While the audiophile industry thrives in its purpose to satisfy auditory whims and sensations, it does so while vastly undervaluing visual, tactile, and mechanical qualities.
Many high-end audiophile headphones share cheap, generic OEM parts or poor quality-control in manufacturing. Most products, if designed, are only done so far as to differentiate them from bare OEM products.
What this has done is created a culture that stigmatizes the perceived prioritization of any quality over that of sound.
However, the new Denon Music Maniac Series is a symbol of a shift in values, embracing formerly neglected qualities through product design.
But don’t celebrate just yet. Though the ADH-600 & 7100 may be heralds of a new age of designed audiophile headphones, removed from this context their design and production ultimately fall short.
The Good – Car Surfacing
Probably the most successful aspct of this headphone design is the use of car surfacing as the primary stylistic phrasing.
To be clear, this article will refer to it as “car styling” or “car surfacing,” but only because this technique is used most often for cars–Denon designers did not necessarily draw direct inspiration from cars.
The house sound of Denon headphones has often been described as “fun,” or to generalize, emotive rather than cold & analytical. Car styling is extremely emotive, and both the Denon house sound and music in general are as well–so everything makes sense.
In addition, this aesthetic approach was, until now, left unclaimed by consumer-oriented “designer” headphones, such as the Beats by Dre & Soul by Ludacris. So this style is a strategic differentiator.
This image illustrates the use of “filleted” linework present on the armature of the ADH-7100. This technique has become a car styling staple since the introduction of Chris Bangle’s re-constructed BMW language.
Ultimately, car styling was an appropriate solution to visually translate the emotive qualities of sound and music.
Mechanisms & Materials Mediocrity
This is where the Music Maniac line really fails to bring quality. As a foreword to this section, the Denon ADH-7100 will be compared in terms of its visual, tactile, and mechanical qualities against the far less costly Beats by Dre.
Firstly, the fit adjustment on the new Denon was not thought through.
As was discussed before, the filleted linework present on these armatures is a favorable stylistic decision. However the lack of thought put into the extension mechanism interrupts the flow of those lines, and creates a harsh, jarring transition.
The Beats, on the other hand, look cool using the same mechanism. This is because they have no “moving” linework to be interrupted, and the composition of ( functional) screws communicates a natural visual stopping point. What’s more, the arms themselves are very flat–there is not a large jump in thickness from the band to the extension as in the Denons.
As a bonus, the actual extension is brushed.
The interior of the Denon armatures is littered with visually unresolved engineering details and part-lines that work together to create visual discomfort.
This detail, intentional or not, communicates an inconsiderate attitude to the consumer. Here is the Beats, considerate as ever.
This interior deserves applause for containing more mechanical functionality than that of the Denon, but actually looking more clean and less intimidating. The material finish has also been given that “soft touch” treatment.
Honesty of Materials
Lately, due in part to the advent of Apple’s popularity, the concept of honest presentation of materials has become good design practice. Wood and metals are presented without paint or anodization. This is sustainable, looks cool, and promotes the use of higher quality materials.
While the ADH-600 is OK because the plastic armature was molded with black plastic, the ADH-7100 tries to trick consumers with a very cheap-looking metal-flake paint.
It is true that the 7100’s sport Denon’s signature wooden cups, but in addition to being a smaller quantity of wood than the D7000 cups, they are also dwarfed when compared proportionally to the plastic armature.
Although obviously the wooden cups have been engineered for their favorable aural properties, the perceived value and the quality communicated by the “Classics” series like the D7000 has been lost in this Music Maniac line.
This image is of the beats, perfectly honest in its material expression.
While the Denon Music Maniacs retain their value as a symbol that the audiophile industry has begun to accept their responsibility to the other senses, they still pale in comparison to consumer-oriented products.
While the car styling approach is unique and well-considered, other production, design, and manufacturing blunders dominate the overall impression of quality.