Superlative Sound

30 Dec 2019
6 min read
Danish brand Vifa produces top-class speakers that harmoniously blend an exclusive Nordic design with superior sound. FOUR speaks to Vifa’s VP of Design and Engineering, Mikael Ankersen, to discover more about how the company creates a ‘timeless sound experience’…

Tell us a little bit about Vifa?

The Vifa brand was established in 1933 in the Danish town of Videbaek. The name is a combination of Videbaek Fabrikker (Videbaek Factories) and the company was part of the successful radio and television business in Denmark in the 30ties and 40ties, providing loudspeaker drive units for other manufacturers. A reputation of clever research and design and high quality manufacturing spread within the industry and Vifa became one of the largest and most well-known suppliers. As the ideas of stereo and high-fidelity sound grew during the 60ties and 70ties, Vifa provided drive units for many high-end speaker brands all over the world. Along with several other famous brands, Vifa helped to establish Denmark as a globally-acknowledged center of high quality audio and acoustics.

In 2012 a new era began. Standing on our proud heritage, Vifa set out to develop new wireless audio products that would appeal directly to end users in the luxury sector, putting the company on both the audio and the lifestyle industry’s map, while differentiating from the competitors. Our mission is:

We carefully craft best-in-class sound experiences that blend beautifully into people’s lives.

What is the design process behind creating one of Vifa’s audio products – i.e. are the designs based on continuous research and development or is it a design that has been passed down over generations?

The Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm models were designed in one go, as is pretty evident from the strong resemblance in the way they look. The rest of the Vifa family does share a common identity, but are more individual looking. From a technical point of view, there are similarities between the products and certain platforms, chipsets and modules are reused across the various products. I try to use the same basic acoustic layout if the size and form factor of the product allows it and certain components are reused in various up-scaled or down-scaled versions. The ambition for each of the Vifa products is the same though – to make the best looking and best sounding product at the specific size and price.

What are the key design elements of Vifa products, and how are these incorporated into the overall design?

The design-orientated audience wants discreet technology that is translated into something that makes them look and feel right. Using a high quality interior fabric from Kvadrat as a key component of the Vifa design, replies to this demand. The smooth rounded one-piece painted aluminum frame is another visible element used across most of the products. Vifa products elevate the interior rather than invading it with a tech appliance. Clean, understated and elegantly friendly.

What does Vifa do differently that makes its products stand out against other audio product manufactures?

Understanding the call for interior-friendly design, ease of use and features emphasizing social and everyday benefits were translated into the new Vifa products and portfolio’s design, eventually becoming the backbone of the brand’s identity. Mixing great design and high quality audio with an understated tech feeling and a minimalist user interface was a different approach. Looking at a female user as a target persona in the design and specification process, helped to steer the products in the right direction. With a brand expression coherent across all touch points, Vifa’s branding shift became a breath of fresh air in an otherwise homogeneous market.

The products have a distinct ‘Nordic Design’ – what does this mean and how is this superior to other designs?

In our interpretation, the term “Nordic Design” covers a distinct style of design that is light, elegant and understated. It emphasizes the use of good honest materials and benefits the everyday use of the product and the way the product fits into a modern home. It is timeless and the absolute opposite of bling-bling design with lots of non-logical details and shiny objects that brags and shouts.

The construction materials are obviously used for aesthetic purposes, but how do they additionally aid in maintaining high-quality sound?

The Kvadrat fabric styles used by Vifa are customized and specially woven in order to let the sound pass through it without degradation. We did go a long way and spend a lot of time in collaboration with Kvadrat, in order to obtain this. The plastic based materials used are durable and strongly reinforced polypropylene that forms ridged and vibration-free cabinet parts. This is essential in respect to high quality sound. The aluminum frame helps to hold everything steady in place.

How do you balance off style versus sound when designing a product and how do you ensure the optimum of both?

