Wealth’s Audio Mobility

Johnson Chonkar fig1

Posted on V-Moda’s website in 2014, the advertisement for V-Moda’s Vamp Verza in figure 1 includes an iPhone 4S, a V-Moda Metallo case, a V-Moda Vamp Verza, V-Moda M-100 Headphones, and a modern tube amplifier.The ad’s presentation of these signs promotes the ideology that those using V-Moda products enjoy a superior audio experience in a mobile form factor. It shows an attempt at changing the priorities of the audiophile customer base, by shifting emphasis away from a dedicated setup and towards a mobile listening experience. This change reflects consumers’ values placed on the combination of luxury and mobility in wealthy cities.

Placed in the background of the V-Moda advertisement, taking up about two thirds of the image’s horizontal space, and blurred slightly by apparent depth of field is a modern tube amplifier. The manufacturer and model of the tube amp are unclear from the presentation, but its shape and tube arrangement are similar to that of a Sennheiser Orpheus. Either tube amp signifies an audiophile-grade listening experience with an attached price tag (for the Orpheus, about $40,000) enough to call the product a luxury good among luxury goods. The Vamp, with a price listed on V-Moda’s website at $598, occupies “a sweet spot between mass and class…, commanding a premium over conventional products, [but] priced well below superpremium or old-luxury goods” (Silverstein and Fiske). A notable difference between the pictured amp and the Orpheus is the choice of material used in construction. The Orpheus’ polished wooden accents, its symbols of luxury, are absent, and the pictured amp shows only brushed metal, a symbol of sleekness. As the same metal is used for the Vamp’s case, the Vamp is portrayed as a product with quality and luxury similar to that of the tube amplifier.

Placed near center, highlighted by the image’s light source, and filling about an eighth of the image, the iPhone 4S is arguably the most prominent and likely the first noticed sign by most viewers. In the context of a modern tube amplifier such as the one pictured in the ad, calling an iPhone an audiophile’s listening device is near laughable. However, V-Moda’s presentation of the iPhone in this ad is completely serious. As V-Moda’s target market is the modern audiophile, the iPhone signifies more for its audio capabilities than anything else. An audiophile would likely know, if not the specifications of the device, its general features and limitations. According to ifixit’s iPhone 4S teardown page, thanks to its Cirrus Logic Audio Codec chip, the pictured iPhone has headphone volume output and bass frequency reproduction superior to those of many other current smartphone models. However, the use of the metallic phone case as pictured in the advertisement prevents use of these otherwise useful device characteristics by covering the iPhone’s headphone jack. The pictured wire’s thickness suggests the headphones could be used with the iPhone’s headphone jack, but the headphones are shown in the ad as not being used in this way. This presentation of the iPhone as a listening tool being used in a way other than that for which it was intended suggests something new.

This newness comes from the device attached to the iPhone’s metal case. As it connects to the iPhone via a thunderbolt connection, it bypasses some of the iPhone’s internal audio components to overcome the device’s limitations in audio conversion and signal production. This device, the Vamp Verza, is shown attached to the iPhone case and with colors similar to those of the tube amp vacuum tubes’ glowing metal components. The former, proximity (not to mention the thunderbolt connection) to the iPhone, suggests it modifies the iPhone’s listening experience. The latter, the Vamp’s color scheme’s matching that of tube amp components, signifies a similarly exquisite listening experience.

Johnson Chonkar fig2

If we compare the Vamp to its DIY headphone amplifier counterpart, the CMoy (figure 2), the Vamp’s design becomes a symbol of sleekness and quality. The Vamp’s case’s brushed metal and v-shaped construction liken it unto a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. The CMoy’s case is an Altoids tin, a project enclosure of choice for many a DIY electronics project. While the Vamp’s case provides few audio advantages compared to the CMoy’s, it signifies a sleekness, precision, and quality akin to that required in a stealth bomber’s construction rather than the practicality and frugality involved in choosing a mint tin as a project enclosure. The Vamp’s case materials also signify luxury. Another Vamp Verza ad (figure 3) shows the Vamp among items made of similarly exquisite materials to present the Vamp as a luxury good among other luxury goods.

Johnson Chonkar fig3

The folded pair of headphones pictured to the left of the iPhone and Vamp is V-Moda’s current flagship model, the Crossfade M-100. The “M” in the M-100’s name, the folding design of the headphones, and the small form factor of the phone/amp unit are symbols of mobility. This presentation of symbols, along with the characteristics signified by the background’s modern tube amplifier, suggests a preferred meaning that through use of a smartphone, a V-Moda Vamp Verza, and a pair of V-Moda M-series headphones, one is able to enjoy an audiophile-grade experience rivaling that of modern high-end tube amplifiers while retaining the mobility associated with a smartphone. More bluntly, the wealthy consumer is now free to extend to the audio listening experience the ideology that wealthy consumers enjoy luxury goods and travel, often at the same time.

