Industrial Design

Thanks to Layer, the Beosound Balance, Looks as Good as it Sounds

I’ve always loved Bang and Olufsen products. I know many people will argue that they aren’t the best sounding audio gear for the price you pay, but you have to admit they make beautiful stuff. Bang and Olufsen’s design aesthetic, choice of materials, attention to detail, and yes, the audio quality in my opinion. Sorry folks my ears don’t hear well enough to play the granular specs game.

Design agency Layer has designed the new “Beosound Balance” for Bang & Olufsen and the look is so nice. The distinctive, sculptural silhouette expresses the speaker’s performance, with a large base unit supporting a textile-covered cylindrical speaker. Controlled with a touch- and voice-activated interface (using Google Assitant) on top. This is sort of Bang and Olufsen’s entry into the smart speaker market.

The result is a room-filling, three dimensional sound from a speaker that takes its inspiration from the design language of domestic objects rather than high-tech electronics products. This is the first project by Layer for Bang & Olufsen and was 18 months in research and development.

The form of Beosound Balance is driven by the speaker’s audio performance, with a simple, cylindrical base unit on which a more expressive form sits. Together, these two elemental forms combine to create a sculptural object – like a plinth supporting a sculpture or vase. It’s this look that sets it apart from the cylinder/block format of most smart speakers in the market today.

The timber base unit contains a large, omnidirectional bass speaker driver, which is positioned with a vertical orientation and topped with a metal mesh screen featuring perforations in a Fibonacci sequence. The bass is reflected off the rounded metal base beneath the top form, maximizing its acoustic potential and providing a room-filling, low-end rich sound. 

The softly sculpted upper unit contains the precise mid-range drivers and tweeters, which complete the warm, well- balanced audio performance. These drivers – which provide directional audio – are positioned under a seamlessly knitted textile cover. 

To reinforce Bang and Olufsen’s positioning of “Beosound Balance” as an object to be looked at as much as listened to, the speaker is crafted from a rich palette of materials that are more readily associated with homewares and soft furnishings than high-tech or audiophile products.

The base unit is made from FSC-approved solid timber, blocked and turned as in furniture production. This material choice not only oozes craftsmanship but also offers quality and superior sound resonance. The upper unit is wrapped textile, with a nod to interior upholstery; while the metal reflector and the interface panel are made from pressed aluminum and inspired by finely crafted tableware. The textile wrapped power cable is long enough that the speaker can be easily positioned around a room as needed, meaning the speaker is not constrained based on power needs. (I love the fact that they used a textile-covered cord. It always seems to be the one thing that gets overlooked.)

Beosound Balance won’t come cheap. It rolls in at $2250.00 dollars. Way more expensive than other smart speakers on the market. It is Bang and Olufsen though, and I’m thinking if you are considering B&O products you can probably afford this price point. You’ll be able to pick this up starting in March of 2020 on their website, third-party retailers and in Bang & Olufsen stores.

Dyson Lightcycle Morph. Well Designed but Pricy.

When you hear the name “Dyson” the first thing that pops into your head is vacuum cleaners. Over the years Dyson has done an amazing job of advertising and marketing their vacuums and it has paid off for them. When I hear the name “Dyson” I think of the design. Industrial design and technology to be specific. Why? Because Dyson has always done a really great job of producing not only very functional products, but beautifully designed products as well.

They are a company that truly understands how form and function do go hand in hand, much the same way Apple does. Because of this, you end up paying a premium price for something that products from other manufacturers do with equal performance, but maybe not with the same quality of design and materials that Dyson offers.

Case in point the Dyson Lightcycle Morph, a new floor and task lamp from Dyson that looks at what lighting does, and how it affects mood.

the Dyson Lightcycle Morph employs local daylight tracking to offer customized solutions that mimic natural light. The lamps are connected to the Dyson Link App, allowing for full adjustability depending on the user’s task, age, mood, and local daylight.

“Task” for focused light, “Indirect” for less intense situations, “Feature” for dramatic lighting and “Ambient” for a warm glow that is designed to mimic candle light. These are the four general light settings the lamp offers. It also offers pre-set modes called “Study,” “Relax,” “Precision,” “Boost,” “Wake-Up,” “Sleep,” and “Away.” Users are able to save up to 20 custom light settings that can be controlled by a dimmer and
color temperature selection feature.

Here’s the kicker though. The lamps cost $650.00 and $850.00 respectively. So what do you get for that? Well, the LEDs are supposed to last 60 years, which if you amortize the cost over that length of time actually is an OK value. (provided the rest of the lamp lasts that long). You also get a lamp that is made from high-quality materials, with a built-in motion sensor to help save energy, integrated USD charging built into the base, and intelligent touch-activated slide controls.

