Miluawakee, WI – KOSS recently unveiled its new BT540i NFC-ready Bluetooth headphones, indicating what lies ahead for this iconic American audio brand.
Bright Side of News* has an exclusive interview with Michael J. Koss, President and CEO of KOSS Corporation (NASDAQ: KOSS), about what went into the design of the BT540i, and how the company brand will stay fresh in the minds of music lovers in the years ahead.
Bright Side of News*: I’m really digging the BT540i, and noticed that the design is based on a similar framework as your PRODJ200 model. Was there reason behind this?
Michael J Koss: It’s already a robust design that gives us a really good working platform. These phones will experience more movement and flexing than a pair you would stay at home with. Ergonomically, the cups lend themselves to proper button placement. And we also have room within the body to lay out the Bluetooth, battery, amp and other circuitry, without having to sacrifice diaphragm size.
BSN*: Speaking of diaphragm, Koss is really pushing the PLX40 driver elements. Were these made here in the US?
MJK: We still design 100% of our transducers in-house, and manufacturer them here in Milwaukee or with other contracted manufacturers. We never source third-party hardware.
BSN*: Koss isn’t new to the Bluetooth world, what does this offer?
MJK: Right, things have changed considerably over the past years. With our earlier Cobalt model, introduced in the early 2000’s, the problem was there wasn’t a big enough installed base of transmitters. We sold it with both a USB-dongle transmitter for your computer, and headphone-jack version for plugging into mobile players – and that was back in the day of “plug & pray”.
Because you had those extra parts, overall it affected convenience. So while [Cobalt] had success, it was nowhere near where it should’ve been. Now with NFC, Bluetooth can be taken to a whole new level.
BSN*: Speaking of Bluetooth, the BT540i utilizes Bluetooth 3.0. Did your team look into Bluetooth 4.0 during the development process?
MJK: Yes, but we decided to go with 3.0 and aptX codec. The major benefits to 4.0, as it stands today, are for devices that need continuous monitoring capabilities, like heart monitors. We weren’t going to gain anything from that platform for audio performance.
It’s important everybody realizes that we could have the greatest wireless technology and best codec in the world, but if the source material (music) isn’t [high quality] as well … You can always have great point-to-point transmission, but if the source material has lousy compression or distortion, all the AMP/DAC’s in the world aren’t going to help.
We’ve known this since our first IR-transmitter products in the mid-1970’s.
BSN*: Let’s move onto design. Other than the STRIVA, the BT540i seems to just follow the rest of your black & grey over-ear stereophone line. There are many black headphones on the market today, why is Koss sticking to this color scheme?
MJK: Well, “black is the new black!” (Laughs)
BSN*: “True, it’s like, how much more black can this be? None, none more black.”
MJK: We may do color at some point, but black has always looked very elegant, a style nobody is going to object to. Some of these brands out today have gotten away with brighter colors for very expensive models, which is interesting because we’ve been in this business for long enough to have gone through all the fashion fads.
Typically, color variants would gravitate towards lower price points, because people wouldn’t take them seriously. I think when you look at the design elements: the ear cushions and cups, headband covers, and accents, it doesn’t it look fake or phony because it feels like a nice pair of gloves or a quality handbag.
BSN*: Regarding Koss Corp. as a whole, its current challenges of loss reports & downgrades on Wall Street, and the consumer market being flooded with tons of brands both domestic and from overseas… With so much of the “company story” or mission statement that reminisces about the past, what steps is Koss taking to ensure it stays a recognizable name for the years ahead?
MJK: The fact that we have a history, that lends itself to authenticity of our product line – that’s very important to us. That’s the reason why we wound up featured on ‘Mad Men’ recently. It was a period piece, but when my son [Michael Koss Jr.] visited the film set, it was pretty evident that the producers were complimenting how Koss has always stuck to what it did, in a very authentic way.
So when we talk about being the “original American stereophone company”, we really mean that. Our products have been so successful over the years, and there aren’t many brands that can maintain that type of presence in your mind. Just like a Leica camera, you can see how that family has always stuck to its knitting.
With our products, sound is the most important thing we believe in, while making them as comfortable as possible, so you can enjoy it for long periods. But we look at sound character as being the most unique feature first, and we haven’t strayed too much from that.
Fads fade – so we’ve focused on what we do best, and we’ve developed a very solid following of those who love buying our products.
BSN*: What about the next generation of consumers?
MJK: Products like our BT540i are a good indication of what lies ahead. You may have seen our new portable Bluetooth speakers, the upcoming Studiophone, and two new D-style cup models that have a throwback ergonomic design, at the CES show this year.
These are really signals to where we are headed in the future. At some point we also look towards refreshing our popular PortaPros too, because there is no other model that can match its size, design, comfort, and features at its price point in the market today.
BSN*: Any final comments?
MJK: Everyone we’ve sent these phones to have commented with good experiences. There are many Bluetooth headphones out that just don’t cut it when it comes to audio quality, amplification, and power efficiency. We’re very happy about the performance and the people seem to be happy about it too.
BSN*: Thanks for your time.
BSN has been testing a pair of BT540i headphones this week. Stay tuned for an in-depth review of this product, and how it tips its hat to the company’s past, while aiming its sights for the future.