Earlier this summer, electronics accessory company Incase announced that they were launching a line of headphones to complement both the gadgets that need them and their existing portfolio. Seeing as Incase has become all but synonymous with laptop bags and cases, the announcement marks a new direction for the Southern California-based company, and the initial teaser shots definitely whet our appetites for more details.
We had the opportunity to talk to Joe Tan, Chief Design Officer, and Markus Diebel, VP of Design, about the design process behind the new collection.
I know one of Incase's primary goals was to strike a balance between aesthetics and comfort. Can you elaborate on this process?
For us, functionality takes priority. When we set out to design our line of headphones, we wanted to elevate the listening experience by focusing on the right acoustics and creating a high level of ergonomic wearing comfort.
To keep the focus on producing this listening experience, we set out to create the most minimal aesthetic that further emphasized and complemented our focus rather than detract from it with unnecessary details. In our product development cycle, we go through a repeated exercise and process of aesthetic reduction, which, in this case, has resulted in a timeless simplicity and a seemingly effortless aesthetic that we are very excited about.
To maximize the wearing comfort, we looked closely at the human anatomy, specifically the ear and ear canal shape and how our ear tips and pads would interface with them. With unique ear tip and ear cup shapes that match the human form and by incorporating memory foam into the build of the ear cups, we were able to increase the pressure dispersion at the various touch points, resulting in a better and more comfortable fit and an improved acoustic experience as a result of minimizing the sound leakage.
From L to R: The "Pivot," "Reflex," and "Sonic"
How did you arrive at the choice of materials?
Since we are introducing a completely new family of products, we wanted to create some sense of continuity and consistency with the rest of the Incase product line. This was achieved through our design language and approach, but also through careful editing of materials and finishes.
We've chosen some materials and finishes that were already part of the Incase design language, such as the soft-touch finish and coated canvas textile. We then combined these familiar materials with completely new ones like memory foam, microsuede and woven mesh (found on our ear cups), which creates a completely new tactile and sensory experience.
Alternately, it also looks like you've hit a sweet spot of sleek design and superior audio quality, though I haven't had a chance to road test them yet. What was the R&D process behind the audio drivers themselves?
As creatives, musicians and DJs, we were looking for a clean and natural sound that would express music or an instrument as it's intended to be heard—without too much over-amplification or distortion. A lot of today's music is so well mixed and fine-tuned that we felt it was important to keep the sound reproduction as authentic as possible. At the same time, we wanted the sound to be dynamic and responsive, while also being warm and dimensional.
To develop the right drivers with the right acoustics for us, we needed to first decide on what we wanted the Incase sound signature to be. We did a pretty extensive audit of other products, listening to a wide range of headphones from premium audio to everyday product. Our goal was to better understand what products sounded great over the widest range of music.
What was eye-opening in this process was that, even though the audio drivers played a large role in the sound signature creation, everything else that went into the speaker design, such as driver housing shape, volume and all other component materials were just as crucial in the final acoustic outcome. For us it wasn't necessarily about any specific technology, but more about trying different things to achieve the sound we wanted.
Of course, audio is an interesting marketplace because the so-called "prosumer" is essentially an audiophile. Do you think the audio quality stands up to that of other high-end headphones?
In our development process, our headphone builds went through regular sound signature testing to ensure our line reflected the clean audio signature we were looking for. We aren't designing headphones for professional use—we are not pretending to make products specifically for studio musicians or DJs—but we are confident that our headphones will appeal to those who appreciate quality audio performance, the details of aesthetic design, as well as added functionality (and some of these people might just be studio musicians and DJs.) All in all, we believe that we've created a premium product line reflected in both physical design and performance.
And the decision to include the built-in mic across the board, how did that come about?
The iPhone and iPad are quickly becoming two of the most important sources for music, entertainment and two-way communication. This, along with the various uses and needs for headphones alongside all Apple devices, led us to the inclusion of an integrated mic and remote control be applied across our product line so that the headphones provide listening, communication and creation possibilities.
What does the future hold for Incase, specifically with regard to electronics? Anything in particular to look forward to?
The future is bright, so you'll just have to wait and see.
Stay tuned—we'll have full product reviews next week, when the headphones hit the shelves!