It’s a Family Affair: 10 Years of AIAIAI and Kilo
2016 marks the tenth year in the ongoing collaboration between ourselves and AIAIAI. Kilo and the Copenhagen-based headphone company currently share a longstanding partnership, which has brought about a steadily evolving audio design family, comprising a range of distinctive family members.
Ranging from lifestyle-driven in-ears and foldable headphones for the on-the-go urbanite to thoroughly engineered, functionalist audio design for music professionals, AIAIAI’s product range has progressed from the colourful Swirl to the interchangeable, TMA-2 Modular headphone system over the course of the company’s 10-year existence. An eventful period, which has seen the company go from releasing products firmly rooted in the present to presenting concepts designed for the future, like the Cannes Lion-winning TMA-2 Modular headphone System.
As our Founder and Head of Design, Lars Larsen, put it in an interview with AIAIAI:
‘TMA-2 Modular is essentially about creating the business of the future. We’re meeting the demands of consumers and providing music professionals with a new system. We think that this is a new way of thinking about headphones. The system is designed and optimized for modular flexibility – but the overall DNA defined in the original TMA-1 DJ is still the guide. Hence, this a steady, natural evolution as opposed to a sudden paradigm shift. If we take an overall perspective, this is also about taking the world seriously. And about being more grown up in the way we think about our products in general‘
The Humble Beginnings
Needless to say, the AIAIAI x Kilo Partnership wasn’t always a global, ‘grown-up’ venture. Initiated in 2006 in A-Huset (the A-House), an abandoned warehouse turned creative talent incubator for art, music, clubbing and everything in-between, the partners of AIAIAI approached Kilo Founder Lars Larsen with a fairly straightforward idea. Furthering their background in event-making and club promoting, they felt there was considerable room for innovation within the world of audio design, particularly in terms of marketing and design. In other words, AIAIAI identified a hole in the market, and they wanted to fill it with thoroughly developed, no-nonsense products that merged headphones with forward-thinking, design-savvy lifestyle.
An Ongoing family affair
Through his position as Head of Design at Kilo and KiBiSi, Lars Larsen has been responsible for the design of the entire AIAIAI audio family. Developed in close collaboration with AIAIAI, the design process has focused on strong, enduring ideas coupled with precise execution on design and detail. Inspired by the contemporary culture that surrounds us and realized with a holistic approach, this creates carefully balanced products with an aesthetically sustainable appearance and a DNA designed to last. Furthermore, the respective products carry strong individual, sets of DNA and they’re all part of a family relation that unites the collection, creating the foundation of the AIAIAI brand. Here’s a concise, retrospective look at the at the AIAIAI x Kilo design family:
SWIRL ( Design by Kilo 2008 )
The first set of in-ears released by AIAIAI in 2008, featuring eye-catching packaging and loud, mid-2000s, day glo colours while focusing on the whimsical exaggeration of central functionality. A contemporary, slightly experimental take on the in-ear headphone.
PIPE ( Design by Kilo 2009 )
The first of many examples of the ‘form following function’ design philosophy guiding the AIAIAI x Kilo collaboration. Featuring an ergonomic, thoroughly realized design, Pipe became a distinctive piece of audio design and a natural, understated successor to Swirl.
TRACKS ( Design by Kilo 2009 )
A modern take on the classic Walkman headphones focusing on cleaning out unnecessary details. Awarded the Danish Design Award in 2010, the simple brace design ensures a comfortable and secure fit for all sizes, while the slider connecting the earcup and the brace comes in three sets of different colours for customization.
TMA-1 ( Design by Kilo 2009 )
AIAIAI’s entry into the DJ market and the cementation of their status as an international headphone contender. The ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’-referencing TMA-1 was developed as a durable tool in collaboration with 25 of the world’s best DJs and producers, such as A-Trak, Kode9 and Modeselektor. Initially, The main focus in the ideation process was to develop a design that’s iconic, on one hand, and imbued with the appearance and functions of a user tool on the other. Concretely, this meant ‘cleaning out’ as much as possible in the design while focusing on exaggerating essential, functional and technical details. Another strong priority was the design of cohesive relations between the different elements; a relation that makes the design appear as one, unified product with the same DNA informing every move in the design. The end result was a DJ headphone that was no-nonsense and stripped-down to its bare essentials. This led to the TMA-1 becoming one of the DJ headphones of choice for the world’s preeminent music professionals, (Tensnake, Rodaidh McDonald, Kaytranada) the inclusion in SFMOMA’s permanent collection (alongside other remarkable design objects such as the iPhone), as well as as high-profile collaborations with labels like Stones Throw and Ghostly International.
