Ten years of Zound - Finding our feet
Back in December 2009, a little-known company called Zound Industries shipped its first products out to retailers around the world and today we’re celebrating ten years of Zound products.
To honour our first decade of disruption, we’re looking back at some of our favourite products. In this third and final article, we make a smartphone, go stereo and mark our latest brand collaboration with adidas.
Let’s go back to 2014. A small team hunkered down in a war room to create something huge. Something outside our standard offering of headphones and speakers. Something that took on a whole new market. That something was the Marshall London, our one and only smartphone.
Enjoyment of music had moved beyond the home many years before with the Sony Walkman, but as phones overtook portable audio players people sacrificed sound quality for convenience. We believed that consumers shouldn’t have to compromise.
Playing true to the Marshall values, the team came up with a smartphone aimed squarely at music lovers with two front facing speakers for stereo sound, two headphone jacks so you could use it as a small portable recording studio or share your music with your friends and the ‘M’ button for instant access to audio features.
London stood out from other phones on the market. It was unapologetically rugged with leather textures, brass details, classic white piping on the front, all hailing back to the brand’s amplifier roots.
Although you can no longer buy Marshall London, Coloud or Molami they’re an important part of our history. They helped us learn and grow. They challenged us to try something different and brought Zound to new audiences.
But at the end of the day we were a small company, just over 100 people running four brands at that time, and something had to give. We took the hard decision to concentrate on our core categories – headphones and speakers – on our two most popular brands – Urbanears and Marshall.
Focusing on what we do best didn’t mean we had to restrict ourselves. Quite the opposite. It meant that we could do what we do well but do it even better.
After the Hanwell speaker we launched a home Bluetooth line of speakers and in 2015, shrunk our ambitions into a portable, the Stockwell. It was slimmer, lighter, but still packed a punch of sound. We were proud of that little speaker, and in 2019 we released the Stockwell II with the immersive, multi-directional stereo sound that you can hear from all our portable speakers.
Historically, you if you wanted stereo sound you needed two speakers. This all changed in Hong Kong airport. One of our dedicated acoustics engineers was stuck waiting for his Chinese visa and started playing around with simulations of radiation patterns. He spotted something that he thought could reproduce stereo sound in a single, small box.
Back in Stockholm, an engineer and a designer joined in and set about testing the idea. Four prototypes and a lot of head scratching later they realised they had rediscovered the Blumlein method, but turned it on its head.
Blumlein was an audio engineer working for EMI back in the 1930s. He was a prolific inventor and devised a technique for stereo recording that is still widely used today.
We didn’t set out to put stereo sound in our speakers, but it really enriches a consumer’s experience of our products. It’s this commitment to adding tech when it makes sense that forms half of our mission. Creating products that fit consumer’s lifestyles is the other half.
To do this we really have to understand our audiences, what drives them, their needs and aspirations, their social context, their hopes and fears. Everything. Our latest brand collaboration with adidas shows how we do this.
In September 2019, we released the FWD-01 and RPT-01. These two headphones were built for athletes by athletes. We worked closely with the sporting community, and with adidas runners specifically, throughout the design process and really listened to what they needed. Every decision was based on making the sports experience as good as possible whether it is running or working-out in the gym. These where the first, but definitely not the last adidas headphones we will be putting on the market staying true to the brand’s ambition to be the best sports headphone brand in the world.
Looking back at the full list of products we’ve created makes us realise just how far we’ve come in a decade. From our first Plattans to our latest release, the Major III Voice. From the team of eight tenacious founders working out of a basement, to a team of 250 equally ambitious people based around the world.
With the new frontier of wearables and the rise of IoT, who knows what products we’ll be developing in the future, but we’re very much looking forward to what the next ten years brings. Thanks for coming along for the ride!