Klipsch® Palladium™ Series Q&A

What is your name? 
Etienne Iliffe-Moon

What is your role at BMW?
Creative Director, in the Product Design team at BMW Group DesignworksUSA

What is your role on the Palladium project?
Designer and Creative Director

What was your first reaction when you were given the Palladium assignment? Was it a bit intimidating? Exhilarating? How does it rank with other projects you typically work on?
Every design challenge is exciting. What made the Palladium project special was Klipsch’s mission to redefine the brand in the high-end premium audio segment. The entire Klipsch team was committed to this, and in doing so remained very open to pushing the boundaries on the design and engineering of the speakers. Much of our work at DesignworksUSA focuses on addressing the needs of the clients’ brand; in this respect Klipsch ranks on par with our premium client base.

What role did Klipsch’s legacy of horn-loaded sound and audio innovation play in the design? 
In the creative search for a unique product signature for the Palladium Series, we’ve focused on a number of key elements of the design context. One of these elements is truly understanding what it means for a product to wear the Klipsch badge. Going beyond what today’s brand means, but delving into the Klipsch archives to discover the history behind founder Paul W. Klipsch and the brand.

Klipsch is synonymous with horn-loaded speakers. The Palladium Series celebrates the company’s proprietary Tractrix® Horn technology, in a package that clearly belongs in the modern lounge or home theater. Klipsch definitely has a bold approach to acoustic design—this led us to the idea of ‘Pure Sound.’ The horn delivers rich dynamics, capturing the true essence of a sound recording. We wanted to capture this in the design of the Palladium Series. That’s why the dual horns are the centerpiece of the design.

The design should be driven by the heart and soul of the loudspeaker—the Klipsch acoustic story. Immersed in the idea of ‘Pure Sound,’ Designworks created a resonating theme for the new loudspeaker concept: ‘Classic Audio—Contemporary Furniture Design.’ The theme felt like a natural and clear connection between the contemporary lifestyle aspirations of the Palladium Series and everything the Klipsch brand represents. Throughout the design process, this theme has been an important guiding principle to maintaining the design’s integrity. The result is an inspiring design language that successfully welds the Klipsch acoustic story with the industrial design.

Aesthetically, the P-39F is a striking advance for Klipsch. Talk about the departure from the traditional, boxier look. Were you nervous about moving so far, so quickly? Tell us about the acoustic reasons for the cabinet’s shape and the advantages it provides. What about the design reasons? Did Klipsch’s engineers give you a blank slate? If not, what were the parameters?
The modern listening room or living room has changed with both lifestyles and technology. People are filling their rooms with thin panel TVs and advanced digital technology. The speaker needs to evolve with these trends in home interiors, whilst staying true to the performance aspirations—delivering immersive entertainment experiences. The cabinet design is essential in pulling together Klipsch’s proprietary technology and expressing the idea of ‘Pure Sound.’

The Palladium Series has a provocative and progressive design language that boldly expresses power and performance yet retains an architectural sophistication and elegance. The controlled curvature of the cabinet and precise use of metal accents elevates the design to a feeling of fine cabinetmaking and bespoke tailoring. The profile of the cabinet is based on a catenary curve or Gothic arch that inherently offers structural, acoustic, and visual benefits. The curvature adds stiffness and integrity, whilst breaking up higher frequency standing waves. The curved form itself creates a rich sheen and reduces the perceived visual mass of the cabinet.

The Klipsch engineers were fabulous! They were as committed to the idea of ‘Pure Sound’ as anybody else on the design team. This shows how the speaker’s acoustic design, engineering, and technology stories are so intertwined with the industrial design. This synergy as a design team is critical in ensuring the integrity of the design vision and that it remains with the speakers as they are crafted in production.

Share your thoughts about the horizontal grain veneer and why you chose a zebrawood look. 
We talked earlier about needing to understand several elements of the design context. In addition to understanding the brand context, we also focused on looking at the context of the consumers themselves. Designworks evaluated how trends in lifestyle, furniture and interior design should influence and form aspirations for future Klipsch products. A third element was researching the market context; the team analyzed the competitive market as a basis to formulating differentiation strategies and revealing new opportunities for Klipsch.

From this research in interior and furniture design, we could clearly see that contemporary furniture is about horizontal lines. The horizontal grain reinforces the contemporary furniture feel; the veneer grain acts as contour lines that emphasize the curvature of the cabinet and a unique differentiator. We chose a zebrawood look because of its contemporary and exotic look and feel. However, because actual zebrawood is on the verge of extinction, Klipsch wanted to seek out an earth-friendly alternative. 

