Everything You Need to Know About the Very Ugly Monster-Beats Lawsuit
A former partner of Beats Electronics is suing the company and phone manufacturer HTC for “deliberate acts of corporate betrayal.” Monster, which was involved in the design and development of the original Beats headphones, is alleging that Beats founders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre conned Monster out of its stake in the headphone empire through a series of unscrupulous business maneuvers. Now Monster is seeking punitive damages from Beats, which Apple bought last spring for $3 billion.
In its 64-page complaint, Monster unloads a barrage of allegations against Beats, particularly against Iovine. (Beats did not respond to an email seeking comment). Here are the key points you need to understand about the contentious relationship between the two companies that helped grow luxury headphones into a billion-dollar market.
Monster Prototyped and Manufactured the Original Beats
According to Monster’s complaint, Monster CEO Noel Lee and his son Kevin originally pitched the idea of high-end headphones to Iovine and Dr. Dre, who had been considering launching a speaker line, in late 2005. Eventually, Beats and Monster entered into a licensing agreement in early 2008—Monster would handle the engineering, production and distribution of the headphones, and Beats would offer the “Beats by Dre” branding and leverage the clout of Iovine and Dr. Dre to market them to sports and hip-hop fans. Monster says it financed the engineering of the original headphone line and developed at least 30 protoptypes. The combo of headphones of at least decent quality with extremely slick marketing and packaging was an immediate smash hit. Between 2008 and 2012, Beats by Dre products generated $1.5 billion in revenue, according to Monster.
Monster and Beats Cozy Up
As the premium headphones began to gain traction, Monster took a few actions to strengthen its relationship with Beats that the company now says led to its “betrayal.” In August 2009, Noel Lee bought a 5% stake in Beats (at the time, Iovine and Dr. Dre each had a 15% stake, according to Monster). That same year, Monster amended its licensing agreement to stipulate that Beats could terminate its licensing agreement with Monster if there was a transaction that resulted in a “bona fide change in control,” such as someone buying a majority stake in Beats.
An HTC Investment Ends Monster-Beats Partnership
In August 2011, phone manufacturer HTC bought a 51% controlling stake in Beats Electronics. According to Monster, this sale was the “bona fide change in control” that Beats needed to terminate its licensing agreement with Monster. The end of the Monster-Beats partnership was formally announced in January 2012, and Monster says it was “strong-armed” into providing information about its retailer and logistics networks to Beats quickly in exchange for getting to sell Beats-branded products for a slightly longer period.
Iovine and Dr. Dre Buy Beats Right Back
Less than a year after the HTC investment, Beats Electronics bought back half of HTC’s shares in the company, granting Iovine and Dr. Dre a 75% controlling stake in Beats. HTC had also provided Beats with a $225 million loan before the Beats founders bought back a portion of the company. At the time, HTC said the financial decisions were meant to give Beats “more flexibility for global expansion while maintaining HTC’s major stake and commercial exclusivity in mobile.” Monster, meanwhile, believes the entire HTC investment was a “sham” aimed at giving complete control of Beats to Dr. Dre and Iovine. “If the contractual arrangements between Beats and Monster terminated without a change of control, Beats would not have gained control of Monster’s pioneering engineering efforts, as well as Monster’s distribution and sales networks,” Monster wrote in its complaint. Beats bought out the rest of HTC’s stake in the company in 2013.
Monster Misses the Apple Payday
Monster’s Lee had reduced his stake in Beats from 5% to 1.25% following the end of the Monster-Beats partnership. As he was deciding whether to offload his Beats stake entirely in September 2013, Lee claims that he talked to multiple Beats officials who told him that Beats had no liquidity event coming “in the next year or two.” Lee sold his stake back to Beats at a price of $5.5 million. Eight months later, Apple bought Beats for $3 billion. Lee’s stake would have been worth about $100 million.
