The A/V industry is dominated by big, important names: Sony, Yamaha, Klipsch. The established companies churn out the majority of new equipment every year, and it's often difficult for smaller companies to get a look in. It's even harder if your company is brand-new, and it becomes exponentially harder when you're trying to do something genuinely innovative.
That last part could be applied to the majority of A/V companies on Kickstarter. This is a website full of dreams, packed with inventions – some of them genius, some of them completely ludicrous. When it comes to A/V, Kickstarter products have sometimes been a little hit and miss. But in the spirit of recognising new inventions, we've found four projects that could either be the greatest thing ever. Or could completely crash and burn. Who knows?
Please note: these aren't reviews. These products are not yet available. These are just our initial reactions to some interesting ideas.
Headphones, say the folks behind VIE-SHAIR, are uncomfortable. Wearing them for long periods sucks, and they get really sweaty when you go running. Their solution? Create a pair of headphones with an interchangeable frame between the earcup and the ear itself. By doing this, the cup is pushed slightly away from the head. It sits alongside the ear, rather than on top of it.
The idea, as far as we can tell, is not only to make headphones more comfortable to wear, but to allow natural sound in. If you, for example, work in an environment where you want to listen to music but people constantly need your input, wearing a pair of these headphones means you never need remove them from your head when someone signals you. The frames also snap out, allowing you to put in a completely closed version, in case you do want to block the outside world. They can also transmit what you're listening to, so other users can hear it too.
It's quite an interesting idea, and it will hinge on whether these things are actually comfortable to wear. The creators say they've included directional speakers, meaning you get decent sound quality without too much bleed. One thing that we can't get away from is that the headphones look slightly ridiculous: they are massive, and their slightly angled design makes it look like you're wearing a giant pair of mouse ears. We totally get the value these have in a work environment, but we simply can't see them being used for things like running. Not when a whole industry exists to pump out some very, very good running headphones indeed.
As of 23 March 2016, VIE-SHAIR has 391 backers, and has reached $92,960 of its $150,000 goal.
We're not sure if we should be featuring the SOUNDBOKS. The Danish company has already released its first speaker, of which it sold around 400 units. This Kickstarter is to raise funds for version 2.0. The basic idea is the same: a big, very loud (119dB) Bluetooth-enabled, battery-powered speaker designed for use in the outdoors. This is an audio product made for taking to the beach, to a music festival, to the park, wherever you need music. The first speaker got rave reviews, and was noted for just how bloody loud it got.
Its creators claim that each battery in the new box lasts for thirty hours. You get two of them, easily interchangeable, and both of them take three hours to charge. Our one concern is the price: at $419 for early-bird backers, you've got to be pretty keen on loud outdoor music.
Ultimately, this is a product that hardly needs evaluating, given how successful it has already been. Just check out the numbers below. If you want something a little more cost-effective and a little less loud, check out our roundup of the best portable Bluetooth speakers.
As of 23 March 2016, SOUNDBOKS has 1296 backers, and has reached $635,334 of its $100,000 goal.
On the one hand, we are completely down with what the OSSIC X is trying to do. We love 3D audio and surround sound, as you might expect from any home theater website, so the idea of making a pair of headphones dedicated to them is fantastic.
And on the surface, this is what the OSSIC X is for. With the right source, it makes sounds appear in a genuine 3D space, allowing you to pinpoint them. It's clearly got some great technology behind it, some great early press, and has absolutely smashed its Kickstarter goal. For those of us who don't have the space or can't afford to install a full surround setup at home, this could be the perfect solution.
We do, however, have some misgivings. It's no use having headphones that deal with 3D sound if the source isn't 3D. For watching movies at home, this is fine, but the marketing video shows the headphones being used outdoors as well. We're not quite sure what's happening here. Almost all music files are stereo files (that is, two channels) and you simply can't translate those into 3D, no matter how hard you try. Each channel has its own distinct audio content. Sure, a piece of music will have a sound stage and elements panned left and right, and we could conceivably see how the OSSIC X would make this wide enough to create the illusion of 3D sound, but it's not clear that this is what's happening. It's a big question mark in the middle of the campaign.
OSSIC X claims it will "replicate the ideal listening room or speaker setup." Yeeeeaaaahhh...not convinced. Yet.
As of 23 March 2016, OSSIC X has 5286 backers, and has reached $1,335,412 of its $100,000 goal.
Because why buy the Yamaha DX5009DT/ALPHA-2 speaker when you could spend your money on one named after a delicious pork snack?
The guys behind Bacon (the speakers) & Cheese (the amplifier) are trying to solve a problem that isn't really too big a problem, which probably explains why their Kickstarter is struggling a little. They don't like current wireless audio solutions like Bluetooth and WiFi. Bluetooth isn't very good at transmitting high-quality audio (true), while WiFi can only handle CD-quality and can drop out if too many devices are on a connection (also true). So they came up with DUAL - Digital Uncompressed Audio Link, a protocol that they claim can transmit ossless 384kHz/32bit. It transmits and plays out through some fantastically-designed audio gear, including a gorgeous, curvy wooden speaker set.
But like we said: this isn't really a problem unless you're a hardcore audiophile. For 99% of us, CD quality is just fine. Anyone using wireless or multiroom audio setups has to come to terms with the fact that sound quality may suffer. Full respect to Bacon & Cheese (and their makers Skylake Innovation) for not accepting that, but it doesn't look like it's going to succeed right now. Part of this might be the fact that its campaign video has very badly-mixed sound. Not good, chaps.
As of 23 March 2016, Bacon & Cheese has 37 backers, and has reached $15,924 of its $200,000 goal.