The P-39F features what Klipsch calls a ‘Linia’ veneer. Linia is a very close match to zebrawood. It is a hand-selected zebra-grain veneer produced from real wood; tree sources include the Ayous, Obeche and Italian Poplar. These trees are part of a government-sanctioned controlled harvest, so they are a renewable wood resource.

The P-39F has consistent linearity, tonal depth, and low cathedral; just right for a premium product. We wanted the veneer to feel natural and honest, to almost have an oiled Scandinavian feel. From our experimentation with many different kinds of veneers, stains and gloss levels, we quickly discovered that we could offer a single wood veneer with different colored stains to offer subtle color variations with dramatic results. This also allowed us to control the consistency of the design’s feel between different color options.

The horizontal veneer is unique to Klipsch, it gives us the bold look Paul W. Klipsch would be proud of and clearly differentiates the Palladium Series from its competitors.

At Designworks, we are fortunate to be a full service design consultancy from start to finish, with design strategy through to 3D modeling. Unlike many other design consultancies, we have a full department dedicated to color, material, and finish. Our CMF team works on cross-industry projects and is able to transfer unique color and material applications for various industries. The CMF team has created color, material, and finish programs for aircraft interiors, yacht interiors, consumer products, spaces, and more. This expertise greatly enhanced the end result of the P-39F.

Let’s talk about the journey of Palladium. How long did you work on it? How many teams/designers? How many ID sketches, CAD drawings, etc. did you go through?
It’s been a journey! We pulled a design team from all over the world, including American, British, French and Finnish designers! DesignworksUSA has a global outlook, thanks to our three studios in California, Munich, and Singapore. Our ability to understand and translate design influences in North America, Europe, and Asia were a critical factor in delivering a product with global potential, geared to global lifestyle tastes. Additionally, we were able to increase our global collaboration with a design exchange between the California and Munich studios specific to the Klipsch project. Olivier Molody, based out of our Munich studio, provided a European design perspective and expertise while on the project, which was led out of our California studio. Olivier was joined on the project by Holger Hampf, Director of Product Design, and Johannes Lampela, Senior Color, Materials, and Finish Designer for BMW Group DesignworksUSA.

We first started on this project in October 2006; we’ve been following it ever since. Following the product development cycle for well over a year, we’ve been through countless concept sketches, models, CAD models, computer simulations and manufacturing revisions in search of perfection. The results of our passion for—and dedication to—design are evident in the Palladium P-39F.

What was the biggest challenge—design-wise?
A design that makes a clear iconic statement and has beauty in its simplicity. On top of that, one of the significant challenges in the design work has again been maintaining the integrity of the design vision. Ensuring the design details make it through to production—design is in the details. We’ve been working hard to achieve a premium design, designed from the inside out, using premium materials and components, crafted in production.

Was there an ‘eureka’ moment for any part of the design? What are you most proud of? What gets you excited as a designer? Did your love for music/art play a role or serve as inspiration?
You don’t always have a ‘eureka’ moment in every design project. However, in the design of the Palladium Series, this particular moment came late one night as we played around with mock-ups (life-size preliminary models) of the speakers with veneer samples. We clearly saw the effect of turning the zebrawood veneer vertical; we went from the old paradigm that a speaker must appear like a solid block of wood (with grain vertical), to a new more sophisticated paradigm— that the speaker, with horizontal grain, can be crafted more like fine contemporary furniture. This gives a deliberate, executed feel that has honesty in stating the speaker is composed of panels, just like furniture.

Music is certainly food for the soul. A vital ingredient to creativity; it can lift the mood, create energy and help you reflect—I can’t work without it!

What was the design goal of Palladium? How is it supposed to make people feel as they see it from across the room? Up close? What’s your favorite accent or detail?
The goal has been ‘Pure Sound.’ One of the objectives has been to find the sweet-spot between the conceptual intersection of ‘classic audio’ and ‘contemporary furniture’ in speaker design.

The speakers are designed to have presence. To the extent that you can hear the sound with your eyes! My favorite part of the design is the sound. (That’s essentially why the presentation of food is so important in the restaurant industry.) It’s the ultimate goal of any designer to bridge the physical dimension and stimulate the emotional senses. It’s the essence of the experience, and capturing experiences is what designers do.

