Feature Design “SOUND MUG” RDP-NWV500 / SRS-V500IP
[October 2010]

Pioneering new product categories

What pours forth from this mug-shaped speaker is surprisingly vibrant and substantial sound. Crossing the boundaries of home and car audio equipment, the Sound Mug is brimming with new thinking in product design, and it gives us a foretaste of possibilities in next-generation personal entertainment.

Naofumi Hattori
Naofumi Hattori
Chief Art Director
Creative Center, Sony Corporation
Hiroaki Yokoyama
Hiroaki Yokoyama
Designer
Sony Creativeworks
Takeshi Ichimura
Takeshi Ichimura
Designer
Sony Creativeworks

Product development born of collaboration

Hattori:The Sound Mug (RDP-NWV500/SRS-V500IP) is a dock speaker system for use at home or in your car. This dual role brought together two teams specializing in personal audio and car audio from planning to design to engineering, in collaboration that spanned different product categories and business groups.

In fact, this collaboration itself was how it all began. When you clear away the boundaries of traditional product categories, what kind of fresh thinking is possible? Have we missed any market segmentation opportunities? Can we find any new needs? Collaborative brainstorming on these topics led to the Sound Mug project. At a time when development usually stemmed from investigating specific products, this was a daring, experimental approach for us.

I certainly shared our high hopes for this project. When working in car audio design, I had the feeling that traditional product categories are failing to meet recent needs. People used to have different listening habits at home and in their car, but over time, the popularity of WALKMAN players and other digital media players (DMPs) meant that people were taking their music with them everywhere. Still, engineering principles and standards differ greatly between home and car audio equipment. Although they both fall under the category of audio products, they're quite different, and we kept running into this barrier in design.

Through collaboration, we noticed something: there were no convenient, good-sounding systems for the DMP generation that could move seamlessly between home and car. This observation came from a cross-category perspective. It's in the "blind spot" you don't see from the perspective of a single product category.

Reconciling contradictory values

Hattori:For some time, car audio has been all about spending time and money on custom installation or modification. In contrast, the DMP generation craves sound systems that are simple and convenient. You can even use an FM transmitter to play the music on your DMP through your car radio, although it's a cheap solution with limited audio quality.

Hoping to reconcile these different perspectives, we let our personal audio team lead the project. This team was probably more attuned to target user needs. Meanwhile, our car audio team provided the engineering expertise this team lacked-for soundstaging that accounts for windshield reflection, for example, and for device controls and durability that meet standards for in-vehicle equipment. Both teams contributed their own technical expertise as our ideas took shape.

From the start, we knew that when the Sound Mug is used in a car, it could only be installed in a few positions. Dashboard space is already taken up by the main controls and instrumentation. The only place available for the sound system in all vehicles where we could recommend installing it would be the cup holder. Dock speakers with a footprint small enough to fit here are nearly unprecedented. But on the other hand, if we could create this kind of system, it might be a hit, because people could easily hear what they wanted to hear even in car sharing or rental situations.

Another goal of ours was impressive audio quality that seems to defy the limited installation space and device size, which we hoped to achieve through original Sony engineering. This helped us determine the general nature of the product-a neat package of powerful technology, including an S-Master digital amp and, for an effect similar to the "Sountina(NSA-PF1)", a "diffuser" that produces a 360 soundstage.

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