CAPITAL ( Design by KiBiSi 2012 )
After a comprehensive design process, Capital became a durable, foldable and flexible pair of headphones designed to provide the on-the-go urbanite with the opportunity to listen to his or her preferred sounds in any kinds of weather at all times. Here, the focus was on delivering an iconic, thoroughly realized and comfortable design. Made out of fiber-reinforced nylon with a lightweight rubber-brace, the end result was a headphone built to withstand heavy everyday use in urban environments.
Artist and Producer, Matthew Dear, using the TMA-1 Studio in his New York studio.
TMA-1 STUDIO ( Design by Kilo / KiBiSi 2012 )
The TMA-1 Studio was the second addition to the TMA-1 family. Through the addition of new features aimed at the contemporary DJ/producer, the TMA-1 Studio targeted the requirements of the on-the-go musician and producer. New features like the over-ear PU cushion sought to make details stand out in full clarity, creating an enhanced listening experience for music professionals. Ultimately, The TMA-1 Studio amounts to thoroughly crafted audio technology for the frequently traveling, professional DJ/ producer who needs headphones that can perform while on the road, at the airport or in the air.
TMA-1 X ( Design by Kilo / KiBiSi 2013 )
Designed as a response to the need for a more affordable, lighter, more street-friendly alternative to the TMA-1, TMA-1 X was effectively conceived as the TMA-1’s younger brother. Certain tweaks were applied in the use of materials to reduce to the cost and thus the price for the end user, while the sound signature aimed for an all-round profile that covered everything from rock and rap to indie and singer/songwriter.
TMA-2 MODULAR ( Design by Kilo 2015 )
Launched last year to critical acclaim, TMA-2 Modular proposed a rethinking of the modern headphone. You might say that the latest family member is in the process of producing its own family, as it allows users to pick, choose and build their own range of unique products using a wide range of sound, design and comfort options. TMA-2 Modular is thus a state-of-the-art build system based on the TMA-1 series; a natural evolution into modularity, that lets you create your own personalized and flexible listening device – while enabling quick and easy change of individual parts along the way.
The new system is essentially a simple solution to a complex problem: An increasingly eclectically minded user wants increasingly sophisticated tools that cater to his or her specific needs. Providing choice across the spectrum of music production, DJing, listening at home or while being on the move, it seeks to offer the perfect solution for every conceivable type of music enthusiast/genre. In this way, it gives people a higher degree of influence as it expands into more parts, editions and configurations in the future.
In the words of AIAIAI Co-founder and Partner Frederik Jørgensen:
‘We have to innovate and stay fresh to be ahead of the game and keep our competitive edge. So in a way this concept was also born out of pure necessity. Our new adaptable, versatile approach to our headphones offers some pretty exciting new opportunities for future product development, enabling us to expand the system to create better options for our users and the potential for further collaborations with our key artist and label partners.’
The desire to innovate brought about a fairly drastic yet wholly necessary rethinking of a cluttered product category with a functionalist design, aiming to be relevant for generations to come as opposed to flavor of the month. A natural yet ambitious evolution targeting both the intellect and the senses.
So far, the latest family member in the unique lineage of audio design that is the AIAIAI x Kilo collaboration has produced a Cannes Lions (Best Product Design), the number 1 spot at DJ Mag’s Tech Awards, numerous favorable reviews as well as collaborations and special editions with Modeselektor and Boys Noize, among notables.
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE: CREATING IDEA-DRIVEN SOLUTIONS AT THE INTERSECTION OF DESIGN, CULTURE & TECHNOLOGY
Central to to the partnership is the strategic merger of design, culture and technology and AIAIAI’s significant personal and financial investment in the culture of music. At Kilo, we actualized a design family. A range of physical objects, that made the Copenhagen-based company’s love of music tangible while AIAIAI employed their cultural-entrepreneurial background in their branding and communication. Through considerable investment in the R&D process, and pioneering marketing involving lead-user creatives, AIAIAI have positioned themselves at the leading edge of consumer-electronic audio design.
What started as an ambition to further culture-driven startup dreams through the production lifestyle-driven products has spawned a design family in which the last arriving member, TMA-2 Modular, has broken the headphone mold and opened up new territory.
We’ll leave Lars with the final word on the collaboration:
I’ve been working with AIAIAI since 2006 and I’ve been responsible for the design on all audio products. There’s no doubt that the TMA-1 is the product, which has been the most successful in terms of sales and getting a cultural anchoring in the DJ scene. This is now being transformed into a system, which targets the niche market of the professional user as well as the broader market. So this should essentially make life better for a lot of regular people while making the professional experience even better in the process. That’s why this has been such an interesting journey for me; we haven’t just sold a lot of products and designed some wacky colours. Well, we’ve done that too. But over time everything has come together in a very seamless, natural way. All in all, it’s been very gratifying.
– Lars Holme Larsen – Founder/Head of Design at Kilo