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So many of the issues facing the audiophile hobby right now are borderline epic. There’s the aging demographic. There is the resistance to change. There is the often fact-less subjectivity. And with all due respect, we can’t solve all of those quickly or easily. But I do have one simple suggestion that could inject some much-needed life into audiophilia: better product names.
Examples of bad audio product names are everywhere. What the hell is a WATT-Puppy? (Wilson Audio Tiny Tot, I get it, but really)? The new name, Sasha WP, clings on to the old while bringing in a new naming convention. Is it any more descriptive? No. But it’s certainly a lot more inviting.
Schiit Audio–who has a playful outlook on the business, including a somewhat self-disparaging brand name–makes products that sound like they’re auditioning for the next Thor movie (or the last one), from the Ragnarok amp to the Mjolnir headphone amp, the Yggdrasil DAC (which actually can cure jock itch as well as decoding 192/24 audio), and upgrade packages that actually discriminate against vowels, such as Gungnir Multibit. Here’s the thing, though: if you’re not familiar with Norse mythology or Jack Kirby comics, all of these things sound like something you would order with glass noodles or your choice of chicken or shrimp at a Thai fusion restaurant.
Contrast that with Tekton Design’s world-beater $12,000 speakers, the Ulfberhts, which are also named after, get this, Norse swords. Less mythological and more historical, but still. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Tekton Design hierarchy, the $3,000 per pair speakers that have caught the audiophile world by storm are given a far mainstream name like The Double Impacts? I don’t get the connection. Wouldn’t Ingelrii have made more sense? Or would it?
Big companies spend a lot of money trying to give clever names to products with various levels of success. The Chevy Probe was reportedly designed to appeal to a more female audience. Think about that for a second. There’s another classic story about GM, again under the Chevy brand, who had to change the name of the mighty Nova in places like Mexico and Venezuela, as “no va” literally translates to “doesn’t go” in Spanish. It turns out that classic business school story isn’t really true on a couple of different levels. First “Nova” and “No Va” have very different pronunciations in Spanish, and Pemex, the petroleum company, was aelling gas under the name Nova for years before GM imported said American muscle to south of the border. But still, this urban legend points to a universal understanding that names matter.
Porsche does a good job with its naming conventions to this day, especially considering their mainstay car, the 911, could have taken on a completely different, much more disastrous meaning after September 11, 2001. Perhaps the global audience already knew that a Porsche 911 was a world class sports car no matter what misguided message Islamic Fundamentalists were trying to spread on that fateful day? Porsche also has added all sorts of additional descriptive monikers to their cars as to differentiate their performance, be it “Turbo” (most all 911s have turbo power plants but that wasn’t always the case), “GT2,” “Straßenversion,” or what have you.
Audio companies have done the naming convention thing right in the past, too. Apogee Grands come to mind as a good example from the audiophile way-back machine. These impossible-to-drive speakers are nearly as impossible to find (let alone find in good working condition), but their name alone explains the grandeur of their musical playback performance. My mentor, Mark Levinson, back at Cello in the 1980s, was inspired by Stradivari violins and Patek Phillipe watches. Many of the highly efficient Cello speakers tended to follow the Stradivari naming theme, which gave some continuity to the speaker offerings at the now defunct high-end audio giant. Harman owns the brand Mark Levinson today, and they’ve followed the same basic naming format for their electronics using a “No. X” format for their amps, preamps, DACs, streamers, and more. While there doesn’t seem to be an exact formula for the naming, many of the product numbers have stuck–especially the more reference level, two-number products from the past, such as the No. 40 AV preamp, the No. 31.5 and No. 30.5 DAC-Transport combination, and the lust-worthy, two-chassis No. 32 stereo preamp.
To be critical the audiophile hobby can be technically complicated, potentially off-putting, and cliquish to new users. Perhaps looking at naming components in a way that is a little easier to understand and that is a little less esoteric is a good thing? I am not sure names have to make a whole lot of sense, and by no means should they take the fun out of the process of acquiring such dream-worthy products. Like Schiit Audio does, there should be a little bit of fun in the product names from time to time. In the same breath, some continuity and ease-of-understanding could go a long way to make the audiophile hobby a little friendlier to the newbies.
What are some of your best and worst audiophile product names? How would you name audiophile products if you were a brand manager for a top audiophile company? Comment below. We want to hear from you.