‘Coopetition’ is an ugly portmanteau word, meaning ‘cooperative competition’. Although coined in the 20th Century, the concept can trace its origins back to the Vikings. Fierce and bitter Viking trader enemies would spend most of their lives plotting to kill one another, and yet would join forces and behave like the best of friends when securing the best rates for longboat transit.
The world of audio isn’t quite as cut-throat as that of the Vikings (although sometimes it smells as bad and is similarly obsessed by burnt meat and beer), but the concept of cooperative competition seems to have skipped many companies. It’s possibly down to spending most of your working life being the biggest fish in a very small pond, and not playing nice with the other fish when you should be working together. Napoleon complex. Big egos. That sort of thing.
This egotistical nature of small, designer-led companies often brims over at shows. Companies need one another to make a show demonstration happen – it’s pretty hard to show off what your loudspeaker can do if there are no amplifiers or sources in the signal chain. But this is sometimes accompanied by a sense of snooty high-handedness, as if borrowing a manufacturer’s products for a show is an act of beneficence from audio’s higher authorities, rather than a chance to showcase your products in a range of rooms.
One of the reasons why the headphone world is such a breath of fresh air in audio is that sense of snootiness simply doesn’t exist. Manufacturers view rivals as fellow travelers along the same path, rather than enemies to test out that Machiavelli play book you’ve been secretly designing. It’s not uncommon to see one headphone brand help set-up or pack away the products of another if their work is done; not to trash the products, not for a spot of corporate espionage, or even to ‘score points’. No, it’s because they don’t think this way.
Fortunately, that sense of cooperative competition is beginning to filter through to the old-school audio world. I sat in on a KEF demonstration in the Bristol Show. The point of the demonstration was to play three KEF loudspeakers on systems commensurate with their performance – using a Rega RP1 and a Brio amp with the LS50, for example. However, when it came to the middle system, Jonathan Johnson from KEF handed the floor over Costa Koulisakis from Simaudio to showcase the Moon ACE one-box system, and then to John Carroll from Renaissance Audio (distributor for VPI and Moon) to talk through the full VPI/Moon/KEF Reference system. My focus, however, is on Costa’s demonstration of Moon’s ACE.
The fact the Moon ACE played extremely well through the KEF R700 loudspeakers chosen for that system was, of course, fairly important. But this was KEF giving the room to Moon to launch its own products in KEFs own demonstration slot! This isn’t commercial suicide – far from it, Moon don’t make loudspeakers and KEF don’t make high-end electronics, and the two work together extremely well – but it’s a sign of companies working together in real harmony, instead of grudging acceptance of needing to have some products to make your thing work.
Of course there were other excellent demonstrations at the Bristol Sound & Vision Show, many of which didn’t involve KEF or Moon products, and some that used either Moon with other loudspeakers (most notably Totem), or KEF with other amplification (most notably Hegel for two channel audio, and Arcam for home cinema/home theater). But that’s not the point. These companies were actively working together in a wholly cooperative way that just doesn’t get seen that often in traditional audio shows. And in the same manner, I think such a 21st Century approach to business deserves praise.
I left the demonstration buoyed by the event. Not simply because it was a good demonstration of great products, but because I think that working together is a far better way of doing things than acting like petulant kids. I can imagine sanctioning such a plan took guts, but I think it paid off big-time. Well done!