NOEL LEE ZOOMS IN THE ROOM ON HIS CUSTOM SEGWAY, HANDS OVER HIS IPHONE AND A PAIR OF MONSTER DNA HEADPHONES, AND SAYS “LISTEN TO THIS, ITS’ ALICIA KEYS… SHE’S AMAZING ISN’T SHE.”
What stood out from that experience was hearing the nuances of the song and realizing he clearly knew something about sound that we did not. This is our first introduction to the “Head Monster.” Which is stated clearly on his business card in place of CEO.
In recent years Beats by DRE Headphones has taken over 50% of the premium headphone market. Every pair has been designed by Noel Lee. Now Monster Products is changing the landscape again while blurring the line between style, functionality & electronics.
YRB: In 2012 you ended your five year relationship with Beats by Dre. Can you let us know how the relationship began? Noel Lee: I’m a heavy duty engineering guy and good with materials.I’ve listened to headphones for years, from the Walkman in the 80’s and all the others.I studied headphones and came to the conclusion that none of them were good. When Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine came to me and said they wanted to do something in the consumer electronics business, we formed a partnership.
YRB: How is it competing with yourself? Noel Lee: From the public relations stand point I’m not Dr. Dre. People don’t know me, so from the front man aspect it had to be built around Dre. I don’t need to take credit for his thing but I should take credit for everything he got because I knew what they wanted to hear and I knew how to get it.
YRB: What did the initial success of Beats mean to you?
Noel: The best thing 5 years ago was seeing very experienced listeners ,engineers, and musicians when they first put on Beats. When they started smiling, you knew they were lost in the music. That was the magical defining moment where we broke through with the sound that nobody had ever got out of headphones or earbuds. We’re really proud of what we did with Beats.
YRB: Headphones are such a part of the culture, so for Beats was your approach more on the technical or visual aspect of the product?
Noel Lee: It always is about the music. Actually I’m a mixture of three things, an engineer, a musician, and third I’m a audio geek. There is a huge difference from what I hear on stage and what I’m listening to in headphones,so I want to bring the two as close together as possible.
YRB: Can we ask why you ride a Segway (a two-wheeled, self-balancing, battery-powered electric vehicle invented by Dean Kamen that costs $6,500) everywhere?
Rumor has it you have no legs or you were an evil nuclear scientist that got hurt doing an atomic experiment. What’s the real story?
Noel Lee: I have degenerative nerve from radiation. I worked at a lab and they had the radiation monitor but never told you what the readings were. As a result I had a tumor and had an operation to remove it and had radiation treatment. I got radiation from the lab and then I got radiation years later for the tumor. Radiation moves the nerves. I can stand but I just can’t walk. People don’t believe me and think I’m a lazy guy .(laughing)
YRB: What are you doing next? Noel Lee: I plan to spend a little more time on the headphones. Concentrating on the marketing and fashion aspects of it. The next step for us is to take the technology and raise it a couple steps while at the same evolving the design and fashion elements.
YRB: Is it tough trying to create a product with such high quality yet still remain affordable to the masses? Noel Lee: It’s has to be affordable. From the way I see it there are more people who can’t afford a high performance headphone versus people that can.
YRB:Where does your product line grow outside of headphones? Noel Lee: There are several markets that haven’t been introduced to real high quality.We’re introducing sport headphones called ISport, that offers super high quality to the surfing and water sports arena. Even with Beats we never had a headphone that if you dropped it in the water, would still work with the best quality.
YRB : Do you think the headphone phenomenon is here to stay, and soon you won’t find anyone using tiny earbuds?
Noel Lee: Are jeans here to stay, are sneakers here to stay? It will last as long as those (starts laughing).
I don’t know what the last of that will be, but I know it’s not short.
YRB: How do you measure success in relation to yourself and with Monster products? Noel Lee: If you look at the journey of Monster Products you measure success by longevity.Success is when you enjoy what you’re doing and 33 years later you still have that passion. When you get to the point where you don’t need any more money, you have to understand you need happiness in what you do to be able to express your creativity.
Story by Jonn Nubian // Photo by Frey + Martin