Creative's boss pins hopes on Sonic Carrier

Creative's chief executive Sim Wong Hoo is tired of having his company known only for its sound cards and speakers - and he is ready to go big with the company's latest product.

"It's time to change the look of Creative," he said in an exclusive interview with The Straits Times. "The sound-card market is very small now, so I said it's time to rebrand the company."

At the IT Show 2017, which runs from tomorrow until Sunday, audiophiles and home theatre enthusiasts will be able to see and hear for themselves Creative's latest and - possibly its boldest - audio product to date, the Sonic Carrier.

The $7,999 Sonic Carrier is unlike anything Creative has released before, being an all-in-one high-end speaker system which combines high-resolution audio and 3D cinematic sound.

It is also the company's most expensive product by far, dwarfing the $599 Sound Blaster X7 Limited Edition audio amplifier released two years ago.

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For something named after a warship, the Sonic Carrier looks the part: a 1.52m slab of anodised aluminium, cast in all black and bristling with 13 speakers and tweeters that blast sound in all directions.

A 27kg wireless subwoofer, built as a hulking metal box, completes the look.

The Sonic Carrier marks a new chapter for the audio company known for its affordable, mass-market audio products.

With it, the company is also looking to shrug off its slowing innovation and run-of-the-mill products over the past few years.

But this system is more than just an attempt to grab the high-end audio market.

It is also a labour of love for Mr Sim, who wanted an audio product which would meet his own needs.

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His list of demands runs long - it needed to be wireless, support the latest music streaming services and capable of high-resolution audio up to 24bit/192kHz.

It should also double as a home- theatre system that comprises only one unit in front of the TV and a subwoofer to the side with no messy, tangled wires connecting it all, and with built-in movie and video-streaming support and sporting all the necessary connections like USB 3.0, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

The Sonic Carrier manages to squeeze all that technology into one device, but it took more than 60 Creative employees, ranging from engineers to designers, over two years to design and develop.

"I told my guys, 'We have to build the ultimate audio machine, something that hasn't been done before'," said Mr Sim.

He was not entirely satisfied with the direction the company was going over the past few years, as the company's core businesses of sound cards and speakers weren't making the impact he wanted.

"Two years ago, I put my foot down," said Mr Sim. "If we are putting so much effort into low-end products that don't give us the returns we want, shouldn't we focus our efforts on the high-end products that people can appreciate at a higher price point, albeit in a smaller market?"

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He also did not want to create another "me too" product - something like speakers which would only add to a saturated market.

"Can we go the audiophile route and produce $50,000, $100,000 speakers? Can! But that's been done before, and the market for it is very small.

"Instead now we want to combine audiophile and home-theatre systems into one. And that's difficult to do because the requirements for each are different. One needs to be pure, while the other needs to be loud," he said.

At its price point, the Sonic Carrier is not something for the mass-market consumer, which Mr Sim readily accepts.

"We'll sell to the people who can appreciate such a product," he said.

It seems to be paying off - there have been more than 500 pre-orders for the Sonic Carrier since a prototype was displayed at the CES tech convention at Las Vegas in January.

Mr Sim is confident that this is where he wants to take the company, and that the lessons learnt from making the Sonic Carrier will benefit future products.

"This is now a major focus of the company," he said. "I think this will drive innovation in other areas, like speakers or headphones."

This article was first published on Mar 15, 2017.
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