Ikea’s Symfonisk Picture Frame speaker is a cool concept, with one really obvious drawback: Despite being called a “picture frame” speaker, it doesn’t actually work as a picture frame at all — unless you consider Ikea’s limited number of pre-printed graphic speaker grills to be pictures. There’s no way to place your own art on the front of the speaker, and even if you could, it would ruin the speaker’s acoustics unless it were printed on the same kind of acoustically-transparent fabric that Ikea uses for its own covers. Thankfully, Dutch startup Unisk Design has developed a solution.
Unisk can custom-print new fabric covers for the Symfonisk Picture Frame using any image at all, and has devised a system that lets you quickly and easily install the new cover on top of your existing grill frame. The installation leaves the original Ikea art intact, and you can remove and replace (or just remove) the new cover just as easily. Each custom-printed cover costs 69 euros (about $79 USD, plus shipping if you’re outside of the EU). If you buy one, be prepared for a longer wait than you’re probably used to — each cover currently is made by hand, and shipping can take up to five weeks from the time you submit your order.
I was eager to see what the results look like, and Unisk was kind enough to provide Digital Trends with a sample so we could check it out. The ordering process is a snap. Simply go to the Unisk website, choose whether you have your speaker in portrait or landscape orientation, and then upload any image that meets the recommended specs of 4000 x 3000 pixels, in either PNG or JPG formats. You get an instant preview of how that image will look when installed on a Symfonisk Picture Frame speaker, either in black or white versions. Enter your shipping and payment info and you’re done.
I suppose I could have used a photo of my family or our cats, or even used an image from one of the great royalty-free sites that Unisk recommends, but given that the Symfonisk Picture Frame is a speaker, I decided to use a pulp-fiction-music-mashup poster for the song Mad World by Tears For Fears, from RecombinantCulture. You can buy select Unisk covers directly from RecombinantCulture for $121. [Full disclosure: RecombinantCulture is run by a friend of mine.] When my cover finally arrived — a full 44 days after I ordered it — it came packaged in a thick, untreated cardboard envelope, along with a printed instruction sheet.
Installation is easy. You can pop the existing cover frame out of the Symfonisk speaker by pushing on it through the oval-shaped holes in the back of the speaker cabinet. After you spread out the new cover upside-down on a flat surface, drop the frame on top, being careful to center it on the new print. The Unisk cover comes with cardboard tabs that have been laminated to the edges, and all you need to do is slip each tab over the corresponding plastic posts on the back of the frame — first with the corners, then with each side, shorter sides first. If it’s not completely straight, the fabric can be nudged a little bit in each direction.
There’s only one small caveat: Ikea’s covers are glued to the very edges of their plastic frames, which lets the frame sit almost perfectly flush to the Symfonisk speaker’s cabinet. But the Unisk cover wraps around the edges of the frame, and I found that even after assiduously pressing the frame back into the speaker, the cover remained a bit proud of the cabinet.
So how does it look? Like it came from Ikea this way. But more importantly, I think it looks better in real life than in the Unisk preview image, which is really all that matters. The material itself is matte-finished and once printed there’s a very slight sheen to it, but I doubt you’ll be able to see it in most indoor lighting conditions. The Mad World poster doesn’t let me judge how good a professionally-taken portrait might look, but it’s definitely accurate from a color and detail point of view to the source image I uploaded.
Frankly, Ikea should be offering this service for customers, and if it did so, I imagine it would cost less than what Unisk charges. But until that happens, Unisk provides the only way to customize a Symfonisk Picture Frame speaker, and the quality is excellent. Own a Symfonisk Bookshelf speaker? Unisk makes wooden and fabric covers for that speaker too.