Squiggly earphone wires that mysteriously tangle themselves in pockets may soon see a swift demise. Apple’s release of the sans-headphone-jack iPhone 7 models aims to push the wireless listening experience to consumers — whether they dig it or not.
The market demand for wireless headsets is, indeed, becoming larger. And with more manufacturers making wireless headset manufacturers means that the prices are becoming more competitive and affordable. In fact, some Bluetooth headphone models can go as low as S$15 (US$10.50).
But for the audiophile demographic, convenience does not dictate their buying decisions. It is about both the sound quality and the design of the headsets.
For wireless earbuds, getting a good ergonomic fit is a little tricky, considering they are very small. But a small Chinese startup called crazybaby may have nailed the formula, and maybe, even beat tech stalwart Apple at its own game.
Who they are
A company that designs a product too similar to its competitor may invite skepticism, especially if said company originates from China, a country notorious for creating cheap knockoffs of established brands.
But don’t let that pre-conceived notion cloud your judgement of crazybaby (and actually, China has launched more original innovation that it’s being credited for, but that is another story). The company is made up of product design veterans.
“I am really fond of industrial design. I like it so much that I managed to self-study the Alias Autodesk software, including 3D animation and so on,” said Allen Zhang, Founder and CEO of crazybaby, in an interview with e27.
Zhang started his career in the audio and video business in 2006. Back then, he worked at the TCL Audio and video strategy business headquarters as the director of product and overseas marketing.
Then, he left to build his own product strategy company Kinspring in Shenzhen (one of China’s leading tech hubs). They helped to develop the product strategy and design for renowned US-based headphone company Skullcandy.
“Skullcandy only had five people then when they came to us, and we basically helped them build everything but their logo. And [now Kinspring is] a market-proven successful business entity,” said Zhang. Its other clients include other established international brands that include Polaroid and Target.
Zhang was able to replicate his success in his next company, crazybaby. The startup launched its levitating Hi-Fi system Mars last year, which not only raised over US$800,000 in crowdfunding, but also bagged the coveted Red Dot Design Award.
Its next project, a pair of sleek, stylish wireless earbuds, is proving to be a bigger crowd-puller.
Going head to head with Apple
At a retail price of US$159, crazybaby’s pair of wireless earbuds Air costs exactly the same as Apple’s anticipated AirPods. One may see this as hubris, that a relatively new boutique brand would demand to be placed on the same pedestal as Apple.
But actually, crazybaby is aiming to compete with higher end brands. On its Indiegogo page, it claims Air’s sound quality is comparable to, if not better than, that of a US$750 Seinhessier IE-800 wireless earbud.
Other outstanding technical and audio features include a super-aligned carbon nanotube array technology, 5.2 mm customised speakers and the latest CSR HD audio chip. What this all means that Air is able to pack high audio-fidelity in a compact and durable body.
Still, most audiophiles would rather keep faith with established audio manufacturers such as Bose, rather than taking a chance with new brands. Ironically, its relatively low price point may actually prevent serious audiophiles from taking it seriously.
So, the Air is really going to appeal to more casual hobbyists — the kind that would opt for convenience over impeccable sound, or people who would use Spotify to stream music rather than invest in a US$500 FLAC player that plays lossless quality music.
So then the question remains: Why would the average music fan pick crazybaby’s Air over Apple’s AirPod when not only are they priced the same, but AirPod is able to play 10 hours more music with its charging case, and two hours more in a single charge, than Air?
For one, Air is built to IPX6 specifications, meaning it is water-resistant, while AirPod lacks this. Air also has a slightly wider frequency range at 8-24K, compared to AirPod’s 20-20K.
But perhaps Air’s biggest selling point is its ergonomic design.
The design of AirPod, with the protruding stick, makes it a little unsightly and awkward (in fact, many publications derided its design when it was first made public).
In contrast, the Air fits snugly and naturally into the human ear’s helix; and there are no unsightly extensions, either. Users control essential functions such as volume, play, stop and call answering via corresponding taps on the earbuds.
Zhang is confident that his team’s design decisions make Air the a superior product to AirPod, and the numbers do paint a pretty picture. Currently, Air has surpassed its crowdfunding goal on Indiegogo by 4,213 per cent, hitting US$2,106,306.
“Today’s Apple is more about profit and no longer product-centric. Stupid designs abound, including the AirPods. Aesthetic designs have given way to profit and cost control. Apple’s Chief Design Officer Jony Ive seems more interested in Apple’s ‘spaceship’ campus these days than doing good product designs like in the old Steve Jobs days. Even if we are still a startup today, with our bold and daring crazy innovations and design-oriented direction, crazybaby may well be the next Apple,” declares Zhang.
Are Zhang aspirations too lofty, or would Air set the path for bigger, more ambitious projects for crazybaby? It would depend on whether he can deliver on all of Air’s promises.
Image Credit: crazybaby