Dale Lott, VP Product development, Fender Audio

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Dale Lott, VP Product development, Fender Audio

By Marcus Wong Photography Vee Chin

What’s the process of designing a headphone like for you?

In the past, I tried to make what I liked and over time people started liking what I liked. Now it’s different. The market is changing constantly and with so many in the headphone space, there’s a need to be competitive. But even as we add drivers and things, I still have an underlying sound that I go for, that’s more like a live concert sound. It’s not an audiophile sound but more of the sound you get when you go to a large concert and you’ve got the bass thumping. It invigorates you and makes you happy.

Music comes to life, and that’s what I’m trying to do when I design something. With every new prototype, the one song I always play is Toto’s Gift of Faith. I’ll listen to that and if my blood starts rushing, the hairs start standing on the back of my neck, and I start breathing hard, then I’ll know - this one’s pretty good. You don’t get that unless it’s right; it’s like a Zen moment! 

Multiple drivers in in-ear headphones seem to be a trend. Is this the best approach?

No (laughs). The market wants more drivers, but if you ask me, less is more. You don’t see highend headphones with 15 drivers, so why would you need that in your ear? My personal favorite in-ears is something I made for myself with one 10mm dynamic driver. The market likes numbers and drivers, but the best set I’ve made and heard is a single 10mm diameter (headphone).

Audio manufacturers now release products that have frequency responses that exceed the 20Hz- 20kHz range of human hearing. Is there a point to this?

No. Pardon my French, but it’s all bullshit. Sony came out with “High-Resolution Audio” so only certain products would qualify, but if you’re over 18 years old, I’m pretty sure you can’t even hear tones at 18kHz. We’re all deaf! Our frequency response in actuality is much less than 20Hz-20kHz.

So there’s no real point to the 20-20 specification?

Not on the high end. You can feel the lower frequencies even if you can’t hear them though. It’s that rattle-your-teeth bass you get at concerts. If you go to a live concert and you see a bassist or a keyboard player and you feel those low tones, that’s what’s below 20Hz. You don’t hear that bass, but you feel it, and it shakes you to your soul.

What made you use 3D printing to create headphones?

3D printing was something I did out of sheer necessity. When I started out, people were doing 3D printing, but not manufacturing. I didn’t have the money to buy the tools I needed in the beginning, and I had to be nimble to the wants and needs of the market. 3D printing allowed me to change the model completely with the very next print job.

I imagine it also allows you to define the space?

Yes. Most people make a hollow shell then cram the drivers into it, maybe they glue them to a couple of points and that’s it. But with 3D printing, I’m able to control where the speakers fit and how the sound bore goes through the ear and the shell. All the teeny attributes you can’t do otherwise. The way we do it; all the speakers’ vibrations transfer directly to your ear. It’s what we call coupling, so your head and ears are coupled to the speaker. You don’t get that with anyone else’s stuff.

We’re seeing headphones with processing for 3D sound and other immersive technologies. What do you think about AI and audio?

Once at the Hong Kong AV Show, there was a pair of these big speakers playing an acapella track. The lady was singing a Christian song and it almost brought me to tears because of how perfect it was; how real it felt. You can’t do that with AI.

That was music in its rawest, truest sense. That’s the best example of why a set of speakers is worth a million dollars because I would love to have a set of those speakers (laughs). For movies, you have new speaker setups with multiple speakers so the sound goes around you. It’s invigorating, but music’s not like that. Music is two speakers and the truth, and that’s what we’re after.

“If it makes my blood start rushing, the hairs start standing on the back of my neck, and I start breathing hard, then I’ll know - this one’s pretty good.”