LTB Interview and Tour
Reviewed by: Kash
Reviewed on: May 23, 2007
I first heard of LTB when OCC reviewed the Magnum 5.1 USB Headphones last December. The Magnum headphones had gotten a good review, but since I already had a good pair of headphones, I didn't think too much of the set from LTB. I also didn't have much use for a microphone, not to mention the fact that I didn't believe that headphones could really generate 5.1 surround sound. On Tuesday, I had an opportunity to visit LTB's office in Teterboro, NJ.
I arrived at the office on a bright, sunny day. The exterior of the building wasn't anything special, but then again, an office that isn't trying to attract customers doesn't really need a flashy exterior.
I walked in and was directed to the office of Jon Miller, who is Vice President of Sales & Marketing at LTB Audio Systems. Jon was excited to see me and seemed glad to show me around. As you will soon see, Jon is a very smart guy and really knows his stuff. He got me excited about LTB, and after reading the interview, you'll be excited too.
The InterviewQuestions asked by OCC will be in orange. Jon Miller's answers will be in white.
1. Before we start, could you provide for our readers some background information about yourself?
I’ve been in the consumer electronics industry for about 25 years. I have been with this operation for 20 years and have done many diverse things within this company. We actually started LTB about 5 years ago as a dedicated division enhancing solutions of headphone technology by adding value to consumer computer products, home theater products, gaming products, and so on. Our focus right now at LTB is to really implement the best possible digital solution for headphone technology, both wired and wireless product. So that’s really where my attention lies.
I have a background in sales and marketing, in design, and in business administration. I’ve applied all of my skills to LTB to enhance the functionality of what we do and to enhance the benefits of how we do it.
2. What was the inspiration for naming the company LTB (Listen to Believe)?
Listen to Believe really is a concept. We want people to understand that our products are different. In order for someone to really appreciate one headphone over another, really, you need to listen, you need to experience, the headphone product. So Listen to Believe is really the concept that we promote. In fact, if you listen to our headphones, you’ll believe that there is a true difference. We were the first to come to the market with a true 5.1 headphone that actually offers a true-patented technology. We actually chamber our speakers so that the difference in resonance, the directional and spatial qualities are better. You have the actual aspect of true surround sound. The next best thing would be surround sound speakers.
3. So the fact that you have surround sound speakers in the headphones is what makes you stand out from the competition?
Absolutely. Over the past year, we’ve also added some new definitions in wireless products, which also are defining as we move along, a new realm of uniqueness. We have some new products coming out, actually, in the next couple of weeks which also implement a wireless technology which is unique and again, offers that Listen to Believe strategy.
4. Can you elaborate more on the products that are coming out soon?
We have several wireless products coming out right now geared toward gaming, personal audio, and PC control. We have a product called Q-BEAN, which is a product that is designed to enhance the usage of a PC or Mac or Linux based box. This is going to stream audio from the device through a wireless streaming technology which is pretty much impervious to interference. The technology, which we call Ario, is 2.4GHz adaptive technology. It can bypass a Wi-Fi router, a microwave oven, a Bluetooth device and it will not interfere with them, and will not find interference from them. The device has also got full duplex voice communication capability, so while you’re listening, you can also speak over VOIP, over a team application, over a voice recognition application, in full duplex. That means there is no latency and no compression, so you get CD quality. The sound quality is phenomenal.
In addition, the Q-BEAN can also remotely control a Windows environment. If you have Windows XP or Windows Vista, you can go into Media Center, you can put it into Windows Media Player, and you can take the Q-BEAN and advance or reverse tracks on music. It’ll also pause and play, and control volume. The Q-BEAN is literally like a little remote control. So literally, you don’t have to be in front of your computer to take advantage of your media. That’s the benefit of that product. The Q-BEAN is pretty unique. It’s a rechargeable product and it’s got about an 8-hour usage battery life. So each time you use it, you can use it up to eight hours at a time. It’s also very light weight, it’s about the size of a key fob. Q-BEAN is also technically a headphone link, as we call it. We’ve also got a stereo version, without the microphone, but it does also act as an audio bridge between the transmitting TV, MP3 player, etc.
