Yesterday a Facebook friend posted a picture announcing the arrival of new cabling for his audio system. The photo didn't show any cable, just a stack of silver Halliburton-style cases stacked seven high. All I could think of when I looked at the photo was, "Where you gonna keep all those sexy silver boxes?" It was, for me, emblematic of the kind of over-packaging of certain kinds of audio products that I see on a disturbingly regular basis.
It's not a universal problem. Some kinds of audio products are almost exempt from overly blingy packaging. Power amplifiers and preamps, for instance, rarely come ensconced in burl wood presentation cases. There are some exceptions, however. AVM uses Halliburton-style cases for all their electronics, but I was assured it was for practical reasons (they have extremely low incidences of shipping damage) rather than for bling. Most loudspeaker packaging is also more focused on getting the things to your door in one piece than adding bling, but when they do add bling (such as built-in rollers that can then retract when the loudspeakers are in final position) it tends to have some practical value beyond making a good first impression.
But at the other end of the spectrum in terms of mostly useless, designed to impress the buyer rather than add utility to the product, there's flagship-level cables packaging. I don't need to point fingers here as almost every cable and wire firm (with the exception of Audience who have a standard box and bag for all their cables) have felt the need to deliver their cables in something that reflects the qualities within. The logical extension of this silliness is a cable that is delivered by its own bullet-proof drone, which, of course, would be part of the packaging the owner would have the honor of storing until that time when the cable needs to go back to its creators for refurbishment.
Headphones and their packaging are currently the primary major purveyors of excess glitz. Oppo, now gone but not forgotten, delivered their PM-1 headphones in a big old presentation box that must have, all by itself, weighed six or seven pounds. Imagine what it added to the shipping cost? And they are not the only ones guilty of excess preciousness when it comes to their packaging. But since my criticisms aren't about to hurt Oppo's business (since they're out of it) I chose to pick on them. If a manufacturer must do something more for prestige's sake, why not put the money into a headphone stand as part of the package? At least that is something that won't merely take up space.
Fortunately, most in-ears, and even custom-in-ears packaging has resisted the flight toward blingy packaging. Some manufacturers, like Westone, include useful travel cases with their IEMs. Others, spend accessory budgets on multiple tip choices and removeable cable options instead of presentation boxes. I like that.
There's no way, no matter how loudly I scream "Stop overpackaging!" that manufacturers will universally decide that using fancier packaging to increase a component's perceived value is not a clever marketing tool. But, in my humble opinion, those manufacturers that do "get it" will be the ones that win the hearts, minds, and for them most importantly, the wallets of audiophiles far more than the ones that don't.