An Interview With Direct Sound CEO Steve Rois

Direct Sound CEO Steve Rois

Direct Sound CEO Steve Rois

Direct Sound: Talk a little bit about the theory behind isolation, and the no hype design of the Direct Sound headphones.

Steve: Isolation and high quality audio has been Direct Sound’s legacy since our start almost 20 years ago. Some companies focus on good sound quality, and some isolation, but no other company has really put the two together. To us, it just comes down to common sense to make a high quality isolation headphone with a good flat sound.


Direct Sound: What do you mean by flat sound?

Steve: Flat sound basically means that the tonal quality of what’s being recorded, whether it’s an instrument or a vocal, is true to what you’re going to hear in playback. Achieving an authentic flat sound has been our goal from day one, and we continue to strive for that. We even use a proprietary process called TruSound to help ensure that audio quality is authentic to the source. And we’re not going to change that focus just because fashion and hype may be in when it comes to headphones right now. We’re going to stick to our core principles of good isolation, hearing protection and good quality sound.

Listen to a podcast of our interview with Steve Rois:

Direct Sound: Let’s talk about that for a second because fashion has become so popular in headphones design these days with products like Beats by Dr. Dre. Has the trend towards fashion had an impact on Direct Sound’s products?

Steve: No, fashion headphones like Beats are a whole different product than what we do. The fashion headphone industry is about just that, fashion, not sound. Most of these fashion headphone companies just use whatever speaker they can fit into their beautiful design. They really don’t care about sound quality.

Direct Sound: And this is reflected in the quality of the audio?

Steve: Yes. There are some companies that present themselves as a good isolation headphone manufacturer, with good quality sound but, when we’ve reverse engineered them and take them apart, we’ve found very inexpensive components inside. We spend probably 40 times what most other manufacturers spend for their raw speakers. And, when those cheap speakers blow out, which they are bound to do, you have to throw away the headphones. That becomes a very expensive proposition in terms of ownership and long-term value. Plus, we offer speaker replacement kits for our headphones. So, if a speaker ever does go out in a Direct Sound headphone, it’s easy and quite inexpensive to replace them yourself. This keeps the lifetime cost of ownership way down, especially as compared to some of the pricey fashion headphone models that aren’t built to last.

Direct Sound: Talk a little more about the vision behind offering speaker replacement kits, and why that’s important to Direct Sound and your customers.

Steve: It always made sense to us to be able to repair your headphone. My original partner in the company helped me develop the replacement kit idea. He was a drummer, and it was always important to him to address the needs of struggling musicians who didn’t have a lot of money to spend on, or replace, expensive headphones. So he wanted to develop a headphone that could be easily repaired, at a reasonable price. And we’ve stuck to that since day one. For this reason, we offer our complete wired cable assembly with speakers. All you have to do is pop them out and replace them. No screws to undo and no special tools required.

Direct Sound: Sounds like a great feature for a business such as a recording studio or college.

Steve: Exactly, and many schools and studios buy our headphones mainly for the reason that they are so easy to repair. In some schools and colleges, you can go into a teacher’s office and find a pile of broken headphones in the corner. Headphones that he or she is required to repair. And this never gets done because it’s impossible to find parts, and takes too long to fix. When department heads find out that our speakers are replaceable, it gives us a leg up on our competition. Not only because they sound great and isolate, and don’t bleed sound, but now they’re repairable to boot. So its just kind of a win all the way around.

Direct Sound: e’Xtreme Institute by Nelly in St. Louis is one school that uses Direct Sound, correct?

Steve: Yes. The school uses our affordable EX-25, and they do that just because of cost and help keep tuition at a minimum. Every student gets a set of EX-25s with the Extreme Institute logo on it. Just walking around town here in St. Louis, you’ll see a lot of students with those headphones. Carl Nappa and Wishmaster run the school and do a fantastic job. The school is a great asset and resource for the city of St. Louis.

Direct Sound: Another important component of Direct Sound extreme isolation headphones is the focus on hearing protection. Talk about why that’s important.

Steve: If you can isolate all the background noise from your listening experience, you can keep the volume in you headphones down, and this helps prevent Noise Induced Hearing Loss or NIHL. We are 100 percent behind safe and healthy listening practices and designing headphones that help prevent the need to turn the volume up. I feel bad for some of the DJs and musicians that listen to music at volumes of 110 dB, because they are going to have hearing damage. And hearing damage is 100 percent preventable, and its 100 percent un-curable. So, musicians, take notice! Protect your ears! They are the only two you have. And a good set of isolation headphones, like Direct Sound EX-29s or EX-25s, will help you keep your hearing in the long run.

Direct Sound: Let’s shift to talk about some of the new technology and products Direct Sound is working on. What can you tell us?

Steve: We are putting a significant focus on wireless technology for more demanding professional environments. We’ve been working with prototypes for a year and a half now and the R&D has been going on for longer than that. Our focus has been on creating a wireless headphone that works with 5.8 Ghz, WiFi, and Bluetooth with no latency and very, very, very little interruption. Latency has historically been a big problem with wireless headphones. It’s also a key reason why wireless headphones are not used by professionals. With our 5.8 gigahertz wireless system in a live environment, you’ll get essentially zero latency. We’re the only manufacturer currently offering a 5.8 gigahertz product on the market and soon that’ll be introduced into our wireless headphones. That’s an exciting new project we’re working on.

Direct Sound: So, no more latency with Direct Sound wireless headphones?

Steve: That is correct. We have killed latency. When I say we have killed latency, according to laws of physics, its impossible to do that, just like you can’t have 100 percent efficiency. But our new designs have latency that you can’t notice. We’ve been able to verify this through tests with a number of professionals that we’ve talked to and demoed the products to. They have been amazed at what they heard with our wireless prototypes. At first, they want to shy away from Bluetooth because of the problems with latency and interference. But when we demoed the prototypes, they have just been blown away. We can’t wait to get that product out on the market.

Direct Sound: And Direct Sound also has a new line of professional headphones on the way?

Steve: Yes, we call it the Studio Plus line. It will be a wired headphone initially, and eventually we will offer a wireless version too. The Studio Plus Series will feature a brand new speaker design assembly, and a brand new cable assembly. The cable assembly allows you to disconnect from the headphones at the middle of your chest, where the V connector is on our current cables. This design allows you to put on whatever type of cable extension you prefer.

Direct Sound: How is this different from your current design?

Steve: Our headphones now come with a standard 8 inch cable with a 1/8th inch screw-on type of plug, and a 1/4 inch screw on adapter. Some people may not want that. Some people may just want a straight, slip on 1/8th inch plug, some may want a straight 1/4 inch slip on adapter, or plug, and we’re going to offer that as a cable extension. So, the Studio Plus will give uses a lot more flexibility. And, you’ll be able to easily disconnect them and move around, which a lot of people wanted to do. And the Studio Plus models will still feature our patented 90 degree plug. This design will also extend to the consumer products that we offer like our Serenity Plus travel headphones, and YourTones Plus Total Hearing Protection headphones. Both are going to hit the market very shortly as well.