beats by dre tour headphones Dre’s Beat headphones are on the frontline of a tech revolution
The beginnings of the next big personal tech craze may be wrapped around your ears right now.
Headphones are hot again, both as a way to play music and other programming from digital devices and as a fashion accessory.
And by headphones I’m not referring to earbuds, those little plastic cones you shove painfully into your skull. I’m talking real, old school, bulky wraparound speakers.
What makes today’s ‘phones new school is the hip factor. For that, you have to admire the vision and self confidence of Andre Young, aka hip hop mogul Dr. Dre.
In 2008, Dre teamed up with Jimmy Iovine, the studio engineer who recorded Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” Their goal was to do something akin to the acoustic alchemy Iovine accomplished with The Boss take something old (Iovine recreated Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” right down to the idiosyncratic glockenspiel) and make it new again.
In the case of their Beats by Dre headphones, the partners focused on two things: slick, urban style and the heart of any musical beat, which is bass reproduction.
A potential problem was that source component manufacturers, like Apple, were essentially giving away their earbuds for free with iPods. Dre and Iovine, meanwhile, were determined to go boldly to the edge of the retail universe with headphones that would cost $300 a pair.
By all accounts, the rest of the electronics industry thought the rapper and sound shaper had gone insane in the membrane. Nobody would buy Beats, they snickered, putting down their drinks only long enough to shovel more cash into such sure fire concepts as SACD discs and 3D televisions.
Fast forward five years, and Dr. Dre still hasn’t delivered a long awaited new album. Seems he’s been too busy, with his mind on his money and money on his mind big money. Against the odds, Beats has grown into a $1 billion business.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, almost 60 percent of high end headphones sold today are made by the company. Just as mind boggling was the recent guess by an audiophile magazine that Beats by Dre products themselves generate more profits than the entire high end sound industry a world where six foot tall speakers can sell for $5,000 to $50,000 or more, and hulking amplifiers fetch the same long green.
Just as Michael Jordan’s brand elevated the lowly leather basketball shoe to a must have luxury item, Beats by Dre are the accessory of choice for many young people seeking to be hip,
whether they add the hop or just listen to Bieber and GaGa.
And it’s not just teens and millennials. I recently had a long wait at Tulsa International Airport and watched with utter fascination as several middle aged and older people strolled up to the unattended Best Buy vending machine, inserted their credit cards, and walked away with Beats by Dre for their flights.
Like the now classic Mazda RX 7 or Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, Beats by Dre show what can be accomplished by capturing the elusive “cool” factor. Like those cars, Beats headphones get the job done but are hardly the last word in performance. Yet, their sleek lines and colors can’t be, ahem, beat.
I have to hand it to Dre and Iovine. Despite all their success, they’ve resisted the temptation to just start stamping their brand on any piece of junk to squeeze out a few more zeros on the profit line. In fact, just the opposite is true.
For the last several years, Dre has been limiting his musical endeavours to concentrate on Beats, which he says he wants to bring to as high a standard as Apple products. The company has introduced portable, Bluetooth enabled speakers, started a streaming music service and says it wants to get into home and car audio.
By improving on the past, Iovine and Dre may have tapped into the beat of the future. John La Grou, the CEO of sound technology firm Millennia Media, predicted in the March edition of Stereophile magazine that the immersive experience of headphones will only become more popular in music listening, games and home entertainment.
“This is not a fad: Over the next 20 to 30 years, 3D soundfield production and design will be one of the biggest growth areas in audio delivery via headphones,” La Grou wrote.
“. By about 2040, on ear audio will rival or exceed the subjective performance of today’s best audiophile rooms and loudspeakers.”
Combined with new developments for visual images, such as the Google Glass headworn computer, video screens will literally be right before our eyes. And that’s not even the most mind blowing aspect of this near future realm.
“The keyboard and mouse will be replaced by spoken commands and gestures made in free space,” La Grou forecasts.
And if you need a keyboard, one will be provided for you in the virtual world you are peering into through these new devices.
No doubt Beats by Dre is already studying how it will retain its dominance in such a world. CEOs in other businesses would be smart to start gesturing now, too, if only to their development lackeys.