“With the Dyson Lightcycle Morph, our aim was to challenge the fundamental conventions of contemporary artificial lighting and find a solution. So we developed a light that tracks natural daylight and intelligently transforms for different uses – providing the right light, at the right time, precisely where it’s needed,”

Jake Dyson, Chief Engineer.

It’s also a beautiful object in its own right. Thoughtfully designed by the Dyson team, and while that might not factor into a lot of people buying decisions, it will have an appeal for that audience that loves good design. There are truckloads of LED lamps available on the market, but in my opinion, this shows where Dyson’s design thinking extends beyond simply creating a nice looking LED task lamp.

One thing that most people don’t think about are things like packaging and assembly. How they are an integral part of the design process and the end-user experience. The video below shows how Dyson tackled this. Both the packaging and lamp assembly are done well. The packaging not only holds the parts, but it functions as an assembly stand for the base on the task lamp. (this isn’t the case on the floor lamp and in the video, the woman assembling her $850.00 is rolling it around on the floor. I think I would have put down a cloth to prevent scratches) The lamp goes together quickly and is on and ready to explore in minutes. There is some waste in the floor lamp packaging, but that’s to be expected since the vertical shaft is almost 48 inches in length. Overall Dyson did a pretty good job with this though.

“Artificial light is still a relatively new concept for humans. If you were to shrink evolution into 24 hours, artificial light would only have existed for around seven seconds.” Because of this, human circadian rhythms are still mostly in sync with the natural rising and setting of the sun. Lightcycle Morph’s adaptability moves beyond artificial light’s typical limitations to create a more realistic and personalized lighting environment for users.

Jake Dyson, Chief Engineer.

Will I be purchasing either of these lamps from Dyson? No, I won’t. I don’t have any need for either of them at this time. That doesn’t mean I can’t admire what went into the design and construction of the Dyson Lightcycle Morph. It really is a well thought out piece of industrial design that I bet quite a few people will pick up for their home or office.

Braun Audio Returns with the LE1 Reimagined by Precipice Design

Anyone that knows me, knows I am a huge fan of the industrial design work that Deiter rams did for Braun. His influence and the work he did for Braun can still be felt today on so many product lines by other companies like Apple. 

Braun has been absent from the audio world for more than two decades, but original stereo systems from the 50s, 60s, and 70s are still in demand. Not because they offer a superior audio experience, but because of the design and visual aesthetic they present.

The hottest Braun stereo collectible is probably the SK5 “Snow White’s Coffin” record player and radio. It is sublimely minimal in its execution with white powder-coated steel sandwiched between wooden side panels under a plexiglass case. The design was a radical departure for stereo gear when this was introduced in the 1950s. 

Snow White’s Coffin

One of my personal favorites from the Braun stereo family has always been the Braun Audio 1 from 1962. To me, it feels timeless. You can feel where it came from (the SK5) and understand the visual direction Rams was taking Braun over the next decade. 

1965 Braun Audio 1

In addition to the Audio 1, Braun introduced a set of minimalist speakers in 1959, the LE1. The LE1 is so simple in its design form. White rectangular slabs suspended on chrome tubular legs with a perforated black metal grill. The form is almost sculptural in quality and an even more radical departure from stereo systems of the day. You have to remember, in 1959 most stereo systems looked like a large wooden piece of furniture that would blend in with what was in your living room. The LE1 stands out. It’s meant to be seen as well as heard. 

The LE1 from 1959

The LE1 was the first electrostatic speaker available on the German market, the LE 1 provided a new housing for internal electronics produced by English engineering company Quad, then trading as Acoustical Manufacturing Co. Ltd. The LE 1’s electronics were based on the Quad ESL-57, producing a distinctively detailed sound that still stands up well against the standards of contemporary hi-fi systems today. At the time of its introduction, the speaker was technically and aesthetically ground-breaking. Within the Braun audio program of the late ‘50s, the LE 1 was intended to accompany the first Braun component Hi-Fi system, the Braun Studio 2. 

The 2019 LE01 Series

For the first time in 28 years, Braun is back in the audio business. Well sort of. Braun Audio is returning with a reinvention of the aforementioned LE speakers from 1959. A perfect reintroduction to the heritage of Braun Audio, the new LE Series focuses on the purity of design, purity of performance and the purity of sound Braun was known for in the past.

These beautifully minimalist speakers have been re-imagined by Precipice Design. The London-based design company developed all consumer and trade touchpoints including brand and product narratives, packaging, photography, iconography, digital assets (website, and mobile app), video content, and point of sale concepts, print catalogs, and advertising, helping to re-establish Braun in the premium audio sector.

