Colour Design Pt. 6: Pricing and Pre-Order December 12, 2013 13:22 5 Comments

We're launching Colour in January 2014 on the crowd-fundingcrowd-funding platform Kickstarter (in the end, we decided to launch the pre-order on our own site -ed). This post covers exactly what were launching, how much it will cost, and why we're using Kickstarter.

The Colour Products We're Launching

The initial Colour launch will include four products: the 500-series Palette and three "primary colours." While we've prototyped many more than three colours in the last year-and-a-half, we've decided to release only what we consider to be the three strongest and most distinct at the moment. These are:
  • CTX imparts vintage transformer saturation in the best way possible, with a real chunk of Cinemag iron. A bass "tilt" emphasizes the transformer's low-frequency harmonics.
  • JFT generates crispy, triode-ish saturation from a gently overdriven JFET transistor.
  • 15IPS is a germanium diode-based, soft clipping circuit that simulates the natural compression of analog tape. A subtle, resonant, high-pass filter replicates the low-end response of certain tape running at 15 inches/second.
The decision to release only three colours initially was driven in large part by the overwhelming response we've received from companies and individuals interested in designing their own colours, including:

Setting a Price

From the very beginning, it's been our goal to make Colour as affordable as possible. With a successful Kickstarter campaign, we'll be able to offer kits and assembled units for a truly game-changing price. Before we get to the numbers, let's talk about how we achieved Colour's price point. We did not do it by cutting corners on components or hardware. All of the electronic components are top of-the-line and sourced from reliable US distributors (no chance of counterfeits). The ICs are state-of-the art chips from from THAT Corp and TI, transformer is from Cinemag, capacitors are from Nichicon, switches are from Alps, connectors are from Samtec, and potentiometers are conductive plastic-type from BI Technologies. The Palette PCB is protected by a piece of 19-gauge, zinc-plated steel. The 500-series blackplane connector is gold plated. In short, Colour is manufactured to a higher standard than many 500-series modules that sell for $500+. We achieved our price point through a combination of bulk pricing, prototyping cheaply, and creative design thinking. Attractive pricing and small-batch manufacturing rarely go together. For an illustrative example, see the pricing schedule for the LME49710 opamp we are using (direct link). Manufacturers ordering in quantities of less than 100 pay twice as much per chip than manufacturers that can order 1000+ at a time. Similarly, PCB and hardware manufacturers charge hefty setup fees and then relatively little per unit. It may cost $100 to make one PCB and only $1,000 to make 1,000. We're overcoming this obstacle by launching withwith one big order via Kickstarter. If the Kickstarer is successful, we'll be able to place orders with the big boys and price accordingly.


"Because subtle harmonic saturation is often most effective when layered over multiple channels, our goal will be to make the Codename: Colour inexpensive enough that people can build numerous channels." -from "Colour Design Pt. 1", August 2012

Although it lasted more than a year, the Colour design process was surprisingly inexpensive, under $5,000. We were able to do this primarly by 1) not paying ourselves up front and 2) making our prototypes in house. #1 is part of the nature of being a lean, unfunded, hardware startup, and it's a "luxury" companies with salaried staff cannot afford. As much as I hope personally never to work 18 months on spec again, at the end of the day it is one less major expense to recoup.

#2 is a unique benefit of working out of a co-operative prototyping space (NextFab Studio in Philadelphia, PA). We spent a total of $0 on mechanical prototyping services, and etched PCBs for rough prototypes ourselves. Overall, we avoided thousands of dollars in design costs that would have otherwise been built into the price.

We designed Colour from the ground up with cost in mind. Where only the best component would do, that's what we used. Where the most expensive component did not present a significant performance gain, we shopped around and evaluated numerous options to find the best combination of performance and price. For example, we built full, working prototypes with five different potentiometers before making our final choice. By optimizing component choices in this way, we've reduced parts cost by a third since our first prototype without sacrificing an ounce of performance.

Finally, we're simply not charging as much as we could (some would say ought to). It's a common rule of thumb when pricing DIY kits to charge a bit more than it would cost for customers to source all of the parts themselves. We're charging significantly less. We're keeping our prices and margins low because our top priority is getting Colour in the hands of as many engineers, DIYers, and designers as possible. We're also betting that most users will want more than one Colour.

Enough build up, what's the price already!? Pending the success of our Kickstarter campaign, we'll be offering Palette kits for $119 and full Colour kits with the three primary colours for $249. For the Kickstarter, however, we're going to go even lower to reward early adopters and to test the sustainability of those prices:

  • $95 for Palette kit
  • $175 for full Colour kit (Palette + 3 colours)
  • $299 for Colour assembled and tested