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View From the Top: Philippe Depallens, VP/GM, Ultimate Ears Pro

Philippe Depallens, vice president and general manager of Ultimate Ears Pro, discusses his journey guiding one of the best-known IEM brands.

Philippe Depallens, VP/GM, Ultimate Ears Pro
Philippe Depallens, VP/GM, Ultimate Ears Pro

“Music has always been part of my life,” says Philippe Depallens, vice president and general manager of Ultimate Ears Pro. Music and the fundamental understanding of its importance—emotionally, culturally and economically—was always present in the small Swiss city where he grew up, as it was home to the famed Montreux Jazz Festival. Great artists from around the world would travel there to create intimate musical moments for rapturous audiences. Perhaps it was only appropriate then that years later, Depallens would champion Ultimate Ears Pro’s in-ear monitors (IEMs)—products intended to both help musicians create those live moments, and imbue even casual listeners with that same sense of aural intimacy.

Fascinated tinkering with audio gear at a young age, Depallens went on to apprentice in electrical engineering before eventually earning an engineering degree and heading overseas. “Moving to the U.S. right after school continued my exposure to the diversity and richness of a global perspective,” he feels. While he joined Logitech—itself a Swiss entity—in the 1990s, it wasn’t until the consumer electronics powerhouse acquired Ultimate Ears in 2008 that Depallens finally began working in pro audio.

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“When I joined Ultimate Ears Pro, I was able to combine my passion for music, my engineering knowledge and everything that I had previously learned at Logitech about creating meaningful and impactful experiences around our products,” he says today. “This was well before the global headphone revolution was underway, and way before the dominance of true wireless. Actually, this was during the early stages of the smartphone, when everyone was predicting the imminent death of the PC. I volunteered to oversee the acquisition because I knew that I could retain Ultimate Ears’ pro-audio roots and heritage while helping commercialize the core in-ear technology that is now ubiquitous today.”

Since then, both Depallens and Ultimate Ears Pro have re-envisioned the company’s approach to custom IEMs; whereas once it focused almost exclusively on product specs, today, the brand takes a larger view of the customer experience, and has put considerable effort into simplifying and accelerating the customization process. Early on, that meant creating mobile demo stations that allowed users to discover their preferred sound signature. Later, the company pioneered 3D scanning and 3D printing for custom in-ears—a move that reduced lead times from weeks to days. All the while, Ultimate Ears Pro continued to evolve its product designs based on user feedback, aiming to make its in-ears as reliable and sweatproof as possible.

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With Ultimate Ears Pro well-established in the live sound industry, Depallens looked to put that brand awareness to use. “We fostered very different types of partnerships to expand the market and to cater to the needs of more pro audio segments,” he recalls. “We were the first to partner with Capitol Studios to address the needs of recording engineers. Inevitably, we helped expand the idea that in-ears are for everyone, not just for top touring musicians.”

Of course, bringing a product to “everyone” means being accessible to them; in that regard, Depallens notes, “We are lucky to be based in Southern California, very close to our customers and partners; that helps us stay grounded and connected. We also have the luxury of being part of Logitech, a multinational team with a huge global footprint that provides access to technology, engineering capability and operational competencies around the globe. By combining these two aspects, we are able to organize around obsessing over the customer and their experiences, no matter where they are located.”

The latest result of the company’s fixation is its new UE FITS true wireless instant fit custom earbuds line for consumers, which Depallens cites as an example of the brand’s focus on continuous process improvement. Meanwhile, for pros, the company now offers a line of premium UE CSX custom-made earphones that include an at-home Fit Kit to capture the user’s earprint in a few minutes. Taking custom-fitting processes created for pro IEMs and adapting them to a consumer experience for the UE FITS and CSX lines is part of a larger remit to ultimately help raise the bar—and consumer expectations—for all listeners when it comes to in-ear audio experiences. “Just like how Mercedes invests in Formula One to push the limits of performance, safety and technological advancement for all cars, we see a very clear parallel in what we do for experiencing music,” says Depallens. “The developments pioneered onstage radiate out for all music lovers.”