David Leung, Project Engineer for Monster was kind enough to lend his ears and thoughts to TouchMyApps as we asked many questions regarding Monster and the Turbine. If you are an earphone aficionado, then this article may be a great introduction to the exciting team at Monster who are creating market-leading products in the audio-world. For Monster’s Fanfare thread at Headfi.org, click here.
TMA: According to the Head Monster, ‘Life is too short to listen to bad headphones’. How many bad headphones did the monster team go through before deciding that enough was enough?
DL: The Monster team sampled almost everything on the market, starting with the Apple ear-buds, moving to in-ear dynamic, balanced armature types, etc. and found that all were deficient in at least one area, whether it was lack of bass, coloration, poor sensitivity, output limitations, etc. By the time we were done, we tried in excess of 30 headphones.
TMA: What good earphones/headphones did you use that impressed you?
DL: We thought that the VModa Vibes or even the Skullcandy FMJ’s weren’t a bad sounding headphone. Those were some of the dynamic headphones out that were NOT balanced armature that delivered bass in the portions that we were looking for and at a decent price.
TMA: What is Monster doing better in the in-ear business than their competition?
DL: We know what good sound is and are in touch with current music culture. A lot of the competition is lacking one of the two.
TMA: What was Monster’s reasoning in choosing a dynamic-based driver versus a more expensive and smaller armature driver?
DL: Price does not always dictate performance and although many in the market have veered towards balanced armature, the listening experience dictated which technology was superior. We listened to many armature headphones and despite almost everyone in the industry steering US towards that technology, we were never happy with the sound. we were convinced that our ears were not deceiving us and through more listening, tuning, etc. found that dynamic drivers offered the type of sound we liked.
TMA: I am a dynamic fan, preferring the tangible rumbling bass and wider soundstage, but many users out there are more attracted to the ‘driver wars’ where more expensive and more drivers equals better. How do you think Monster can level the Turbine in a market that is obsessed with marketing numbers rather than sound?
DL: You are very much like us then. Our slogan says it all – “hearing is believing” If we can get people to try our headphones and provide input to others looking to buy headphones, they can help spread the word. We’re just starting now and the initial response has been really good.
TMA: What if any disadvantages do you see in choosing a dynamic driver versus an armature driver based earphone?
DL: I would say size may be a point that a dynamic driver falls short on. But again, it depends on your application. The compactness of a single armature driver is extremely small. But to get the performance of a dynamic and by the time you lump together all the armature drivers the form-factor surrounding armatures is pretty big as well.
TMA: Should we expect to see more earphone/headphone products from Monster in the following years? Is this a market you are wanting to branch out in?
DL: You will definitely see us expand in this market. We may be the little guy right now, but we have found a niche that is part of our core beliefs – providing audiophiles and music listeners, alike, great listening experiences through our products!
TMA: If so, what changes or additions do you see Monster pursuing in development?
DL: A full line of headphones to rival our competitors would not be farfetched. I would say this is TBD.
TMA: That is exciting (on the down-low) news David. I’ve never designed a headphone or earphone but I have dreamed about it a few times. Tell me, what is it like in those brainstorming sessions? Are you in white lab coats with clipboards? Around a boardroom table with suits and ties? In a recording studio throwing around ideas whilst jamming to your favourite music?
DL: I would have to say that it is a combination of a scientist/user. We can put headphones on measuring equipment all day long, but you and I both know that you cannot measure everything that you hear. For the initial creation of a headphone, we spend quite a bit of time in the lab with test equipment, measuring, tweaking, tuning, etc.. But, then again, that is the sterile lab part of the process. In order to really get to know a headphone, there is the other side where you are the consumer. You spend time with the headphone and listen to all types of music, over different periods of time, in different listening environments, etc.. You do this as you would anybody else would that were using them. Use while jogging, eating, traveling – all are part of the development and some might consider it lax. What things you find you want to improve you go back to the lab again and reiterate the process.
TMA: Are all members of Monster’s engineering team as passionate about audio as you are?
DL: The majority of Monsters are audiophiles or aspiring audiophiles. You learn to appreciate the importance of sound here at Monster, especially in developing product, and it is the level of experience that would distinguish one person from the other.
TMA: David, are you a basshead or a neutral nerd? A Sibilance slammer? A Treble tyrant?
DL: I would say a basshead/treble tyrant hybrid.
TMA: That sounds busy! What is your favourite music to listen to with the Turbine?
DL: Since it is such a well-balanced phone, all the music on my iPod are potential candidates for this headphone. But, then again, I use music to relax a lot of the time, so a lot of my music has a very elegant female vocals with a variety of acoustic instruments – sublime!
TMA: What tips do you prefer the Turbine earphone?
DL: I use the medium single layer tips. They are less fidgety than the triple layer tips. But, I use the triple layers when I am jogging.
TMA: Do you think monster should include a greater assortment of tips?
DL: We don’t believe it is more or different tips that are needed, but more like finding the PERFECT tip for all consumers. It is the holy grail for in-ear headphones. Some like foam, some like silicone, others like triple flanged, dual flange, etc. We’re always trying to find a way to address the needs of all users so that everyone can achieve a phenomenal listening experience with our headphones.
TMA: I love the Turbine but I feel that the cable could be better as it is a bit too full of rubber energy that is prone to touch-noise microphonics. Do you think that Monster will invest in a different or better cable?
DL: We are always looking for ways to improve our users’ experience with our products and the quest for the perfect cable is never ending. We will continue to strive to make improvements to the headphone, including the cable, as long as we are in the business.
TMA: What about the stress relief at the end of the headphone jack – do you feel that there is a better way to implement stress relief into the current design?
DL: We rigorously test our headphone designs to endure consumer usage. So, the strain relief passed with flying colors for endurance testing and was able to match our industrial design goals. But then again, we are always open to user feedback. What didn’t you like about the stress relief? I’d like to know for future details to look at.
TMA: The plug for instance and y-split have no real strain relief for the cable which makes me uneasy but I am extremely hard on cables. The Turbine is still the best dynamic based earphone that I have heard for trance music, full stop. It has power, speed and translation abilities far beyond other dynamic based phones. Though strong, the bass nearly resides in its own channel, much like a separate subwoofer. Please tell me what sound element strikes you as much as the bass strikes me.
DL: I listen to a lot of electronic music as well and love the superfast, undistorted bass – even when you turn it up.
TMA: Thank you David. Do you have any thing you would like to leave us with today? It has been a pleasure getting to know you and about the team. Cheers for all your help and I hope the business continues to expand and make marked advances in this industry.
This concludes the interview with Monster’s David Leung. It was great learning about the monster philosophy and design process but more importantly, that Monster are not waiting out their rivals to do something first. Throughout my correspondence with David, he questioned me as much as I did him – and what I can conclude is that Monster are passionate about securing their customer’s loyalty through great products such as the Turbine.
Please check out our Monster Turbine Review.