An interview with M&D Founder and CEO Jonathan Levine and Leica Camera Head of Design Mark Shipard.
0.95 is an homage to the legendary Leica Noctilux-M 50 mm f/ 0.95 ASPH. lens which reveals details that remain hidden to the human eye. Fueled by the human desire to explore new worlds of creativity, the Master & Dynamic for 0.95 Signature Collection merges the fine art of precision engineering with valuable materials, sophisticated design and detailed sound. With this extraordinary collaboration Master & Dynamic and Leica Camera AG unite the senses of sight and sound in an exceptional manner. The launch of this collection is the second product line of 0.95 after the ST Dupont edition. Leica periodically teams up with the world’s best-in-class brands under the 0.95 label to create high-end special edition accessories by transferring Leica brand/design/material/
Jonathan, tell us the story behind Master & Dynamic.
Jonathan Levine: My oldest son Robert has been DJing since he was thirteen years old, and so in an effort to spend more time with him, I built a recording studio in my office, a place where he could hone his craft. As the years went by, I noticed how his affinity towards some headphone brands would wax and wane. I witnessed the same with my younger son. Then one day, on a college visit, we were at a museum in Washington D.C., where I saw a vintage pair of headphones, a pair that had really withstood the test of time. We both admired them. I thought about how great it would be to create products that looked great, sounded great, and would stand the test of time. Within a year and half I launched Master & Dynamic, in 2014. I believe we’ve achieved that goal, and we’re working to push the boundaries further each and every day.
How did this collaboration come about?
JL: When I first founded Master & Dynamic, I wanted to convey the vision I was trying to create to my very small team. Around a small conference table that could not have held more than five, I posed the question: “If we were not making headphones, but cameras, who would we want to be?” I then went onto several other key categories: watches, cars, eyewear, etc. The unanimous answer for cameras was Leica, the very brand I had in mind. Upon creating the first products I shared with Leica management in Wetzlar, Germany, telling them the genesis story of Master & Dynamic and Leica’s indirect role. To my delight, they too saw the similarities in our approach to design, materials and craftsmanship. From there we moved very quickly towards the collaboration that is now coming to life.
What do you see as the main commonalities between the two brands?
Mark Shipard: In regard to design approach there are many parallels that connect Leica and Master & Dynamic. We both have a strong respect for the function of our products and this is reflected in the design seen through the clear geometric forms and precision detailing. Authenticity also plays a major role, in particular the way we deal with materials such as metal and leather.
JL: While Leica has been around far, far longer, since 1914 to be exact (creation of the Leica Camera), we like to think that we emulate their passion for innovation and the use of high quality materials, while not succumbing to the pressure of designing products for built-in obsolescence. No details go unnoticed. We spend countless hours perfecting our products, to ensure that both the technical and aesthetic aspects of our headphones and earphones – much like Leica’s cameras and lenses – are technologically sophisticated and luxurious.
The outcome of this collaboration, a unique series of headphones, is set to accompany creative individuals on their journey. What do headphones and Leica lenses have in common?
JL: The Leica Noctilux is all about precision and pushing the boundaries of performance. Our headphones are precisely tuned to have a rich, warm sound that’s true to the original recording of the music, and I’m always pleased when a Master & Dynamic user tells me that our headphones helped them hear one of their favorite songs like they’d never heard it before. The Leica Noctilux and the Master & Dynamic for 0.95 series of headphones will enable creative individuals to maximize their experiences on their creative journeys.
MS: The Noctilux embodies the spirit of the 0.95 brand and it was this spirit we applied in a complementary approach to this collaboration.
Please talk about the creative process behind this product: Who was involved as part of the team? Which design elements did you prioritize?
MS: Most of the design elements were defined in the very first meeting between Jonathan and his team together with Leica’s design team. Basically we just sat down together with a selection of our products, chatted about what makes the objects and our brands unique and sketched the ideas down. From there it was a matter of reduction and implementation of a select few key Leica design elements such as form simplification, our signature knurling, engravings and surface treatments.
JL: We were fortunate to create a design DNA that mirrored Leica’s. Thus, we were able to take our core models and reimagine them as Leica products. My talented design team together with the creative designers at Leica worked side by side for two weeks on the designs. While we could have done this remotely, it was important to get everyone together in a room. Design through collaboration with great results.
The design elements to prioritize came naturally. It was all in the elegant details. Our growing base of Master & Dynamic enthusiasts always appreciate the considered details and elements of surprise in our products: the custom knurling, subtle etching, plaques under the removable ear pads, etc.
What do you see as the most important things to keep in mind when developing a new product within your brand?
JL: From the very beginning, Master & Dynamic has operated with a ‘blinders on’ mentality. We design what feels right to us as a company and brand. We seldom look at market trends or what our competition is doing, but rather, what our customers need. I think that’s a mistake brands often make, following the market instead of their own values and identity. Beyond this, each product must echo the effort that has gone into each earlier Master & Dynamic product. Our goal is not to be first in any category, but to be best, and to answer the needs of our core customers.
MS: When developing new products at Leica we always keep in mind our guiding design principles; simplicity, precision and authenticity, accumulating in what we refer to as “Ingenieurskunst”. These attributes are the result of over 100 years of developing fascinating products.
What’s the most rewarding thing about working on a product that caters to creatives?
MS: Designing for creatives is especially rewarding as this target group is also our peer group. And to be really honest, it’s always fun to work on a product that you as a designer would like to use.
JL: The dozens upon dozens of people I get to meet and work with. Master & Dynamic has become a great “calling card,” so to speak. The product and brand really resonate with both leaders and newcomers in various creative fields and this ultimately leads to a conversation and a potential collaboration. Together we create and inspire the other. I feel extremely fortunate to have had these opportunities, and hope there are many more to come.
What’s in your creative toolkit?
JL: The most frequently used part of my creative toolkit might just be my passport. It seems I’m constantly on planes and traveling to great cities for meetings and conferences. I am blessed to have a great business partner and talented team that afford me the ability to be out of the office so much. Regardless of where I am in the world, I find inspiration: a restaurant, a shop, buildings, objects, and of course, great people.
MS: A pen and lots of Post-its!
Thank you Jonathan and Mark!
Report by blog.leica-camera.com