I'll admit, I don't read a lot of specialty AV publications anymore. I know that must sound strange given that I write for one, but nevertheless it's true. The other day, though, I was scrolling through this very site in an attempt to catch up on the work of my peers when I noticed a review of Denon's PMA-150H stereo integrated amplifier written by Dennis Burger. It wasn't Dennis' byline that made me stop and take note, it was the image of the PMA-150 itself.
In a sea of imagery that is this publication's home page, the Denon stood out as something different. I clicked over to our larger amplifier category page and was greeted by a plethora of non-descript black rectangles, each nearly indistinguishable from the next.
We live in what can only be described as a new golden age of design and technology, and yet 99 percent of what you see in the specialty AV space is the same monolithic slab of blah. I get it, the majority of those who are passionate about specialty AV are men, but c'mon, we've got to have a little more life and style than this. And it's not like we as men don't know what style is. We can identify it. Even if we ourselves may not partake, we know what it is.
And I know, style is subjective, but AV receivers and amplifiers haven't evolved aesthetically in any meaningful way for going on 30 years now. Isn't it time we spiced things up a bit? And no, the brief love affair we had with silver a few years back is not what I'm talking about.
I'm talking about products that take form into as much account as function. Products that use materials you may actually want to display and/or touch. While I may not always like the boxy shape and bold colors that Eric Alexander of Tekton Designs chooses to adorn his loudspeakers with, they do captivate visually and thus start a conversation. And conversation and discourse are what is needed in specialty AV.
The other day, my wife and I were watching an interior design vlogger on YouTube, and she literally paused the video and exclaimed, "wait, why does that TV have a wooden frame?" She thought it was a custom touch the vlogger did on her own, but when I explained that no, the TV was in fact the Samsung Frame, my wife said, "why don't we have that, then?" And she's not one who enthusiasts like to claim put looks before performance, because in 2020 it's possible to have both.
The Frame is actually a great TV, and its latest iteration is lightyears better than the previous one. The bigger point being that in the span of a single four-minute video, which wasn't even about The Frame Ultra HD TV, my wife saw it, liked it and decided it was – at a minimum – worth looking into and perhaps even buying. That is the power of good design, and something that few TV manufacturers take as seriously as Samsung.
And it's not just TVs that are becoming more stylish. My wife's favorite loudspeaker of 2019? Bowers & Wilkins' Formation Duo at $4,000 per pair. We both loved them, and were I not a reviewer who needed passive speakers that hooked up to other specialty AV equipment, we would've purchased the review samples because they were that good in terms of both design and performance.
We need more people being drawn to the products that fuel this hobby, and one of the easiest and most effective ways to do it is to make the products beautiful. Truly beautiful. Throwbacks and tributes are a nice start, but how about we get some fresh thinking and design up in here? It's time the AV industry let its freak flag fly a little. Take a page from fashion industry's playbook and build products that speak to our visual hunger for beauty, because chances are consumers are going to see the product way before they're able to hear it.
What is your favorite AV product that you own (or aspire to own) in terms of aesthetics and design? Comment below.
• My Home Theater New Year's Resolutions at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• AV Bliss Is About More Than Merely Audio and Video at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• The Next Frontier in AV is the User Interface at HomeTheaterReview.com.