One of the challenges of designing headphones is the potential influence on people’s personality with your designs because they’re placed so close to the face. Like a pair of glasses or a piece of jewellery, headphones can define a person’s look and shape what they communicate to the world.
Jakob Wagner, an experienced Danish industrial designer, was tasked with designing Bang & Olufsen’s ‘BeoPlay H6’ headphones, and from an early stage he was aware that he had to be both gentle and pragmatic in his design and materials choices. Headphones are used so much these days, taken literally everywhere, so they have to be both presentable and durable enough to endure the wear and tear of everyday use.
The choice of leather for the BeoPlay H6 reflects those needs. Leather is comfortable enough to wear all day long, it looks great, it’s tenacious and ages beautifully. That’s four ticks on the checklist. The solid cowhide leather on the H6 headphones comes from New Zealand, where the cows graze in controlled pastures, and only hides of the highest quality are selected. Each leather product is completely natural and the leather is dyed with a tanning process that produces rich and warm tones.
The leather is then extensively tested – and it gets a pretty rough ride. First, the leather is exposed to sunlight in a solar simulator to see if and how it responds in terms of changing colour. After that it’s treated to a diverse range of skin lotions, sunscreens and perfumes. Finally, bottled sweat (don’t ask where we get it from) is applied liberally to check what effect it has on the leather.
We’ve got to make sure the hides are up to the task. And in case you’re wondering, no bottled sweat gets near any of the headphones going out to stores. One thing is certain though: we’ve seen how the leather responded to the beating we gave it – and it looked mighty fine.
Words by Oscar Lashley; Photography by Jeppe Sørensen