In October 2018, MrSpeakers announced the immediate appointment of industry veteran Andrew Regan [AR] as the company’s new President. Andy was in town and Porta-Fi was offered an opportunity to speak to him about his new appointment and the entity he now represents.
[BY] Hi Andy, Welcome to Singapore. Knowing that it is not the first visit to the island state, maybe you can share with us your impression of Singapore? The audiophile community and how MrSpeakers sees Singapore as a market for its products?
[AR] I have always like the city, I came here for the first time in 1995 when I was running AudioQuest. I’ve never been here before and I just kinda fall in love with it, I end up staying an extra couple of days. My distributor then introduced me to Singaporean food, pepper crab and all that kinda stuff, I really like it here, I really enjoy it. Singapore and Hong Kong are two of my favourite places in Asia. In Singapore, there is a long history of audiophile here, one thing unique to Singapore is the Adelphi. Nowhere else in the World would you find almost all the Hi-End stores in one building, for an audiophile it’s amazing. Singapore is a very supportive market for us. In fact, one of the first calls I made in the capacity of the President of MrSpeakers is to Eng Siang, to ensure that the distributorship of MrSpeakers is in good hands. That’s how much we value Singapore as a market.
[BY] Could you tell us more about yourself?
[AR] I spent the first 20 years of my career as a monitor engineer while touring with the likes of Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac, Willie Nelson, Santana and David Bowie amongst many others. When I decided to get off the road. I returned to my association with music and worked in Hi-Fi sales at the legendary high-end retailer Sound by Singer, subsequently, I was recruited by Nelson Pass to become the National Sales Manager of Threshold Audio.
After 10 years in hi-end audio, after NHT sold its business. I decided to put all my resources towards the development of the headphone market when I was given an opportunity to be part of the Beats team from the beginning. Allow me to say this, Beats don’t sound awful, they just don’t sound great. However, Beats did break the headphone market open, they introduced what a better headphone plugged into your iPhone or iPod could do.
After Beats, with my affinity towards smaller companies, I joined Cardas Audio when George Cardas approached me to help him get the Cardas Ear Speakers in the market, and it was this opportunity that allowed me to find my footing and decided that I want to work for headphone companies from now on. After Cardas, I became President at JH Audio before starting my own consulting firm to come in at a high level to solve problems and help make high-end audio companies successful in 2017, my first gig at HiFiMAN for a period of one year.
In April last year, Dan (Clark) came up to me shared that he is at the point where he would like me to come in and help to grow the company, we started talking and working out a deal. Today, I am the new President of MrSpeakers, also a shareholder, embracing the faith that MrSpeakers is poised for immense growth.
[BY] MrSpeakers was founded with the simple goal of “make great headphone products and have fun doing it”, 6 months into the job, how does this translate to you?
[AR] Since Dan (Clark) and I were close, I knew a lot about the company. One of the things I like about the company was the culture Dan had created. We are a strong company. Besides building the headphones, Dan was designing the headphones, doing all the shipping, doing all the billing, doing the sales, he just has way too much. What he wants to concentrate on is development.
My role is similar to what I have done with JH Audio. When I come to JH Audio, we were doing 3 million (USD) a year, we had 16 employees and when I left we were doing 18 million (USD) a year, we had 110 employees. My job is to come to a company when they are starting to grow and helping them grow the right way. The most dangerous part for a company is when you start to get going and you want to grow and get your volume up, you make mistakes and you kill the company right there and then. I kinda specialize in managing the growth the right way.
My wife, Sue is the sales and operations coordinator at MrSpeakers, similar to roles that she did when I was at JH Audio and HiFiMAN. She is helping to grow the infrastructure on the inside; the inventory management, shipping and order fulfillment systems. Setting up the systems in the right way is very important to getting a company in the right place to grow the right way. She would have joined me here in Singapore, but she is too tied up putting in a new inventory system. The way things are at MrSpeakers is pretty much what I expected.
The other thing that I help Dan take care of now is not expanding the distribution until we are ready to meet the demand, so we are doing that slowly. A good friend of mine said once, told me years ago, “You have to slow down before you can speed up”. What we are doing now is realigning the existing distribution network, reviewing existing relationship and identifying areas of support.
[BY] MrSpeakers have come a long way since the creation of Mad Dog and Alpha Dog, with its own Research & Development team, how does MrSpeakers differentiate itself from the competition?
[AR] All the whole time, I know Dan Clark very well. I bought a pair of Alpha Dogs from him years ago when he first put them out. I have a lot of respect for him as a designer.
The way Dan has always done it, he doesn’t look at what anybody else is doing. It is very organic with Dan. We always tell people, when you are shopping for headphones, don’t compare our headphones with somebody else’s at the same price point, compare our headphones with the music you listen to, we are very driven that way. We are also friendlier with everybody else than most companies are because we like the industry.
Dan is intensely loyal to his customers. Once you make the investment on a pair of MrSpeakers headphones, he wants you to be able to upgrade the headphone. While you cannot take the ETHER and upgrade it to the ETHER 2 because it is a whole new design from the ground up but Dan has put in place an upgrade program allowing one to upgrade to ETHER 1.1. He has always kept that in his mind and he really cares about his customers and that’s one of the things I really like about him.
