AKG: smarter design is the key to perfect headphones

AKG’s lead designer explains how to make sound choices in the headphone business

It used to be that headphones were about function rather than form but over the last few years style has surpassed sound, and it’s no longer just about who you are listening to but what you are listening on.

While Dre and his Beats range may be the big headline grabber, now that Apple has taken the brand under its wing, sometimes you have to forget about Dre and look to other manufacturers that are making sure the cans we wear stand out for the right reasons.

T3 recently caught up with the head designer of AKG’s celebrated Y-Series headphones, Rafal Czaniecki, to understand a little more about what goes into making a pair of ‘phones that look and sound great but don’t break the bank.

“That’s always how I start with the design - with cost,” says Czaniecki. “I want to make the headphones the best they can be but I don’t want to up the costs.”

Smarter design

To do this, Rafal looks at smarter ways to utilise the materials he chooses, rather than getting the user to pay more.

“The design was affordable from the very beginning AKG Y50 range. The front of the ear cup is aluminium, there’s stainless steel on the headband, so we had to get a special coating so we could get the good colours and the trendy colours. But, that worked out better as as using plastic would have been more expensive that aluminium. It is always about smarter design rather than cutting costs.”

Rafal has worked with Harmon Kardon, the company behind AKG since 2012, and his work on Y-Series headphones has won plaudits. The bold look of the range - putting the brand and striking colours at the forefront - has struck a chord but Rafal still find it hard about talking about his influences, as each range has a different story as to how it was created.

“It’s hard to talk about because the process of designing means that I look at many different things. The idea for AKG’s Y50s was based around urban life but with that is always the music.”

He's much more at ease at realising what a headphone needs to do to be accepted by music-listening public.

“It is so important to think of the headphone as something that you wear, not just there for music listening. Every aspect needs to be considered, including how they look on your head. They are part of your style, an accessory, so we make sure all of AKG’s headphones have modern colours and sit well with the fashion landscape.”

But what about the thing that goes hand in hand with fashion: celebrity?

AKG has used celebrity endorsements in the past and Rafal was keen to point out that their influence should never just be their face or signature - they need to tap into the design process as much as possible.

It may not always be easy to get to the celebrities but they should always have an influence on colours and finishing,” explains Rafal. “But we will influence the mechanical structure.”

Rafal Czaniecki was part of the judging panel for 2014’s AKG Inspired Awards, which was won by David Wojcik, a student Product Designer from Germany.