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Hi-Fi Plus Magazine --  Hi-Fi+

July 2023


Cult Of Personality
What happens when that designer stops designing?
Editorial By Alan Sircom


Hi-Fi+ July 2023


  We have a cult of personality in high-end audio. Unlike almost every other branch of consumer electronics where the product is created by a team of engineers and industrial designers a lot of high-end audio is the result of one very bright person at the helm of a small company making incredibly specialist products for a small, but select clientele. This has its upsides and downsides.

The great advantage in the audio industry's need to have some kind of close contact with the designer is that they are very close to direct customer feedback. When the guy making the thing is the same guy demonstrating the thing at a show, they are only a few sentences from getting a full break-down of their products by those who use them daily. This kind of direct 'focus group' feedback is something large corporations pay handsomely to obtain.

It also gives the end-user a more direct and human link with their audio equipment. Sure, there are few more up-close links than between a person and their electric toothbrush, and we don't need to know who designed it, but when it comes to products with control surfaces, many of us want to know who made it and what their motivation was... and "to produce a product line at this price point" is not the right answer!


Hi-Fi+ July 2023


Audio didn't used to be alone in this. I have a copy of an old ET 66 Braun calculator on my desk, and part of the pride of ownership comes from that connection to design legend Dieter Rams. There are better, more modern calculators available... on my phone, but that Dieter Rams design brings me a little bit of nerd-joy. But, such connections to the designer are rare today.

And that leads to the big downside to our cult of personality; it is met with a big 'huh?' Outside of our little world. Telling someone proudly who made your amp is as bizarre to outsiders as knowing the name of the guy who designed your microwave oven. Outside of celebrity chefs, nobody cares about the designer as much as they used to. Except audiophiles... and design nuts buying impractical pocket calculators.

The other big problem is what happens when that designer stops designing? Some companies have a line of succession so smooth, you barely notice the transition. Fashion houses are good at this; people still buy Chanel long after the death of Coco. Others never recover. 

We need to respect the artists making the things, regardless of whether the name designer is still in residence. But when they are, it's a bonus!


Errata: In last issue, we inadvertently published images of the Copland CTA408 to accompany our review of the CTA407. Our apologies for the confusion caused.
Issue 222 on sale August 3, 2023



Alan Sircom, Editor hi-fi+




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