Everyone recognizes the red, lowercase “b” on the side of a pair of Beats headphones, symbol of the latest branding trend to sweep the market. Audio purists may dislike the bass-heavy output of Beats Audio, but the sales figures show that the public love them. Still, this wasn’t the brand for Christian Iacovelli, President of A-Audio. His father loved Bose products, though they lacked style, and Christian was in college when Beats were in their prime, but he decided he wanted something different than either of their offerings.
If you think about fancy watches or sports cars when looking at A-Audio products, that’s by design: Christian researched the up-and-coming trends in men’s fashion and automotive design to come up with the look and feel of his headphones. “Branding is critical,” Iacovelli said, as he showed me some of the design features on the Legacy headphones. A-Audio headphones use a combination of anti-vibration aluminum and leather instead of plastic, with thick metal bezels like modern watches. Even the padding is stitched with a diamond quilting pattern, a design taken from the bucket seats in Bentley cars.
Of course, the look of the headphones don’t mean much if they don’t sound good, but the models on the show floor took care of those doubts. The Legacy headphones, A-Audio’s over-the-ear flagship model, comes with what they call “3 Stage” audio technology: three separate sound setting for various situations. The Audio mode is a passive, unamplified profile which allows you to hear unmodified sound from your device, and also allows the headphones to work even with a dead battery. It also comes with Bass Enhancement and Active Noise Cancellation settings; though the Bass Enhancement sounded good, I was particularly impressed with the effectiveness of the noise cancellation setting. Once the headphones were over my ears, all I could hear was the sound of the music coming from the iPad below me even though I was surrounded by the CES show floor and had a demonstrator explaining the product to me.
I enjoyed the look and feel of the hardware, but that’s likely because I’m a male who enjoys dark colors. For those looking for the color variety of Beats and other brands, A-Audio doesn’t quite reach out just yet. When I asked Christian about plans for future expansion, he acknowledged that A-Audio’s current designs were heavily influenced by male fashion design, and that when he brought his sister in to the company, one of her first goals was to come up with a design that would be more appealing for females. After the show, the company will have two new color schemes: a rose-gold-and-white version of their on-ear Lyric headphones, and a gunmetal-and-red scheme for the Legacy. He also said that they’re thinking about the possibility of opening up to gaming headsets. “We didn’t expect to really hear from them, but we’ve gotten a lot of gamers who really love our headphones with the bass boost setting,” Christian said. Currently, their Lyric headset has dual audio jacks, meaning they might be able to adapt one side for a boom mic and make a full-fledged gaming headset in the future.
A-Audio’s not going for the Bose market or the Beats market, but somewhere slightly outside of both. It’s a fashion-conscious brand that may make conventional techies bristle, but appeals to those who are looking for a little more style with their hardware. But with the style comes quality sound as well, and time will tell what kind of dent Iacovelli’s brand will make on the niche market.