Amplify with Style

Carbon Audio co-founder Jason Martin with his Zooka speakers. / Photo by Molly Quan

When Jason Martin and his fellow founders set out to create Carbon Audio’s first product, they had more questions than answers. That was by design. The company is run by a group of accomplished and experienced Portland-area technology professionals who cut their teeth at Dell, Intel, and Logitech. They formed the audio company to address what they refer to as “true problems.”

Carbon Audio’s Zooka speaker is one solution to a pervasive modern technology issue—getting enough high-quality sound out of the slender tablets, smartphones and laptops that saturate the market. Martin, the chief creative officer since the company’s founding a little more than a year ago, notes that Apple and other industry leaders take their audio seriously, but sound does not get first priority. Display quality, operation and battery life take priority in the hierarchy of modern gadgets. “You need to move air to make sound,” Martin says. As devices continue to diminish in size, airspace becomes scarce.

The Zooka operates as a grip, a stand and a portable tube-like speaker. It connects easily to an iPad, MacBook or iPhone without obscuring the camera or home key. Perhaps best of all, audio projects from these devices even though the speaker is not physically connected to them. This is a simple and stylish contrast to the industry’s answers to the sound quality problem, such as clunky docks, fragile plastic speakers and wire-reliant connections. The Zooka pairs with a device through Bluetooth connectivity (wire inputs are available for non-Bluetooth listening). Two tiny but potent speaker drivers bookend the medical-grade silicone tube and amplify the paired device’s volume up to five times its factory output. It’s all part of the Carbon Audio team’s aim to make your device “louderer.”

The team brought a dummy prototype to Apple before production began, and they were immediately met with positive anticipation because the Zooka provided plugs to a number of holes in the current portable audio market—lightweight mobility, wireless connectivity, fashion and function in a quality, affordable device. “We always have a hook for a product, Martin says of the Zooka’s marketing angles. “ If we can have two or three surprise hooks, that is when you have something really special.”

The Carbon Audio team developed and manufactured the Zooka, which retails at $99, in an impressively short time. The prototype was designed in January of 2012, and the finished product was quickly available in retail outlets from the Apple Store to Nordstrom, where the Zooka is marketed as much for its stylish appeal as its functionality. “It was one of the fastest product developments we have seen,” Martin says. The team leveraged online fundraising through Kickstarter to raise crucial early funding. Martin believes the Kickstarter community’s excitement helped bolster the confidence of investors.

Like many aggressive innovators, the Carbon Audio team is not resting on the success of their first product. “The new things that we are coming out with are addressing different problems,” Martin says. The company of fifteen employees looks to provide more industry solutions with the release of several new products within the year, but they have no intention of losing sight of their original creation as they continue to break ground. “We are constantly getting feedback from customers and improving,” Martin says. Plans for the Zooka 2.0 are already being executed, with hopes of it making the 2013 holidays even merrierer.

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