I was recently reading a magazine article about the world’s most sought-after headphones, and it included Noble Audio at the top of the list. The company specializes in bespoke in-ear headphones, which are precious little pieces of handcrafted engineering completely customized to fit your own ear canals. To my surprise, the article mentioned that this headphone headliner was based in Santa Barbara.
Though only started three years ago in April 2013, Noble Audio already enjoys an incredible reputation and a strong following. The price tag isn’t cheap — they quickly sail past the $1,000 mark — but critics, experts, and well known musicians have declared that these headphones provide enough value to justify the expense. They look , feel, and sound deliciously.
So I decided to reach out to Brannan Mason, who co-owns the company with Dr. John Moulton. The latter is an audiologist who knows a thing or two about sound, ears, and how humans hear. Brannan, meanwhile, runs the business, and he’s also the one who will take a silicone impression of your ears.
Young and affable, Brannan spent 13 years growing up in Thailand and, later, Kenya. But he usually summered in Santa Barbara, explaining, “I always knew it was the place I wanted to live in.”
When I ask what makes his product unique, Brannan blinds me with science: “It’s our unique system of 10 balanced-armature drivers in each headphone that provide higher fidelity, lower distortion.” It’s the customizing that makes these headphones a thing of beauty — not only are they fitted to your ear, but you can have them made of acrylic, silicone, and wood, amongst other materials. The design can be completely personalized.
“I’m an entrepreneur at heart, “ Brannan tells me. “The high-end headphone market is one of the fastest growing consumer market segments. We’re targeting enthusiasts who are looking for a higher quality experience.”
Brannan Mason answers the Proust Questionnaire.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I can’t say there’s one person I most identify with, though athletes that were at the top of their sport for extended periods of time like Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali come to mind. To consistently be the best, you make a lot of sacrifices, not just personally but the reasons why you started in the first place such as love for the process or the game itself.
Our business has played out the same way. We started because we loved to create new product and wanted to do things differently. However, with our success, we are now constantly working to beat our competitors and ultimately ourselves.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
When we started Noble, my partner was leaving another business he had founded and his experience there was especially negative. I am honored to have helped put his family in a more secure position, as well as placing him in a position where he has control of his narrative.
What is your greatest fear?
Simply put, not experiencing enough. Growing up overseas in Southeast Asia and Africa, it became apparent that I was going to put my unique experiences to work later on.
What do you like most about your job?
It’s no secret that music plays an intensely personal role in many people’s lives. Through the high-fidelity nature of our products, I most enjoy helping people rediscover their collections and garner a new appreciation for even the most familiar songs.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being able to do whatever I want to do in the moment without being concerned about tomorrow.
Who do you most admire?
My parents, who trusted me when they shouldn’t have, never denied me anything, and never told me there was something I couldn’t do.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Well-appointed spaces. They never come cheap.
What is your current state of mind?
Speak less, listen and do more. Trust that the work will speak for itself.
What is the quality you most like in people?
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
What do you most value in friends?
Compassion, generosity, respect for others, a nose for adventure, and a taste for finer things.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
My pleasure, amazing, luxurious, excellent, absolutely, f* (and many variations of the word).
Which talent would you most like to have?
I can cook some, but I’d love to be able to throw down with the best. I’ve always admired great chefs and there are few things more intimate than sharing a meal with someone, especially one that you prepare.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My metabolism. What greater pastime is there than eating and drinking?
Where would you most like to live?
What is your most treasured possession?
Who makes you laugh the most?
Myself, thinking about all the crazy things I have done and had no business doing.
What is your motto?
“If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time.” - Marcel Proust
On what occasion do you lie?
When asked where I am.