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CES: SOL Republic headphones hoist heroes higher

Athletes, musicians forge symbiotic relationship with brand

SOL Republic is using superstar athletes, such as Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, to promote its line of headphones.

Before every race, as he’s making his way to the starting blocks, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps blasts Afrojack and Steve Aoki’s “No Beef.”

It’s his go-to pump-up song before hitting the water like a torpedo. What Phelps is listening to the song through, though, is starting to generate a lot of attention for its maker, SOL Republic.

At last year’s Summer Olympics, in London, Phelps wore a different pair of the company’s colorful headphones with interchangeable headbands before each race.

And that exposure has turned Phelps into one of the company’s 190 Saviors of Sound, an army of celebrity brand ambassadors for SOL Republic that range from Aoki to up-and-coming rapper Alexander Spit.

Phelps initially approached SOL Republic, the brainchild of consumer electronics vets Kevin Lee, Scott Hix and Seth Combs that stands for Soundtrack of Life, to sport the headphones during races.

The company leapt at the opportunity, given SOL Republic’s missionary-esque approach to business.

“We really wanted to engage with influencers in the lifestyles that kids cared about and to engage with them and see what their thoughts were on the power of music,” said Lee, co-founder and CEO of SOL Republic and veep of corporate strategy at Monster Cable Products. “We focused on the DJ community initially, but we knew that we would circle back to regular artists in other music genres — and also include action sports as well as mainstream sports.”

The resulting impact of Phelps wearing SOL Republic resounded heavily with the young company.

“(London) was an extremely pivotal moment, because with the Olympics you have everybody watching it — from the 12-year-old kid to the 78-year-old grandparent — and everybody’s seeing the same thing,” said Combs, co-founder and chief marketing officer of SOL Republic. “We really reach that hardcore music fan from 15-28, but after (the Olympics) we got a huge onrush of people from all ages.”

The now-16-month-old company tapped Aoki to be its first Savior of Sound: “(Aoki) encapsulates all the positive things around the music genre: he doesn’t smoke, drink or party; all he does is work,” Lee said.

Aoki inked with SOL Republic before the company was officially announced, but going with Aoki set the tone early. Next came 100 more Saviors of Sound, ambassadors who would share the power of music to promote quality-sounding headphones in the realms of music and sports. A recent high-profile recruit is Joel Thomas Zimmerman, better known by his stage name Deadmau5.

“For (SOL Republic), we need to find the right fit,” Combs said.

SOL Republic had to wait for face time with Phelps, but after Blighty’s Summer Games, the Olympian sat down with the team and voiced his thoughts on music in a video, which can be found on SOL Republic’s website.

“For me music has been a part of my life every step of the way,” he said. “I have headphones on at all times, I’m always listening to music … it helps me get away, helps me relax.”

Lee, who got his start at Monster, is no stranger to the headphone world, having helped launch the Beats by Dr. Dre brand of headphones.

Citing the poor quality of competing headphones, Lee said: “We had a true passion to save sound, and Beats was our biggest effort to prove that concept.”

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