Handsome-Fi: Beyond the Box

Benny Goodman with the 1957 JBL Paragon

Hi-Fi is not just black and silver face plates. All too often, industrial design is overlooked, passed by, ignored for what's inside. What's worse, some people believe hi-fi is pure function filled with utilitarian objects whose parts-count-cost + specifications determine all one need know. Say it ain't so (says I).

As with any hobby, especially one dipping more than a toe into the luxury end of the pond, what something looks like can be part of the appeal.

Here are some current designs that concern themselves with industrial design and performance. How appealing each design is falls squarely into your lap (or aesthetic sensibilities). Enjoy!

Klipsch The One in Walnut ($299/ea.)

Master & Dynamic MA770 Wireless Speaker ($1800)
Designed by architect Sir David Adjaye.

Metaxas Marquis "Memento Mori" Preamplifier-Headphone amplifier (€6500)

La Cie Blade Runner 4TB USB 3.0 Desktop Hard Drive ($299 currently unavailable)
Designed by Philippe Starck

Chord Dave DAC ($10,588)

Micromega M-One Integrated Amplifier ($4499)

Devialet Gold Phantom Wireless Speaker ($2990)

GamuT Hi-Fi Lobster Chair ($4990)

Adcom LUNA Wireless Speaker ($599)
Designed by Jacob Jensen

naim Mu-so Wireless Music System ($1349)

Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 50 ($39,170/pair)

T+A CALA CDR Streaming CD Receiver (£3242)

Avantgarde ZERO 1 XD ($22,000)

Technics OTTAVA All-In-One Music System SC-C70 ($999)

Ruak Audio R7 High Fidelity Radiogram (£2000)

KEF muo (start at $149.99)

AudioQuest DragonFly Red ($199.95)

Astell & KERN AK500N ($4999)

Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies Headphone Amp/DAC ($1599)

B&W PX Wireless Headphones ($399)

deckeda's picture

... over the years are myriad. It’s one of the great things about this hobby/endeavor.

I’m currently obsessed with KEF LS50 Wireless but do not know if I’ll ever see or hear them. Sound, style, size, OLED, DSP, an input for phono pre, Roon et al ... and no need to hunt down amp, streamer, DAC and so on. Carousels I’d all rather not ride currently.

The Paragon was a great idea for not having to worry about placement for each speaker, and for automatic dispersion characteristics. I’ve never understood why that idea didn’t really catch on better. It’s as if it took Bluetooth and Spotify for single-box speakers to regain domestic acceptance.

pdxdon's picture

Great article, Michael. My view is that it costs very little extra to use some design flair and nice materials. Even more standard looks like McIntosh and Audio Research show they are paying attention. I actually spend a lot of time looking at my hifi so it should look good.

insertusernamehere's picture

(hat-tip deckeda), it seems to me like there is a huge opportunity to take this idea to the next-level using the BACCH-dSP technology, which seems to *prefer* that the stereo speakers be relatively close together in order to create a believable 3D soundstage.

I know that BACCH already worked with Jawbone on the crappy (no offense intended), low-fi Jambox speaker. But I was thinking more about a legit, single-box assault on state-of-the-art (like the original Paragons). If someone would only produce a BACCH-enabled speaker that leveraged the Kii technologies (nCore, DSP-controlled cardioid dispersion, digital X/O, flat-to-20Hz, etc.) and it came wrapped in attractively designed (moderately sized) single-box... that could be my final speaker. Ever.

v1m's picture

Some lovely pieces. (And some insane prices.)

Interesting how, with few deviations, the design-conscious end of HiFi yearns for what you could call a Kubrickian futurism — think 2001: A Space Odyssey with its moonbase sleekness. Our image of what “tomorrow” would look like still haunts us now that tomorrow is today.

I like that aesthetic too but at home lean instead toward a warmer Danish thing: black-fronted and blonde-bodied Meadowlark Herons that I never tire of listening or looking at. Sculptures of infinite pleasure!