As you may have heard, we’ve just launched TMA-2 Modular, a headphone system comprised of modular audio components that lets you build your own, unique headphone according to your needs, preferences and personal whims. ‘How did the whole thing come about?’ – some of you might feel inclined to ask. The short answer is that the entire modular concept, from burgeoning idea to final, interchangeable product, is the outcome of an ongoing creative collaboration with our longstanding design partners at Kilo design. However, taking the short and easy way out runs counter to our Scandinavian fastidiousness, which is why a thorough and lengthy answer will now be painstakingly mapped out. In the efforts to help us give you the full and unrestrained low-down on the TMA-2 Modular development process, Content Editor, Ulrik Nørgaard, sat down with our buddy and partner, Lars Larsen, founder/Head of Design at Kilo, as well as AIAIAI co-founder Frederik Jørgensen and picked their brain until they could take no more of the relentless, design/business-focused probing.
Hey Lars and Frederik, I’d like to hear more about the development process from your point of view. How did it all start?
Lars: Well, one thing was analyzing the TMA-1 trilogy. Modularity was there from the beginning but more from a product development point of view and not as an implemented infrastructure for the product range.
Frederik: One thing that inspired us was all the input we got from artists, labels and users in general. We couldn’t fully react to it as our production set up was so rigid. We felt we got all these great ideas – big or small – but in order to implement these we would have to make full upgrades to a complete headphone and that’s a long and complex process. With modularity we are much more flexible and therefore able to implement new ideas in a completely different way, as we can now upgrade on the individual part or introduce new parts.
What are, in your opinion, the benefits of the TMA-2 Modular concept?
Lars: TMA-2 Modular is a case of including the user in the product and giving him or her ownership. There’s an individualizing process in being able to build your own product. And I think that a lot of users want a degree of influence. Also, we’re putting less stuff into the world. We’re also adding greater nuance to the market and the way that people use headphones. But that also presents certain challenges because we have to educate our customers, as it were. They have to act differently. It’s essentially about teaching headphone users to play with Lego. Needless to say, meeting the market and actually getting a response to all this is going to be very interesting. Both in terms of logistics and the relationship between producer and user. A big part of this is making the act of assembling the headphone interesting. This isn’t a ‘50 screws and an Ikea shelve’ kind of deal; it’s smooth, it’s fast – it’s basically plugs clicking, and the overall infrastructure is so simple that I don’t really think it can go wrong. Also, with TMA-2 Modular we’re in a situation where we’re putting less strain on ourselves as well as the environment because there’s less waste. You just upgrade individual elements instead of buying a completely new headphone.
Frederik: I think that the Modular system creates flexibility for our customers. It’s a more creative way of interacting with our products. For me this modularity changes everything we do, and it makes everything much more exciting. We can now react and implement much faster than before, and we can optimize on user input in all processes. In the end we have a much more dynamic and fun process, which ultimately leads to a better product
AIAIAI: An important Modular feature is the inherent adaptability. That you can adapt the system to your creative context. You can, for example, make a seamless switch from DJ to producer by changing a few components. What are your thoughts on that?
Lars: There’s now no reason to have 3 different headphones. You just need different components. This effectively means you can have one configuration for when you’re on the go, and when you get home and want to produce you can just change your settings. So there’s a flexibility in that – which is actually kind if anti-consumerist when you think about it.
Frederik: Also, as a user you would also be able to have your headphone evolve with you – if you get more ambitious or change your music preferences you can adjust your headphone to fit these changes.
AIAIAI: We aimed to design the system for the whole spectrum of producers from pros to amateurs. How do you think that worked out?
Lars: I think we’ll target the same users that we have before, but we’ll be introducing some pretty significant new possibilities…I think that the system meets both needs. Having said that, I don’t think that it diminishes the quality for the professionals. Quite the opposite. They’re given a completely new infrastructure, which opens up an entirely new range of possibilities. So it’s not a case of excluding something, it’s more of a case of including everyone.
Another scenario is that you’ve spent a bit of money, but the fit still isn’t completely right. Then you can change the cushion, the headband and so on to get that perfect headphone, which delivers on all your demands. So you have the options and the possibilities for a wide variety of configurations. But you don’t necessarily have to use all those options, of course. Ultimately, there’s different options for different users.
