It's the least I can do

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We're ending our series on separates with a bit of a summary and a cautionary note.

We've seen that when you set out to design a separate, whether its purpose is one of added functionality or improved performance, that separate must stand on its own in a world of unknown connections and situations - thus making the job of the designer not only difficult but very different from that of the integrated system designer.

The integrated system designer has a very different task than that of the separates designer: building a holistic product with a single purpose in mind - which means the parts of the system need only be excellent enough to work together, not necessarily stand on their own. The end results can be all over the map depending on how the project is approached, what tools the designers have to work with and who the end customer is going to be.

One example of this can be shared in my experience as a consumer. I wanted an all-in-one small speaker for my office. Always curious what happens when I go out into the world as a simple retail customer, I travelled to Best Buy and asked to be shown their offerings of a self amplified loudspeaker I could use in my office. Most of what I was shown was pure drek that sounded nothing like music when powered by my selection on the iPhone.

The salesman quickly realized I was after something that sounded like music (go figure). He marched me over to the B and W area and showed me the Zepplin Mini - as the Zepplin itself was out of my price range. Oh my gosh, it was hideous - much worse than some of the other stuff I had heard. I was pretty shocked that B and W would put their badge on this extremely unmusical speaker. But then he stepped me up to the B and W MM-1 which was only another $100 or so. Wow. Music came out and to my surprise, really good music. I bought the MM-1 and have been happy ever since.

A little investigating at what was inside each of these led me to realize there isn't a lot of difference yet the performance of one was total crap, the other marvelous. I can only conclude there must have been different teams working on each because one got it right, the other totally wrong.

And this is the cautionary note. It hasn't escaped me or many of my fellow manufacturers who care about how things sound that there are two ways to build a product: by figuring out the least you can do within your constraints to make something good enough, or the most you can do within your constraints to make something excellent. My B and W experience covers both extremes.

When we keep in mind the end goal of making music, we do not have to restrict ourselves to many boxes to achieve our goal. In fact, as long as we're willing to be open to change and different paradigms of how we recreate music in our homes, I am convinced we can have fewer boxes and better sound.

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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