- The High Power Audio System -
The High Power Audio System is designed for Latins who enjoy playing loud music at parties.
We interviewed project team members who triggered numerous innovations by proactively digesting a variety of preferences and opinions with a view to realizing music experiences that echo in Latin hearts.
Kikuchi: At weekends, the people of Latin countries often hold parties in their patios, sometimes inviting as many as 50-100 friends and relatives. Starting in the early evening, everyone from children to the elderly gather to have fun together, eating and dancing, but always with music played at full volume. I was astonished when I attended such a party for the first time. In Latin countries, it is often said that 'music is something you listen to with your body,' and people particularly enjoy the music's 'punch' reverberating through their bodies. Parties like this are held as often as every other week as even ordinary households take turns with their neighbors.
High Power Audio Systems (HAS) play a key role at all such events. These mini systems are considered so essential that almost every household has one. As part of the HAS development process, we conducted surveys in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and other countries, visiting around 15-20 ordinary households each year. In the process, we noticed that these people regard music not as an interest or a hobby, but as an integral part of their daily lives. For example, it is not unusual to come across households that possess a mini system but not a washing machine or a microwave oven. When we ask why, people say that they cannot enjoy music without a mini system but can do the washing themselves. This gave us a real sense that music is at the center of their lives.
Wakabayashi: Many customers buy their HAS on 12- or 24-month installment plans. Families often treat the HAS as something like the purchase of a lifetime, visiting consumer electronics stores together, thinking and choosing it eagerly I was very surprised to find that it is quite normal for stores to play mini systems at full-volume to demonstrate their capabilities. As this suggests, purchasers are very particular about sound quality, focusing on 'punch' and the heavy bass sound, as well as volume. They know that the greater the music's impact, the more lively the party.
Kikuchi: 'Punch' and the heavy bass sound are normally determined by the capacity of the speaker box. That is why people based their selection of mini systems on the size and number of speaker boxes until several years ago. When we surveyed actual usage, however, we found that since equipment is normally taken outside for parties, the number of speakers became quite a burden because it necessitated numerous journeys to and from the living room to the patio. This realization led us to design and develop the one-box HAS by incorporating the sound reproduction and control system and the speaker box into a single unit.
Matsuda: In design terms, the one-box style is at a disadvantage from the perspective of sound reproduction because it reduces the total capacity of the speaker box. However, it would be wrong to design a single unit that sacrificed sound quality in favor of convenience. We therefore leveraged the know-how Sony has accumulated in creating sound to develop new technologies that would maintain 'punch' and the heavy bass sound even if the overall capacity of the speaker was reduced. Moreover, to realize sound that would really resonate with the people of Latin countries, the design of the HAS incorporates a special process that is not included in the design of other audio equipment.
We gathered together the sales personnel from different countries, and came up with what we call 'Sound Confirmation,' which determines the new product's approach to sound. This involved collecting the opinions of people from all over the world, including Latin countries, by actually enabling them to experience music played at high volume. Perhaps not surprisingly, it turns out that people's musical sensibilities differ from country to country and region to region. Irrespective of whether we thought the sound quality was good, we heard various contrary opinions, including those asking for more 'punch' or claiming that the heavy bass sound was insufficient. This means adapting the sound to suit all these views, which ultimately means delivering products on which all the people in charge in each country agree.
Suzuki: We decided to promote the one-box style by adopting a design that instantly conveys a sense of powerful sound. The result was a muscular, sculptured shape that gives the impression that the speaker and woofers have been carved out of a single block. Unlike conventional audio equipment, it has been fitted with handles and casters to make it easier to use and move around.
Wakabayashi: Since the one-box style was launched in 2014, it has steadily gained acceptance and now accounts for 40% of the Latin countries' HAS market. Eventually, it is said that the one-box style will take over the top market share from the conventional multi-box type. However, we do not think it would have become so popular simply because of an enhanced design that makes it more portable. I think its appeal stems from our proactive but uncompromising efforts to enhance its sensitivity to a wide range of sounds.
Kikuchi: The flexibility of a team that was willing to accept a variety of opinions helped create new music experiences as well as innovative sound. For instance, the design team at our production plant in Malaysia came up with the idea of a 'party chain' function that links several HAS together for large venues. Malaysians are also HAS users and their sensibilities towards sound are similar to those of Latin countries'. For this reason, they were proactive in commenting on ideas put forward by the Japan design team, allowing conceptual differences to be adjusted and used in product development.
Suzuki: In addition, the lighting function incorporated into the EXTRA BASS™ series portable wireless speakers sold in Japan has been adapted from the 'Party Light' function originally developed for HAS. There are people, and children, who want to experience the thrills of live festivals at home, or really want to go to clubs, but they hesitate because it can be expensive. Our eagerness to respond to the latent needs of such customers provided us with the motivation. We developed original algorithms for changing lighting colors and flashing sequences in line with the musical beat to enable people at home to enjoy the type of sound and lighting common in clubs.
Kikuchi: 'Gesture Control' is another function that pleases customers in Latin countries much more than we had anticipated. To explore the possibilities of extending the performance element to the HAS operating experience, we developed a function that enables people to change the volume and fast-forward/reverse tunes by simply moving a hand above the control panel. This function is known as 'gesture control.' The function was adapted for the LF-S50G Smart Speaker, which went on sale in the fall of 2017. The new musical experiences and technologies born from our response to the needs of people from Latin countries and various opinions are now used in products that transcend conventional product categories to create new lifestyles for the future.
Kikuchi: While we develop things through going research into the cultures and values of the relevant regions, I believe it is impossible to create things that really touch the hearts of people in those countries on the basis of our own understanding alone. For that very reason, feedback from customers and salespersons in those countries is indispensable. I think good monozukuri results from a greater awareness of the importance of proactively adopting such a variety of opinions throughout the planning, design and sales processes.
Matsuda: Close cooperation with the members of the Malaysian team at the design genba is essential. There are areas where we have to be careful because of differences based on country and culture, but conceptual differences often materialize into new ideas. There is no doubt that the interrelationships among team members from diverse backgrounds have become one of the strengths of our design processes.
Wakabayashi: The one-box HAS has been successful in creating a new sense of values in the mini systems market. A deeper understanding of the cultures of people from various countries, combined with Sony's technological capabilities, has created products that did not exist before. This is truly a case where Sony's beliefs have manifested themselves through its products.
Suzuki: Through my involvement in the development of HAS, I became aware of the limits to the sensibilities of the Japanese on their own. This applies not only to the creation of sound but also to design and sales methods. Coming into contact with a wide variety of values and accepting them leads to innovation. I believe that as a result, Sony's monozukuri delivers experiences that allow more people to experience kando.