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Monster Suing Dr. Dre Over Beats Fiasco
Monster just sued Beats Electronics, manufacturer of ubiquitous Beats by Dre headphones, because Monster says it invented Beats, and that Beats stole its property and ran away. It's been clear for years that Monster designed the headphones, but does the company really have a legal claim to any of Dr. Dre's Monster money? We're about to find out.
Beats by Dre sells millions upon millions of sets of headphones every year—headphones that were designed by audio electronics experts Monster. In 2012 Beats screwed Monster by walking out and setting up shop on its own, before being acquired by Apple last summer for $3 billion. (For a short while, HTC owned 50 percent of Beats before they sold it back, but more on that below.) At issue is whether that screw job was just a business deal gone wrong, or whether it was a violation of the contract between the two companies.
The complaint (embedded below) filed today in San Mateo Superior Court alleges that Dr. Dre, along with Beats co-founder and record executive Jimmy Iovine, defrauded and "betrayed" Monster CEO Noel Lee when the companies split back in 2012.
As Gizmodo reported two years ago, the split was never amicable. Dre and Iovine walked away with a brand worth a fortune, while Lee was left with his competent audio company that had no other blockbuster products to rely on. Monster—Monster Cable, technically—was really good at making HDMI cables and patch wires for musicians. They'd provided the hardware design for Beats but not the branding, which was ultimately critical for the product's success.
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This quote from Sam Biddle's reporting is long, but it perfectly sets up the legal battle that's about to go down:
There can't be two winners. Monster solidified an agreement that got Beats Electronics alive and shipping headphones, but not without gigantic forfeit: Jimmy and Dre's side of Beats would retain permanent ownership of everything that Monster developed. Every headphone, every headband, every cup, every driver, every remote control—if there was a piece of metal or plastic associated with Beats By Dre, Noel and Kevin Lee surrendered it to Jimmy and Dre. Monster would also be entirely responsible for manufacturing the products—a hugely expensive corner of the deal—as well as distributing them. The heavy lifting.
In other words, Monster did all the hard work, while Iovine and Dre provided the cool factor.
Technically, the suit alleges that the HTC acquisition specifically was fraudulent; it's referred to as a "sham acquisition" in the complaint. By briefly selling a majority stake of the company to HTC, Dre and Iovine were able to force Monster to sell its 5 percent stake in the company. A year later, Dre and Iovine bought their shares back from HTC at a significant discount . Monster was out, but Beats still had Monster's design as well as industry knowledge about manufacturing and distribution.
In a statement emailed to Gizmodo, Monster's lawyers characterized the situation like this:
As stated in the Complaint, these claims arise out of deliberate acts of corporate betrayal in the consumer electronics industry...
...The Complaint asserts Defendants, including Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, engaged in a conspiracy and course of conduct to improperly take over Monster's incredibly successful line of 'Beats By Dr. Dre' products, as well as Monster's intellectual property.
Obviously, the way Monster got cut out was ugly. But were Dre and Iovine's business moves illegal? Or did Monster's lack of business acumen lead to its own demise?
212 2015-01-06 Monster Complaint
Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio (report for a newbie)
General results Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio
- Sensitivity by voltage: 115.24 dB/V SPL
- Sensitivity by power: 108.52 dB/mW SPL
- Average impedance : 212.50 ohm
- The type of acoustic design: Closed
- Headphone: Hi-impedance
- Type of headphones: Over-ear
Analysis with recommendations for Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones based on the measured characteristics
|Analysis and recommendations for Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio based on the measured characteristics|
(to which the headphones will be connected)
|Areas of using headphones||Sensitivity||Impedance||The type of acoustic design||Total|
|115.24 dB/V SPL||212.50 ohm||Closed|
|Low-power sources -18dBV/6dB(mA), S/N 105 dB: |
|Home or studio, where sound from the headphones does not bother anyone||3|
|Office and home, where people should not hear the sound from the headphones||3|
|Street with active traffic||2|
|Metro (subway), public transport||1|
| Mid-power sources 6dBV/30dB(mA), S/N 120 dB: |
a computer with sound card
a Hi-Fi player
a portable amplifier
a mixer console
|Home or studio, where sound from the headphones does not bother anyone||5|
|Metro (subway), public transport||5|
|Recording a voice or instrument in the studio||5|
|Hi-power sources 18dBV, S/N 120 dB:|
a home system with a headphone amplifier
|Home or studio, where sound from the headphones does not bother anyone||5|
|Office and home, where people should not hear the sound from the headphones||5|
Analysis of acoustic design Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio
The Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones are made with closed-type acoustic design.
