Since launching its first product in 2008, Beats has gone from an obscure niche headphone brand to a multi-million dollar business with plenty of star power (Dr. Dre, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, etc.) catapulting the brand into the mainstream spawning several celebrity and musician endorsed rival brands. Now it’s going after an older crowd with the Executive over-the-ear headphones, which I’ve been testing for the last few days.
Originally partnered with Monster, the company has since detached itself from the audio manufacturer, had the majority of the company acquired (51 percent) by HTC, acquired music service MOG, and then regained 25 percent of HTC’s shares back this past July. It’s also had its brand name attached to HP laptops and HTC smartphones.
While the company has tapped into the youth of this country, it hasn’t quite gained traction with the folks whose annual incomes are, well, significantly higher than a 17-year-old’s. It’s unclear why Beats is going in this particular direction given that the “b” brand can be seen just about everywhere you look.
Maybe it has something to do with Monster now marketing its own line of headphones geared towards an older demo. Or the fact that the Beats brand commands over 60 percent of the over $100 headphone market in the U.S. I guess a $1 billion industry is worth protecting.
“If you look at the category right now, almost all the competing products are made of plastic. We’re bringing craftsmanship and premium materials, such as aluminum alloy, stainless steel, and hand-stitched leather,” Luke Wood, president and COO of Beats, told me. “Beats has fans of every age, but we wanted to build the Executive for the business traveller who doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable wearing bright green headphones on the plane.”
Other than looks and what I assume are subtle changes to the audio components under the hood, the Executives appear to be built on the same platform as the original Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, including the use of regular AAA batteries to power the active noise-cancelling functionality. And just like the originals, the Executives won’t work when those batteries die. Pretty annoying in my opinion for a $300 pair of headphones but maybe I’ve grown accustomed to all my doodads having rechargeable batteries.
The Executives are said to last upwards of 25 hours per set of batteries. So far I’ve logged several thousand miles (SFO>JFK>ICN) and roughly 15 hours with the included batteries. The noise-cancellation function can be muted by depressing the “b” icon on the right earcup. Batteries are deposited into the left earcup by popping off the cover, which is tethered by a string and kept in place with magnets. A nice touch overall and they definitely feel premium.
When asked why the core feature still relies on standard batteries, Wood had this to say: “Our research of this particular use case shows the consumer preference is split in regards to rechargeable and disposable batteries. Keeping the demographic in mind for this product, there is anxiety around forgetting to charge your batteries and getting on the plane for a business trip to find they’re dead and there’s no time or place to charge. Many people would rather just bring a spare set of batteries than risk being stranded on a flight with no sound. With that said, as our products continue to evolve we will consider the technology that makes the most sense as well as sustainability issues.”
Regardless of whether I think that a $300 pair of headphones should function sans batteries, the Executives are really comfortable (it’s worth noting that I wear glasses and find it annoying to wear over-the-ears) and offer a less bass-y sound than previous models. Even with the noise cancellation or because of it, you really have to crank up the volume to hear your tunes. The low end seems a bit muddled and when cranked up all the way up it just sounds a bit fuzzy. Albeit ever so slightly.
They’ll be available in mid-October and come with a carrying case, cleaning cloth, two adapters and two sets of audio cables, including one for use with your phone.
Since the dissolution of its partnership with Monster on July 1, Wood says the Executives are “an example of what’s to come” from the now free-standing company.