This interview was originally published in Japanese on Phileweb.com here. Thank you Phileweb!
DITA is a Singaporean brand with a huge presence in the premium earphone market. We spoke to their founder, DANNY TAN, who is in Japan for an audio event, about the manufacturing philosophy and appeal behind DITA’s latest flagship, the Dream XLS.
Why is DITA Especially Particular about Using the Single Dynamic Driver?
-- How did your audio journey begin?
I got hooked on audio when I was about 15 years old, in the warehouse of Desmond’s (co-founder of DITA’s) grandfather, who owned an audio shop.
We’d normally help out with cleaning out the warehouse at the end of the year, that was when I’d collect various gadgets, repairing, remaking them and tinkering with them.
Some of these were high-end audio equipment that cost $ 5,000 at the time, so it was a great environment that let me think about how I could take these expensive things apart and remodel them (laughs).
The internet wasn’t as developed at that time, so I bought Japanese audio magazines I couldn’t read so I could gather more information in my search for good sound. It was really a time of a lot of trial-and-error. That’s when I really got hooked onto audio.
-- When and where did you first start working on earphones?
The iPhone was released around the time I went to university, and I was convinced that the age of earphones was coming upon the audio world.
The earphones that came with early smartphones all sounded cheap. But the Shure, Westone, and ETYMOTIC IEMs changed that.
They sounded good, but I thought that they were still bit different from the high-end HiFi sound that I experienced in the warehouse of Desmond’s grandfather.
In 2011, Desmond and I decided to create our own earphones that sounded good, we started a company and began development. I knew about the science behind speakers and drivers and Desmond, who has been a friend for 20 years, also had the knowledge of cables. We were confident that we could create a pair of unique earphones.
-- Has DITA’s obsession with the Single Dynamic Driver concept existed since that era?
A fact I noticed after listening to a lot of amazing high end speakers that they all used dynamic drivers. Since we were pursuing HiFi sound, we thought that aiming for this characteristic of the dynamic driver should be our top priority as an audio brand.
Compared to a multi-way balanced armature driver, I also felt that a single dynamic driver can produce a more natural sound. If the insides of an IEM were to be made overly complex, the number of cables and contacts will increase. I felt that the less connections and contacts present in the IEM, the better it’d be for audio and durability.
-- Is there a reason why you chose a 2-pin connector over an MMCX connector?
Yes, there are actually fewer contacts. I actually think that the best type of connection is the kind that doesn’t allow for recabling.
However, as an audiophile, you’d definitely want to be able to change the cable. Therefore we have selected 2-Pin connectors for its more stable contacts, its versatility and its superior sound quality.
--You double as a product designer, where do you normally get your design ideas from?
Remember "Answer" or "Truth"? these two products have an iconic round shape inspired by Singaporean coins. There was a time in the past where handphones weren’t as popular and there were plenty of pagers instead. Some elderly people put coins in their ear holes to make sure they had spare change to make phone calls on public phones.
-- For Real?
Yes (laughs). If you always want to do better, you can always get inspiration from familiar things. The tuning for the Answer and Truth’s prototypes was complete, but the design was completely different from what you might now be familiar with (Editor’s note: it was a bullet-shape similar to final's E series), it didn’t work well for us.
Thankfully, this anecdote came to mind before mass production started and I redid the design from scratch (laughs).
The insides however, like the driver and the volume of the internal chamber has largely been handed down and evolved from that time.
-- It's not quite enough just to have good sound quality. There really is no room for compromise, and the engineering team seems to have had a hard time (laughs).
Dream XLS, DITA’s New Flagship with a Wide Soundstage and Stellar Imaging
--The latest flagship of DITA is the "Dream XLS". Could you please reintroduce us to the features of the product?
“Dream” was DITA’s previous flagship, it was a pair of dynamic driver earphones with a clean, high-resolution that has been very well received by Japanese users.
We began working on an evolved version of the flagship Dream approximately 2 and a half years ago.
