I was once in Shanghai talking to an audience about branding and the importance of becoming famous in one area, not a gamut of unrelated things. It was going well. A middle-aged man rose to say he agreed with me. What business, I asked, was he in? “Educational software,” he replied. “And courier services. And hats.” “Are these different companies?” I asked. “No,” he said. “One brand. Consistent, as you advised.”
I thought of this when I looked at the website of Joey Roth, a young industrial designer based in Pasadena. It’s stylish and clever, pretentious in parts, but not grievously so. What amused me, though, is his heroic disregard for brand consistency. You can buy his self-watering terracotta planters, a maple- and rosewood-encased compass, some cool posters – oh yes, and a desktop amplifier, speaker and subwoofer system made from porcelain, birch plywood and cork. You won’t mind if I concentrate on the latter; it’s the most original, interesting and fine-sounding system I’ve come across in a long time for a work desk or small room.
Roth (not to be confused with the British audio company Roth), who studied ceramics, engineering and psychology, designed the system as an antidote to the processed sound we are all used to in many digital-age audio products. So it’s determinedly low-ish tech, with no wireless, no compression, just an excellent little analogue amp and speakers that are custom-made in Taiwan (with the ceramic elements created by a porcelain studio more used to making hand-thrown vases).
I don’t know if I’m imagining it, but the near-total rigidity of porcelain lends a marvellous, audiophile-pleasing precision and clarity to the sound. And as a piece of design, everything, from every angle, is both quirky and cool. I was not surprised when I went for a demo of the system at a turntable specialist in Manhattan’s East Village to discover that it is selling especially well in Japan. But if you’re based in the UK you can get one shipped from the US – some hi-fi enthusiasts already have. The shipping isn’t cheap, but the product is half the price it could be. Splash out and buy Roth’s ceramic subwoofer, too. You will be knocked out by the quality and enormity of the sound you achieve.