Beats headphones sound fine…but they look amazing. And they’ve spent endless money to show you this fact.
This focused design ethos carried the Beats by Dre brand to the top of the world, creating a whole new headphone market that no one else had ever thought to chase.
Derided at the outset by audiophiles, who were quickly crushed under the thunder of emphasized bass notes… Beats shook everything up and made headphones cool for the first time.
That was all before they sold to Apple.
An Undeniable Appeal
I generally prize comfort and sound quality the most in headphones, and I don’t think Beats do either of those things particularly well for their price.
And yet I’ve still owned a few pairs.
I like to enjoy the look of things. Humans are visual creatures. If something looks and feels nice, it magically becomes more fun to use. When you think about it, it’s shocking that other audio companies never tried going all-in on visual appeal.
Beats are immediately eye-catching in their store displays, hovering over the rack like some kind of mystically stylish future-tech. They‘re fashion products that just so happen to contain technology.
Oh sure they’ve got fancy bluetooth W1 chips, good wireless range, powerful bass, memory foam yeah yeah yeah… but have you SEEN them?
The Colors Are Great
Beats probably sells a color of headphones that will appeal to you.
They make headphones in more default color/style options than any other audio company, without the need for an expensive extra customization service or attachable skin.
Even if you don’t really like their questionably-useful features, their aggressive sound, or their price tag…you can look at the Beats line-up and go “Well that one looks nice!”
You can buy a pair of Beats that matches your clothes. Or your phone. Or your laptop. Or all three.
Beats disappear on top of your desk in a way that other audio products struggle to do, thanks to their clean lines. They look like a natural part of the scenery. They meld into your lifestyle to the point where you just accept them.
Like a fancy lamp.
It’s impossible now to spend a whole day in an urban area and not see someone wearing a pair of Beats headphones.
Apple Was the Perfect Match
My 12-inch MacBook’s computer hardware is just fine…but it looks amazing.
Could I have purchased a computer with more powerful hardware for the same price? Absolutely!
Would it have looked and felt as nice to use? No!
Apple has played the same aesthetics game with computers that Beats has done with headphones for years now.
It wasn’t always like this; in the early days, with products like the Apple II, they competed on features and expandability.
Now, Apple’s tech products gently poke the industry rather than trying to totally overhaul it.
But they do it with style. And sell piles of hardware to consumers that love style.
Remember these things?
Look! A colorful fun case!
Apple brought colors to the computer market with the first iMac, and got laughed at by many hardcore tech fans. They said it wouldn’t work. They said the hockey puck mouse was stupid. They said the integrated design made the machine impossible to upgrade. “What happens if the monitor breaks? Now you have to replace the whole thing!”
And then Apple laughed all the way to the candy-colored bank, and started a hardware lineup that continues to this day.
While their color choices are more austere now than those early iMacs, Apple’s laptop computers still come in a variety of color options to match their phones.
They were the best company to buy Beats.
Following The Leader
Other headphone makers, in a sudden grab for the giant mainstream audio market that’s been opened up by the fun colors and styling of Beats, followed suit.
Bose’s QuietComfort headphones went, in two quick iterations, from this…
Audio-Technica’s M50X headphones, which normally look like this…
…now come in limited edition colors that cost more, are refreshed every year or so, and change nothing about the sound quality or comfort.
Beyerdynamic took the dated shell of the DT 770 Pro, which was originally designed not to be seen outside recording studios…
…and turned it into the Custom One Pro, with fun customizable back plates, and different color options.
Is This a Good or a Bad Thing?
I don’t think it’s either.
Beats brought colors and style to the audio industry, along with a fun bass-heavy sound that most hardcore audiophiles don’t love. And now they sell more headphones than anyone else ever hoped to sell thanks to aggressive marketing and a better understanding of the mainstream than their competition. It’s not good or bad, it’s just illustrative of how the tech market now functions.
Aesthetics are the ultimate key to mainstream tech success.
As a knock-on effect I can now wear my geeky better-sounding headphones in public and not look extremely weird. I don’t look as cool as I would wearing Beats, of course. And their marketing machine is going to tell me that every 8 seconds on billboards, during sports games, and all over the web.
Beats products have possibly served as a gateway product for some users, showing them the world of other more niche audio options.
At the same time…how many dedicated Mac users go build their own PC as their next computer instead of just buying a new Mac every few years? Beats are designed to be a disposable and stylish appliance that you replace occasionally…they have no user-serviceable parts.
I don’t think that the new, larger headphone market is actually available to the other audio companies, even though they’ve added some fun colors and design styling to their famous products. I’d guess that this is why those audio companies have also created more products in the $1000+ range.
They’re chasing after luxury buyers instead of Beats buyers, because Beats buyers want Beats.
Millions of people are now enjoying music in the intimate, detailed way that only headphones provide, along with some extra head-shaking bass. The other “more professional” headphones won’t go away, but Beats will never lose their market…
Unless they try to cater to me by improving the sound quality and the comfort over the style.
I’m not the consumer they want, and they still got me to buy some.