Wealth by association is a funny concept. But that's never stopped merchandisers from exploiting weird non-sequiturs like Ferrari-badged wristwatches, Marlboro clothing or any of the perfumes which inevitably follow the success of a designer in the rag-trade. And while writing with a Harley-Davidson pen isn't quite the same as owning the motorcycle, it does seem to give a number of wannabees the requisite buzz. But why has it taken so damned long for the hi-fi community to understand this? Twenty years after Yamaha enticed an Italian to design its sloped cassette deck, a year after Aliante slipped the Pininfarina badge onto a loudspeaker, we have another of those all-too-rare-associations between disparate commodities.
Not that Rogers has actually issued the db101 as a licensed badge-wearer. Rather, the consumer is made aware of the fact that the aesthetics came from the same pen which shaped what many consider to be the greatest
The targets? That triumvirate's 'lifestyle' speakers, those tiny, flexible, injection-moulded mini-speakers beloved of studios, clubs, interior designers, home cineastes and trendies. Indeed, the kind of speakers loved by everyone but audiophiles, who always seem to have a problem when style has been applied to a hi-fi product. They still can't grasp the notion that something doesn't have to look like shit if it's to sound good. (You don't believe me? Then how come the - deservedly - best-selling high-end speaker of all-time, the Wilson WATT/Puppy, is also the ugliest?)
It's essential that you understand why JBL's Control 1, B&W's Rock Solids and the whole range of Bose's passive and powered mini speakers (including the AM5 satellite system) sell in numbers that would dwarf most traditional manufacturers' total career output. We're not talking a few thousand, but tens-to-hundreds of thousands of pairs. And for a smallish specialist to enter that particular fray, everything has to be just right. I was told the cost just for tooling up the db101's cabinet and realised immediately that it was the kind of commitment which calls for near-religious faith in the product.
Ostensibly a dinky little two-way speaker in a cabinet made from plastics, the db101 is quite clearly a generic match for the opposition, right down to the provision for the fixing of myriad types of hardware: brackets, stands, extra modules. But that's as far as it goes. Peter Stevens' design is swoopy, modernist and - depending on the finish - both cute
It's important, too, that you keep in mind the dimensions of the db101; the photos suggest something much larger unless some small item is included to provide a sense of scale. I certainly wasn't prepared for the review samples' diminutive presence, even though I'd seen shots of the prototype. A wildly finished speaker measuring only 270x190x193mm (HWD) and trimmed with lacquered aluminium is a jewel-like thing indeed, especially given the choice of side panels available as standard. Yes, there will be those of an automotive bent who'll want a facsimile of the blue-and-yellow limited edition produced in the Lanzante SuperCar race team colours, but that's taking the brand linkage to the extreme. And while I wouldn't be surprised to see db101s in Ferrari Rosso for the Modenese car builder, or in red-and-white for Coca-Cola, it's more likely that regular customers will settle for off-the-shelf trim. After all, custom finishes can only be offered in runs of 200.
What happens to the injection-moulded ABS cabinet besides the painting of the middle section is the fitting of aluminium side panels or 'cheeks', provided by a state-of-the-art aluminium 'fabricator' from the USA. I was shown the equivalent of a tailor's or decorator's swatch book, a selection of aluminium stampings finished in everything from a black-and-gold marble lookalike to a 'yoof market' metallic red panel covered with drawings in the style of Keith Haring to a choice of neon blue, red, brushed or natural aluminium with a tactile black matte centre 'V' flash. Within the range are enough types to cover staid dwellings, modernist 'bachelor pads' and, yes, boring audiophilic listening dens. Basically, if you're prepared to pay extra, Rogers will come up with any finish you like.
Who'll be the first maladroit to ask for wood?