An Interview with James, the Founder of HART Audio Cables

I had this really eye opening experience a while back where I needed a new headphone cable, and realized that they typically fall into two categories: absolute junk that you can pick up on Amazon for about $20, and custom made cables that cost more than the actual headphones you’re wearing.

This seemed like complete insanity to me, so I started digging around and asking questions. I had been hearing a lot about a company called HART Audio Cables, with cables that looked great and didn’t cost more than my mortgage. So I reached out to the founder (James) and asked if he would mind answering a few of my questions about HART Audio and the wider industry of custom headphone cables, headphones, and audio equipment.

He was generous enough to record himself answering my questions, which I’ve transcribed below. If you see any mistakes, let me assure you that they’re entirely my fault.

Chad and James discuss HART and a whole lot more…

Okay, so question one, a little bit about myself, and what I did before heart audio cables, and what the transition was like moving to this full time.

Before heart audio, I was a product development engineer for a pretty large company. I guess more specifically, I worked on one of the new product development teams there, and yeah, it wasn’t too bad, could have been a lot worse. The transition, I guess, was pretty tough. So I launched heart audio. In September of 2019, I was still working at the old job, full time job 40 hours a week, you know, more if you’re about to launch a product or something, or you got to go travel to a factory and oversee a pilot or something like that.

So with all that stuff was kind of going on at the end of the year, or launching in the fall, like the end of the year, you’re trying to get get projects out before January, in the industry we were in. But yeah, I launched it in September. And maybe about a week or two after that it was just kind of.. I was working out of my house at the time, got a wife and two kids. And I kind of looked at as like an opportunity for supplemental income, there was this thing I was doing for myself, and I didn’t really know what the public at large was gonna think of the product or how useful they’d find it or, or whatever, right?

You just don’t really know what you don’t know yet. And yeah, just kind of quickly started moving product started moving. And I ended up behind almost immediately. You know, we’ve been playing catch up since then.

It’s just been the response has been way crazier than I could have imagined so far. It’s been great. It’s been cool. I’m grateful for it. It’s been a whirlwind for sure. So as far as the transition goes, I mean, I feel bad for my wife, I’m really thankful for her patience throughout this process. But it would be sort of like, I’d go work at my job, from eight to five, 7:30 to five, whatever. And then I’d go home help get the kids fed, washed up, cleaned up, then put to bed. And then I would go into – I mean, eventually, we had our first office – I’d go work at that office till two or three in the morning, and then go home, get a couple hours of sleep, start the whole thing over again, working both jobs became very quickly became a thing, whereas like, two full time jobs, and yeah, was stressful, but yeah, kind of viewed it as like an opportunity. And I didn’t want to screw it up, you know, midway through, I guess. I should say, like, we launched it in September 2019. In December, my wife found out she had cancer, which is another tough thing in the middle of all that. So we had that going on normal day job, full time. And then this business going crazy, and not knowing how to handle it yet. So we’re through all that stuff. Thankfully, my wife is doing well.

If anybody if you end up putting all this stuff in any other article or whatever, I mean, we’re really I was really thankful and grateful for all the positive feedback I received from people at the time. I mean, I’ve been really impressed by you know, the audiophile community in the way they in their patience with us as a company and how they interact with us and when I had to message people and tell people about you know, our situation. You know, they were super helpful offered a lot of encouragement and kind words and stuff. And I’m really appreciative of that. And it was sort of like a faith in humanity, restoring thing to me.

Question two, what is the typical day at the office look like? That is a very good question. I’m not sure I have an answer for that. Right now, I don’t know if we have a typical day yet. There was a little stretch there last year, where it seemed like we were starting to reach a point where we felt like we had a handle on things. And then the holiday season arrived. And it seemed like there was this whole new influx of volume coming in, of orders. And you know, of course, ended up behind again, from that, and then we start to get a handle on it again. And then we have a crazy, insane snowstorm, winter storm here in Texas a couple of weeks ago, that kind of set us behind, you know, again, from where we were almost catching up.

