Accent Wear headphones
Axent Wear headphones: the startup, launched by Cal graduates, rapidly raised more than $2.9 million on crowd-funding site Indiegogo, far exceeding its goal of $250,000. Photo: Axent Wear

It may be happenstance, or the sign of a specialized talent pool, but Berkeley is home to two new innovative headphone start-ups, both of which have made their debuts via crowd-funding sites.

One company was started by Cal graduates, and the other by Cal dropouts who left to pursue their acoustical dream.

If high-tech feline attire is your music-listening thing, take a look at Axent’s Wear Cat Ear headphones, which launched on Indiegogo a little over a month ago.

“The latest fusion of fashion and functionality with external cat ear speakers and LED lights,” reads the description. “Presenting Axent Wear, glowing, badass headphones that let you blast your music and express your style.”

The headphone company were started “by two UC Berkeley alum with an idea,” the site says.

That idea seems to have hit a chord. In just a few weeks, Axent raised more than $2.9 million, far exceeding its stated goal of $250,000.

YouTube video

The ears on the headphones function as external speakers, or users can listen privately in over-the-ear traditional fashion. (Watch them in action in Axent’s promotional video, above.) The headphones are currently selling for $170 a pair, which includes taxes and shipping, and are available with glowing LED accents in blue, red, purple, green or multicolor.

We reached out to the Axent team via email several times and in various ways, and didn’t hear back. Then we noticed this message posted on the site about a couple of days ago:

“Hi everyone! This is Axent Wear co-founder and the headphones designer Wenqing (aka Yuumei). I am currently in China right now to oversee headphones production.

We here at Axent Wear believe in complete honesty to our backers and complete moral responsibility to the environment and human rights. Thus I believe it is very important to let everyone who put their trust in us to know each and every step of the headphones production, good news or bad news.

Right now I have some bad news. The manufacturer that my co-founder has been in contact with for the past year is not up to the environmental or human rights standards that we thought they had. This is an unfortunate discovery that I only found out upon a personal visit of the factory during the past two weeks. “

Founder Wenqing Yan, an anime deviant art talent with a huge fan-base, who earned an art degree at Cal, goes on to say the company is looking for a new manufacturer and will keep folks posted.

Axent also sells computer wallpapers and posters featuring its anime-inspired cat critters. “Pimp out your desktop with original Axent Wear artwork and photography!,” the site says.

Wearhaus Arc headphones: the startup was launched by two UC Berkeley dropouts and
Wearhaus Arc headphones: headphones allow multiple people to share music via Bluetooth. Photo: Wearhaus

Not into wearable cat ear speakers, but still interested in a Berkeley-based sound? Wearhaus is another local headphones startup, selling through another crowd-funding site, Kickstarter.

The Wearhaus Arc headphones allow multiple people to share music via Bluetooth — no need for connector cables. You can share privately with select Arc friends, or publicly, with anyone donning the gear. A mobile app lets you select and control your tunes.

“We never liked the way that headphones automatically close you off from everyone around you (although in many cases, that’s useful!), so we built Arc to be the first pair of headphones that let you wirelessly sync up with multiple friends and listen together,” the Kickstarter site says.

“The Wearhaus Arc is a reimagining of this classic piece of hardware; with all the changes in how we share and listen to music; it’s about time headphones evolved to keep up.”

Since launching in mid-November, the Wearhaus Arc campaign has raised more than $126,000, exceeding its $50,000 initial goal. As of Dec. 3, the campaign had nine more days to run.

Similar to Axent, Arc features colorful LED “light rings,” which glow in green, red, blue and turquoise. The rings are customizable; users can choose their glow. “Express yourself with color,” the site says. The Arc headphones sell for $179 a pair.

Wearhaus co-founders and Cal dropouts Richie Cheng and
Wearhaus co-founders Richie Zeng and Nelson Zhang: the pair dropped out of Cal to launch their headphone company. Photo: Wearhaus
Wearhaus co-founders Richie Zeng and Nelson Zhang: the pair dropped out of Cal to launch their headphone company. Photo: Wearhaus

Unlike Axent, the Wearhaus company founders left UC-Berkeley before graduating in order to build their project.

We caught up with founder Richie Zeng, a former electrical engineering/computer science major.

“It’s going great. We’re shipping out and getting them into the hands of people and the feedback is really positive,” said Zeng, 21, who started the company with fellow Cal dropout Nelson Zhang. The Kickstarter campaign is being used to create buzz, get the word out, and get sales started, Zeng said.

The Arc headphones, which Zeng says are close to studio quality, are also manufactured in China. Zeng said the company was pre-vetted for maintaining strict regulations around environmental and worker conditions.

He and co-owner Zhang worked on several products during college, Zeng said, “and the headphones were the ones our friends were the most excited about.”

And what did their parents think of the students jumping academia for the Big Pond of Big Business?

“Pretty OK with it,” Zeng said. “They definitely think we should have an education, but the place you have an education shouldn’t have to be in school. They’re supportive of this.”

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Freelancer Catherine "Kate" Rauch has been contributing to Berkeleyside for several years. Her work as a journalist has encompassed everything from 10 years as a daily news reporter for the East Bay Times,...