Entertainment technology today is a bells and whistles game. Every product does everything, and often, and this move to shove as many uses into one capsule of consumer tech can be a flaw in both design and usability. With Earin, however, the opposite is true. Masterminded by three intrepid engineers from Sweden, this audio company is the creator of a groundbreaking personal audio device, the Earin wireless earbuds.
The earbuds, which depend on Bluetooth and a custom-made app that controls the mix straight from a smartphone, are the brainchild of Olle Lindén, Kiril Trajkovski, and Per Sennström, all three of them mechanical or electrical engineers who’ve worked for companies like Sony Ericsson and Nokia. Earin is owned by Epickal AB, their company, a tech startup in Lund, Sweden.
Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Earin team has garnered a good deal of interest, including a preliminary pre-order, which may lead to more pre-orders before their main commercial release, the exact date not released as of late.
We at BaDoink are very excited to present a conversation with one of the creators of this sleek little invention. All the way from Sweden come some behind the scenes reflections about the product, the company, and Per Sennström himself. He’s a soft-spoken and friendly individual, with insight into the audio world, and a genuine interest in elegant simplicity and a personalized sound. We’ve also been told there’s a sample of the product coming our way in the future, so look out for our future in-depth review of the Earin earbuds after this conversation with one of its designers.
How did the company start, and how did you personally get into electronics and sound design?
We come from the mobile business, all three of us. It’s Olle, who’s the mechanics engineer, and me and Kiril are the electronic engineers. Me and Kiril have been running an electronics company here for a couple of years, so it was an easy step to start this up. We started talking about this two years ago I think, and Olle had the idea for quite some time longer and we started sketching out some ideas and how to go forward, and the more we got into it the more serious we got, and it just escalated.
What got you into audio and electrical engineering, not just with this company, but before? What inspired you to be in this industry?
First of all, I studied electrical engineering, the reason for that, it’s just coincidence I guess. Or interest, but that was a long time ago, so I don’t know. But then I started at Sony Ericsson, making mobile phones, on the electronics side. In mobile phones you have basically everything, from digital design to audio design, so it’s a very wide area to work with, and I would say the audio part is the most interesting, in general.
Do you remember what gave you all the idea for the Earin? What was happening in the market that prompted the design of these Bluetooth headphones?
The original idea is from Olle. Back in 2008, he saw a movie, and it was this guy walking with these headphones, in New York. [Turns out, their inspiration comes from the opening credits of Definitely, Maybe] It’s a really cool concept, and he had this idea for quite some time, but at the time we couldn’t really do it, it was 2008, the technology was not there. And then we started looking at the market and we saw there was nothing like this. When you work at the big companies you start with very cool concepts, and then the cool concepts get cheaper and cheaper and finally you have a mediocre product. Our thinking behind this was to make something that we wanted, something very intuitive, very simple–we say minimalistic. By this we mean very small, no LEDs or anything like that, and also the user interface is very minimalistic. Everything just works. We had this concept to have normal in-ear phones, just without the cord, and that was the basic idea, and that’s why we made them so small.
What are the specific features that make the product different than others out there?
First of all, there are no wireless earphones on the market at the moment. There are a couple of Kickstarter projects that are basically running along with our development, but at the moment there’s nothing like this in the market. The way we are different from the other projects that are running right now is the minimalistic part of it. It’s very small, first of all, and it’s very downscale. You only have audio, that’s the only thing that you have, I mean we only focus on the audio. We come from a development background, we know how difficult it is to implement things well. We can make them work, but making them work well is a totally different thing. So we focused only on the audio, and to make it good.
Do you think that electronics suffer now from trying to do too much or trying to be too complex?
I think so, yeah. I worked as a consultant while we were starting this project up, so we were making this project in the evenings, and I was at a big mobile phone manufacturer in this area, and I was on a project making some accessories, and you have all these sensors and gadgets and everything being packed in a small package. So it seems the market is going one way, and that is to add more sensors and more electronics in everything that you wear, and we went in the opposite direction. We just took everything away and focused on one thing. So basically, what I’m saying here is we made it for us and we don’t like too much extra stuff.
You guys seem to have almost designed it so it’s not seen, there’s no image attached to it. You just want the audio and basic functionality.
That’s the point. It’s very difficult; I would say that the headphone market is going to this design direction where you really want to be seen. You want your logotype to be seen by everyone, wherever you are, and this is quite difficult for us, because we’ve made such a small product. It’s basically invisible.
How do you feel you want to market the device? Your main competitors now have set brands, like Beats by Dr. Dre. Do you guys have a strategy for the mass market?
I think the people who’re buying Beats, for example, I mean, we can’t compete with them because they have an enormous budget in marketing, so we’re not even going there. If you’re buying Beats headphones, then you’re buying into this whole thing about having these big headphones with the brand on them. We’re in the opposite direction. So I’d say that our target group is basically kinda techie, and well aware of the markets, and in front of technology.
What’s your target consumer? What kind of listener have you designed this product for?
We designed this for us, but we have this guy from the movie that we saw, it’s quite a cool clip, where this guy is just walking in the big city. It’s a lifestyle product, rather than a sports product or anything like that. Just to enjoy and have a good music experience. You don’t think about this when you wear the wires but when you cut them it’s actually quite a cool experience.
