Just returning from CES 2014 in Las Vegas, I contemplated what made the biggest impression on me. It’s not 4K “UltraHD” TVs, this year with curved screens. It’s not the “Sonos killers.” I’m hard to impress, having gone to this show for years. The product that struck me the most was relatively simple – the ClearView Audio Clio Bluetooth wireless speaker with a clear panel producing the sound. The fact that the product came from renamed local Boston company Emo Labs was a complete surprise that I discovered later.
However, I found myself being more impressed by the quality and extent of press coverage – certainly no accident – than even the product itself. I can’t help but think this version is a gimmick. It’s technically cool for sure, the unusual appearance being the main benefit for the owner. I have confidence, however, that the company’s second product will be a home run.
The general shape of the $349 Clio is reminiscent of the top selling Bose SoundDock products – a gentle arc, leaning back at about 15 degrees. But the appearance comes off seeming mundane. But what’s the point of the product? What’s the utility? The only reason to load your bookshelf two items deep with a plant and a clear speaker is to show off the gimmick. Most people wouldn’t want that level of clutter. Making a clear speaker is a huge advance and ought to be more dramatically presented. Such a powerful design feature as a clear transducer should bring greater benefit, or else this company will be a one-hit wonder. Of course, if the sound is superior, or at least equal to the market leader Bose SoundLink, then perhaps people will go for the ClearView.
AFTER I admired the product in the CES Innovations display I researched the company and was pleasantly surprised to find that the local Boston team at Emo Labs was responsible for the product. Founded in the mid-2000s, Emo developed an edge-driven screen technology for producing sound. The focus originally was on computer monitors, flat panel TVs, and phones (or what we now call smartphones). But small-driver audio technology has gotten so good, and product makers are so cost-conscious, that the Emo design never caught on as a licensed technology.
The company has restructured and renamed itself the more pleasant sounding ClearView Audio, going the route of being a branded consumer product company. Having experienced the pain that technology licensing is, when I was involved with THX licensing at Lucasfilm, I can see the appeal of turning into a product company. The company was and is full of very qualified audio engineers and product people. I warmly wish for their great success.
To make the leap to the big times, the ClearView product will need both a more dramatic industrial design and some kind of worthwhile utility. I endorse the baby step being taken, and I know product #2 will be an amazing winner!
Since this posting, I had an opportunity to write an expanded story about ClearView Audio for Ted Green’s Strata-gee newsletter, so I visited with my friend Allan Evelyn at ClearView headquarters. Following this I have a better sense of where the company wants to go, and why. My story can be found at Strata-gee.com.
© Copyright 2014 Stephen Shenefield