An Audio Player That's as Beautiful as it is Intuitive

Meet the Aether Cone

What if your music experience involved a seductively tactile device that knew your preferences, helped you discover songs to fall in love with, and looked like the sort of object Joaquin Phoenix would have fetishized in Her? A recently launched start-up called Aether is attempting to deliver just that with the release of its debut product, Cone. We spoke with Aether cofounder Duncan Lamb about the gadget we’re cueing up all year long. —Melissa Goldstein

Where did the inspiration for Cone come from?
One, from watching people live their lives and do the stuff they do at home. Little things like observing how couples would argue because one person would be more technological and thus have more access to the Sonos or AirPlay. We were thinking about how to answer this question: What should I listen to and how can I get it to play with a minimum of fuss? And [at that point] nothing was working better than a

And the other source of the idea?
That was nerdier. It was basically us saying, “How is it that IBM can build a computer that plays Jeopardy using hard-core machine learning and complex algorithms, and yet we’re still telling our devices what to do using keyboards and mice and menus?” It’s almost ridiculous.

How does Cone get to know your tastes?
Let’s say that on Monday morning you use Cone’s speaker control and ask for Nina Simone. The next morning it’s not necessarily going to play Nina Simone, but it might play something like it. And if that’s not right for the moment, you just turn the dial and it will slightly deprioritize that song. That’s the learning conversation that goes on between you and the product.

How did you approach Cone’s visual appearance?
We wanted it to be beautiful, we didn’t want it to look like a technological object, and we wanted to design the sort of product that felt approachable and everyday. It has a copper or silver back that reflects its environment, which is a nice trick because it helps Cone to fit in. The physical form shows you how to use it.

What will you take on next?
There’s nothing specific that we’re ready to talk about, but the intent is to tackle various dilemmas in our everyday lives—things like what to eat, where to go, how to work out—and use this processing power and our data model of the world to help make those daily decisions easier.

Cone: $399; Aether