5. How many headphones can you hook up at a time to the Q-BEAN?
The Q-BEAN is a one-to-one device. It pairs like Bluetooth, for security reasons, because you use voice communications and want to have it secure. You can have in one room thirty to fifty people using Q-BEANs and they will not interfere with each other.
6. Do you have any products where you have a single transmitter for multiple headphones?
We do. We’ve had those out for a while. We have the first and world’s only true 5.1 surround sound headphone. This product is a one-to-many, as we call it. That series of product allows you to have one transmitter, one source of audio, and many receivers. We also have a stereo version, which is a digital stereo product with analog input. We are coming out with a wireless 5.1, which will be a combination of inputs from stereo and inputs from hi-def, which would be optical or digital, with one-to-many. This will also have an Xbox Live microphone option.
We also have a model which we call the Q-BASE, which is similar to the Q-BEAN. It’s an actual headset that is USB enabled, and we also have a stereo version coming out. This is a true 2.1 headphone. This is a headphone that has a standard emitter and then a subwoofer. The subwoofer being in the headphone is a unique feature that no else has got. This is also our patent. And you are enabled to hear the true bass tones from your audio. So if you are a gamer, and you plug it into your PC, you can just basically link the two devices, you have a microphone on the unit, you can do your Teamspeak, your team gaming, and you can play your games and get the full effect of the bass effect from whatever application. Again, that’s a plug and play product and that one does not require software. So with Linux, Windows, Mac, plug and play, and you’re ready to go. That’s also using the Ario technology I mentioned, which is a wireless product technology, that is interchangeable with the Q-BEAN and a few other products we’ll be coming out with, so it gives the user some advantages toward accessories.
7. How do you test for quality assurance since on your website you claim nothing less than “perfect” is allowed by LTB. This is especially important since audio is so subjective.
When we talk about quality, we’re talking about manufacturing quality. Quality of the product that if you were to purchase a product, you don’t want it to come out of the box broken. You don’t want it to come out of the box and break within a couple of hours and ask, “Why did this break?” Quality is obviously an issue. We don’t have that kind of problem. I can tell you the returns from our products on the Gerald Scale of Retailers, is about 1%, and of that 1%, it’s only about one-tenth of that that is actually a defect. Most of the time it’s just a customer buys something, not sure why they bought it, or bought the wrong item.
We do the repairs here. This is not the factory, this is where we do the process of creation, the process of repair, and shipments are coming out of here, and the warehousing. The actual product is manufactured over in China, in factories that are used by some of the other big name headphone manufacturers that everyone is aware of. I’m not gonna name names, but I can tell you that we use the same assembly lines and the same tooling as the three largest headphone manufacturers in the world. So we set a standard of quality as high as possible.
8. So what happens to the returned products?
If a product is defective, we maintain accessory parts here. We repair or replace. There are times customers will break their own headphones. They contact us and generally what we do is we will send them the parts at no cost, but what we’ll sometimes do is ask them to pay the shipping for it, which is between five or six dollars.
9. Are there any plans to release 7.1 headphones? If not, why?
Not at this time. The nuance difference between 5.1 and 7.1 is quite difficult to ascertain. There is no definable difference to the listener. Some of the other companies out there, what they do is they basically just pitch a few speakers into the headphone and they don’t angle them. They just basically stuff them into the inside of the ear cup, which doesn’t give you resonance. It doesn’t direct the sound. Basically they throw in a frill like Piezo vibration device, which is basically going to give you a bass vibration, which is good for a little while, but after a while it can become annoying, and you can’t usually shut it off.
What we do is we implement very unique patented technologies. First of all, we have what we call ISC, which is Independent Sound Chambers. Our emitters are actually directed specifically toward the ear portions that can take the audio and actually anticipate where the sound is coming from. So if you are wearing a set of headphones that you want to hear rear sound from, or center sound from, or surround, you need to be able to determine exactly where that nuance is coming from. People are always skeptical that headphones don’t really create surround sound when they claim they do. Our headphones have been reviewed by a number of people who have found that they do actually do that, which is what they were intended for. In addition, we implement something call SafeBass, which we have patented and trademarked. SafeBass is a product that is circuit technology which limits the bass response to 99dB. The reason we chose 99dB is because it’s a set standard by the government using the OCIA standard. It’s a safety standard that makes it so that if you want to listen for up to 8 hours on high volume listening to extreme bass music or games or movies, you’re not going to damage your ear. And that’s important to us, we want to make sure our customers are safe. We have customers that use our headphones at game centers, use them at home, young people using them. We don’t want to have any problems for them, and we want to make sure their experience is a good one.
