Eight is the most unique iPhone accessory I've seen, and it's the most beautiful. Designed by Slovakian company Stark, Eight is a wooden acoustic amplifier/dock for your iPhone 5/5s/6. With the addition of the included Lightning cable, it's also a charging dock. It's hand crafted, made of gorgeous wood, is cleverly designed, feels amazing (seriously), but it sounds merely OK.
Eight by Stark
So What Is This Again?
Eight is made of solid wood, and it was designed to use the natural properties of wood to take both the incoming sound (your iPhone's microphone) and the outgoing sound (its speaker) and amplify them without using any electronic or digital amplification.
If you look at the picture, the circle on the left collects sound waves and channels them to your microphone using good old fashioned physics. Eight funnels the sound waves from your speaker to the circle on the right using the same principles.
This allows you to use your iPhone as a speakerphone, or for taking memos, or listening to your messages, and other tasks. Technically, you could use it as a speaker dock for music, but I wouldn't recommend it.
Eight works, and it works well, but wood is not a good conductor of low frequency sound, meaning the overall sound is thin and tinny. Phone calls sound fine, but few people will be satisfied with the way music sounds. In that Stark—a company that also makes high end speakers—advertises Eight as a way to listen to music, that point is worth emphasizing.
But it works for phone calls, turning your iPhone into an easy to use speakerphone or FaceTime platform. That's partially because wireless companies compress the ever-loving life out of our phone calls in the first place. We're used to them sounding tinny, and there's not a lot of low end to get lost.
Construction, Materials, Design
Eight truly is lovely—it looks amazing. The model Stark sent me for review was made with a walnut body and a birdseye maple cover panel (there's also a model with a cherry wood body and a walnut cover panel).
That wood looks great—I love wooden products, and it feels great, too. Smooth and heavy, Eight offers an aesthetic experience that I've found difficult to describe. It's real, natural. The finish is beautiful, the wood just looks great. And with each piece being hand made to order, every Eight will be unique to one degree or another.
It has a metal base that you can't really see when Eight is sitting on your desk. This is pretty clever, IMO, and it's because that base was designed to work in sync with the infinity/sideways 8 design of the model. The curve of the base is hidden by the curve of the Eight's 8 shape.
Attention to Detail
The metal has a textured finish on it, too, and this is were you start seeing the attention to detail Stark put into this device. It would have been easier and cheaper to slap a plastic stand, or an unfinished piece of stainless steel, but the metal they chose helps contribute to Eight's solid feel.
There are also four tiny rubber feet on the base that allow Eight to rest on your desk without scratching the surface. Two of those feet are used to cover the screws that attach it to the body, as shown in the image above. It's the kind of detail many people would never notice, but those who do will appreciate Eight's elegance and what it says about the overall quality of the product.
Next: Cover Panel and Form, Function, and Art
Page 2 - Cover Panel and Form, Function, and Art, and Conclusions
The Cover Panel
More attention to detail stands out with the panel that covers the acoustic channels and the cable guide. Firstly, it's held on by magnets, and I mean it when I say it's held on. The magnets are strong enough that it takes force to remove the panel—enough force that it will not fall off, but not so much force that it's difficult. This is another one of those details that I instantly associate with quality.
On the inside of the panel, the company laser-etches the name of the recipient, which I thought was another nice touch. My review unit was "Made for John Doe," for those keeping score at home.
Made for John Doe - The Finish on the
Removing the panel allows you to see how Eight works, but it's real purpose is to make it easy to slot in a Lightning cable for charging your iPhone. When you do so, another detail becomes evident, and that's the fact that everything fits. An Apple lightning cable fits, and it stays where you put it. It's snug, but doesn't crimp.
Under the Hood Everything Just Fits
Your iPhone also fits in its slot, and the cover adds exactly enough support to hold your device firmly in place (with or without a Lightning cable), but it leaves precisely enough space for you to easily access the home button and use the bottom of your display.
Even the cover fits perfectly. Move it close enough to the magnets, and they'll do the rest of the work until it snaps into place with a very satisfying snick.
Form, Function, and Art
Stark calls Eight "functional art for your home," and that is an accurate claim. Eight is functional art, but in the balance between form and function, Eight bows to the former. It looks amazing. It sounds OK.
At US$288, you absolutely must be aware of that tradeoff before you buy it. You are buying a functional piece of gorgeous art that serves as an acoustic amplifier. You are not buying a high fidelity speaker dock that will let you rock the metaphorical house.
As noted above, it works well for phone calls, so there is real function in this product, too.
Stark's designers seem to have put as much thought into the packaging of Eight as they did in Eight itself. The box is made of a heavy material, and its padded and lined. In a nod to Eight's aspirations of being art, the inside lid is signed by the designers in gold ink that matches the gold finish on the box.
If you're the kind of person who loves quality packaging, you'll be impressed when Eight arrives.
I've said it many times in this review: Eight is gorgeous. It's cool. It looks great. It's pricey. But it sounds OK. Form and function are deeply personal. For me, Eight looks great on my desk, and it's a great stand. It's also a solid conversation starter. If you own one, people will ask you, "What's that?" And then they'll reach out to touch it. Then they'll smile.
Judged solely on that basis, Eight would have earned a five star review from me. There's nothing like it and it's amazing. Based solely on the sound quality, though, I'd give Eight a two star review. It's functional, but just.
Judged on the whole, I'm giving Eight three and a half stars. I value form, quality, craftsmanship, cleverness, and I'm willing to pay for those things. Your mileage will vary.