This sounds like a perfect product for me; I almost never wear headphones because of the wires. You’re taking away the big physical device and leaving just the audio.
You feel a little bit like Jack Bauer from 24, wearing them, to be honest.
It’s almost like you get to have your own soundtrack, but no one can see that you’re listening to music.
That’s a very good observation. So, that’s actually how you feel, that you go around listening to music and no one knows.
Have you worn the product out yet, and gotten comments?
You have to look carefully to see them. We have worn them out, and when people see them, we are getting comments of course. It’s kind of special. They are not that invisible.
They’re still much smaller and don’t have the cord. It’s a very personal product, for you and your audio. When is the product coming out? This is a Swedish company, and I live in the states, as well as many of our readers, so how would I go about getting the product?
At the moment, we’re focusing on delivering the Kickstarter units, in March. We are in discussions with retailers in the U.S., actually, so we have seen a lot of interest, especially in the U.S. We’re not focusing on specialist stores, it’s more general. We’re still in the start of the whole retail, we’re basically thinking where to go, you never know where you’ll end up.
Have you gotten interest other places than the states, or is that the main market?
We have main interest from the U.S., but also from Europe, of course, but basically all over the world. We’re shipping about 8,000 units now, to all over the world.
The product launch, is it some time away, or sooner than we’d think?
I’d say summer 2015. We had a pre-order, trying to ramp up volume, and we crashed the webshop. We released it at the beginning of January and the whole webshop crashed and we had to rebuild everything. Too much pressure on the server. We allocated the thousand units on a different server in two minutes. It’s safe to say we have a market for this, we just have to make sure it’s really good so it’s well met when we actually ship the product. Maybe we’ll have one more pre-order, we’ll see.
Very promising. Do you guys already have ideas for what you want to create after this product?
Of course. That’s the advantage of having minimalistic products, with few features. It’s easy to find roadmaps, so you can add something after. We have one clear idea and a couple of others, that we’ll start developing quite soon. Like Earin, the follow-up; we’re continuing on this path. Since we’re breaking ground here, we want to be known as the wireless earbuds. We have a design language that we want to keep and keep working on. I’d say that’s something we want to be known for, for both the wireless and design components.
Tell me about your design language.
We’ve always been focusing on the minimalistic design. It’s very clean, and that’s something, apart from the product design, that we’re quite fond of.
Any personal projects or other special interests within the audio world?
I’m an old audio freak, so I have my excellent stereo speakers at home. I’m very old fashioned when it comes to audio. All of my friends, they have these big 7.1 systems, and I’m sitting there listening to stereo sets, but that’s something I enjoy from the audio world. That’s going backwards. It’s very high tech, what we’re doing here, and the stereo is not very high tech.
Does high tech always mean better audio?
I would say the opposite. When you come to the old audio world, when you talk about speakers for example, you have this thing that you want to achieve with speakers, and that is that you want it to sound exactly like the artist who produced it. That’s quite obvious, but you have these big selling brands who boost the bass, that’s very popular. And so it doesn’t really sound like it was meant to, but people are really buying it, and thinking that it’s a good speaker, for example, because it has good bass, so we are actually focusing on an actual sound, and of course we are able to do settings in the software. It’s very high tech, and we have this app that you can use to control the software in the earbuds. You can of course get high bass, but we’re focusing on natural sound. That’s one thing I like about this product. It looks very non high tech but it’s quite high tech I would say.
It almost hides the high tech, makes it accessible for people on the design level. It really has to do just with the sound. I really wanted to ask, what do you think about the music industry in its current state, and what music is important to you?
Current trends in music, that’s a difficult question. There’s so much music; if I listen to the hit radio stations, I don’t like that. But there is so much new music that you can listen to that is really, really good. I listen to basically everything that is good. Depends on the mood, too. If I could push one artist, it would be Robyn from Sweden. I think more people should listen to her. We made a Swedish Spotify list that you should listen to. We have some goodies there. If you search for Earin Wireless you’ll find it.
Have you talked about the cultural effect of the wireless earbuds, or is the push to just make the best sounding product?
To be honest, we’re working too many hours per day, we sleep too little. So I don’t think we have time to focus on anything else but development at this point. Maybe there’s a hope for a new era of headphones, that aren’t big and bulky with brands on them.
Are there any features, on the technical side, that you’ve brought to this product that no one else is developing or using?
The audio is not lost with cutting the wires. We have a good wireless, so there’s no loss there. We don’t add anything besides cutting the wires. One thing is though that you can actually tune the headphones to sound like you want. Basically, you can tune them to what music you are listening to. We have a mixer in the mobile phone app.
It’s like you’re creating the most personal listening device. It really is tuned to what you want it to sound like, and it’s small, so it’s very personal.
It goes with the concept. It’s very secret and very you, you can make it sound like you. It’s our product, so we think it’s quite cool.
To not miss a beat about these streamlined earbuds, check out Per and company’s site, www.earin.com, especially if there’s a chance at another pre-order. You could be the proud owner of one of the sleekest music devices ever to grace the silver screen then be translated into high tech reality.