Alexander Rosson sells $1,000 headphones, but he just recently quit his day job to pursue his passion full time. His Fountain Valley-based company, Audeze, takes an $80,000 home audio system and drapes it over the top of your head. Which makes their products an ideal choice for audiophiles lacking either space or the budget for a bigger rig. We talked with Rosson about his typical day, American manufacturing and why anyone would drop a grand on a pair of fancy earmuffs.
When you listen to something you’ve heard a hundred times, you’re going to hear things you’ve never heard before.
MADE MAN: How did you get into making headphones?
ALEXANDER ROSSON: At the age of 10 I realized I wanted to be a musician or close to it—a drummer. I went to Hamilton Music Academy. College wasn’t my priority, I just saw it as a big party. I went to recording school and then started recording Disney cartoons, of all things. I played a few commercial drumming gigs. I got into engineering eventually… electrical engineering and speaker design. A few years ago, me and some friends decided we wanted to take our expertise into the speaker world.
MM: What am I getting for what your headphones and speakers cost?
AR: Resolution. The speakers can move fast enough to reproduce all the frequencies from the track. When you look at a standard cone speaker, you’ll notice that it goes back and forth. Instead of all that mass, we’re using a very thin piece of film that allows it to move much faster with a lot less distortion. You get more accuracy. When you listen to something you’ve heard a hundred times, you’re going to hear things you’ve never heard before.
MM: How do you respond to sticker shock?
AR: I think it’s a bargain. It’s like an eighty-thousand-dollar speaker system. Some people might not have the space or funds for speakers with the same performance we can deliver for a thousand dollars.
MM: Why does it matter if the headphones are made in America?
AR: A few reasons. First, I want to control production. I also don’t want to give the technology to China. I also like that I can work with some of my best friends and give them the opportunity to contribute in a close way to our mission of creating the highest-quality audio devices.
MM: Are you very hands on in making them?
AR: Not at this point. I have a full-time job that I’m finally leaving at Technicolor, and they’re replacing me with three people. I mostly just increase our network, but I am very excited that I finally get to devote all of my time to this. I have some trusted teammates who help me to keep my eye on things and keep things moving.
MM: What about in terms of design? Are you very hands on with regard to that?
AR: Definitely. It’s very organic. We try to figure out what we can get on the shelf and then throw it together with whatever resources we can get our hands on. We take a lot of advice from the headphone community online. We want to know what they want or what they suggest. We implement that as best as we can, but sometimes we just can’t.
He’s not only the Audeze CEO, he’s also a Movember participant.
MM: What’s a typical workday like for you?
AR: There’s not really one, but usually I wake up, drink coffee with the wife and listen to some tunes submitted to my record label. Then I decide if we want to work with those artists. After that I head off to my regular job, but Audeze is always in the background. When I get home I have a ton of emails and a ton of networking to do for the company.
MM: What advice do you have for people who want to make the things they want but don’t exist?
AR: Treat people the way you want to be treated. Always act with integrity. Don’t bullshit a customer. Be ready to dedicate your entire life to the project.
MM: What do you think is behind the resurgence of interest in American-made goods?
AR: The initial investment it takes to get anyone’s interest in China is pretty heavy. The capacity they have in China is outstanding, but you need a huge investment up front. The economy in the U.S. has been a huge push, too. Everyone wants to see the economy get better here. I don’t know if it has to do with national pride. I think it really comes down to economics and control.