The Rapper Headphone Conspiracy

Allow me to propose a scenario to you.  You purchase an iPod and begin listening to music through the earphones that come as standard with the product.  Now that the minimalist white design isn't such a fashion statement anymore, it's lifted the veil on a search for audio quality, which is still driven by looks; but under a different rule to before: bigger is better.

No this isn't an intended double entendrè for rambunctiously promiscuous females, it's a trend that returns us to the use of cans.  Over-exemplified headphones of the on-ear variety, with an over-compensating design ethic.  Granted other smaller profile, in-ear models are on offer; but there is only one set of headphones that the subsequent rapper usually poses with in promotional photography.  

This took Dr. Dre to the length and breadth of audiophile superstardom when his name was used for a branded series of headphones by Monster, simply dubbed "Beats by Dre."  This warranted an overblown design, a jaw dropping price and, to take 'Steve Jobs' terminology, a reality distortion field surrounding these bass-heavy headphones being the best sound quality that money can buy.  Although these could also be the unquestionable demise of the high-end headphone market.

Here is where the conspiracy begins. 

Quoting from Dre himself:

People aren’t hearing all the music.

Artists and producers work hard in the studio perfecting their sound. But people can’t really hear it with normal headphones. Most headphones can’t handle the bass, the detail, the dynamics. Bottom line, the music doesn’t move you.

With Beats, people are going to hear what the artists hear, and listen to the music the way they should: the way I do.

Just a quick, picky thing: you won't hear 'what the artists hear,' as they'll be embracing the uncompressed version on the recording desk, which when mixed together (before mastering) will give a far superior sound before being turned into whichever form of digitally compressed file you take your music nowadays.  So Beats or no Beats, this is technically incorrect.

The frequency response of their original (and most promoted) headphones, the 'Studio,' is what you'd expect from most headphones of this size on the market: 20-20,000Hz; but with the use of 'advanced materials' to deliver undistorted highs and rich lows.  They have a 115db dynamic range, and a respectable (but not the biggest) 40mm driver size.  Of course, this maybe all good quantitative statistics.  However, we must also focus on the qualitative, because audio is something much more of a finely-tuned judgement, the same way that pixels don't necessarily define the quality of a camera's photograph.  The sum of its parts.

For the Beats Studio, and many other headphones branded by rappers that match this product, I'm not sure how incorporated into the R&D and building process they were; but the bass exists far too much within the context of the sound.  It swaps into the mid-range, the active noise cancellation offers a hiss that when you hear it never disappears, and there are just simply other headphones that cost less, yet have a similar or better sound signature.  

The textured sound of these are next-to indistinguishable with a pair of Sennheiser HD 419s.  They even manage to implement the same over-quantified bass that the Beats and many more love; but that's where the conspiracy lies

The on-ear, closed back headphones of old were celebrated by sound enthusiasts and constructed for that very purpose: providing a thoroughbred set of audio values that were simply unobtainable elsewhere.  Now, however, in partnership with a rapper, we now have a set of bass-heavy, hip hop reliant, over-visually branded and fashioned, over-priced cans that are supposed to be the representation of the 'high-end' market, when forty quid can get audiophiles the same quality.

And now that 50 Cent, Jay-Z, and most recently Ludacris have entered the Rapper Headphone game, it seems that this is the final kiss of death heard all over the world through a pair of headphones valued close to £300.  That is until Vanilla Ice has a go...

Jason England