10. It was pointed out to me that there are several products on LTB’s website that don’t provide a Detailed Specifications link, and for those that do, they lack such information as frequency range, speaker efficiency, etc. Is it just that the website is incomplete or have the products not been thoroughly tested?
It could be that the website is incomplete. There are some products that are up on the website that are not physically available yet. What happens is that we engineer right up to the moment. We try to give the customer the most advanced product. Unfortunately, in this industry, chip manufacturers are constantly pouring chips out and they put out a revision, and then 10 minutes later they’ll say, “We just decided to update it.” So this has delayed some of our products too. So for example, our Ario 2.1 wireless headset has got a collaboration of several chips within it that are unique, brand new chips that have just come out to the market. We had some designs that were originally put out with prototype and then some modifications were made. We also had to modify the transmitter a bit, we wanted to give it more of a robust signal. We wanted to give some other features to it that would add adaptive technology so that there would be a much greater experience for the customer. In addition, we changed the emitters in the product and enhanced them to a much better, higher pitch. So to put the technology on the spec sheet, it’s very confusing, because people look at technology sheets as the de facto answer. Unfortunately, the technology may change. We could say everything is subject to change without notice, but we’d prefer to wait until the product is actually shipping before we put the full technology sheet up. So in those cases you’re gonna find those products are not shipping yet.
11. Does LTB have any plans on expanding into other areas of computer or audio equipment?
At this point, we are really focused on headphones, and are one of the few companies that just does that. We do have plans on releasing several new exciting products in the near future, which I can tell you a little bit about. We are planning on a commercial product which would be for multiple headsets. We already have the prototypes in the works. A few OEM vendors are looking to do this in certain applications. We want to make it available to education, to government, to commercial applications where people would want to listen to multiple audio sources on multiple headsets. Something like that with a digital source and the ability to transcend some of the interference is quite well received right now.
We have been asked quite a bit why don’t we offer noise canceling? We’ve never felt that any of the products we offered needed any additional value for noise canceling. Noise canceling is something that you’ll find on a $19 set of headphones up to a $300 set of headphones. You wouldn’t use noise canceling if you’re playing on a computer. You wouldn’t use noise canceling if you were using a wireless headset. So those features don’t really play in, at this point. But we will be coming out with a 2.1 noise-canceling headphone which can be used for the iPod and DVD players and such in the near future as well.
12. Does LTB sponsor or host any LAN parties or other such events?
From time to time, we do get involved with that. Unfortunately, there are thousands of groups, clans, LAN parties, and they do request a lot from us. At this time, we are trying to fulfill some groups through iGames.org. We are involved with iGames and have sponsored some game center events. We may also sponsor some events for a variety of different groups, including OverclockersClub. So we’d like to be able to do it for as many people as possible, but at this time it’s a little difficult to do for the whole world. So we want to make it fair to everyone. We’re willing to entertain anyone who would like to request that, but we certainly can’t promise that we can do it.
13. How does LTB plan on getting its name out there to become as large as some of it competitors, such as Plantronics?
It’s interesting that you ask this. LTB is not a huge company, and we try to use most of our effort in research and development. We try to enhance our products in a realm where there are a lot of very inexpensive headphones out there, and where a lot of brand names that don’t pay attention to technology as much as they should. Our products are very unique technically. We put much more effort into the development of products than we do into brand recognition. We do plan on advertising. We’ll have some advertisements in PC Magazine and in some of the other magazines out there in the next coming months. Also, advertising on the web and through the press and certain media events. We will be attending shows like CES. We do offer our products through some major distribution houses. We just signed an agreement with a very large distribution party, who is also going to promote our products. You’ll start to see more and more of LTB. I think people will start to recognize LTB, since we have been around for a while, as a leader in what we do because as I said, our focus is generated on this particular product line.
