Breaking the sound barrier: The best new audio tech for superyachts
by Johnny Davies
With streaming subscriptions making music virtually free, people are spending less on artists and performers but more on the hardware to play them through, says Johnny Davies...
At the higher end of the hi-fi market, great sound design is being matched by great product design - and you really get what you pay for. It has already been a bumper year for hi-fi, with venerable brands such as Monitor Audio, the British company that has been making quality speakers since the 1970s, unveiling its new Studio series. These come in svelte compact cabinets, can be used as bookshelf speakers or mounted on dedicated stands, and offer sound reproduction you’d expect from far heftier products – deep bass, with lots of impact. Similarly, Mission has announced its seven-strong QX speaker range, comprising five core hi-fi models – two bookshelf designs and three floor-standing speakers, plus a dedicated centre speaker and a selection of subwoofers.
Scottish brand Fyne Audio is new to the market but comprises a seven-strong team with more than 200 years’ worth of industry know-how, and its offering ranges from around £200 to just under £20,000. Also just launched are the Resolution floor-standing speakers from Wilson Benesch, whose stunning carbon-fibre designs use a build favoured by the Formula One and aerospace industries.
The headphone industry is thriving, and set to be worth £14bn by 2022. New York-based Master & Dynamic may be only five years old but it has already successfully disrupted the premium end of the market by taking design and marketing cues from the luxury brands it most admires: Aston Martin, Leica and Ermenegildo Zegna, all of whom it has gone on to collaborate with. Its latest launch, the MW50+ allows you to swap between on- and over-ear styles, and comes with two sets of lambskin-covered memory foam ear pads that attach magnetically, making switching from one to the other a cinch.
“I like ‘inventing’ and thought it would be useful in my own life to have one pair of headphones with two types of experiences,” CEO and founder Jonathan Levine, a former Wall Street trader turned serial entrepreneur, says. “The MW50+ is a great travel tool thanks to its flexibility and lightweight frame, making it perfect for on the go, for business or pleasure.”
Wireless home speakers are also booming, with terrific offerings from Apple (HomePod) and Sonos (SonosOne) among others. A stylish addition to the category comes from Bang & Olufsen. Its sportier BeoPlay line focuses on portability but maintains the brand’s premium aesthetic. The dinky BeoPlay P6 offers knockout power for its size, gives 16 hours of battery life and is also a handsome piece of kit, combining pearl-blasted aluminium with leather.
“We wanted a powerful speaker that you would naturally want around,” says Kalle Nordbo, concept manager for the P6. “The hardest thing is to make something that fits into people’s lives. The challenge is to get all aspects of the design just right and make it a holistic product. We paid special attention to how people use and touch the speaker by adding real materials: aluminium for the main body and leather for the handle. Inspiration was drawn both from interior trends and furniture design to make its use natural around the home.”
When it comes to kitting out your yacht with appropriate audio, it pays to invest in some expert advice. “Audio has so many nuances, you need to listen to the user so you can focus on the right proposal,” says Maurizio Minossi, technical director of Videoworks Group, Italian specialists in the high-end architectural and yachting markets. “We focus on in-depth briefing with the client.” Right now, Minossi is particularly impressed by James loudspeakers and Power Soft for digital amplification, both as options for audiophiles and non-audiophiles alike. Minossi says he sees the yachting audio market heading in a direction where the same customer demands quality from two product categories. “One would be ‘normal audio’,” he says, “with particular focus on personal digital music (Sonos, Spotify, and so on) and the other would be top-level audio both inside and outside with exciting quality.”
Finally, there is hope for those who still like their music in physical form. New venture Decca Luxe aims to re-establish music as a form of art, bringing together unreleased recordings, new sound technology and craftsmen to create objects in a collection it calls Masterpieces. Its first release celebrates Luciano Pavarotti and is limited to 10 pieces. Containing his entire back catalogue, remastered in audio 64 times better than CD quality, the collection is housed in a specially built music player within a wooden cabinet from the British furniture designer Linley.