When you look at the complete set of design materials that Precipice created for Braun you are immediately aware of the heritage of vintage Braun while positioning them squarely in the modern market place. The imagery that is used across all touchpoints echoes the minimalist aesthetic that Braun became known for, not simply in the products they produced but in the owner’s manuals, advertising, and packaging that was produced during their heyday.

As I looked at the new website that Precipice produced I was struck by how it so closely mirrored many of the Braun printed items I’ve seen from the 1960s an70s. The minimal color pallet, sparse layout, concise messaging. The same look and feel are carried over to the mobile app, and on to the packaging. With the packaging focusing on the purity of sound while focusing on the brand’s heritage. Only key information about the product shown on the packaging. The uncomplicated packaging is typical of Braun and reflects the aesthetics of the classic speaker through dark tones and a graphic of the speaker itself.

The speakers themselves are an homage to the original LE1 updated to reflect today’s taste and improved technologies. Where the original 1959 speaker would probably prove to be too large in today’s home environment, Precipice’s vision shows how the LE1 can be reimagined to fit more discreetly into one’s home.

The new speaker brings the same vision Ram’s had in 1959. A minimalist slab in white with a black grill floating above a chrome stand. The speaker is angled slightly backward, and the controls are almost invisible. Precipice also introduces a solid black version of the speaker and two additional sizes, all of which use the same visual language. 

Floor stands have been designed as well, but I have to say I don’t think they work as well. They seem rather chunky except where they have been extended and used with the smallest of the speakers.

There is no word on availability yet. I’m betting these will be available this fall for the Christmas shopping season. The product was introduced around the first of September this year so you would think they would be ready for sale by mid-November at the latest. Pricing will range from $1200.00 for the largest of the 3 down to $380.00 for the smallest.

I don’t need these, but I wouldn’t mind having them. Full information and specs are available on the Braun Audio website.

I Bought a CPO i3 Not C3PO. I Kind of Feel Like I’m Driving a Star Wars Car Though.

A little over a year ago I began looking for a new car. The lease on my GTI was coming to an end in August of 2019 and I was thinking about going electric. Since the VW electric models wouldn’t be available in America for another 12 to 18 months, I began researching the usual suspects, Tesla, Nissan, BMW, Chevy, etc. What I discovered was there are quite a few models available. All of them have pros and cons, and the prices ranged from reasonable to astronomical. What I didn’t expect was to find was what you could get if you looked at certified pre-owned models of specific brands.

After almost a year of looking, reading, watching YouTube, test driving, pricing, and pondering, I decided to purchase a certified pre-owned BMW i3. Why? Because I found out I could get into a 2-year-old car with about 20,000 miles on it for less than half the sticker price of the new car. And since it is a CPO BMW it comes with an additional warranty.

I chose this vehicle for several reasons. Proven Brand, Styling, Technology, Fun Factor, and Size. There is also that I never have to buy gas thing too.

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The styling can be quite polarizing. In most cases, people either love it or hate it. I love it. I feel like I’m driving a little space pod most of the time. It’s short, squat and tall. It doesn’t look like any other car on the road on both the exterior an on the interior.

With wheel s pushed close to the corners, it accentuates the stubby look of the i3. Its window line expands at the small rear doors, dips into the body line, then pinches together at the rear. Visually this creates a flow down the body line that I like quite a bit. One disadvantage to this is that the rear windows don’t lower. Technically it’s a 4 door car, but the rear coach (suicide doors) are more like funky half-size extensions of the front doors. The car sits on 19-inch wheels that seem impossibly thin, designed to reduce friction with the road and improve range. At times they almost look like mountain bike tires though. One nice thing that BMW did was to leave the iconic kidney grills on the front. Technically they don’t do anything, but without them, I’m not sure the i3 would read as a BMW since it’s such a styling departure from every other car they make.

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The interior is a mash-up of environmentally friendly materials produced from sustainable and recycled sources. The i3 I purchased doesn’t have leather seats, by choice. I actually prefer the look of the cloth seats over the leather or leather and cloth combo. If you did opt for the leather seats though, the tanning process is done with olive-leaf extract rather than chemicals to keep it greener. It’s hard to describe the materials used. You need to see them in person, and while at first, it might seem like a bit too much they work well together combining into a series of well-matched textures.

Another thing I love about this car is how big it feels on the inside. With no transmission hump, the floor is flat adding to the feeling of space. The interior roof gives plenty of headroom. At 6 foot 4, this is a big deal for me. I will say this, the back seat is cramped for someone my size. It’s probably cramped for anyone over 6 feet, to be honest. This is, after all, a car designed for city driving and to only seat 4 people. Cargo space is ample, and with the back seats folded down, it’s pretty amazing how much stuff you can get in this car.

