What's the Story Behind our Melomania True Wireless Headphones?
This year, two Cambridge Audio products – Melomania 1+ and Evo – have won the prestigious Red Dot Award for Product Design. Our unique Melomania headphones are the creation of Cambridge Audio CEO James Johnson-Flint, so we sat down with him to hear more about how a hi-fi manufacturer came to produce prize-winning headphones.
The Melomania 1+ have won a Red Dot Award for Product Design! How do you feel?
I'm naturally thrilled! A Red Dot is true recognition of something iconic in design, so a great honour to receive. The bullet design is different to pretty much every other earbud out there, and now has many fans.
The bullet design came from the original Melomania 1 earbuds. Can you tell me a little more about how that came about?
Our in-house team and I sketched all sorts of designs and we arrived at a bullet shape as a form that worked really well from an acoustic perspective. It also allowed us to charge the buds in a case effectively, with a charging ring instead of traditional pogo pins. The band around the earbud and the grille on the top of the driver both carry the charging signal, allowing a real purity of design. The bullet shape allows each earbud to drop in their case nicely. All these elements led us to a bud design that I’m told is both striking and futuristic. We married it to a super pocket-friendly case, with clean lines, too. Furthermore, our double circle “roundel” logo is proudly worked into the design of both buds and case.
The bullet shape also lends itself very well to a comfortable fit, as well as noise isolation…
Absolutely. Which is of course key to delivering true premium sound. Occlusion – the technical term for a seal with the ear – is really important, and if headphones seal in the ear really well, you've got a head-start at great sound. Then of course our expert acoustic engineers worked their magic with cleverly designed high-quality drivers coated with graphene, plus optimise the enclosure in the headphone itself, and other details, to bring together a great product.
Take us back in time. Why did Cambridge Audio decide to make headphones in the first place?
What really kicked it off was a changing market and a chance encounter. A few years back I was in Tokyo, Japan on a trip to visit our resellers there. We had an amazing event at the British Embassy launching our flagship Edge system and as the whole visit went so well, I was lucky enough to be given a gift of a couple of pairs of first-generation true wireless headphones by our Japanese distributor who was selling them for a Japanese brand. My first reaction was, 'Wow, no wires on a tiny earbud, this will be big'. They were impressive, but there were things about them that frustrated me. Battery life was the first because the technology inside them was eating up batteries very fast, so they only lasted a few hours at best. On the flight back from Japan to the UK, they ran out a short way into the flight. They also constantly cut out because the Bluetooth technology inside them was in its infancy. And the third thing – in my humble opinion – was that they sounded a bit rubbish.
So, they didn't tick those three boxes, but they still wowed me and I thought 'Hey, there's really something in these'. There's a lot of people out there using earbuds every day, so if we made them sound seriously good, and if a technology provider could fix the battery and the connectivity problems, we're really on to a winner as there is no doubt everyone will ditch their corded buds for something wireless, given the chance.
Soon after I took that trip to Japan I went to CES (the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas) and had a fortuitous encounter with a Bluetooth tech lead at Qualcomm, a super smart guy who knew everything there was to know about this emerging technology. So with Qualcomm’s early support and a cutting edge chipset at the heart of the product that they were soon to launch, we kicked off the project and the rest is history.
Where did the name Melomania come from?
The word Melomania predates headphones for us and summarises in a single word, our calling. Back in 2016, we opened a live music venue and bar on the ground floor of our HQ, located in South London, a 10-minute walk from London Bridge, and we named it Melomania. Melomania comes from the Latin ‘Melody’ and ‘Mania’ and essentially means an abnormal or excessive love of music. Its dictionary definition is now on the wall of Melomania the venue. The word really resonated with us, as a place that melomaniacs – yes, another real word – could be together with other like-minded people, enjoying live music. That's how Melomania the venue came about and we’ve since hosted top acts including James Morrison, YolanDa Brown, and the incredible Grammy-winners Rodrigo y Gabriela, to name but a few.
If I asked you what is your most memorable music experience, it would be a live experience, right? So this was all about live music experience for us, something we always strive to reproduce with the equipment, systems and headphones we make. Because live music experiences are the ones that we cherish the most.
So back to the headphones – we’d been brainstorming a name for them and if I’m honest everything we were coming up with was pretty dull. There was an Old English word, ‘Pleo’, and other words like Dot shortlisted but they all felt wrong. Then we thrashed out what makes us as a brand tick and Melomania quickly came up. There were concerns voiced that it would be confusing, because we have the venue, but as far as I was concerned few people know about our venue, so what’s the problem?
I guess you could also say that naming our earphones Melomania is a quiet nod to the venue, too, and an even bigger nod to those who wear them. I write about Melomania in my letter that’s on the inside of packaging that contains our earphones, and know it resonates, because people write to me sharing their own obsessions with music too. You don’t buy Cambridge Audio because you feel average about the music you love. You buy our product because you care about the details, you get excited about the moments that get your hairs on the back of your neck standing up, the way a plectrum hits a string at a particular point in a song, the details that make a difference. You get my drift. Simply put, those who are kind of fanatical about their music, buy Cambridge Audio.
Final question – if you were sharing your Melomania earbuds with someone, what song would you play?
It would have to be my Music Moment – ‘One Kiss’ by Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa.
It's a bit silly, because I guess I should be 20 or 30-something to be listening to it, but it does make me feel good, and just half my age! What could be better than that?
Thanks for your time, James!
And congratulations to Melomania 1+ on its Red Dot win.