Master & Dynamic Is Not “Plastic And Disposable”
By landing partnerships with top designers, the three-year-old company is performing ahead of its age.
In only a few years, Master & Dynamic has appeared on Apple store shelves and been endorsed by Ralph Lauren. The New York-based luxury audio brand owns a studio in Soho, where artists can record privately for free, and runs a blog curated around music, style, and travel. By working with German company Leica Camera, Master & Dynamic created cameras and headphones that Hypebeast describes as “an audiophile, and camera geek’s dream come true.” Despite the high-profile ties, the company was founded by a dad who connected with music through a sonically gifted son. Quiddity spoke with Master & Dynamic’s CEO Jonathan Levine about entrepreneurship, British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye, and becoming a brand that “speaks to” consumers.
How does your company’s heritage help you build trust with your consumers?
It's [been] a short period of time to really claim heritage. The way we built our product, we design our product, we consider ourselves a luxury audio brand. It sort of creates a feeling of heritage for a consumer. A lot of people will comment, when they hear we’ve been around for three and a half years, they think we’ve been around a lot longer.
It definitely resonates with the consumer who’s looking for something different, not just in the product and design and material, but also in how the brand speaks to them.
If you claimed one other brand as an ancestor, which would it be?
Leica Camera. That was a brand I’ve always admired, and a lot of people consider our headphones the Leica Camera of headphones in many ways. That like-mindedness and approach has been one of the reasons we’ve been able to partner with Leica Camera. We basically took our classic headphone, and working with the Leica design and engineering team, co-created a Leica version of our headphones, which people really love. In response to that project, people see craftsmanship, detail, the iconic Leica design cues. There's a great overlap between people who love photography and music.
How do consumers generally learn more about your brand’s heritage?
We do a great job on our own website with our product photography and our blog called The 10,000. The brands and creatives that we highlight and feature on our blog, it definitely resonates with the consumer who’s looking for something different, not just in the product and design and material, but also in how the brand speaks to them. We have since day one received and continued to receive a lot of press in all different types of outlets around the globe. Of course that’s a great format for people to learn about the business, whether it’s for the first time or an update on new products and collaborations and partnerships. We get high kudos for both our blog and our video content and through most of our social media, like Instagram. I think people definitely are following us and looking to learn more about us through those types of outlets and mediums, through both digital and print.
I knew if I designed a product that Ralph Lauren wanted to use, that I was doing something right.
What one detail of your founding story has resonated most with consumers?
People love the story of the inspiration for the business, which is really from my two sons and particularly my oldest son, who started deejaying at 13 years old, taking deejay lessons as a 14 year old, and started producing music as a 16 year old. That was really how I got involved in headphones—watching what he was using, watching what he wasn't using and sort of watching the industry was doing along the way. [We also have] an in-house sound studio. People love that story, that connection between passion and love of family.
What other brands, strategies or consumer trends have influenced your own company?
Other brands, not so much, we tend to our own thing. We're lucky to be on the forefront of being design oriented. Roberto Bertazzoni, a second generation member of the family is the current president. He was more interested in getting more and more involved with designers and architects. That was in the '70s. When you got to the '90s, house design really began to change, with an open kitchen integrated into the living room. My generation started moving back to the city, and the idea of sitting at a dinner table became less of a thing, really. People born after 1985 and during the first half of the '90s — they are the people that really really embrace that. They moved into cities even more than the late Gen X-ers did. They entertain even more. They care about design even more. You have a space that was always utilitarian with equipment to make food, but now it's also a place to have parties and eat food and entertain. We've been creating things that are beautiful in their own right. They are the items everyone asks about, that people think are beautiful. Something you leave on the counter. “True” millennials are less-materialistic, but more image-conscious. People in that age category are doing a lot more with less. To have a house and family — when the environment and economy shifted away from that, the culture shifted. The measure of success is less about having a lot of things and more about having a few high-quality, pretty things that look nice, and having a nice environment to put them in.
Why was it important to you to have that studio in-house?
It's really part of the genesis. It's reminded me of the early days when I was just doing it with my son in the studio, watching him do his thing. We’re not the only audio company that has an onsite studio. We actually loan ours out for people to use. We don't charge them. It's a nice way for us to give back. Everything we do in the studio is private. If you look on our instagram, you’ll never see mention of anybody who’s a fan, famous celebrity or influencer, we treat them very privately, which I think is the right way to do it.
Do you find athletes to be a part of your consumer base?
It’s everybody. It’s men, it’s women, it’s people who recognize design and quality and want something different from the crowd.
How might your frame your company’s history differently for an athlete buying headphones for the gym, versus a music enthusiast?
While music is a big part of what we talk and think about, we really speak more about listening. For instance, I spend as much time listening to podcasts and audiobooks and meditation and other things as I do music. The way we’re built [the headphones]—the materials we use—are not always conducive for sport. I’m always amazed at the stories i hear. I know a man who ran the New York City marathon in 2017 wearing our MW60 over-ear headphones the whole way. These are metal and leather, and they lasted the whole race. I don't think we change the story at all. We will have some more active or exercise-focused headphones at the end of the year and into 2019, but I still think we’ll message it not directly as an athletic headphone, but more as an active lifestyle headphone or earphone.
Are there any other consumer trends that have influenced your own brand?
I started the company without any background in audio or headphones, and I did it with blinders on in terms of creating a product that I would love and I thought the people around me would love. We’re getting ready to launch, and I had this moment like: we all love love it but what if no one else loves it? That would be a problem.
As we were launching the designer Ralph Lauren discovered my product for his own use. That was a great point of validation. I knew if I designed a product that Ralph Lauren wanted to use, that I was doing something right.
We were the first headphone brand that Apple brought into their retail stores after they bought Beats: that was a big win for us. I never imagined that would happen after they bought Beats. That was really important to the brand at that time. The wireless speaker we created with Sir David Adjaye which set the bar for design and performance in a day and age when most things are designed to be plastic and disposable and inexpensive. We created something on the masterpiece level.
Being an entrepreneur and having that feeling of, “I like this, but will everyone else like this?” is very relatable. Was there a turning point, pre-taking it to the market, that you decided the brand would probably catch on?
I'm sort of a serial entrepreneur. I always have that inherent optimism and confidence. I always imagined that it would be a success. I always envisioned doing partnerships and collaborations with great brands from around the globe. I probably did not anticipate or envision being able to do the number of the them in such a short period of time, and the scale of them, the level of brands we’ve been able to partner with. I’m sure there are more to come. That's something I'm extremely humbled by and proud of.
Writer & journalist based in NY.