The XLS in “Dream XLS” is the abbreviated form of “Extra Large Sound Stage”. The large sound stage was a signature characteristic in the original Dream and was something we wanted to continue to evolve.
Many earphones in the market create the impression of a wide soundstage by only boosting the highs and neglecting the rest of the frequency spectrum.
Our challenge, then, was to widen the soundstage without artificially boosting the highs, this proved to be a difficult challenge to tackle.
We aimed for a sound signature that was more resolute and less blurry, while attempting to retain the size of the sound stage
-- When you listen to the Dream XLS, besides the impression that it’s a speedy, high-resolution earphone. Each layer of sound is reproduced in a concise manner, for instance the vocals and the musical instruments. I also got the impression that the music had been reproduced with a slight dramatic flair. What exactly has evolved in terms of the Dream XLS’ technical aspects?
At the core of the Dream XLS is its "Ultra-linear Driver Gen. XLS".
Usually, in the center of the diaphragm of a traditional speaker, there is a dome-shaped "center cap" that balances the sound and controls the high frequencies. In earphone drivers however, it was difficult to control high-frequency characteristics because the center cap itself would replace and override the diaphragm.'s functionality
With the new Ultra-linear XLS Driver Gen. XLS, the composite diaphragm has enabled a more consistent sound with little distortion, giving the Dream XLS it’s clean sound signature.
--- And since the dynamic driver was designed by DITA, the Dream XLS could only have been realised by DITA.
There are two reasons why we keep the diaphragm size at 10mm. One is, of course, a design requirement to ensure a suitable fit for our earphones. The other is that by focusing our development resources on the diaphragm size the closest to our ideal size, we can continue to constantly build on this foundation to improve the sound quality of our earphones.
For the Dream XLS’ diaphragm, the ratio of material in our composite diaphragm also depends on the diaphragms, by constantly developing products with a diaphragm of the same side, we could make use of the accumulated research and further pursue good sound quality.
The only exception to this rule the Project 71 which made use of a 6mm Dynamic Driver instead.
-- A single dynamic driver is one of the simplest configurations, which means that there must have been a tremendous amount of effort and know-how expended to end up with a unique sound.
Earphone tuning not only involves the driver, but also the earphone cable. The Dream XLS makes use of DITA’s original "OSLO cable". Where oxygen-free copper conductors are coated in a squalane oil suspension with gold and silver nanoparticles. The resulting sound quality is resolved with an analog touch.
In addition, the AWESOME plug not only supports 3.5mm stereo mini but also supports 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced connection with a single cable.
However, the OSLO cable bundled with Dream XLS has slightly different specifications than those well sell separately, in addition to its colour being changed to better match the XLS’ colour, we also changed the material of the coating. The braiding of the OSLO-XLS is slightly tighter. In summary, it’s been evolved for better sound and ease of handling.
--From a design perspective, the Dream XLS is very elaborate., quite a departure from the fierce image the Dream portrayed.
The titanium pieces were processed and manufactured in Japan before being assembled in Singapore. It takes about 8 hours worth of CNC cutting and polishing to complete a pair of XLS chassis, making the production of a single unit of the Dream XLS a whole-day affair. Jigs used for fixing parts during CNC processing are built for the task. Lessons we learnt from working with our parent company Packagers Pte. Ltd. has also helped us in getting a highly precise finish.
Another noteworthy point is that the faceplate is made of highly durable sapphire glass, which is also used for high-end watches.
--Please tell us more about the accessories that come with the Dream XLS
Actually, I personally don't like traditional pouches (laughs), and DITA's premium earphones all come with two pouches. A conventional one and the one I really like(laughs). The Dream XLS also comes with both final Type E eartips on top of the DITA’s own eartips.
--- Finally, please give a message to our Japanese readers
"If there is something better, you should always choose it." That is our manufacturing philosophy. We hope that as many readers as possible can experience the Dream XLS, a labour of love that’s 2 years in the making
--Thank you very much for joining us today!