Other than being able to work fascinating, large scale projects, my favorite part of going to work is being able to work with really inspirational people. Our team is full of people that have done amazing (and crucial) work at some of my favorite brands like Apple, Nike and Palm. One of the amazing designers on our team is Yeongkyu Yoo - a man with a sense of taste greater than anyone I've met. I've spent weeks with him on business trips and always find myself picking at his brain constantly in an attempt to rub some of his aesthetic brilliance on myself. He runs a design studio called cloudandco and produces products under a brand called 11+. He wanted to see a Minimally Minimal treatment of one of their latest products, the Sound 1.
The Sound 1 was provided by 11+. I am friends with many of the people that have worked on Sound 1.
Before we start - I have to admit, this review is going to be a bit too close to home (literally - Yeongkyu lives down the street from me). I'm also good friends with YD Song, the industrial designer on this project. However, Yeongkyu has told me to be completely honest, which I will be (as always).
The packaging. Simple and constructed from a thick, matte card stock. The side of the box is debossed "Sound 1".
There are signs of care everywhere in the unboxing experience. Little things like the way the type on the manual lines up with the cutout of the box goes a long way.
My favorite part of the unboxing experience is removing the protective plastic from the speaker. It has a beautiful translucency that makes it feel that extra bit special. It also has an elastic and malleable quality, a nice change from the crinkly cellophane we're used to. It's apparently relatively cheap to source too.
The Sound 1 comes with a carrying case made from polyurethane. It's held in place using a simple elastic strap. There's a presence of poetry here that I find fascinating. It's not necessarily the most fuss-free solution you'll find but it's certainly charming.
One of the primary characteristics of the work that comes out of cloudanco is the copious use of typographic details. It's a way of adding intrigue into a form so pure and barren.
The case unwraps like makizushi. I love it when a product creates an excuse for the user to perform a little ceremony. Whether it be brewing a pot of tea or wrapping a speaker, it forces you to slow down and appreciate the small details you'd normally overlook.
There are more graphical details on the inner surface of the case. Like a good movie, this product may require multiple viewings to discover these little gems. The sensitivity here is seriously admirable.
The speakers themselves, removed from the case. As you can see, the right and left speakers attach together at the base.
The posts on the bottom of the speakers have magnets imbedded into them, allowing the speakers to snap together.
By creating a long beam when connected, the magnetic posts also help store the audio cable during transport.
Setting up the Sound 1 is easy. The R and L channels are connected using 3.5mm jacks located on the bottom of the speakers.
Notice the elegant treatment of the regulatory markings. In most cases, these become visual hinderances. Here, they have become visual interest.
Something worth noting is the complete lack of visible screws or other assembly techniques. It's impressively executed for such a low budget product.
For being so small, the Sound 1 has a pretty impressive battery life of 20 hours. It's charged using a standard USB cable.
The speaker grille itself has a beautiful radial perforation. I have some experience designing perforation and I can say that this is top notch. At the center of the grille is a soft light that pulses to indicate various states.
The form of the speaker is honest and pure. Making hardware is incredibly difficult without deep pockets and the Sound 1 is good as it gets without the brute engineering power of Nokia or Apple. It's constructed from very humble materials and considering the simple manufacturing processes Sound 1 was granted, the result is rather impressive. The creamy white plastic has a relatively refined matte texture and the translucent base has a soft texture that adds a sense of sophistication.
The speakers are marked with a quiet debossed 11+ logo. Notice that it's labeled "04" between the 1s of the 11. It indicates that this is the fourth product in 11+'s lineup.
In line with the humble construction, the speaker operates without unnecessary flamboyance. The sound can be tilted towards the listener using an angled cutout at the base of the speakers.
The left speaker houses most of the components and uses the right speaker as a simple satellite unit. The left Sound 1 houses the battery along with the USB port and audio jack. You can also find the power button here - the only button you'll find on this device. Powering up the device produces a satisfying sound effect.
The Sound 1 can be listened in two ways. The first is by using a physical line-in cable.
The more popular method will probably be via Bluetooth. Pairing is dead simple and unlike the Jambox, it will automatically go into pairing mode without you telling it to. The Sound 1 is honestly the fastest speaker pairing speaker I've ever used.
If you're able to remember where the power button is located, you can use the speakers inside the case. I've actually found this to be my favorite method of using the Sound 1 as it eliminates the need to fiddle with cables and keeps the speakers protected.
In terms of sound, they're just okay. I've found many people on the internet praising their audio quality but it's hard for me to say that they sound great. Then again, these are only $85, considerably less than most bluetooth speakers in the market. They're half the price of a Jambox and about half as good sounding; you truly get what you pay for with speakers. My biggest issue with the Sound 1 is the lack of low end grunt and muffled mids. They end up coming off as largely tinny and echoey. On a brighter note, the treble is relatively crisp in comparison, which I feel is the most important trait in compact speakers like these.
There's also weirdness happening with the stereo separation. Despite having equal distribution of 6Ws, the left channel seems to be stronger than the right, making close proximity listening uncomfortable. With that said, these faults become irrelevant for casual use while taking a shower or going to the gym, which is what I've been using them for. They promise to be a pair of affordable, simple, portable speakers and deliver on that just fine.
For the type of person that would buy a $85 pair of Bluetooth speakers, these will fulfill their needs completely. The problem is that I am not that person. I'm too picky of a listener; a sad, hopeless asshole that needs to spend $500 on a pair of speakers to find satisfaction (someone help me). You know what's crazy though? I would still buy these just because they're so poetic in operation and calming in appearance. For the general user, a product serves a practical, sensible purpose. But then there are those products that manage to transcend purpose and become an object of honest, visual delight. These products do what they say but elevate themselves to what can only be describes as design as an art form, not just a methodology of problem solving. These are the only $85 speakers I'd buy and I think that says a lot.