Tech Be Cool: Monster CEO Noel Lee Tells Us About the Seamless Fusion of Headphones and Style
Probably about ten years ago, I remember my mom coming home from a beginning of the year parent-teacher night. Those things were always a big deal for her, particularly because I was a killer student who was generally given rave reviews by all of the teachers (now is where you try and connect the dots to figure out how I ended up at BroBible.com). She did the usual recap–examining the quirks of every teacher, recounting the blow-by-blow each after-lecture chat–until she arrived at the math teacher. Math, the subject I was doing noticeably average work. The one that my mom was convinced I wasn’t good at simply because I was afraid of being a nerd. (Not the case. I am just shitty at math.)
“So you wanna know what Ms. [redacted] said?”
“Well I asked her what made the honors class different, if they found it difficult to fit in with the regular kids. Know what she said?”
“That four letter word? N-E-R-D. You know what it turns into in 10 years?”
2013, and these so-called nerds of the early 2000’s have become bosses, and with that have brought their technological swag. With the ubiquity of always needing to be “plugged in,” technology has become A LOT more than just a useful tool. In a world of hashtags, personal branding, and an oftentimes shameless commitment to asserting millennial-driven individuality, technology has now also become something greater–an undiluted expression of oneself.
We often think of this idea via instagram accounts, our tablet choices, and our endorsements/dismissals of various apps. But what about something that’s always been a part of the equation, though never necessarily addressed as directly. What about headphones?
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Noel Lee, the founder of Monster Inc., best known for their audio and video cable products. After partnering with hip-hop mogul Dr. Dre to create the wildly popular “Beats by Dre” line, Monster has moved on to creating their own headphone line–that which meshes technology and style in the way a 2013 consumer demands.
A sampling of Monster's 'DNA' Line.
“When I looked at the market, especially higher end gaming headphones–they weren’t particularly stylish–they were a bit more utilitarian,” Lee notes. “But especially for young folks now and what we did beat beats–it has to look cool. It’s like having a high performance car that looks ugly. No one wants that.”
The Diamond Tears Headphones, from Monster
Lee and Monster though, weren’t necessarily satisfied with just creating headphones for the now.
“In this world you can’t be happy with today, you gotta look at who’s behind you, and what the next step is, because as soon as you figure out the first step, someone’s already figured out the second step. And what used to take a long time 4-5 years to change the game—now it’s 4-5 months. You’re on top, and then–Boom. 7 months later, you’re number 5…hey what happened?”
As such, Lee’s steadfast commitment to remain ahead of the curve manifested itself quite interestingly–by partnering with longtime video game behemoth EA Sports. This is a convergence that we previously looked at from the social gaming perspective, but it also has another side–sound and style.
“We come from the music side of things…articulation, clarity, speed. A game nowadays isn’t just about sound effects, it’s about music. Headphone has to be as good in music, as does in the gaming experience.”
“Then, you want to unplug it from the console and light it up–you knew who had those headphones on. You WANT those headphones. It made a statement for that person.”
Saints legend Drew Brees (front), and other notables rockin' the headphones.
“We want to create an experience that not in any other gaming headphone. It’s a very competitive space, most of them are low cost–most of them are just about sound–I hear it, but I don’t experience it. You experience this”
As we continued a the conversation, Lee made a number of rather compelling insights that definitely resonate with what many of us young kids “trying to make it” are striving for today. A self-made man who started Monster Cable way back in 1979, Lee commented on how the entreprenurial pursuit, while exciting, doesn't necessarily have as many ups as it does downs. The key is, he says, to realize what you're up against, and not to get too rattled.
“It’s like Obama,” he laughs. “You can’t win. Even if you win, you can’t win. With the internet, there’s nobody that’s 100% ‘I love ya, I love ya’…if someone really likes something, it blows it up fast. (But) the naysayers now (also) have a really strong viewpoint.”
Lee noted a number of times that authenticity was the name of the game, something he really wanted to get across with both Monster’s headphones and the EA Carbons.
“It’s not what we say, it’s the people who use our product say. You tell me if it’s good. Me telling you, you ain’t gonna believe me. That doesn’t work. Traditional is not as strong or authentic–instead of top down, it’s bottom up.”
As the Monster headphones and EA Carbons hit the market this February, we'll have a great chance to see how this bottom up approach fares. As of now though, looking good.
This is part two of a two part series about Monster Headphones and the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show. Read part one here.