Leaving aside thorny issues such as audio quality and whether or not it hurts artists, the debate between physical and digital music is really one of intimacy versus immediacy. Whether you’re placing the stylus down on a vinyl record and sitting down to listen to it or just popping a mix-tape into your car stereo, physically interacting with our songs and albums–not just hearing them–is an important aspect of how we experience music. And you can’t replicate that experience by downloading a track off iTunes or streaming a playlist on Spotify.
Designed by France’s Ozenge Studio, Qleek is a new way to experience digital content, including music, podcasts, and movies, and it also tries to solve some problems. A sleek stereo base station that uses attractive wooden discs as almost physical bookmarks for digital content, Qleek is an attempt to marry the immediacy of digital with the intimacy of vinyl.
The physical aspect of Qleek is a Tapp, an octagonal disc made out of beech. You place it on top of Qleek’s beechwood-framed player, which automatically plays the media associated with that Tapp. Don’t worry, you won’t have to buy all of your albums or movies again. Each Tapp has an NFC chip inside; the base station is compatible with pretty much every television, stereo, or Bluetooth speaker/headset on the market.
Qleek’s software assigns your digital content–such as a song, movie, or playlist–to each Tapp. Nothing is actually stored on the disc. Think of it like a physical avatar for digital content. The Qleek player just detects which Tapp is placed on top of it, checks to see what content you have associated with it, and then streams it from whatever digital library or service it can, such as YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, and more.
According to Ozenge Studio’s Ismail Salhi, Qleek was inspired by the mantra of Calm Computing: Technology should create calm, and that the more you can do with a computer by intuition, the better its design. Streaming services such as Spotify might be incredibly convenient, but they are not as immediate or intuitive as physical media like records, CDs, DVDs, or tapes.
“Qleek emerged from the observation that although digital media has enhanced the way we consume cultural goods, it still lacks important features that bring value to media lovers without falling into some kind of nostalgia,” Salhi tells Co.Design. To that point, he designed Qleek to solve three problems. Why should you have to turn a computer on to play media on it? Why is it impossible to physically impossible to give music as a gift? And why is all the media we love now hidden behind screens instead of on our shelves?
To downplay the soulless quality that comes from most tech products, Qleek’s Tapp tags are made out of wood. “We want Qleek to be a less aggressive piece of technology that beautifully recedes into the background when not in use,” Salhi explains. Because each Tapp is user-definable, they can be given to others, like mix-tapes that contain digital playlists or movies you’ve put in the cloud. Finally, the Tapp tags are designed specifically to be displayed in a beautiful octagonal shelving unit. So you can put your personality (as reflected by your media collection) on display just as prominently as books on a bookshelf.
Speaking bluntly, Qleek’s probably not going to catch on. The idea–that we might renew the tangible sense of intimacy that comes from interacting with music physically, without compromising on the immediacy of digital music–is perfectly compelling. But convincing people to spend extra money on a system that they don’t need in order to listen to their existing library of digital content is a hard sell. That said, if you’re already convinced, you’ll soon be able to pre-order Qleek on Kickstarter. In the meantime, sign up for updates at Qleek.me.