The CES that dominates both visitors and press coverage is that of big companies with flashy booths. But away from the convention center, over at the Venetian, there is a much more humble and understated segment of the show called Eureka Park. This area is dedicated to the emerging companies with young products and technologies. Here you very likely won’t see booth babes, sports cars, schmaltzy stage shows, or dioramic living rooms for showgoers to rest their weary feet. Eureka Park booths are often nothing more than a poster on the wall and a folding table with business cards, manned by an unassuming entrepreneur trying to meet the eyes and capture the attention of a passerby with a press badge. Because as the grandfather of all marketing, P.T. Barnum, once observed: “Without promotion, something terrible happens…Nothing!”
However, there was one booth that defied its humble neighbors in Eureka Park: Damson Audio, a British startup that makes slick portable speakers. Music—Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, etc.—boomed from its corner booth as two young ladies demoed the speakers on glass tables with the Damson logo. (The Pearl wireless speaker connects via Bluetooth to your smartphone and uses a tabletop surface to amplify sound.) By all accounts—from the fully realized nature of the devices to the polished branding and logo—Damson feels like a big audio maker, which was not by mistake.
The founder and CEO, James Talbot, is also not your typical awkward engineer or slick PR type. Talbot is ruddy, gregarious and every bit a Brit—someone you’d like to raise pints with at the pub during a Manchester–Chelsea match. He traveled the world in his former life in investing, with frequent stops to China. A music lover, Talbot, would always pack a portable speaker for the hotel room. But Talbot said that he would go through one speaker after another was continually dissatisfied with the sound quality, bulkiness, etc. That’s where the idea for his product was born.
As with any audio product, cool design is key. “I set out to be the Beats of portable audio,” Talbot says, referencing the Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. So he hired a team of designers to realize his vision of a cylindrical portable speaker that feels like a high-quality product (Talbot describes it as “piston-like”). The Pearl's heft makes it feel like a true audio accoutrement.
Damson appeared at CES because it won a UK design competition sponsored by the UK Trade & Investment group. Damson also has larger Oyster and Clam home speakers, which you can customize with colored, magnet-mounted speaker covers. Another clever bit of invention Talbot says is a first is the ability to control two units simultaneously so you can have one on either side of the listener. Pre-orders are rolling in fast, and Talbot plans to keep expanding in the U.S., European, and Australian markets. In a very crowded field of portable speakers, and audio products in general, the Damson product does feel inventive, clever, and a real competitor.