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Audio Interface ‘for Females’ Sparks Outcry

By Clive Young. In mid-October, a small consumer audio interface was introduced at Prolight + Sound Shanghai without much fanfare. Now it might become the most controversial audio product in years.

On October 11 at Prolight + Sound Shanghai, MIDIPlus introduced a new line of interfaces and instruments called Fancy. One guesses that the intention was to be whimsical; how else do you explain a line that takes something already amusingly uncool—a keytar—and makes it even goofier by designing it to resemble a tuning fork? There’s also a tiny audio interface called Vintage that mashes together the aesthetics of a cassette tape, luggage and a 1940s radio. Whether it’s all that usable is unknown, but it certainly looks cute.

The product series’ introduction passed without much fanfare, but a few weeks later, western social media found out all about it when someone discovered the third product in the Fancy line: MIDIPlus Mirror, an audio interface designed like an eye-shadow case—because as the company’s website announces, it’s “an audio interface specially for females.”

Women currently make up just 5 percent of the pro audio industry. While organizations like Women’s Audio Mission and the Audio Engineering Society have pushed forward to both raise that number and help foster an industry that’s more welcoming and inclusive, a product introduction like this illustrates that there’s still a long way to go. Clearly, acknowledging a problem is one thing, but reacting to it appropriately is something else entirely.

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You can’t give MIDIPlus the benefit of the doubt and mark it down to cultural differences either, because earlier in the same introductory paragraph, the copy states, “With the growing demands of audio quality, audio interface is no longer a formidable device. Products’ characteristic becomes more important.” That’s right; they didn’t want to intimidate “females” with “a formidable device,” so they made it look like makeup.

Housed in a black clamshell box, the unit’s lid opens to reveal six flat, pastel-shaded knobs and a 5500°K LED light surrounding the titular mirror inside the lid—presumably so one can make sure one is looking awesome while recording. The back reveals 1/8”, 1/4” and XLR-combo inputs; 1/8” and 1/4” output jacks for headphones; and a USB connection. The unit reportedly offers 24-bit/192 kHz sampling and 48V phantom power.

Pro audio manufacturers have experimented with different user interfaces for years, trying to draw inspiration from other industries, so it could be argued that this product is another example of that trend. Rip out that mirror, scrape the paint off the knobs and ditch the marketing, and there would be no outcry; it would just be an unusually shaped, low-end interface that hopefully captures audio decently.

That kind of change may happen in the wake of the social media furor. Mirror is not currently listed on the MIDIPlus website’s product page—was it removed due to the bad publicity, or just not added there yet? The Vintage is listed, so draw your own conclusions. Either way, the unit still has its own hidden product page on the site, and is also mentioned in the company’s Prolight + Sound Shanghai recap in its News section.

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Change those aesthetics and the product might still have a chance, but the painful marketing has to go first. Elsewhere on the MIDIPlus site, the company says Mirror “will be the new favorite of every anchor. It has gentle light. It has eyeshadow compact. Looks like the black diamond in the jewelry box.”

Put aside the fact that the product is culturally tone-deaf and that text still bends over backwards to romanticize an audio interface in eye-rolling tones best left to a Jared commercial. I mean, this is not an anniversary present, to be presented on one knee: “Here, my anchor; I got you what you’ve always wanted.”

“You shouldn’t have. Seriously. On so, SO many levels, you really shouldn’t have.”