We chat with Antonio Meze, RED-DOT and IDSA award-winning industrial designer, and the creative mind behind Meze Headphones. The Romanian-born designer has re-thought products from egg beaters to poker tables, headlamps to headphones. He has worked in cities across the globe, for a diverse client list. Now with the launch of his own company, Meze, he shares his path to becoming an industrial designer, the design and development of his signature wooden headphones, and advice for aspiring creatives.
What was your path to becoming an industrial designer?
I did art school but was interested in how things work, so design was the obvious choice for college. The most experience I got was not from school, but from working in numerous design studios and doing a lot of freelance projects.
In parallel I was interested in a lot of other things and I felt for a while that those other interests were potentially other fields in which I could end up operating. I regretted for a while not going into another field (as you always regret what you don’t do) but I eventually understood that being interested in many fields apparently not related to design is what it actually means to be a designer, and it did make me a better designer.
Were you always interested in designing headphones?
I was first interested in music in general, just listening endlessly. I feel like music helped me experience a wide range of emotions that otherwise one can’t always identify on their own. It’s the same as reading. It helps you identify yourself. Later, I started playing and learning instruments and eventually designing them.
So, how did you get first get involved with designing headphones?
Headphones became my focus a few years back when I wanted a pair of headphones that I could feel a connection with like I feel to my Fender 57 Strat, so I set out to make my own. I don’t like being surrounded by “things”. I always felt I had some relationship towards a few of my objects as a child. Those objects where the ones that had some meaning for me. Maybe that’s why I became a designer. To give more objects around me the potential of becoming a vessel of meaning and emotion.
Does a love of music, or a certain type of music, influence your designs?
That’s very difficult to answer. I am sure it does. On a subconscious level. I am willing to admit that. But I can not identify it specifically. And maybe it’s better it stays that way. Not everything needs to be explained in order to work.
Could you talk about the decision to use natural wood as the primary material for a technological product?
Wood is a material with a warm and natural characteristic. These are some of the attributes that technology objects most often lack. I am simply trying to complement.
And, wood is always interesting in its imperfections and variety of grain and shades.
I know that you use carefully selected lumber for the headphones, could you talk more about where the wood comes from and what types of wood you use?
All the wood that we use in our headphones is strictly harvested from mature trees that have reached the end of their life cycles. This way, we are helping the environment and we’re giving the old trees a chance to shine one more time in the shape of Meze Headphones.
Do specific types of wood perform better for different acoustics?
Yes it does, as each type of wood has a different density and fiber structure. The differences however are very very subtle. Wood in general does differ a lot from a plastic enclosure in terms of the timbre / tone color of the sound.
Matching a wood ear cup with the right drivers is not easy. What I am trying to say is that using wood will not guaranty a good quality of sound. You have to think about the device as a whole.
Once you have chosen the wood there is a very hands-on process to turn raw lumber into finely crafted headphone casings, could you elaborate on this process? What is done by hand versus what is done by machine?
It’s a very long process with many steps that in all, takes about 45 days. Briefly: Wood comes in big beam shape and goes through a humidity check process. It is cut up into small rectangles and then kept again for drying. The next step is to give the wood a general shape with a CNC machine, after which we carefully inspect the quality and integrity of the remaining material. From here it goes to hand polishing and finishing. The last stages are layers of lacquer and PC to isolate the wood from humidity. This is important because unprotected wood has the ability to absorb humidity and change shape.
Aside from acoustics, what are some elements of headphones enhanced by your design?
We tweaked and tweaked for two years on the whole assembly to get the size, and ear cup pressure just right. As a avid headphones user in my youth I recognized that by far the biggest issue I personally had with headphone was the comfort. When you are a real music lover you will spend many hours per day lost in it. You will not even recognize it. Until your ears start to hurt.
How did the decision for a double headband as seen on the “99 Classics” come about?
It is the best system we found for an self-adjusting headband that can fit well for different head sizes.
Any advice for young designers looking to bring their product idea to market?
Definitely! Do a lot of mock-up and hands on tests. Your drawings and renderings might be pretty but the most important skill for a designer is to have a feeling for the real-life scale of objects and their capacity of actually existing and working. Many sketches are not capable of existing in real life.
Anything else you’d like to add about your designs, career, company, what you like to do in your (I’m sure limited) free time?
I am lucky to have a good team at Meze and we are now about to upgrade our product design and development capabilities in order to offer our design services as a full-on design agency, with capabilities from concept and development to sourcing suppliers and manufacturing. We want to continue designing audio products but also expand into other fields.