Mark Clayton spent much of his career wishing for better headphones; in his NFL retirement, he has created them.
From the locker room to his first steps on the field, music was an integral part of former first-round NFL draft pick Mark Clayton’s pregame routine. But he couldn’t ever find what he wanted to make that music sing: a pair of over-the-ear headphones that stayed on him during high activity.
“I broke a pair of Beats in 2008 and thought, ‘Man, there has to be something better,’” Clayton told SI.com. So the former engineering student at Oklahoma started sketching designs and by summer 2012 had something he thought would work. Those sketches have since taken real form and Clayton’s new product, LIVV—the name is a play off wanting those wearing his headphones to “live” as they desire—launched in August with delivery expected in September.
The key behind LIVV lies in the SureFit band, which uses tension to keep the wireless headphones in place. Early in the process, Clayton filed for and received a patent for the design and worked with an industrial engineer to turn his original sketches into a proof-of-concept product, tweaking the 10-plus iterations repeatedly “to get the concept to a place we felt it would actually work.”
Clayton says placing a band over the crown of the head has proven the traditional design ever since headphones have been around, but he knew that wrapping around the back gave him a larger surface area to apply tension to the head, which allows LIVV to build tension without creating pinch points or discomfort. More surface area meant more comfort. And the one-size-fits-all style of the headphones allows users to tweak tensions by tilting the band forward and back.
“You have some movement on the tension to make it tighter for more intense [activity] or loosen it to just relax and listen to music and read,” Clayton said. “That took a year-and-a-half of testing and trying.”
Once Clayton had the fit just right, he didn’t want to sacrifice sound, the very reason he started this venture. “Over-ear is a music thing,” he says. “I love big sounds. It is very important. I like to feel like I’m in the club when I’m working out. Over-ear provides that, especially on the low end.”
With 40-mm dynamic drivers leading the sound, LIVV combines Bluetooth with a MP3 player—Clayton says tuning the two components properly was more challenging than he thought—in a water-resistant package.
Entering the headphone market after four years of work—“to make sure that the experience was really rock solid, from the packaging to opening the box to pulling it out of the case to feeling that security and then hearing the music come through crisp and clean”—gives Clayton an understanding of the need to set LIVV apart from others. “When you look at our headphones it is like nothing you have ever seen before in your life,” he says. “We are very confident in our design being put on display and people recognizing that of all the headphones they have ever seen, these are totally different.”
To help prove the point, Clayton says LIVV will show up in “plain sight” this year during NFL pregame warmups.
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.