So I think, right now, it’s like I come in. I have two two managers, Hannah – who you have spoken to helps a ton with the customer facing stuff we got going on, I’ll pop in when needed and stuff to answer emails and stuff like that. And then I’ve got a production manager here, who just helps us make sure you know, what needs to get built gets built.

And, you know, the day to day gets done. And so I’ll come in, I’ll try to get the production plan for the day ready to go. So I can hand it to the production manager here, when they get here. So I try to beat the employees here to the office in the mornings. And if I don’t, they’re getting bombarded with telegram messages about like, what the instructions are for the day. And then right now, since we’re behind, I kind of am not getting to do a lot of what I what I would like to be doing or need to be doing, which is work on new products, and some new big projects we have going on, that we’re looking forward to sharing with people soon. So that kind of stuff kind of gets on hold put on hold. And so I end up assisting with like soldering, you know, getting back to it and just soldering for like five to six hours a day.

So I mean, whenever someone has a question, it comes to eventually gets to me if they need help with something. So it’s hard. It’s like, there’s not enough time in the day, you know, you just get pulled away constantly from whatever you’re doing, just putting out fires trying to keep us from drowning every day.

So yeah, right now, I’m trying to help out a lot more with the soldering, which is okay, because it was getting to a point where I wasn’t getting the solder as much as I used to actually get to like, assemble the cables myself. And I always enjoy getting to do that it’s a little cathartic or something, it’s nice to just put the headphones on and do something like that. So it’s not too bad. So that’s what we’re doing now.

You know, I’d like to say it’s like a normal eight to five, but I’m up here at the office at it’s 10:45 right now. So I’m trying to get some work done here. Still, so it’s still you know, eight to five, then usually I’ve got a little bit left over I try to go knock out at night or in the mornings or something like that. We typically work on cables throughout the day, get the bill done. We’ve got a tester going pretty much all day, sometimes multiple testers going because of the amount we’re trying to get out. And then it’s shipping, usually a mad dash to get all the shipping done at the end of the day. I guess that’s as close of a picture as I can provide.

Things are also a little complicated because we’re about to move into a larger space, which is something we’re preparing for. So it’s just I said earlier, it’s it’s kind of a whirlwind here.

Okay, question three. What do I think it is about our cables that people like so much?

You mentioned that anytime you see custom cables come up, our name seems to get mentioned? That is very flattering. That is true. crazy to think about? Yeah. As far as what people seem to like about it. I don’t know. I know there’s a few things that we really try to focus on, you know, quality, reliability the way it feels in your hands. And looks matter a lot and then of course the price point like we price our stuff very affordably relative to other
cable makers and that is out of a belief I have that just you shouldn’t pay more for your cable than you pay for your headphones, you know, in my opinion, and I think I wanted to make sure there was a product out there that is priced at a point where a beginner in the hobby could could hop in and not feel like it’s crazy expensive for them to even try it out.

And I also thought, there’s a price point where somebody in my shoes a few years ago, or a couple years ago who decided just like, Okay, this stuff too expensive, and it’s going to take too long to get to me, I’m just gonna make myself if we price them at a certain point where it doesn’t become it’s, it’s not worth your time to go and learn how to do it yourself and struggle through that. I mean, we have something here that hopefully fits your need. That was sort of what I was thinking what the price, I think that that may be a big, big part of it. And then the look and the feel, and the quality is big, I think we’re fortunate to have a really good return customer rate. I’m very grateful for that. And don’t take that lightly, we don’t take that for granted. And when it comes to the looks and stuff, I just wanted something that is a little bit more minimal. And presentation just looks doesn’t look so gaudy. I guess a lot of times with cables, and audio gear like headphones and stuff, I just tend to think that like a lot of it looks really tacky and ugly and not like something I would want to wear in public, where people could see. And so I wanted to have that in mind, when we made our stuff.

I think that modular system lends itself to portable use, you know, when you’re out and about, or you’re traveling or doing something like that, and I didn’t want I want it to be feel functional, like not too heavy, to where you it’s prohibitive for you to do that. And also look nice, so work, no one’s gonna like, you’re not gonna feel embarrassed to go with have your cable on you in the airport or something. Hopefully, that sort of comes across, I don’t know, that’s a subjective thing.

