Zen Stone is just the beginning...

8th May 2007 | 23:00

Zen Stone is just the beginning...

Creative talks cool earphones, new players and X-Fi

Last week, Tech.co.uk caught up with Creative 's UK marketing manager, John Moseley. After Creative's launch of the Zen Stone , Moseley was keen to discuss what Creative has in store in the next few months. He promised a range of new MP3 players, from low end to high end, as well as new X-Fi products.

Below is the full interview:

Tech.co.uk: Why are MP3 players sold with fairly mediocre earbuds?

John Moseley: It's fair to say that bundled earphones are probably the part of the product that has the least development put into it. At the end of the day people have the easy option to upgrade their earphones to their own choice. It's remarkable how many people haven't upgraded - that's an example of how people are not even aware that they are not listening to something that could sound better through better earbuds.

The bottom line is that it's a very competitive market. We need to reduce our costs to be able to compete. But we need to include earphones - if we didn't include them at all that would be bad. But it is possible for a customer to spend anything from £20 upwards and get a significant improvement on the bundled buds.

We have an earphone range starting from £15. We have a really nice set called the EP-630 which sound great.

Tech: Why not include the EP-630 with the Vision:m?

JM: The discerning buyer who does their homework may realise that if an MP3 player comes with far superior earphones, then they would recognise that as a good option and buy it.

But the MP3 player market is totally mass market now. A lot of people are buying without doing much research. And the moment you add a better set of earphones, you potentially add £10 to the product retail price. Suddenly you're more expensive than an iPod and that's difficult to justify for the normal buyer.

Tech: Could you not subsidise some better earbuds in order to flog more Vision:m's? Wouldn't that discern your product from the mass market 30GB iPod?

JM: We'd love to be able to subsidise some good earphones with our MP3 players. We would if it was possible. Margins in this business are so thin that it would increase the cost to the extent that we'd make no money out of it, even if we did sell a few more players.

Tech: Darragh O'Toole, product group manager at Creative, told us at CeBIT that you guys are working on an X-Fi MP3 player. How is that going?

JM: A vision was outlined a couple of years ago when we launched the original X-Fi Xtreme fidelity soundcard. We did present a vision at the time that X-Fi technology would proliferate into other devices. Since 2005 we have seen the technology go external into things like Xmod and our new media streamers.

These are two areas we're moving into now. We believe X-Fi has strong opportunities in consumer technology in general. That could be in general living room devices, as well as headphones and MP3 players.

X-Fi is a very powerful technology and so requires plenty of power to run it. Battery power is a big issue. But we are refining it down so that the tech consumers consume less power.

There is no time scale on it at the moment.

Tech: So what's the future of the Creative MP3 range this year? Can we expect a replacement to the flagship Vision:m sometime soon?

JM: It's been quite refreshing to work with the Zen Vision:m for a relatively long period of time as far as the technology industry goes. A lot of products don't have a long enough life cycle. We've been working with the Vision:m for 14 to 16 months now and it's a feature rich product and we have been able to cement its place in the market.

There will be new products between now and Christmas at all levels of the MP3 market. Ranging from the entry level with the Zen Stone, all the way up to high end stuff that perhaps hasn't been seen before. We've got some interesting stuff lined up to release between now and Christmas.

Any technology product is eventually going to be replaced. So there will be new MP3 products across our range between now and Christmas.

Tech: How do you see the PC sound market going in the near future? Lots more people have 7.1-channel onboard sound these days, how does Creative fit into things?

JM: Motherboard audio has been developed over the years to the extent where it delivers 7.1 audio and again the less discerning customer will not actually appreciate the extra quality you can get from an add-in soundcard.

That's been a challenge, although we've still managed to maintain a relationship with our core market - gamers who do tend to appreciate the difference that good audio can make - but actually there has been an interesting development which is the launch of Microsoft's Windows Vista .

Vista, due to its architecture, has removed the ability for 99 per cent of games to actually communicate with your PC card audio. This is where alchemy comes in. A lot of Vista users have noticed that the sound quality that they were used to - even with motherboard audio - they don't get anymore. They don't get surround sound anymore. They don't get EAX environmental audio anymore. Every game since 1998 has supported EAX and we are accustomed to this quality. Games sound very flat without it.

X-Fi and Creative Alchemy is the only solution to this. It solves the problem. The game can now talk to the hardware again.

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