The Art of Noise: Jonathan Levine

Master & Dynamic Founder, CEO chats about designing ADC Young Guns Cube

ADC Young Guns is heating up! We proudly announced the 2016 class of professional creatives 30 years of age and under earlier this week, and we march towards a grand award ceremony next Thursday — we hope you’ll join us!

As per tradition, the esteemed ADC Young Guns Cube is redesigned every year, making each class stand out from the others. Were you from the class with the concrete cubes (YGX), or are you among the recipients of the cubes made out of the collective tchotchkes of previous winners (YG13)? This year, the design of the ADC Young Guns Cube was created by New York-based premium audio company Master & Dynamic, headed by its founder and CEO Jonathan Levine

We had the opportunity to sit down with Jonathan to discuss his career, the all-new Young Guns Cube, and which one of this year’s 30 winners got his vote.


Let’s start at the beginning. What did you want to be when you were growing up — assuming that “founding a headphone brand” wasn’t your childhood dream.

jonathanlevineAt a very young age, I wanted to be an architect. I had an uncle who was a very successful architect in New Jersey, and I convinced him to let me work for him over summer vacation while I was in high school.

I was a gofer for all of the draftsmen, trying to learn all that I could from these guys. One day I sat down with one gentleman that I had become friendly with and asked him “what’s it really like to be an architect?” He looked at me and said in the most curmudgeonly voice imaginable “hey kid, we all wanna be like your uncle, but most of us won’t be.” At that moment I realized that it was unlikely that I would be just like my uncle. That reality check put the brakes on wanting to be an architect, but I still had a love for architecture, for design, for raw materials. I believe that creating Master & Dynamic at this stage in my life is returning to being an architect on some level.

This seems apparent in your products. If there’s one thing that draws the eye, is its unique, exquisite design…

Design is so, so important to us. I wasn’t the founder or the lead engineer of another audio company. I don’t come from the music industry, although I love music. I really approached the creation of this company from a luxurious design perspective. I often remark that because I don’t have a background in audio engineering, I don’t really have a reason for the success that we’ve been having, but then perhaps that’s exactly why we’ve had that success.

Anytime I see somebody out in the world using my headphones, I’ll approach and ask them about them, not mentioning who I am. And they’ll say how wonderful they are, how they picked them up from the Apple Store or Bergdorf Goodman or wherever. Then I’ll ask “so what do you do?” and so many people will say that they’re graphic designers or advertising creatives or illustrators or work in other creative fields. That’s when I realized that we definitely found a niche among professional creatives.

Of course ADC is a near-century old organization that’s filled with professional creatives. How did you first get involved with ADC Young Guns?

I first learned about ADC Young Guns through [ADC Board Member and ADC Young Guns 8 winner] Nicole Jacek and Noreen Morioka, who were in town from Los Angeles. They told me more about the program, and mentioned Stefan Sagmeister, who is one of the inaugural Young Guns winners in the 1990s. By chance I had become friendly with Stefan in recent years, after being inspired by his Happy project. And so it was all very serendipitous in the many ways I was already connected to ADC, and I was very excited to be involved. We absolutely love collaborating with others with a passion for design and creativity.

Every year the ADC Young Guns Cube gets reimagined, so that each class is honored with something truly unique. You were tasked with creating the 2016 Cube. How did that process work out?

Well we knew we wanted to use a select number of materials. In both my personal and professional life I love heavy, industrial elements, and so this perforated metal was a natural fit for us. We also wanted the Cube to be functional, and so incorporating a headphone stand was a perfect extension.

We are fortunate to have access to a lot of great local craftsmen, and for the Cube we immediately reached out to a gentleman in Pennsylvania who has helped us design and build our point-of-sale displays. I’m very pleased with how everything came together in a relatively short period of time. The recipients will notice a lot of detail, a lot of heft, all in what at first glance is a simple object.


Aside from designing and constructing the Cube, you were also one of the 40 esteemed creative influencers who helped nominate those who went on to be named ADC Young Guns 2016 winners. What was that experience like for you?

First of all, it was a tremendous honor. There are so many great people, far more experienced than myself, among the nominators, and I knew I’d really have to go to task, digging down to select creatives in my wheelhouse who could stand along the names I’m sure my peers would be selecting. Fortunately through this journey I’ve had the opportunity to connect with so many great designers who appreciate what we’ve been doing, and in turn I appreciate what they’ve been doing.

One of the young creatives you nominated was selected by the judges to be inducted in this year’s ADC Young Guns class. Tell us what you saw in Clement Pascal that made him your pick.

I first learned of Clement through a friend of mine who had spoken highly of his work. I was inspired by the fact that he has experience in multiple disciplines beyond photography, the one he’s largely recognized for. He grew up doing graffiti and was an actor and copywriter before transitioning into a full time photographer. I feel that to be a true Young Gun you have to be skilled in multiple areas. I’m sure this is true of the other nominees.


Clement Pascal, ‘Men’s FW16 lookbook’

I also was intrigued by the fact that he grew up around photography; his father a photographer himself and as such it has influenced his own work. I immediately connected with this on a personal level as I pursued my own creative endeavours. First I was inspired by my architect uncle as well as my own father, who passed away when I was four and was an avid collector who left me his collection of sculptures, watches and other objects. Now I get to engage with my two sons (Robert, 21 and Justin, 16) who both contribute to Master & Dynamic.

How has your nascent Young Guns experience affected your own professional life?

This has been an awesome experience for me. I feel so fortunate that I got to interact with and learn from and be inspired by so many people within the ADC community, and it’s my hope that Master & Dynamic and our work can inspire others. It’s rewarding, and I’m just happy to be at the table with this phenomenally talented organization.


ADC Young Guns 2016 takes place on Thursday, September 22 at the ADC Gallery in New York City. Tickets are available now.