Now that Teenage has 2 products out there that are designed with modular expansion in mind, it will be exciting to see how they update them over the years.
The final assembly is the most labor intensive part of our process. When we get an order from one of our retailers for 10+ products, it takes us a full day just to build/test/pack, because of this.
By selling these as "Ikea style" I promise they're able to massively reduce the cost for consumers by outsourcing their assembly.
Also, deciding to do DIY assembly changes how you think about / plan the design + manufacturing of the object, because you aren't training a workforce to assemble specialized parts, but now need a system that most people could pick up and assemble without any major mistakes. It's more design and thinnking, not less.
Personally, I blame the Raspberry Pi. Having played with a quad-core, 1GHz device with a GPU and wifi chip that retails for ~$30, i just can't see myself dropping $300 - $500 on an underpowered analog synthesizer...i've mostly just moved to digital synthesis now, which is quite enriching and fun. if anyone's in the same boat as me, I'd highly recommend nanoloop, which is quite fun to make music with on your phone: https://nanoloop.com/
I get that the analog synthesizers have a great musical feel and history to them, but i just don't think they provide that much more utility or flexibility than 10-100x cheaper digital instruments.
1. Who actually needs boutique gear? I am not saying it isn't fun. I am not saying that it can't be a hobby in itself nor am I saying some tiny percentage of the music industry might need it. But in pretty much all the interviews I have read with successful musician they use something horribly mundane for most of their career, because it isn't about the gear. So does the weekend warrior need boutique stuff?
2. Is teenage engineering actually boutique? I don't know that much about music gear, but I do know a fair bit about electronics and it certainly doesn't look in anyway custom to me. You might think that it is because e.g. they use bare PCBs. But that would be a faulty assumption. So what is expensive part here?
2. Teenage engineering seems to have moved down the boutique scale a bit by attempting to make a more affordably priced unit that will be sold more widely. Good marketing is probably a key component of this strategy since they will need to hit a certain volume to break even.
2. My intention wasn't really to argue against teenage engineering. I think they are doing good products in general and that people like them a lot. I just don't think they should sell it as ~DIY when it really isn't. Teenage engineering is specifically a sort of "design studio". It isn't that they suddenly needed marketing, they are founded by at least one marketeer from the beginning. They do seem to have the right idea in mind overall, but I don't think this is the correct way to do it.
What I am trying to establish is whether that is actually true. No one here has actually said, as far as I can tell, that I am wrong for a specific reason. Not that this indicate that I would be right.
About a decade ago everyone in Sweden was talking about the fashion scene, as in brands and designer, making it in the world. To which the head of H&M responded that most brands didn't even have the revenue of one of their stores. Heard of any large Swedish fashion brands lately? (I am sure they exist, just nowhere near expectations).
There is whole world out there not pretending. I hate to see something, or someplace, I know lose because they were.
When countries like Sweden produce international successes it is because substance matters. That is the absolute essence of why that happens. When Markus Persson created Minecraft he did so after a career in the games industry, which goes back to even the demo scene of the 80s(?). He of course had a lot of personal qualities as well, but he didn't come out of nowhere. No one does. A very similar scenario is behind other successes like Spotify, Klarna or even Skype. You can look at e.g. Switzerland for a country that doesn't produce these type of success.
So whether they create something of substance is entire essential for whether they succeed or not to create something bigger. Maybe marketing is that substance, but I doubt it. Most likely they will go along for a few years, maybe sell for a low but respectable amount and that will be it.
And yes, this is all "in my opinion".
There are people making modules for dirt cheap with razor thin margins, mostly as a side job, and there's always the DIY route if you want to save a few pennies.
All these words like "boutique", "indie", "hacker", "custom" or whatever you want to call it has meaning. Their positive connotation is based on some sort of substance. That there is something unique going on. Whether that is independence, a scene or something else. And Stockholm is truly awful for that these days.
I am certainly not negative toward independent, or small businesses. But as you grow there will at one point be significant incentive to pretend that there is substance when there isn't. So at one point you are selling "craft beer" from you mansion, while everyone else is struggling with e.g. distribution.
On the other hand sometimes people are scrappy just for its own sake, which isn't necessarily good either. I am not necessarily against outsourcing (even though I think a middle road would be the best), just put in on the tin.
Similarly, what's "fake"? The product is what it says on the tin, is it not? I think you overestimate the "can be build cheaply" aspect for many small manufacturers too, given small volumes, need to pay for R&D, mechanical components/work, ...
I think a lot of the market for these items aren't people who need it. Being e.g. modular is something of utility. These products usually requires assembly because those who made it didn't have that capability, they share parts with something else or they are customizable from the start. Not because the manufacturer decided that it was a good idea for marketing purposes.
What does custom usually mean? I guess that is a bit harder. You could probably say non generic. It is something that was made for some specific purpose or could be adapted to specific situations. Maybe they don't say it is custom, but that is most of the point with a modular synth. That you have many specific modules that could be changed. Either by making a better one or in how you combine them.
My argument is partly about the product itself. That it is using features of custom things without really being it. You get to assemble it, but not because it lets you customize anything or because it is really needed. You get modules that you can use in other product, but the product itself isn't really modular.
The other part is about the market in general. There is a paradox in luxury goods in that they can't have to much utility. Because things with utility doesn't usually have a lot, or as much, margin. This type of gear can only be expensive if it doesn't have that much utility. Otherwise someone would make it far cheaper. The utility of the product is to some extent being expensive.
And note that I am yet again not saying that there is something wrong with this as such. Not that this help since it still offends. It is just that when you are pretending that something is something that it isn't you are hurting the real thing. I think the same is true in other areas as well, as open source. Or being a hacker.
If anyone can say that they are doing these things no one has to really care about the real thing. As I said earlier Stockholm is awful for scrappy companies. Yet, people can point at a company like teenage engineering and say "look they are doing these dynamic things with utility, how bad could it be?". But in reality there garage work space was in the most expensive part of town and apparently filled with one of the founder sports cars.
So if there is anything I would want you to take away from this it is to not give up the real thing. A dynamic ecosystem were people can actually modify their tools and make new things. This is were all these movements get their reputation from. Being a catalyst of other things. Not by having people play pretend with expensive things with less utility.
Like the top comment implied, if you want to make music learn a DAW. You want to make your own synth as a hobby, do that (there are a number of great forums). If you want to have a company in Stockholm, where apartment costs as much as in SV, sell you expensive gear go with this instead.
As someone who owns a business that has designed and sells a similar product, I'd guess their raw cost is at $125-175/ea. for the $500 product.
It really brings a lot of creativity and playfulness to playing music.
Me playing around on my modular system: http://youtu.be/jD-2xqTkGUc
That thing is seriously amazing, and (for me at least) more appealing than the OP-Z or the pocket operators - but I am intrigued by this modular approach, since I’ve long wanted to play with something like it.