a wider audience, we have developed a new design language.
Casual MP3 or AAC listening is now very common, fueled by the rise of smartphones and mobile devices, as fewer seek out the fidelity of high-resolution audio. We want more people to hear what they've been missing, in listening experiences that leave CDs behind — especially now that advances in digital audio have turned up the quantity and quality in streaming and distribution. Meanwhile, the fact that wireless listening is more popular shows that people also crave simplicity and convenience. The time was right to take a fresh look at what makes premium audio premium and develop a new design language for today and tomorrow, to convey what sets this listening experience apart.
Compression, condensing, and negative space
Considering what makes a premium, high-resolution listening experience possible led us to admire how things look when they are compressed and condensed. Imagine compacting all the elements of an audio product into a single, solid mass — compressing them until the materials are fused together, and what naturally remains is what’s most essential. Inevitably, this process reveals the negative space created as these essential features are preserved. Along these lines, we decided to focus on designing this resulting space, which accentuates what makes premium audio premium.
Takuma, chief art director
XBA-Z5 in-ear headphones introduce dual balanced armature units for clearer mids and highs, paired with a large dynamic driver. Here, negative space in design takes the form of a groove between them, which we ventured to leave untouched in the process of bringing features together into a single, solid mass. Visually, it hints that the earbuds house two units that are essential to their superb audio performance. The housing itself is constructed of highly rigid magnesium, with a fine-grained texture recalling high resolution.
Generous 70 mm drivers in the MDR-Z7 headphones create a plane wave effect, for more natural-sounding music. They're also tilted toward the ear, enabling more uniform distribution over a broad frequency range. The shape of these essential, high-performance drivers is echoed in the housing, a detail that we retained in our process of condensing the housing as much as possible without compromising performance. Here, too, the fine finish suggests their fine audio quality. Housings are held by arms of aluminum, ensuring strength while enabling slimness.
Negative Space aesthetics also inspire the design of exciting non-hi-res home audio systems that are the life of the party, such as the MHC-V7D / SHAKE-X7D systems. Here, we focused on the woofer, which symbolizes massive sound. By varying the space between it and the surrounding mids and tweeters—grooves that emerged as we compressed each speaker into a more solid arrangement—we gave the system greater impact and emphasized certain features in particular.