Korus Wireless Speakers: Going From Concept To Best Buy Shelves In 18 Months

Korus is a consumer wireless speaker brand I have been tracking for about a year now. Not only do I think their products are innovative and unique when compared to Sonos and Bose wireless speakers, but their accomplishments have been impressive, too. Most impressive in my opinion is that they literally went from concept drawings for their wireless speaker system to the premiere shelves at  Best Buy Magnolia Design Center in 18 months, a startup’s dream.  I want to tell you a bit about their journey and accomplishments. Korus wireless speakers were created by Core Brands, whose parent company is Nortek Inc. (NASDAQ:NTK)

Nortek isn’t a household name but is a diversified provider of “smart”, connected-home products and is in more homes than Apple. The company has a portfolio of products serving and in some cases, holding the dominant share in markets like pro speakers, whole home audio systems,  broadcast video converters, security systems, smart home, climate control, ventilation systems, display mounts, HVAC systems, and air handlers. Nortek companies work primarily through dealer and VAR channels, but consumers may recognize some of their brands such as Elan, Niles, Proficient, SpeakerCraft, Maytag, Ergotron, and NuTone. So Nortek is in 100s of millions of homes, but they didn’t have a consumer audio brand. That’s where Korus came into play, and with an 8 (yes, 8) person core team, they set out to “disrupt the consumer audio market.”

I got the chance to talk with Brett Faulk, Executive Director of Korus to tell me a bit about how the wireless speakers came to be.  Less than 18 months ago, as the Core Brands team tracked the growth in consumer audio driven by brands like Beats Audio, their focus was exclusively on the professional and residential “whole-home” audio installers. Core Brands had the audio intellectual property and experience in shipping millions of speakers, but no path to participate in the consumer market. However, product concept ideas emerged as Brett and his team analyzed the category of wireless speakers and identified major gaps in the user experience.

I own both Bose Bluetooth speakers and Sonos and have had my share of ups and downs, the downs being audio quality, ease of use and setup, reliability and flexibility. The Korus team set out to design their wireless speaker system to solve these problems. First and foremost, they wanted to eliminate the quality, reliability and setup challenges with Bluetooth. Secondly, unlike Sonos, they did not want to force consumers to learn new apps and instead let them use the apps they use every day.

Brett explained to me that even though they had good insights into what consumers wanted, in order to validate their product plans he conducted research on nearly 1,000 consumers.  Korus tried different designs, materials, features and colors at different price points and about 9 months ago finalized the product spec which included SKAA wireless audio technology over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. I was an early beta tester and while the early beta units were really good, they weren’t great. Korus went back, made final adjustments and what came back was a great wireless speaker system that advances wireless speakers forward supporting all the devices and media content – music, video, and games — people use every day. I documented my experience with the final production-level speakers here.

I wasn’t alone in documenting a good experience with the Korus wireless speakers.  The following are some review quotes I can relate to from my experiences:

  • Engadget: “…it’s fast and works the first time, unlike Sonos.”
  • MacNN: “Korus is the wireless speaker that Apple would build today.”
  • MommyTech: “…it’s beyond simple to use.”
  • GearDiary: “…watching video on the ipad was completely transformed by the Korus system.”
Magnolia Korus Korus Wireless SpeakerKorus Wireless Speakers at Best Buy’s Magnolia Design Center

These early, positive reviews paralleled assortment at Magnolia Design Centers (owned by Best Buy) and other retailers including Crutchfield and World Wide Stereo.  When I asked Brett about sales so far, he said, “meeting expectations”, which after having been in this industry for nearly 25 years, means “doing great”.  So while it’s never smart to look ahead before the holidays are over, I wanted to move the conversation with Brett to the future.

So what’s next for Korus? I’ve known Brett for nearly 20 years and worked with him nearly 5 years at Compaq back in the 90′s, so Brett knew he needed to watch how he responded to the question.  He sent to me in a prepared statement, “While we can’t reveal specific product plans, we are looking at several areas to expand the Korus line in 2014.  These include mobility and enabling additional capabilities with video and games. We’re also supporting the larger ecosystem of partners for SKAA wireless audio technology integration into mobile and computing devices.”  My translation: I expect to see some cool stuff at CES in the public domain or in a private suite.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Korus does at this upcoming CES, and given the IP they have on their own and in the mother ship Nortek, all I can imagine are big things.