It's all in the head
Noel Lee, CEO of Monster Cable, focuses on quality
Q. Before Beats by Dr. Dre, there were few high-end headphones that had such a level of impact on sales and pop culture. What motivated you in the first place?
A. Nobody was sure back then [if luxury headphones] would sell, but we had a vision to make it big. I came from a sound engineering background so my first goal was to get the sound right. When people listen to it, it has to be something totally different. What we did with Beats was to recreate what engineers and artists hear in studios.
Q. How did working with Dr. Dre help to reach beyond the audiophile circle?
A. We needed this [expensive] and high-performance headphone that everybody would want. But it's difficult because unless you hear it, you wouldn't know that you want it. Through demonstrations via our dealer network, we were able to reach a bigger audience but we also needed an artist to create the lifestyle around it. We got exposure working with Dr. Dre, P. Diddy and Lady Gaga. You need a great product and a way to get people to know about it.
Q. Now parting ways with Beats, what's next for Monster Cable?
A. We are doing our own headphones. We are also covering different market segments that we had not explored with Beats.
Q. How do you choose which celebrities or brands you want to work with?
A. Headphones have become part of a lifestyle and that's why we collaborated with brands like Hublot. In the next six to eight months, we will partner with other brands that we feel we are a family with. DNA [a new model] is also designed to appeal to female users - half of the world that we left out with Beats. It's not just musical greats we want to work with but also fashion icons and brands, such as our previous project with Diesel.
Q. Is it crucial for a brand to reach a wider age range among consumers and various price levels in order to be competitive?
A. Absolutely. For Beats, we tried to be everything with one line of products. But for Monster, we are going to create different options. For example, our Inspiration design is almost anti-Beats. While Beats are mainly for teenagers, Inspiration is more for businessmen and professionals. It has a sleek and clean design. Then we have the opposite of that - Diamond Tears - which were total bling.
Q. What are your research and design team's top priorities?
A. We were criticised for the bass of Beats being too heavy, but that [sound] was created for Dr. Dre's music - hip hop. The bass had to be heavy. But not everyone likes that. People who listen to classical or jazz are not looking for bass. So now we are focusing on mid-range frequencies and high notes because we want a really open sound.
Q. Why are you convinced there's still market excitement for high-end headphones?
A. I see opportunity because of the [overwhelming popularity] of smartphones and tablets. [People often think] that MP3 or compressed music doesn't sound good. Our view is that it's because they've never heard something good. Using poor-quality headphones is like having high-definition signals processed by a black-and-white TV. When you listen to compressed music with the right headphones, you'll be surprised by how good the sound can be.
Q. Now that you are exploring the Chinese market, what do you reckon will be the main challenge?
A. Being of Chinese descent, it's important for me to be known in China. My parents were from Hunan. When they went to the US, they had nothing. The fact that I was born and educated and that I can go back to China to create something is meaningful. It's a tough market, especially when it comes to consumer electronics because the dealer infrastructure is not there. We are sophisticated in authenticating our products. I believe no one would buy a fake headphone knowing that it's a fake - it's like nobody will buy a Ferrari with a counterfeit engine in it. You can't duplicate sound.