From a technology perspective, the i3 doesn’t disappoint. Actually, for my model year, it does in aspect, (I’ll get to that in a minute). The i3 dash consists of 2 floating screens. There is the unit directly in front of the driver that contains the speedometer, battery usage, and the gauge showing energy use and regeneration. This screen can be configured to display any number of items from the iDrive system in the car.

The second screen is equally configurable and primarily houses the infotainment system which includes navigation, phone systems, messaging, radio and media displays and more. Below it is 6 buttons that can be programmed to do everything from radio presets to function as shortcut keys for any additional functionality.

All of this is connected to the center console dial of the iDrive system located in front of the center armrest. I’m not going to go into detail with all of the functionality here. Let’s just say that the system is deep and has a bit of a learning curve. Coming from 8 years of VW’s it was quite a bit different.

In addition to the built-in systems, there is also an iOS and Android app available that can be used to control the car remotely. It allows you to climatize the car, lock and unlock doors, set charge times, send destinations to the car, and more.

Other tech tidbits include the ability to lock the doors by touching a small patch of raised ribs on the door handle. Unlock the doors by simply sliding your hand inside the door handles. Unlock and lower the windows by holding the unlock button on the key fob. One foot driving using the regenerative braking system. Self-parking (yes it can park itself, but every driver should know how to parallel park or forfeit their driver’s license). Adaptive cruise control and more.

I didn’t get the REX (range extender) version. I don’t need the range extender. I never drive more than 120 miles in a day so the BEV (battery electric vehicle) i3 was perfect for my needs. After 90 days of ownership, I can honestly say I have never had any range anxiety at all. Frankly, I don’t think most drivers would. The navigation system can be configured to show you every charging station close by as you drive around town so you will always know where you can charge up if you need to.

One thing I wish this car had was Apple CarPlay. It doesn’t and I miss it. You can, however, upgrade the main head unit of the car with this upgrade from Bimmertech. I watched the install video and it looks like something anyone with a bit of technical know-how and set of tools could do themselves in a few hours. I have a feeling this voids the warranty on the car so I’ll be waiting a couple of years before I do this.

Speaking of upgrades, the battery is upgradable as well and Lion Smart announced an upgrade option a couple of months ago that would extend the range of BEV i3 to about 400 miles. No word on when this will arrive, or what it’ll cost but if you own an i3 and plan on keeping it for an extended period of time this is something you might want to look into.

One great thing about living in Kansas City is the fact that KCPL has partnered with ChargePoint and many local businesses to install level 2 charging stations all over the city. Each grocery store run, trip to the library, visit the Kaufman performing arts center, Nelson Atkins Musem, Restaurants in the Cross Roads or dozens of other places guarantee that I can plug the i3 in and charge it up.

Every Hy-Vee has at least 4 ChargePoint charging stations

As for fun factor, the i3 is a hoot to drive. It really is a blast. The electric motor delivers instant torque with a distinct “push you back in your seat” feeling. Acceleration is quick delivering a 0 to 60 time in about 7 seconds. It handles like a BMW with responsive steering. You have to drive the car to understand how the i3 performs.

The car is absolutely silent aside from a bit of road noise from the tires, and an almost imperceivable whine from the electric motor. It’s one of those things you notice at first and then become so used to it you don’t realize how loud the interior of other cars are until you ride in one with an internal combustion engine.

So, is a certified pre-owned BMW i3 worth it? Yes. Think about this, you can get a low mileage, highly optioned i3 for about half the price of new. If you get a CPO i3 you get 2 years of warranty on a car that require little to no maintenance. In my case, I got a $60,000 car for a little over $20,000. It had just over 20,000 miles on it, was a one-owner vehicle, and was purchased from a reputable BMW dealer here in the Kansas City area.

If you use a site like Car Gurus you can find plenty of examples just like this all of the United States, and depending on where you live have the car delivered to you for less than a grand. Sites like Carvana, and Carmax also have i3 inventories available for delivery. The only downside is the car won’t be BMW certified, and the warranty options might not be as good.

If you are in the market or are thinking about going electric, I highly recommend going with a CPO i3. Save your money and skip the Tesla. Skip the Bolt, Volt, Leaf, or any other traditional-looking EV sedan and get something a bit more unique looking.

Oh, and while you could buy new and get a $7500.00 federal tax credit, chances are it still won’t be as affordable as going with preowned. If you are curious about why EV’s depreciate so much, Doug Demuro has a great article here that answers, or attempts to answer that very question.