14. You mentioned earlier that you will be working with OEMs on getting your product out. How is that going to work?
There are quite a number of OEMs that we have already produced product for. I can’t name them because unfortunately, we have agreements. But there are some major OEMs in the market that are producing USB headphones with stereo 2.0 for use for VOIP. One is a very large company which also produces operating systems. Another company that is looking at our products is a company that does a lot of gaming products. We are working with them, and we are also with a number of different applications for products. We’ve also found that some of the technologies we use are being implemented by several different companies. They are not necessarily using our product as we sell it, but they are using it within the solution they provide.
15. It was brought up to me that it is the law in England and the rest of Europe that manufacturers must provide a one year warranty. On LTB’s website, it states the one year warranty as a selling point compared to the competition. Do you plan on offering a longer warranty for European customers?
It would be probably easier to offer a longer warranty to European customers if we had a service center there. At this point, we don’t offer service in Europe or any part of the world other than Asia and here. That’s only because we don’t have representation there. In Europe, right now I have one reseller in the UK, and he is not really capable of doing service. So we haven’t pushed a great deal to Europe. If we can find a partnership with a distributor or a large reseller there, we would be more than happy to do that.
Warranty is not really a great issue. We can offer longer, but one year is greater than a lot of manufacturers. Plantronics, for example, is a 90 day warranty. I do see that the potential is there and obviously as time goes by, we will get to that point.
16. Obviously, you do sell in Europe, so how do you handle claims of returns or defects of European customers since you stated that you don’t do service work in Europe?
At this point, the customers that have purchased from us in Europe are sending product back here to the United States for repair/replacement. We do ship parts to Europe for replacement. Most of the parts in our products, since everything is put together basically with screws, is pretty easy for a user to replace. Nothing we are doing is too proprietary in the way it’s assembled. Obviously the components are proprietary, but we usually are able to help a customer out with parts.
17. One last question, where do you see the company in the next one or two years?
I see growth. Generated by the demand and unique products that we have. I see our company growing quite a bit. We are looking to expand staff both internally and outside. We are adding more sales people, bringing on more sales representation on the outside, more technical people. This kind of growth is good for the consumer too, because they can obviously see more products from LTB and more availability of our products.
Once we were finished with the interview, Jon took me on a tour of the place.
Before the tour began, I wanted to point out these banners that were sitting behind me. Jon told me that they put these out during trade shows like CES, and they seem to do a good job as they really grabbed my attention.
The first thing Jon showed me was the listening station they had setup to demonstrate their products.
Jon showed me an upcoming Magnum headphone model. I tried them out at the listening station. I've gotta admit, they were pretty amazing headphones.
We then moved on to check out some other LTB products. The one product Jon was really excited about was the upcoming Q-BEAN.
He was very enthusiastic in describing the features of the Q-BEAN. Some of the details were described during the interview, but Jon further elaborated about the amazing features of this little device. The two features that really stood out for me were its wireless capabilities and its ability to function as a remote. This would be just perfect for working out or with an HTPC.
We moved on to the repair shop. Jon had mentioned the low 1% return rate, and judging by the size of the repair area, he wasn't kidding. The small size of a repair operation is real testament to the high quality of LTB's products.
The last parts of the tour were the shipping and receiving dock and the warehousing areas.
Before this trip, I had no inclination to buy LTB products as the headphones I had were doing a pretty good job. Now that I've seen LTB up close and personal, I know for a fact that I will be buying LTB products soon. I am building a home theater computer next month and LTB's wireless headphones will definitely be on the list of parts I will be ordering. The technology that LTB uses in its products is absolutely amazing, and the very affordable prices just make LTB that much better of a company.
The entire experience was exhilarating. I learned so much about a company that is on the rise. Jon Miller was an amazing person who got me excited about LTB's products and for good reason. Some of the things I saw were mind-blowing. I definitely see LTB becoming a major player in the personal audio market in the near future.