Johnson Chonkar fig4

A previous version of the ad (figure 4) contained text that reads “vici,” Latin for “I conquered,” which likely carried the preferred meaning that the Vamp Verza is a triumph of sound quality and mobility. “Vici” can signify Julius Caesar’s famous line of “Veni, vidi, vici” to provide the preferred meaning that V-Moda as a company “came” to the audiophile market, “saw” its conditions, and “conquered” a fair portion of it.

V-Moda thus presents the Vamp Verza as a piece of audiophile-grade listening equipment in a mobile form factor. It shows a play at the changing and broadening market of audiophile consumers, where a shift away from a dedicated listening environment and equipment setup is accepted by the technology customer base due to the increases in mobility brought by such a change. With audiophile-grade technology’s quality and luxury being maintained and its mobility increased, modern audio consumers are encouraged to adopt the ideology that a wealthy consumer enjoys luxury goods and a mobile lifestyle. This is a trend not only in the markets of audiophile and luxury goods but also in the larger discourse that is marketing in general. Advertisements will continue to emphasize products’ mobility and quality so long as consumers keep such tastes.

Works cited

Silverstein, Michael, and Neil Fiske. “Luxury for the Masses.” Harvard Business Review (April 2003): http://hbr.org/product/luxury-for-the-masses/an/R0304C-PDF-ENG.

“Vamp Verza.” V-MODA.com. http://www.v-moda.com/vamp (accessed April 17, 2014).

“iPhone 4S Teardown.” iFixit.com. http://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/iPhone+4S+Teardown/6610 (accessed April 3, 2014).

Illustrations

Figure 1. V-MODA, advertisement for Vamp Verza, 2014, http://v-moda.com.

Figure 2. Photograph of a Micro CMoy headphone amplifier, 2014, posted by Juice2214 to http://eBay.com.

Figure 3. V-MODA, advertisement for Vamp Verza, 2014. http://v-moda.com.

Figure 4. V-MODA, advertisement for Vamp Verza, 2013, http://v-moda.com.

Comments

  1. In regards to McKayla’s post, while there are several brand names in the audio community that signify certain qualities of sound, luxury, and mobility, I believe V-Moda is the only brand focused on embodying all of these qualities in their products. The closest things to a parallel product (while it does have qualities that make it distinctly different from V-Moda products) that I can think of would be Skullcandy Aviators. While they do not place emphasis on the product’s sleekness as V-Moda headphones do, Aviators certainly promote consumers’ desire for luxury and mobility in technology as well.

  2. In regards to Yohannes’s question, the Vamp and its cheaper alternatives are about equal in terms of mobility. While I have yet to test the product you mention, I assume it is of similar size and quality as the cMoy amplifier I mention. Both Vamp and cMoy fit into a pocket fairly easily, perhaps even the cMoy more so than the Vamp as it is slightly smaller in width. As for using the iPhone as a targeting scheme, I think this is certainly possible. If the iPhone is used as such, it could promote the ideology that a modern consumer (such as one in the market for or already owning an iPhone) can become part of the audiophile community through purchase and use of V-Moda products.

  3. The audiophile’s interest in luxury cannot certainly compare with his/her need of hi-fi sound system, as the latter outweighs the former. Now, compared to other products, I wonder why this one will be a preferred system to the audiophile. Would its mobility outweigh the far cheaper and equally rated RAVPower amplifier, for instance? Also, couldn’t the fact that the ad places the iPhone 4s be a targeting scheme for a larger audience? I believe the ad target is more than just the audiophiles, as the iPhone is considered as a thing of luxury. So it might also be an attraction to other customers, maybe just to try out a hi-fi system because it appears with an iPhone.

  4. This blog post was extremely informative in regards to mobile sound enhancement, demonstrating the vast advances of technology. I particularly enjoyed the evidence you provided showing how the V-Moda Vamp Verza is a product of luxury through it’s retail price, the tube amplifier in the background, the words “vici,” etc. I think it’s quite interesting how consumers want products that are small and rather pocket-sized, allowing them to be mobile entities as you mentioned. Since these sound systems are of foreign relation to me, I wonder what other brand names take precedent in the industry or if the V-Moda products remain the leader in the market. Do other labels successfully promote luxury and mobility as well as the Vamp Verza does? I think by bringing in parallel products, you could strengthen your argument of the consumer’s desire for luxury and mobility in technology.

  5. srheilbr says:

    I think that this piece is quite relevant to today’s increasingly technology-driven world. I really like how you considered the materials of the products in relation to both their luxury and their claimed indications of a wealthy consumer base. I also found it helpful that you provided us with the prices of the products—in itself an interesting comment on how we as a culture understand luxury (i.e., in completely monetary terms). I found it helpful in becoming convinced by your argument that you talked specifically about how the iPhone “sound system” is superior to many other devices of its type. I wonder if it would benefit your argument to supply some specific examples of how the Vamp Verza appears in the lives of the wealthy that you reference—that is, how it does (or could) enhance their lives in social or other terms.

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