Gadgets

Apple will take over design of Beats headphones, but what about the mediocre sound?

Image Credit: Titanas/Flickr

The engineers who worked on the original iPhones must have gotten tired of hearing how bad the little white earbuds that shipped with their product sounded. Why would a company helmed by a professed audiophile like Steve Jobs allow that to happen?

Of course, they eventually improved the headphones with the EarPods that shipped with the iPhone 5.

But Apple may be headed into the same kind of conundrum with Beats headphones. If you ask people who know what good headphones sound like, most will tell you that Beats headphones are mediocre at best — heavy on design, heavy on low-end bass, and heavy on price. The last Beats product I reviewed, the large over-ear Studios and the in-ear Tours, both sounded boomy and flat.

I’m in good company here. Whole websites have sprung up to decry the lacking quality in Beats phones, while audiophiles talk lengthily on forum groups about ways Beats could improve its product.

Beats announced today one last headphones release before the company becomes part of Apple. The new ‘phones are an upgrade to the popular “Solo” line, of which four were sold every minute around the world last year. The Solo 2 units, Beats says, feature a new design, wider range of sound, and enhanced clarity. It’s that last thing, clarity, that I’ve found lacking in previous Beats phones.

The new Solo 2s will also be the last designed by Beats’ long-time design house, Ammunition. Ammunition CEO Robert Brunner said in a blog post shortly after the Beats/Apple deal was officially announced yesterday that his company would no longer be in the mix. The future design of Beats headphones will roll over to Jony Ives’ team at Apple.

But that’s just the outside of the phones. In some nondescript building in an office park somewhere in Cupertino, a group of audio engineers is sitting around talking about the future of the audio guts of the Beats headphones — about the quality of the speaker cones, magnets, and audio chips inside them. The question is whether or not that engineering group will be allowed to reinvent the insides of the Beats Audio products. Only Apple and Beats know that.

Today, the real value in Beats headphones — the reason millions whipped out the card and paid the premium price — is in the brand names. Not the Beats brand name, but the Dre, Iovine, and Reznor brand names. I’d wager that most consumers didn’t read those names as an assurance that the phones would sound good, but rather that they would deliver some street cred.

It will be truly sad if the Beats acquisition signals the beginning of an Apple that markets products that look cool but don’t perform especially well and that have prices based mainly on the accumulated value of that Apple logo on the front.

More information:

Apple designs and markets consumer electronics, computer software, and personal computers. The company's best-known hardware products include the Macintosh line of computers, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Apple software includes t... read more »

Powered by VBProfiles


Mobile developer or publisher? VentureBeat is studying mobile app analytics. Fill out our 5-minute survey, and we'll share the data with you.
19 comments
Ryan Baltz
Ryan Baltz

I remember them pitching them originally as being headphones for mixing, because they have good low end, but saying certain headphones are better for mixing is kind of like saying certain screen doors are better for submarines.

Ryan Baltz
Ryan Baltz

Was that 1.5 billion annually in sales or profits?

Matthew Giacomazzo
Matthew Giacomazzo

People need to do themselves a favor and ignore the marketing. Go for studio quality from the professional brands actually used in music for years. My Audio-Technica headphones have better build quality, better sound, still looks great all for less than the cost of a Beats.

Jon Baltz
Jon Baltz

Maybe they could hire the guys at Monster. Their DNA headphones are great. Oh wait... awkward...

Ryan M Bertoldi
Ryan M Bertoldi

Build quality?? Theyre an (outdated) fashion statement at best.. (enter hipster thrashing here)

Sumi Allen
Sumi Allen

Found a pair of earbuds at Target. FOR $3!!! And they work. That's all I care about. The other $197+ tax = status symbol. Which I care nothing about until criminal bankers get waterboarded at Gitmo and the investments in this country transfer from Treasuries to live real private sector business backed financial vehicles. The sound? I'm around enough people who work in "the biz" (many rock and roll MUSICIANS live in Calabasas or Hollywood btw...) who CAN give you the goods on who delivers the best sound. I don't need the press to tell me- thanks!

Chris Tucker
Chris Tucker

they bought it for the streaming not the #crapheadphones

Jeremy Reger
Jeremy Reger

only so many people are going to buy a set.. and they really aren't consumable.. so I would say they got out at the right time..

Peter James Herz
Peter James Herz

Can't believe Dre sold a company making 1.5B a year for only twice that.. what a steal for Apple.

Swag Valance
Swag Valance

Too many better headsets to ever have needed Beats.

keith maxx
keith maxx

@Swag Valance  Ditto. The line is just a bunch of overpriced, branded audiowear, in my opinion.