As far as technologies go, Dan and the team are reinventing stuff every day. This gives us the ability to create a lighter and more responsive driver and get that musical sound that we like. He is always trying to make the product all the time. Some manufacturers that I work for, they set their goals like we need a USD 500, a USD 1,000 and a USD 2,000 headphone, this is never the case for Dan. He makes the best headphone he can make, then we figure out how much it cost us to make it then we price it.
For example the ETHER 2, we charge USD 1,999 for it, it will compete with the likes of those priced at the USD 3,500 bracket. One of the things we learned when we built ETHER 2, we learned how to do it in a different way that made manufacturing cost even cheaper. We could have charged USD 3,000 and no one would argue, but we say, nay it doesn’t cost us that much, let’s price it at USD 1,999. That is what we want the company to be known for, be passionate about the music and be passionate about the value for the end-user. If you noticed, when we put out the ETHER 2, we figured out so many ways of manufacturing more efficiently that we can make that headphone cheaper, what we did immediately was to drop the price of the regular ETHER and the ETHER Closed because we applied that to there, most manufacturers would have left it up there. We figured that let’s drop it and maybe more people can get involved.
[BY] In your opinion, how would your passion for music and your experience especially the stints at JH Audio and HiFiMAN shape MrSpeakers toward the next growth curve?
[AR] Both Dan and I are devoted to music, we are just trying to reproduce what the artiste wanted to do as faithfully as we possibly can. We are both technology guys, from mechanical as well as the electrical standpoint. That’s what kinda drives us really. We have a bunch of great products coming, we are just getting started, really. This is going to be a big year, I cannot talk too much of it yet.
[BY] Building on to the success of ETHER, MrSpeakers have released ETHER 2, the company’s new planar magnetic flagship at the end of last year. Can you provide us with some insights on the development of ETHER 2?
[AR] With the new ETHER 2, as much went into the mechanical part of it as the driver. The whole headphone weighs 290 grams, it is super light and people pick it up they are like amazed.
A lot of people think the ETHER 2 when they see it, is a black VOCE. We learnt a lot about making that enclosure from making the VOCE. That machined enclosure is 25 per cent lighter than the ETHER prior to it but stiffer because of the aluminium alloy that we used. The baffles, we used to have to take the driver and the baffle and mount the magnets and then press everything and we have a lot of fall outs. Say we did a 100 of them, we would probably not accept 25 or 30 percent. Now, our efficiency is up to about 95 percent, the driver is 8 percent larger than the original ETHER in diameter and 20 per cent lighter. We are using full round magnets instead of half-round magnets. It creates a lot better function with magnetic fields, which makes it a little more efficient than the normal planar. With that said, you still need an amplifier but it’s way more efficient now than it was. We even changed the way the headband is attached, so the only thing that we retained from the original ETHER is the leather headband and the connector.
Whenever possible, we make everything we can in the United States, the headphones are completely assembled in San Diego, California, we do buy some metal parts from China and we spec the driver and we have them made in China according to our specifications. It took Dan a year to tune the ETHER 2, he is very particular.
[BY] When MrSpeakers discontinued the Alpha and Mad Dog headphones, they promised to deliver a variety of headphones to meet many needs and budgets. Today AEON, ETHER and VOCE form the trinity of MrSpeakers’ offerings, will we be expecting more offerings, or would the company be focusing on furthering the existing offerings in the future?
[AR] Yes, there is going to be some growing there and we are going to enter a kinda a new area later in the year. Like I shared earlier, this is going to be a big year, and when it is time to talk about it, you will be one of the first to know.
[BY] Having worked in both IEM-centric and Headphones centric entities, how different/similar are these two product-lines? How would you differentiate one offering from another?
[AR] I am completely driven by music, that’s my background. Whether it’s in-ear headphones or over-ear headphones. It is something I really like. JH Audio was a very different thing because 60 per cent of the business was professional use, so a lot of time was spent with the touring bands and the artiste.
Having said that, I feel over-ear headphones is a similar marketplace. In Asia, IEMs are more popular I think.
[BY] Andy, given your experience in the audio industry, what is your most fulfilling project ever?
[AR] Well, that’s a really tough question, hopefully, I haven’t seen it yet, I will looking forward to more fulfilling challenges to come. I think I have to say growing JH Audio the way I did. That was very fulfilling for me, going from 16 employees to 110 employees. I take a lot of value to the fact that I was able to create careers for that many people, I like that across the board, I did the same thing at HiFiMAN and I hope to do the same thing here at MrSpeakers. I just turned 66, when you start to get older, you start to wonder what your legacy will be. There was a time when I went, I’ve got great kids, my daughter and son are doing well, I married the same woman for 42 years. But I start to think about what if I can contribute to the greater good, then I started to think about creating all these jobs for people. Some of the guys that I started out with at JH Audio, like the current COO at JH Audio. I hired him to build carbon fiber in-ears, then six-seven years later, he is now the COO and that makes me feel good. I think I still have the best thing to come because I think with MrSpeakers, the hardest part is to grow substantially but keep the same culture. I was able to achieve that at JH Audio, at MrSpeakers, the culture Dan has started up being part of the community and paying back to the community, we can keep that as we grow and if I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t have taken up this job.
[BY] Andy, on behalf of our readers at Porta-Fi, I would like to thank you for taking time off your busy schedule to accept our interview. Looking forward to more exciting products from MrSpeakers.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Eng Siang International Pte Ltd for facilitating and arranging the interview.