How long did it take to nail the perfect shape for both sound and style? How many designs were discarded?
The design team included not just the designers, but also Klipsch’s acoustic and mechanical engineers—we were engaged in a truly collaborative design process. Beyond the original concept selection process, the product development process was more evolutionary and iterative, fueled by simulation and testing.

Having said that, getting the cabinet shape has been important not just acoustically, but visually. The P-39Fs are big speakers; the curved sides and angled cabinet top took a lot of work to get right. The angled cabinet top conceals the true visual mass or size, but also (as every guy knows) prevents the speaker from being used as a stand for empty glasses, ornaments and nasty things that just don’t belong on the top of your speakers.

What was your reaction the first time you saw one fully assembled? What about other reactions you’ve witnessed? What’s your favorite finish? Why two grilles?
Elated! It’s great to see the culmination of a lot of hard work result in something that resonates with enthusiasts and is a compelling solution to what we originally set out to achieve in 2006.

I love the natural feel of the blonde zebra-grain Linia, especially with the horizontal grain showing off the curve of the cabinet. What’s interesting about the horizontal grain is it challenges people, it’s a little unexpected. It perhaps makes you stop and think if you like it or not; that’s intentional. We wanted to challenge people’s preconceptions to make a bold design statement.

The grilles were intended more to be modesty screens for those with better halves. The top horn grille allows you to liberate the high frequencies, while modestly concealing the 9-inch woofers. I feel the Palladium design sounds and looks best without the grilles on. You get the performance statement of the drivers and horns, plus you can display the horn grille with solid aluminum logo bar in the trophy cabinet.

What is the first thing you want someone to think when they see the P-39F?
Premium performance, contemporary design—that’s ‘Pure Sound!’

Why does it matter how a speaker looks if it sounds good?
As I said before, our different senses, to an extent, all play a role in our sensory perception. What we hear is affected by what we see, smell and touch, and vice versa. That’s why the smell of leather in a new car has such an emotional impact on consumers. And, that’s why you can’t taste anything when you have a cold!

Where did the European styling influences come from? What things were done to ensure that it works with all contemporary living spaces?
With DesignworksUSA’s global base, we have three studios in Munich, Los Angeles and Singapore. This allows us to tap into local cultural trends and understand the big picture of what’s happening globally, in this case with contemporary interiors, furniture and consumer lifestyles. By understanding what’s going on today, it allows us to uncover what the opportunities or possibilities are for the future.

Talk about the luxury lifestyle and how Palladium fits into modern, sophisticated living spaces… about how ore than a speaker, but also a piece of furniture, for those who expect only the finest, etc. Explain how the European influences that impacted Palladium’s design. Maybe share a few of the latest interior design trends that also played a role.
Luxury lifestyle is based on exclusivity, separating the standards of living from the mass consumables of everyday living. Having a product by appointment—designed for you and delivered to you, that is personalized, tailored and bespoke. The Palladium design uses only the finest materials: Titanium, gold, aluminum, reinforced BMC, exotic hard-woods. Crafted and detailed by hand, uncompromised in acoustic performance and design, where quality is utmost.

“Simplexity” is a design trend that looks to simplify the physical product, eliminating complexity to focus on the true experience. In designing the Palladium series, we set out to question everything and to eliminate anything that brings unnecessary complexity without net gain. This is demonstrated by the absence of visible fasteners or screws, the hidden magnets that secure the dual grilles and the flush mounted drivers and horns. The inverted surrounds on the woofers amplify this, creating a seamless acoustic baffle that looks incredibly simple. It’s ironic that simplicity is often incredibly difficult to achieve.

As far as interior trends go, we’ve been seeing a transition to horizontal living environments— both in furniture and technology. As the centerpiece of most living rooms, the flat-panel TV goes 9:16 wide screen aspect ratio and depth has been eliminated. We’ll be seeing full-size TVs less than 1 or 2 inches in a couple of years. This, in turn, is affecting how people live and is enabling new lifestyles. At the premium level, the Palladium Series is designed to live in this evolving, modern home interior environment.

What piece of music would you first play on a pair of P-39Fs if you had the opportunity?
I’ll need to think about that, some classics on vinyl no doubt…

What do you want to say about this project, this speaker that you want people to know?
The Palladium Series is designed to be a modern classic that’s true to Klipsch’s heritage. It’s about the true sound behind a recording and emotion of live music. You really can have that rock band, hip-hop crew, quartet or ensemble in your living room.