We Ask 10 Questions For High-End
During Enjoy the Music.com's very special 25th Anniversary we're asking various high-end audio manufacturers to answer the same ten questions. Their answers may surprise you! This month we're featuring Dan Clark, Founder and CEO of Dan Clark Audio, Inc (previously known as MrSpeakers). Dan Clark Audio (DC Audio) is proud to produce some of the best sounding, most comfortable headphones in the market today. Their headphones are all hand-crafted within the company's San Diego factory. Over the past eight years DC Audio has been in business, they've been thrilled by the support from our community of enthusiasts. DC Audio has always been a community-based company and they listen to their end users. They take your feedback seriously and consider recommendations from music lovers worldwide. As a result, they formed Club DC Audio to be more than just discounts on future purchases; it's also a chance for you to increase your involvement in and awareness of the company's research and development.
Q. What is your first memory of falling in love with music?
A. When I was about four years old my parents introduced me to The Beatles. I remember playing air-guitar to Birthday, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Bungalow Bill, and a few other tracks I mostly skip over these days in favor of other tracks, but what a great introduction to rock that was!
I was always particularly fascinated with the rhythm section and loved bass guitar, which I eventually took up. Paul McCartney was my favorite musician for many, many years, until I discovered Brian Eno....
Q. How did you first get introduced to high-fidelity audio gear?
A. My dad had a McIntosh front end with an AR15 turntable and a set of Wharfedale speakers. Amazingly at age four he let me use it whenever I wanted, which was all day every day, and that set me firmly on the path to enjoying quality sound.
I used to go tube shopping with him and we'd pick up a couple of different tubes and try them out together at home to hear the differences. I think I was pretty much doomed....
In High School I worked at Music by Design, a high-end retailer in Sausalito CA, where I did sales and simple electronics modifications like capacitor and wiring upgrades for amp and preamps.
Q. What is your favorite piece of vintage hi-fi, and why?
A. It has to be the visually stunning Oracle Delphi turntable, which is still in production and still awesome. Compared to the plain-wooden-box or plastic turntables that dominated the market it was pure eye candy that also sounded stunning.
Q. When did you decide to start a high-end audio company?
A. I had working in the audio industry front of mind when I studied engineering but at the time Japan Inc had pretty much clobbered the USA audio manufacturing industry and there were only a handful of high-end manufacturers, mostly too small to hire a newly minted electrical engineer. So I went into high-tech where I focused on audio and graphics technologies.
Around 10 years ago I was growing increasingly frustrated with high tech and began to revisit the idea of going all-in for audio and starting my own business. When I left my last position running marketing and research at one of the larger anti-virus software companies I decided to pull the trigger and start my own business.
Q. What, and when, was your company's first product?
A. Our first product, the Mad Dog, was announced in April 2012. The Mad Dog was a modified Fostex T50rp headphone which sold at a nice affordable price of $299, delivering real value for the money. We sold the first unit six days after starting the business. That funded development of what I consider our first "real" product, which was the ETHER line of headphones that came out in spring 2015.
Q. What challenges did you face during those early years?
A. The biggest challenge was the choice of business model. I decided to bootstrap the company and fund it entirely with revenues generated from sales with no debt and no funding, literally the company was started with $0 and growth was 100% organic.
The lack of capital is what drove the decision to use a modified headphone as the starting point for the business; no overhead was needed to start selling product.
Of course bootstrapping a business isn't easy and the relatively low margins of modifying products meant cash flow was always a limiting factor in investing in new product and infrastructure.
There are many tradeoffs to make when deciding to follow an organic growth path or to look for investments or debt. In this case, the positives included not having banks or venture capital to deal with, but the negative was limited resources to fund growth. With more capital we definitely would have grown faster. Tradeoffs....
Q. How have your products evolved over the years?
A. Around year three we made a huge leap from modifying to designing headphones. We did have some interesting innovations with the Fostex platform, notably 3D printing cups that delivered an incredible degree of isolation.
But the real innovation came with our ETHER and ĆON lines where we began to deliver full size planar headphones substantially lighter and more comfortable than most of our competition.
We focused relentlessly on comfort and weight and make what are surely among the lightest full-size planar headphones. Weight is a big part of comfort, and ETHER 2 weighs only 290grams yet is all titanium, aluminum and carbon fiber. We're not aware of any TOTL metal headphone that is so light, and that's a big contributor to our comfort. ETHER 2 and ĆON 2 also featured a totally redesigned driver and motor for major improvements in dynamics, resolution, and tone.
Technically we've received six patents covering key parts of our motor, driver knurling, assymetric multi-pole damping and our hinge-free and collapsing gimbals, as well as the ergonomic shape of our ĆON ear cups.
Q. What is your company's most popular product(s)?
A. By far our most popular products are the ĆON line. ĆON RT is less than $500 (making it perhaps the only built-in-USA headphone under $500) and sells very well as does the second generation bigger brother ĆON 2.
Q. What is your next planned product offering and its' features?
A. We don't discuss future products related to our current ones, that's a great way to kill a company.
That said we have indicated we will be entering the in-ear-monitor market, swatch this space! It is not going to be a "me too" product, and we've already filed our first relevant patent.
Q. What advancements do you speculate high-end audio will offer ten years from now?
A. It seems pretty clear increasing use of wireless is here to stay, which means DSP and built-in amplification in headphones and in-ear monitors will reduce the need for DAPs for mobility, as most people will use their phones as their source when they're not tethered to a conventional amp at the office or home. It's not hard to guess that despite these advances desktop gear will still deliver the best sound quality.
I do have to say I've been impressed by the improvements in Bluetooth audio, it's gone from "make it stop" to "sure, that's totally fine given the convenience," and on high-end gear that is saying something.