In our previous interviews we’ve talked quite a bit about aesthetic sustainability. Now let’s talk plain, old, regular sustainability: It’s no secret that we’re wasting so much less because of Modular and the fact that we’re putting less stuff into the world. How much thought went into this dynamic?
Lars: Well, first of all, I think this is part of the overall idea and strategy meaning that it’s beneficial to everyone that we’re wasting less than we did before. So I think the sustainability part is more of an intelligent, natural extension of the ideation process than us being all: ‘look at us, we’re saving the world with our new headphone concept’ do you know what I mean? It’s about meeting the demands that the world is giving us – which I think is an evolutionary part of every business.
If we talk about the changes in the design, did you have to implement any major changes in terms of materials, plugs, etc?
Lars: The most significant new design change has been the overall change from a static product into a flexible product. And the innovation here is in the new connection. All soft pads and cushions are reengineered for optimized appearance, production feel and fit. These are hardly noticeable to the customer who will likely pay the most attention to the new plugs. But we market a better and optimized product now than before. Of course, then there’s been a bit of ‘fuck up control’ in relation to these new plugs in terms of preserving sound quality and anticipating how the user might act – so there’s actually quite a bit of technical innovation in developing this new concept and making it viable.
What we’re trying to do is pretty ambitious. This is essentially about creating the business of the future, meeting the demands of consumers and providing music professionals with a new system. Furthermore, we’re linking modern production and logistics in a new way, which just makes a lot of sense from a business perspective. TMA-2 Modular is, in my opinion, how a modern business should operate. I think it’s intelligent on every level in that we’re making the entire chain from logistics to finished product cohere and make sense. To me, this is not just a product but a cohesive ‘package.’ Adding to that, it’s the concept and the infrastructure which makes Modular interesting. This is a new way of thinking about headphones. We’ve designed and optimized for modular flexibility – but the overall DNA defined in the original TMA-1 DJ is still the guide. This is much more of an evolution than a sudden paradigm shift – which relates to the idea of aesthetic sustainability that we’ve previously talked about.
With Modular, we’re giving customers the opportunity to assemble our headphones in a wide variety of different ways. How does the designer feel about that?
Lars: I’m totally cool with that. Because we’ve anticipated the full variety of ways that people can put the product together. And it’s still mostly all black…So if you’re talking about the ‘Frankenstein’ headphone, the answer is that it can’t be done. You can’t build anything that’s fucked in terms of aesthetics. But you can still make a headphone, which doesn’t currently exist in our product range. You can, for example, take a TMA-2 All-round headband and combine it with Studio cushions. That’s a product we don’t have at the moment. Still, because the DNA in the different elements and components are relatively homogenous they will still come together in a very natural way. Overall, I think this creates a bigger vocabulary for headphone users. It’s kind of like having spare parts if you were a mechanic. You can style the headphone with aesthetic intentions or build it from a perspective, which is purely functional.
Could you talk a bit about the holistic aspects of TMA-2 Modular?
Lars: If we take an overall perspective, this is also about taking the world seriously. About being slightly more grown up in the way we think about our products.
Frederik: Yeah, and it’s no secret that it’s not exactly easy being a start up in a very competitive market place where you’re competing with giants who have very different budgets. We have to innovate and stay fresh to be ahead of the game and keep our competitive edge. So in a way this concept was also born out of pure necessity. Our new adaptable, versatile approach to our headphones offers some pretty exciting new opportunities for future product development, enabling us to expand the system to create better options for our users and the potential for further collaborations with our key artist and label partners.
Any final thoughts?
Lars: I’ve been working with AIAIAI since 2006 and I’ve been responsible for the design on all audio products. There’s no doubt that the TMA-1 is the product, which has been the most successful in terms of sales and getting a cultural anchoring in the DJ scene. This is now being transformed into a system, which targets the niche market of the professional user as well as the broader market. So this should essentially make life better for a lot of regular people while making the professional experience even better in the process. That’s why this has been such an interesting journey for me; we haven’t just sold a lot of products and designed some wacky colours. Well, we’ve done that too. But over time everything has come together in a very seamless, natural way. I think that’s been very gratifying and super interesting.
Guys, thanks for talking to me.