When we start up a new project with our external design house, called DesignPeople, I always let them have the first say on size and form factor based on how the product will look and feel, rather than how easy it will be to make into a high performance audio product. This is not how most traditional audio brands would do it, but this is important to me. After we have decided on the basic dimensions and form factor, I then spend some time thinking how to make an acoustic design that will be optimal in the specific size/price range. I then start making some drawings of ideas of how and where to place drivers and other parts and eventually make some simple prototypes to validate my ideas. I might have to compromise the original industrial design ideas slightly, in order to realize what is needed.

Some of your speakers are small yet don’t compromise on sound quality – how do you achieve this?

The big problem for small loudspeakers is bass reproduction at high playback volume. There are a number of physical laws and circumstances, concerning low frequency reproduction and small volume of air inside a cabinet that cannot be bypassed – even in 2019. But if all involved parameters are optimized and perfected and everything is taken to the extreme, then it is possible to get some decent bass performance out of a small speaker. For the rest of the audible range, the approach is not that different for a large and a small product. The sound performance of all Vifa products is made by the same people and therefor the overall way they sound is the same. They share the same DNA.

Is there any unique craftsmanship incorporated into the production process – i.e. is anything handmade, use of special equipment, uniquely trained manufacturing personnel, etc?

Not really….well, many parts and assembly processes involve human skills and is done by hand, simply because it is easier, faster and better than trying to design a machine to do the task. Mounting the fabric onto plastic grill frames is a very difficult task that requires trained persons on the assembly line. The very important visual inspections that are carried out during and after assembly and again just before packing down the products, are naturally done by highly-trained persons.

Sound is Vifa’s passion, how is the depth of this passion translated into the Vifa products?

Apart from the use of high-quality components all through the technical design, the main thing here is the human touch. Striving for perfection and a lot of human experience and talent. Knowing how to get to a certain level of performance and knowing when the result is good enough, is a really big part of the job. Without passion for music and passion for listening and a deep interest in the mechanisms that determine the final sound quality of a loudspeaker, it is difficult to obtain a good result.

Each Vifa product has attention to detail at its core, could you share more about this?

Attention to detail is a concept that most Danish high-end brands are born under. It is such an integral part of our basic thinking. At the end, the details are what differentiate good from bad. Paying attention to detail in every aspect of industrial design, material, acoustics, electronics and on the assembly process as well, is what all together makes up for a desirable product.

Vifa products have some carefully thought out additions to their design that make them extra user-friendly and make them stand out to competitors – such as special buttons to answer phone calls. Tell us about some other one-of-a-kind Vifa product features?

Well, actually the speakerphone functionality and handle button is not a “one of a kind” Vifa feature. It is pretty common and widely used by other brands as well. So are most features on similar wireless speakers. The features very often come from the platform/chip vendors and are merely chosen and implemented by Vifa and other brands. The game is to choose the right features and to implement them in a good way that makes sense for the user. To mention a few cool user friendly features: the “PLAY” button that gives direct and easy access to stored streaming services from the front of Copenhagen 2.0 and Stockholm 2.0 and the “Kiss´n´connect” feature that quickly link as many City speakers together as you like.

Vifa products are built to have a long-lasting relationship with their owners, what aspects ensure that not only its appearance maintains its quality over time, but that its sound does too?

Fashion, colors and interior decoration style change over and over again (within certain boundaries) whereas the goal of authentic high quality sound – the idea of hearing what was recorded – remains basically the same. There is a constant development within the audio industry that brings even small wireless speakers closer and closer to this (though still quiet far away) and the competition gets tougher and tougher. My overall preference and aim with acoustic designing and sound quality is still the same as it was 20 years ago – it does not change. Every Vifa product has been a new challenge and has been approached in different ways from a technical point of view, but the sound quality DNA is secured across the different models.

What are some of your favorite Vifa products and why?

They are all my little babies – even though some of them are now 6-7 years old. I think the Copenhagen, now in its second version 2.0 and the Helsinki stands out as the most iconic products. These are also the ones I use at home on a daily basis.


To find out more about Vifa, visit their website