So I really like the way our cables look and feel now I’m really happy where the design is at now, and yeah, I guess at the end of it, we just try to be really honest and forthright with how we communicate with our customers and what to expect from our product and what not to expect from our product and why it’s priced where it is or, you know, we just tried to be human or something with our customers. And I think maybe that resonates with people, you know, we’re not blowing smoke up anybody’s butt, we’re not trying to take advantage of people. And we’re not out to squeeze every last penny out of every customer that comes by. And I think maybe that is something that resonates with people as well.

Okay, question four, what’s the biggest misconception people have about high end audio? Is there a particular bit of audio related bs that I hear that drives me crazy?

That’s a good question. Let me see. I think misconception wise – this may not be a misconception, technically – but I think people have a tendency to assume there’s a direct relationship between cost and quality in the audiophile hobby. And I don’t know that that’s necessarily true.

You know, they just assume that because it costs more, it’s going to be nicer, better, technically superior to the thing that costs $200 or whatever. And I think it’s easy for us in the hobby enthusiasts, and newcomers like to forget that, or buy into that, and maybe spend more money than we needed to for what we want out of our gear, what we need out of our gear, right?

You just you want to listen to music, you want to sound as good as it can in your budget. And I think especially now with how technology has progressed, I mean, a little bit goes a long way, budget wise. So that’s one and I know that comes across our cables, right? Like I’ve I’ve seen a couple times, you know, where people assume that because our cables are priced so competitively that we use cheap parts and cheap labor and everything. And that’s just not the case. You know, we just take less margin, right? So we don’t make as much money as the next guy. We accept that. And we also know that that’s going to be a sort of attitude we may face or some sort of impression people may have have our product. And we just got to try to do our best. And tighten the screws are on our end to make sure that there’s no reason for people to think that once they finally get our product in their hand and start experiencing it.

So that’s one, maybe another one would be I think us in the hobby – and you know, I am an enthusiast myself, that I that I was into this stuff before I started a business in the industry or whatever. But what that is, is like I think we spend all this time on forums and talk about performance and stuff and how one headphone compares to another headphone and how one amp compared to another or one DAC compares to another. And we get a little bit caught up and and all the technical justification for for why we want to buy something to add to our collection. And I think sometimes it’s we are kidding ourselves a little bit. And it’s just like, dude, all this gear is really good. All these headphones are really great. I don’t know that one that you’re going to be disappointed with any one or the over the other. And a lot of times it’s like we’re trying to come up with these technical justifications for just wanting to buy a new toy because we think it’s cool.

I mean, just thinking something looks cool or is cool is justification to want to like buy a new headphone AMP, DAC or headphone and I don’t think we have to kid ourselves about, about why we’re justifying the purchase or something like that.

Anyway, and that maybe is more personal than anything. But yeah, I just don’t like to. I just kind of am at peace with like, that’s the fun of it. Right? I like collecting or trying out new gear and new headphones and stuff. And that’s just part of the hobby. Anyway, hope that answered that one.

Okay, question five, your products are designed and built in the US how challenging has that been?

As far as designing not that bad, because I’m the designer. So not too hard to get in touch with me and stuff like that. But as far as building the product and getting it produced, that can be challenging. Labor here is a lot a lot more expensive than it is elsewhere. And parts in the US can get get more expensive, everything just get more expensive. We try to do as much as possible out of the US. We try to source parts low locally as best we can. And buy stuff out of the US whenever we can, as far as parts go, and then there’s the labor. I mean, they were here. We were in Texas. So I mean, it is I try to pay my employees pretty well, I would say in the context of Texas, we are very far ahead of the curve in terms of where we start our employees at and how much they end up making after just a few months.

I like to say, you know, we’re like a humanity first company. And I hope that’s reflected on how we treat our employees here. I hope they think that too. And I mean, I know just from factually speaking or whatever we pay pretty well here relative to other stuff. So that can all be challenging when you’re trying to run a manufacturing set up here. And you’re competing with companies that are selling Chinese made products on Amazon for a fraction of the prices you’re able to get it made at you know, so yeah, definitely can be a challenge but nothing we can’t overcome so far.

