Wading through the dark corridors of the cathedral, you see more and more corpses strewn around, music eerily humming around you. Coming to a door, you pause, open and see another hellish sight of freshly-butchered corpses. Suddenly, a voice booms out from the darkness. “AH. FRESH MEAT”.
That first encounter with The Butcher in Blizzard’s classic hack’n’slash action RPG Diablo might be familiar for many, but for EPOS head of product management Troels Rasmussen, it opened the door to what gaming audio could be. We spoke with him and director of global marketing Maja Sand-Grimnitz about the company and their current and future line of audio products dedicated to gaming.
In 2019, the company split from Sennheiser Audio, something which Maja defines as a “happy divorce”. It was a joint agreement which split the company in two, with EPOS becoming an independent brand working in a more specific market segment: gaming. Now being fully owned by the Demant group, which has over a 100 years of experience in audio engineering which EPOS can take advantage of.
For the overall segment of audio products dedicated to gamers, Troels mentions that - while respecting other products - it feels like many offer similar features, while also basically looking identical. This can be easily observed in brands such as Razer or Skullcandy, devices that cost a premium but, sometimes, don’t really feel like you’re getting the quality that you are paying for. Troels mentions, for example, how RGB lights, a classic feature in gaming tech, while surely fun, do definitely feel gimmicky.
“For us, it was always about: if we put $1 worth of components into a product we are designing, we think it should provide some return value for the user. We have a tremendous respect for audio and how it impacts you as a person, both in the competitive aspect where you need to really localize directions, but also in terms of just feeling the game. That’s where we focus our attention: having a reproduction of audio which feels as natural as possible”, comments Troels.
EPOS aims to design products which are not only functional, but also can look beautiful when simply left on a table, which is also why the company decided to change their overall approach after the split with Sennheiser. “We wanted to create something different, more sleek and minimalistic. If you look at our latest line of products, the H6, they have more simple lines, they're much more pleasing for the eyes to look at compared to something that is both aggressive and tactile” explains Troels. This newfound approach to design, which is both minimalistic and sleek, might be defined as inspired by Nordic design. EPOS, as a Danish company, feels that part of their brand is about incorporating Scandinavian design into their headsets.
But, most of all, EPOS is excited for gamers to get to know and appreciate their new initiative, BrainAdapt. What is it? It is a philosophy that combines design, technology and software aimed at making life easier for the average gamer. “Instead of using all your brain energy on translating the audio that comes towards you, we have made that process smoother and easier, so you actually have more energy to stay in the game”. Maja defines it as something similar to Dolby Atmos, a brand that could go on any audio product, but which refers to a design philosophy, rather than a single piece of technology.
BrainAdapt, for example, might be about a series of audio processes, such as modifying the frequencies in the audio so as to not make certain booming sounds too powerful, thus overcoming everything and distracting the player. Troels mentions the main objective of the technology, and of the company’s headsets, is about “making the sound as natural as possible, tuning the headset so that, while the experience stays engaging for the gamer, the sound remains natural and not artificial”.
But it’s also about the physical design of the product, like having a microphone that can be muted simply by flipping it up. “It is a more holistic way of designing a product: if I can’t see the microphone, then my brain instantly knows that I can’t speak since it’s muted.” Maja mentions the biggest challenge regarding this technology is how to explain to people how you’re solving a problem which is not noticeable.
Troels describes it as “an overarching philosophy that we're working on. In the future, if we wanted to create different types of products, we would still keep BrainAdapt in our mindset: how can we make this product as easy and as intuitive to use and thereby free up the resources in our minds?” Gamers of today definitely represent a wide demographic, covering many different age ranges. Especially what EPOS refers to as their main demographic, the young/middle-aged gamers who definitely care more about the quality of their devices than in the past. Those that are into competitive gaming, for example, might definitely want to settle on a wired headset, as to not experience even a split second of delay between the audio happening on screen and what you hear.
But comfort is as important as audio, as no one will want to wear something that sounds wonderful, but hurts to wear for extended periods of time. “We looked at all the different areas that impact your comfort. So that could be the weight, it could be the hip and padding, it could be the earpad materials” comments Troels. EPOS aims to design something that can adapt to everyone’s different ear shapes and can be worn without discomfort.
Still, the way we game is changing everyday. While the PC is still very much an essential platform, we’re seeing more attention towards mobile games and portable devices in general, such as the Nintendo Switch and the Steam Deck, plus higher console adoption than ever. In that regard, EPOS recognizes the importance of designing headsets that can be used anywhere. Troels comments “perhaps the style of the headset will mean more to users in the future, but also there’s VR. I think that the future for us is really looking at trends and looking at technologies and then trying to find out how we can give the best possible experience.”
For the future, the company seems to agree that the keyword will be flexibility. Focusing on any aspect in particular would probably mean that they will lose a future trend. Future gamers will want products that can either adapt to different situations or pick out one which can best suit their preferences. Maja says “it is important that we continue to listen because if we don't listen and just think, then we’re going to miss out on what people want.”
Regarding BrainAdapt, that is also going to be a major focus for EPOS, especially because gaming has gone mainstream and audio products are now used by a much bigger and diverse audience. “It is down for us, as a company and brand, to start engaging in quite different topics such as mental health and physical health. As a brand, you need to be able to understand and take ownership and responsibility as well. So future-proofing our brand is also about how BrainAdapt can assist with reducing the load on your brain, thus also providing better mental health.”