‘Built like an instrument for live performance’ – that’s how Oda describes the meticulous process that goes into creating its small-batch speakers. Launched in October 2020 by founder Nick Dangerfield, the panel speakers are just one element of a sustainable music platform, the core of which is a curated series of live gigs.
Throughout the year, a roster of artists will perform shows to be played live and exclusively through the speakers to paying members, while giving the artists a share of the proceeds. The speakers also transmit, between performances, a continuous stream of sound from locations around the world, spanning forests in Vermont to bird sanctuaries in Costa Rica. Oh, and you can also play your own music through them using Bluetooth, which is not quite as exciting but nevertheless important.
Creating such a specialised piece of kit from scratch has taken Nick and the Oda team three years. The business’s operations are split between a basic production space in Brooklyn and two floors of a Manhattan low-rise, where Nick also lives.
The benefits of a small-batch, iterative design process
Nick outlines the pros of sticking to small product runs. ‘The main motivation is prudence. With a new product, you want to be intimately familiar with how it works, how it is received and how it reacts to different environments. It’s important to be able to iterate in that production as often and as fast as possible.
‘Though I’ve done hardware projects before, the last seven years has all been building digital products, so we wanted to be very careful. It’s also the first time that we built a speaker – and speakers are tricky because everything vibrates.
‘One of the objectives is to make something that is indeed technological, but is as transparent as a fan, or something that you see and know exactly how it works. You know the components and there’s nothing kind of obfuscated.’
Bringing in outside expertise
Creating something as ambitious – and technical – as a speaker capable of replicating the live music experience takes serious expertise. ‘This required new people with the skill sets and the perspectives that we just didn’t have,’ says Nick. Here are some of the key specialists that help Oda bring the noise.
The sound designer
Perry Brandston is a sound system designer with a big history in making speakers. Following a chance meeting, Nick showed him where he had got to with his idea. ‘I said [to Perry], “can you improve this?” He said, “no, let’s start from scratch”. He conceived the speaker.’ Perry’s now one of Oda’s co-founders.
The acoustic engineer
Benjamin Zenker, an acoustic engineer from the Dresden University of Technology, took the speaker to a different level. ‘He brought this incredible level of depth into improving the product,’ says Nick. ‘He used a much more scientific approach to improve the deficiencies.’
The music expert
Kristen McElwain is the artistic director at Oda, and formerly the creative director of the Red Bull Music Academy. She handles the live music programme. ‘She has a deep, deep knowledge of music,’ says Nick. ‘When she became familiar with the product, she got really excited about it.