- Written by Scott Wilkinson
- Published on 12 October 2012
Noel Lee, founder and "Head Monster" of Monster (formerly known as Monster Cable), talks about how he started the company in 1979 by designing a better-sounding speaker cable, the factors that affect the performance of analog and digital audio cables, discerning snake oil from real science in AV cables, the price/performance ratio, the problem with double-blind AB testing, Monster's expansion into the headphone market, answers to chat-room questions, and more.
Run Time: 1:04:48
"Head Monster" Noel Lee, founder of Monster Cable (now simply Monster), is a 1971 graduate of Cal Poly College of Engineering and a former design engineer at Lawrence-Livermore Laboratory. Throughout his life, he has striven to bring together his two passions, music and technology. He quit his first real job in 1978 when his band, Asian Wood, had an offer to go on a world tour. That didn't work out as he'd hoped, so he returned to the San Francisco Bay Area where he grew up with no job and no money.
He'd always loved playing and listening to music, and the quality of audio reproduction was always very important to him. He had a theory—unheard of at the time—that a new kind of cable could dramatically improve the way music sounded. So he went out to his garage workshop and started experimenting. He discovered wires of different constructions produced different degrees of audio performance. Some of the things that made a big difference were the quality of the winding and the quality of the copper, as well as the type of insulation material. Noel tinkered until he'd developed the world's first true high performance speaker cable which led to the founding of Monster Cable in 1979.
Convincing the music and consumer-electronics industries about the value of his invention was difficult at first, but Noel knew that his best chance was to show his new Monster cables at the CES convention in Chicago. He packed his car and borrowed a portion of an existing booth to demonstrate his product in comparison to standard speaker cables. The audible difference created a buzz at that year's CES. Musicians, engineers, and audio professionals all raved about Noel's new Monster cable. By the next CES show, Noel had a monster order—30,000 cables. Today, Monster cables are the reference standard in recording studios, production houses, and live performances around the world. Noel's work in the garage had literally created an entire new industry.
More than 30 years later, Noel's Monster has gone on to reinvent power management and protection. The innovative Monster Power products have changed the way people think about that category as well.
Noel's "Monstrous" attitude, his desire to think outside the box and commitment to lead, never follow, has always led to product innovations. Today, he's once again on a mission, and not surprisingly it's about audio quality. In a world where digital mobile music devices are ubiquitous, he knows that most people rarely even listen on loudspeakers or stereo systems anymore—they listen with headphones. But for Noel, conventional headphones have simply not been up to the task of delivering a great music experience.
His new mission is to reinvent headphone sound, giving them the capability to reproduce the full range and dynamics of music. Noel literally redefined the high-performance headphone category in recent years when he engineered and tuned the acclaimed Beats by Dr. Dre headphone sound. He went on to establish Monster as the clear world leader in advanced, high-quality headphones, including the reference quality Turbine Pros, engineered for a true professional-level in-studio listening experience.
Noel is currently in the process of introducing a new line of headphones geared for every type of lifestyle and fashion sense. In many ways, Noel's new mission to achieve phenomenal headphone sound has brought him full circle—he's still tinkering to find the perfect sound.
Noel and the Monster brand that he conceived all those years ago while tinkering in his garage have been featured on TV many times, including the popular West Coast Customs and Home Theater Revolution on The Discovery Channel, as well as in movies including The 40 Year Old Virgin and Oliver Stone's upcoming Savages. Monster has partnerships with companies including the Walt Disney Company, HP, and many others.
In 2012, Noel was honored with the prestigious Plus X Lifetime Achievement Award, given to "those persons, who over a long period of time not only shaped the market but also significantly contributed to changes in the market." The two previous recipients of the Plus X Lifetime Achievement Award include Dr. Amar G. Bose (2008) and Sir James Dyson (2007). Under Noel's leadership, Monster has also won numerous awards including the HTSA Vendor of the Year and several awards from PARA including Vendor of the Quarter Century. Monster has also been awarded Vendor of the Year honors from Best Buy and Ultimate Electronics.
Throughout his career, Noel has always made the CES convention a big event for Monster. The company's annual Monster Retailer Awards and Concert, which Noel considers Monster's way of giving something back to the industry he loves, "because the music matters," is always one of the show's most popular event, having featured music greats like Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire, Diana Ross, John Legend, Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and James Brown.