Case Study: Consumer Audio
TEAC Corporation, Tokyo. The consumer division manufactures a wide range of audio products to achieve varying price points in CD players, amplifiers and A/V products. Some of these are designed entirely in-house, whilst others utilise "chassis" designs offered from large scale manufacturing outlets.
The requirement from TEAC was to produce a variant of a low priced CD player to create an affordable premium product.
There is little opportunity for innovation in a price competitive market where the basic elements are broadly similar. Volumes are large by European standards but Return on Investment (ROI) for a product variant means that the costs must be tightly controlled. This includes the recovery of the design costs.
Generally the view is that a device like a CD player cannot be markedly improved without changing core components. These include the Large Scale Integrated (LSI) device that controls the laser and data functions. Another core component is the Digital to Analogue Converter (DAC) that translates the digital data into a coarse analogue waveform. Changing any of the core devices would incur large costs and require a substantial re-engineering of the product.
Hawkshead's experience in such areas as audio signal paths allowed a different approach. A few passive components (resistors and capacitors) were designated to be removed from the main board. A new ancillary or daughter board was designed, with power taken form the existing supply. A revised analogue filter topology was created and a new line output drive integrated into the scheme. Additional power regulation was achieved by using standard regulators with inexpensive LEDs to create non-standard voltages. The output was also DC coupled as opposed to the more common AC coupling. This offered further enhancements to the measured performance and sound quality.
The end result of these activities allowed TEAC to offer an improved product. A mediocre product that had been awarded 3 out of a possible 5 stars was transformed into a 5 star product. It was produced for 3 years and sold in quantities far beyond any expectation, all around the world. It also endorsed TEAC as being receptive to design outside Tokyo, which was novel at the time.
Read more about Audio Product Design.