DJ. Producer. Entrepreneur. Val Kolton hits all notes as the founder of V-MODA, maker of headphones for audiophiles the world over.
As told to Jennifer Hogeland
As a DJ and producer, heading a headphone company just sounded like a natural career path for Val Kolton. “Because I travel around the world with world-renowned musicians and sound engineers, I’m able to draw on this experience to build a better headphone,” Kolton says. “I know what is needed for modern-day road warriors, as well as the requirements to produce a song on the road and play it live on stage.” Now as founder of V-MODA, Kolton sees his headphones worn by everyone from Kobe Bryant to Tom Cruise. Here, the audiophile shares his vision and steps to success.
I came to the realization while listening to great dance music in Ibiza, Spain, that I needed to bring uplifting dance and remixed music to the rest of the world. So, when I came back to Los Angeles, I bought the best speakers I could find and started DJing and producing music. My roommate threatened I either needed to get headphones or move out. When I went to buy headphones, I searched for varieties that were colored or cool materials, but the only headphones available at the time were white or black plastic that looked like lab or medical equipment. So, I quit my job and went into debt, borrowing money from my brother and many others, to develop a line of DJ and fashion headphones that were colorful and made out of metal and exotic materials. V-MODA’s original name was Kolton Technology for the first two years, as I focused on the innovations and patents that would later become features of the product lines that are launching in only the past few months. I was determined to be the first high-fidelity fashion company that, from day one, had a focus on sound performance and quality as I knew this concept would be quickly knocked-off by cheaper brands.
I searched for every factory I could find around the world, asking for samples of their headphones. Only two out of hundreds stood out for having amazing sound. I launched V-MODA’s first headphone line in 2006 with 33,000 units in 11 colors. Convinced I was holding the next “must-have” fashion accessory, I began going door-to-door, hitting every single boutique in LA. I didn’t sell a single unit and they all told me “headphones aren’t fashion, they are electronics.” My first sale was six units of Remix Metal to Mac Hollywood. Today, if you go into these fashion stores, they all sell headphones or have their own headphone line.
I learned two valuable lessons right away. My first was in supply-chain and cash-flow planning—spending all my money on the first purchase of so many units and colors meant my money was frozen until they were sold. Second, I found headphones that aren’t closely quality controlled do not sound the same from unit to unit. As an avid audiophile and engineer, I listened to 60 of the same Bass Freq headphones, I was astonished they didn’t all sound the same, so I sent back all 24,000 units and demanded them to be reworked.
Because I’m a perfectionist, I made it my mission to create a headphone that was crafted with quality and that could sound identical from unit to unit. I quickly invested in both an internal- and external-quality team to focus solely on sound performance and durability in both Asia and in the United States. Soon, with amazing reviews and editor’s choice recognitions, sales started to take off.
The headphone industry is the hottest-growing market in the electronics space. Manufacturers and all the rappers and DJs are attempting to launch their own headphones. With so many fashion headphones on the market, we no longer promote our fashion elements, as it is quite evident by photos, but instead concentrate on the headphone’s audiophile sound, materials, and custom options. Our use of steel, brushed aluminum, leather, and other materials make them a very exotic product.
Instead of paying an artist off with millions of dollars, our Crossfade Customs program allows you to “endorse yourself.” You can choose a graphic or upload your own logo, pick the colors of the headphone parts, and it is built in Hollywood and ships within three days. You can feel the materials, hear the difference, and be your own celebrity. Many of the world’s top DJs and stars have worn V-MODA from the studio to the stage, including Paul Oakenfold, Kobe Bryant, and even Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol. Yet, we never “pay to play” as every other headphone brand is doing today with what we feel is “polluted” and fake product placement.
Over time, many will leave the market, but I’m building something timeless. We’ve heavily invested in our own laboratories and in research, concentrating on quality, ergonomics, and technology. V-MODA has revolutionized every part of the headphone, making it ultra durable and stylish. We try to be the first to develop technology. At V-MODA, we are tirelessly innovating and adding new features. Our next generation of headphones unleashes the modern audiophile that used to need big headphones, speakers, and amplifiers to achieve their perfect sound. Once again, we are one of the first companies offering these solutions.