Audio Packaging: The Art of the Box

AR-PackagingSmallScale450.jpgFor most of us, packaging can often be a frustrating and irritating thing. Most blister packs are designed as much to keep people out as a means to showcase and protect a product. How many of us have cut their finger trying to get that stupid plastic off whatever it was we purchased? My bet is quite a few. 

Packaging for industry is big business. Really big business. Companies work diligently trying to engineer ways to reduce packaging costs without sacrificing product safety.

Quite a few companies buying large volumes of something use returnable packaging and dedicated freight lines to haul new product from a supplier to a customer, and empty, returnable packaging from the customer back to the supplier - to be reused and shipped again. Many of those arrangements are predicated around just in time delivery. 

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High performance audio is perhaps one exception to these conditions. At least to a point. Many lower cost products come in plain, nondescript boxes. I've seen shipping cartons that were almost completely blank. Only when the carton was opened was there any indication what was actually on the inside. 

As the cost of audio products increase, packaging also gets better, more pronounced and almost becomes as much a work of art as the product itself. Call it an obligatory requirement, call it marketing, call it whatever, an undeniable fact is the more something costs, better, more illustrious, more over the top packaging will be used. For most of us, packaging is something typically discarded. By the time that impenetrable blister pack is finally removed, where does it go? Yes, the garbage can.

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Audio, again, is an exception to that rule. "Save the shipping boxes" is almost an unwritten mandate. I have so many of them, about half of which are too large to fit through my attic access, I decided to lease an off-site storage facility. Public Storage 10 x 10 to the rescue. 

Of course, it seems almost a felonious act to throw some of these packaging marvels away. My Nordost Odin 2 speaker cables came in a relatively nondescript cardboard box. Open that outer box, however, and you find the creamy nougat center - a rich looking, beautifully finished wooden box surrounded by a printed cardboard sleeve. Open the box to find nice, soft foam dutifully protecting the bounty inside. 

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Is it really necessary to go to these lengths for a speaker cable? Something that will spend its life on the floor? That point might be argued but considering what these cables cost, would a customer be upset if the box in which the cables were packaged looked cheap and did not exude luxury? Does it improve the performance of the cable? Of course not. Does it make the customer feel somehow better about their purchase? Possibly so. 

Audio packaging is also meant to protect. Most of the better equipment utilizes a box in a box arrangement. There is an outer box, somewhat heavy walled and designed to be manhandled by freight companies. Then there is an inner box, maybe not as heavy but probably possessing nice printing and the company name and logo. 

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Some companies go all out and use metal enclosures. My music server, the Memory Player 64, came in a heavy aluminum flight case. With die cut foam specifically designed for the product, I can ship this component anywhere and be relatively certain it will arrive safely.

I have returned it several times for hardware upgrades, most recently for a complete rebuild to the latest design, and I felt completely confident it would leave my home and be returned without incident. It goes without saying anytime your valuable, expensive product leaves your house, it is at the mercy of the freight companies. We all know what they can do to a package. 

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Another "feature," if you will, is the use of a nice cloth bag. You know the ones - soft, printed, drawstring. They just scream luxury! This must be a growing trend. I am doing some remodeling and I purchased a sink and faucet made in Italy.

Both are very high end and the sink, a vessel sink, came in a cloth bag with the manufacturer's name all over it. Is this some sort of new modus operandi? Does the use of a cloth bag mean the product, whatever it may be, is on a higher end of the food scale than lesser products? Hard to say. I do know one thing - it is difficult at best to get a 100lb (or more) amp out of a cloth bag. 

In the end I suppose it's all a matter of semantics. Well, packaging semantics. Regardless of the level of nicety and luxury in which our prized components are contained, the simple truth is they must somehow be protected.

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Frankly, I get a kick out of seeing how manufacturers try and one up themselves when it comes to the packaging they use for their products. One question frequently asked, do these luxurious containers increase the component cost? Ah, that is a really good question, right? 

Some manufacturers make the package a mini work of art, like the component inside. Some use a simple cardboard box, preferring the product speak for itself. Some go to extraordinary means to increase product safety during transportation. Regardless how much or how little exotic the packaging might be, being a necessity is the bottom line. So, do two things regarding packaging - one, smile if it looks way over the top. It's essentially marketing, after all. Two, always save those boxes! You never know when you may need them. 

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