"I failed at retirement," Christopher Stringer admits. After a more-than-two-decade run as Apple's lead designer — where he worked on everything from the first iPhone to the HomePod — he left Cupertino in 2017.
In his post-Apple travels, he found himself in a London design museum that dragged him back into the game. "I always thought of my work at Apple as one continuous project building on the next," Stringer says. "Once you’ve trained those muscles and you start to relax them, you get that itch."
Four years ago, Stringer teamed up with Damon Way, the cofounder of DC Shoes and a mutual friend in the design community, to build "a sound company to make sense of sound." Finally, the Cell Alpha, the first product from their company, Syng, is here.
In layman's terms, the Cell Alpha is a high-end wireless speaker. It can stream hi-res audio or connect to your TV. But what sets the Cell Alpha apart is something audiophiles refer to as "triphonics."
The stereo revolution set audio’s magic number at two. Stringer says that’s one short of the actual ideal, which is why the Cell Alpha has three beam-forming drivers placed around its equator, 120-degrees apart, to evenly disperse midrange and high frequencies around the room. Then there are two force-canceling woofers on the top and bottom of the speaker to evenly distribute bass. There is no one sweet spot — precisely the point: the Cell Alpha produces an even sound no matter where you stand around the speaker.
The Cell Alpha is more than just 360-degree sound. Syng decked it out with advanced digital-signal processing and spatial-audio tech — which Apple has pioneered with its AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. This not only allows the speaker to optimize its sound for the room it's in, but it also enables the Cell Alpha to virtualize any speaker array and even allows the listener to adjust specific sounds in 3D space. This gives listeners the flexibility to place the Cell Alpha wherever they want in their home and listen to what they want, no matter the source or digital format.
"A sound should sound like it comes from the object that makes it," says Stringer. "It should have placement in space." Traditional immersive audio, like a 5.1 or 7.1 home theater system, requires the listener to stay in a fixed position and face in one direction (at a TV, typically) to get the best experience. With spatial-audio tech, an optimal experience is possible from a variety of positions and angles. There is no one first class seat, so to speak.
But the best place to be is in view of the stunning speaker itself. Its spherical, see-through, Death Star–like aesthetic is absolutely striking, but Stringer insists its sound will make it melt into your home. "When you have it in a home, you're way more likely to be engrossed by the reflection of the space you're in, the exposure of the sound elements, the triphone, the heart that projects the sound," said Stringer.
Of course none of this comes cheap. The Cell Alpha runs $1,800 per speaker. Since its release this summer, Way and Stringer say that the majority of Cell Alpha speakers have been purchased by artists, musicians, designers and early adopters who live on the bleeding edge of hi-fi and tech.
And the speaker they’ve invested in is far from set in stone. "We’re excited about innovating across hardware and software alike," Stringer says. "Cell Alpha is designed to grow with you. New features and capabilities are always on the horizon."
Just don’t expect a fourth driver.