Okay, question six. What are you most excited about right now HART related or otherwise?

You mentioned us having power after the snowstorm. Yeah, that is something to be excited about. We got hit pretty hard by that winter storm. We had maybe six or seven people have a pipe burst in their house or outside their house on their property and they were out without water for days or without electricity. Unfortunately, at my house, we had a pipe burst in our wall, but fortunately, the damage wasn’t too catastrophic. And we never lost power throughout the the week. So we were fortunate in that respect. We were able to stay warm the whole time. In terms of what I’m most excited about, I guess I’ll keep it HART related. We’ve got a couple new things we’re trying to get out.

Very quickly here. One of those would be that Drop just announced that HD 8XX headphone, we’re going to try to do a limited run of cables for that. So it’ll be like, we’ll make a certain amount, we’ll put them up on the site for a day. And once they’re gone, they’re gone. And we’re in the midst of working on that, in getting that out soon.

And then longer term, we’ve got some bigger – much bigger – projects than that in the pipeline, it’s just a matter of getting caught up in getting the time to work on them on a consistent basis and getting it to a point where we want to share it with people. And I wish I could say more about that what that is, but I think it’s going to be cool. And hopefully helpful to a lot of people in the community once all that stuff does come out.

Okay, question seven? Who do I feel is leading the pack in terms of headphones right now? I know this is incredibly subjective.

Okay. Um, man, that’s a tough question. Because now that I’m running a business, I feel like every time I see a new headphone, it’s like not, I’m not even thinking it on a personal level, like, oh, that’d be cool to have. And as like something I use as an everyday driver or something. I’m always thinking like, well, what do we got to do to make sure we have a cable that can work with that or something? So this is this is tougher to answer on a more recent context. In a more recent context, I would say, of the newest stuff coming out. This is maybe embarrassing or whatever, but I’ve been using the Cisco Phoenixes a lot. I like those they sound good, and they don’t look ridiculous on my head. I have a head that’s shaped in a way that headphones on my head does not usually look very flattering for me. So those Cisco Phoenixes don’t look terrible. I say I’m enjoying those. I’ve been using those for a while. As far as a company who’s really like innovating, I’m not sure I can give a well rounded answer on that. I guess I’d say my favorite headphone is still my Fostex T60. Those wooden guys that they put out, I love those things. They still sound amazing.

And I would want to say like HIFIMAN stuff, but I feel like more recently they seem to be – I hate to say cheeping out – but they’re, you know, that they’re just you can see you can see the cost reductions that are happening on their headphones. I think and that can be a little disappointing on some of their new stuff.

Sennheiser, I’ve never been a huge Sennheiser guy. Then there’s Odyssey, I’ve never been able to try like the super high end Odyssey stuff. I have a pair of LCD-2’s, but they’re amazing sounding, but they are not kind to my head in the looks department. Yeah, I gotta say I just kind of leaned towards my Fostex is my favorite.

What do the next five years look like? That’s a really tough question. Hopefully, it looks like you get more sleep on a regular basis.

Hopefully, we’re still doing this. Hopefully we’re able to still do this. And hopefully there’s a few more different arms of the business. By that time, if everything goes well, or the way we’re planning it, there should be and it should be a good time for all involved, including our customers.

And five years is a long time. So I couldn’t even tell you what the end of this year is going to look like this kind of
in the expectations I had for it. It surpassed a long time ago. So I’m kind of along for the ride right now. A little bit, but yeah, if things keep going well, you know, you guys will see a few more outlets to interact with us as a business. And hopefully, like I said, that’ll be helpful and useful and fun to people involved and not just about buying cables or us trying to get you to buy or whatever.

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Chad

I'm a co-founder and writer here at Unfinished Man. I write, manage the look and feel of the website, and make sure that nothing breaks. I also reply to the vast majority of our emails, so if you're sending one through, I suggest you be nice. Everyone says I'm the least offensive of our writers, so they gave the email jockey task to me. When I'm not improving the site, I write about fashion, video games, politics, and anything related to science and technology.

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