Announcing the Aiwa Arc-1
Today, we’re thrilled to announce the Arc-1 Bluetooth headphone. It’s our first over-ear headphone, and we think the sound it delivers is more than worthy of the Aiwa name. This post is about our journey from idea, to concept, to shipping headphones to you.
Those that follow our postings here and on social media closely, might have heard the phrase “Double the Hardware.” This is the shorthand phrase we use internally to describe our philosophy of design. It means that at every point, we try to maximize the resources we put into sound quality, technical performance, and the actual experience of using the product. For that philosophy to be more than just talk, it means we also have to cut back on or avoid things that don’t contribute to sound, performance, or experience. In the end, this means we spend twice the hardware bill of materials than our competitors.
We are able to offer audiophile quality units at approachable prices by avoiding expensive marketing like TV ads, costly sales channels, and extras like fancy packaging. The result is when it comes time to make a choice on whether to include a nicer component inside the product or to cut corners, we can choose the nicer component nearly every time.
When we decided to start on the Arc-1, we asked ourselves what “Double the Hardware” means in a headphone. With a product like the Exos-9, it’s pretty clear. It’s bigger, louder, and has 5 drivers where the competition might have 2 or 3. “Double” is visible there - but how can it be made apparent with a headphone? Do we make it with 4 ear cups instead of 2?
The actual answer of course was to apply this philosophy to sound fidelity and overall quality, but the key was making sure that quality manifested itself in ways that matter to our customers. We needed quality that, like the Exos-9 and the Prodigy-1, are immediately obvious.
As always, our design process started with our supply chain in mind, and we quickly realized we had a pretty interesting choice to make. Our supply chain had a host of battle-tested and pre-existing exterior components that were available, or we could take the typical route and create all the visual / industrial design from scratch. The design from scratch meant splitting our resources on a design, tooling, and prototyping project before we started focusing on the sound quality or functional performance of the headphone. It also meant the unit would be more expensive, not only to us but to our customers.
The approach of using previously battle-tested parts meant we could take these existing components, integrate them into our design, and immediately focus on the sound quality of the device by putting expensive parts ‘under the hood.’ This shared component design process is common in high-end cars like Ferrari and Tesla, but for some reason, uncommon in high-end headphones.
It wasn’t the easiest choice - looks do matter, and we like to put our personal touch on things as much as anyone, but in the end we made an (arguably bold) bet that sound and quality trump all. For our first Arc headphone, we felt “Double the Hardware” meant this was the right call. The design we chose is light, comfortable, attractive, durable, and functional. Using it meant we could put significantly more time and resources into the sound quality than we could have otherwise.
So what’s the catch? Nothing more or less than the fact other headphones on the market can also use the same exterior parts. Even though the insides are all Aiwa, there actually are a few other headphones on the market that bear a striking resemblance to the Arc-1 (you might come across one at Target, for instance). The Arc-1 doesn’t look absolutely unique. But it does sound absolutely unique, so we think that choice paid off.
So how about those internal components we’re so proud of? The single biggest factor in how a headphone sounds is the driver, i.e. the tiny speaker in each ear. We’ve selected a 40mm biocellulose-diaphragm driver with fantastic frequency response. Biocellulose is a material a bit like paper but is actually produced by bacteria which results in much smaller fibers and much purer cellulose content. This gives it a stiffness that’s comparable to some metallic cones while ensuring the driver is still very lightweight.
In terms of what you actually hear, this means that the Arc-1 produces clean bass, accurate smooth mids, and clear, well-extended treble with much less distortion in the high frequencies. This is a technology that has only in the past few years become remotely affordable for headphones, and the Arc-1 is the only headphone we know of in its class to feature this type of driver. The difference is very apparent when compared to a more typical mylar driver, which will crinkle and crunch at the slightest touch; the biocellulose driver stays solid like a full-size speaker. Hence our concept of the “crinkle test” that you might have seen.
So, the drivers are amazing as are the parts feeding sound to the drivers. We chose to use the Qualcomm CSR 8670 chip, one of the most advanced in the line, in the Arc-1. It’s a robust and mature system with very high performance. It features a 24-bit DSP and supports AAC, aptX, and aptX Low Latency codecs. We used the onboard DSP to tune the frequency response of the headphone, which does mean that the sound quality is a bit different in wired / passive mode.
The power of this dual-radio chipset also enabled some cool features in the Arc-1. Not only can it connect to two sources at once, it can alternately send audio to another Bluetooth device. Want to share your music with a friend? Just use the Qconnect feature to mirror the audio to your friend’s Bluetooth headphones regardless of brand.
The battery lasts for 20 hours of music on a full charge, and you can get 3+ hours of listening from 20 minutes of charging. Plus it has an on-housing battery indicator, so you can see at a glance how much charge is left.
Last, but not least, Double the Hardware applies to accessories too. Instead of the typical soft pouch, we included a robust travel case with the Arc-1. We also stepped up the cables with braided nylon and aluminum housings.
We’re very proud of these headphones, so we back them up with a 3-year warranty and a 90-day return policy (3-year return for our pre-sale Labs customers). We also print the customer service contact info right on the ear cup - you don’t need a receipt or order number to get help. Just reach out and we’ll work to help solve your issue.
The Arc-1 is an audiophile headphone that can go anywhere you do. We can’t wait for you to hear them.