Due to the closed type the headphones have passive noise isolation and for the surrounding public the headphones play much quiet than for the listener. External sounds for the listener is on the same quiet level.
Headphones with noise isolation are good for home, when you need not to disturb others while listening to music. It's good in a noisy office, allowing you not to be distracted. In noisy transport playing music in such headphones is more safe for hearing, because due to noise isolation it is possible to listen to music at an average or quiet volume. In the studio, when recording vocals or instruments on a microphone, the closed headphones fit best; Sound from the "minus" of the headphones will not get into the microphone.
Headphones with noise isolation are dangerous to use on the street with active traffic.
Analysis of the sensitivity of Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones
The sensitivity of the Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones is 115.24 dB/V SPL by the voltage and 108.52 dB/mW SPL by the power. The sensitivity by voltage reflects the relative "loudness" of the headphones among others - the higher is the value, the louder are the headphones. The sensitivity by power reflects the efficiency of the headphones. High sensitivity of the headphones means less energy need from the source (for portable devices - less power from the battery).
Depending on the sensitivity, headphones are best to use with sources of optimum power. If the source is too powerful, then there is a high probability of constantly hearing background noise. If source power is weak, there will be insufficient volume level.
In a quiet environment for the Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio, an amplifier with a voltage level of at least -11.24 dBV at 212 Ohms is recommended for listening to music with a level of 90 dB SPL (without noise isolation). An amplifier with a level above 26.76 dBV is not desirable if the volume control is digital, not analog.
For noisy environments, an amplifier with a voltage level of at least 0.76 dBV at a load of 212.50 ohms is desirable.
If you want to listen to music at a different volume level, you just need to add or subtract a change in dB to 90 dB SPL (for example, for a desired level of 105 dB SPL, add 15 dB and the minimum voltage level for the amplifier is -11.24 dBV + 15 dB = 3.76 dBV).
Analysis of the impedance of Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones
The average resistance at the headphones Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio is 212.50 Ohm.
The resistance affects the amount of current that the amplifier should give to the headphones. If the current is not enough, the sound quality will deteriorate, beginning with harsh in the sound and ending with a crackling. In most cases, at low current values, the amplifiers operate in comparable quality to class A, and as the current level rises, the quality decreases toward AB, B, and the clipping zone.
Imagine that you have a water tank, which gradually fills with water. The voltage from the amplifier this is the pressure with which the pump draws water from the reservoir. If the inflow of water in the tank is lower than the volume that the pump pumps out, then at the pump outlet we collect water and "bubbles". Similarly will be with the sound from the headphones, which are lacked the current from the amplifier.
For a quiet environment, an amplifier with an output current level of at least 1.29 mA in a given class of quality is desirable (preferably orientated to comparable class A) and 5.13 mA for loud.
Brief: Original noise-cancelling model from Monster’s Dre-endorsed headphone line
Current Price: $200 from amazon.com
Build Quality (7.5/10): As with the cheaper Beats by Dr Dre Solo, the construction of the Studio model utilizes mostly heavy plastics with a glossy finish. The moving parts are metal but the Studio, being much heavier than the Solo, tends to rattle a bit at the hinges. On the upside, the padding of the Studio is a bit more generous and there is no driver flex. The ANC function requires a pair of AAA batteries, which slot into a compartment on the left earcup. The right earcup holds a sliding on/off switch and a handy mute button. Like the Solo, the Studio is equipped with a detachable 3.5mm cable but the jack is slightly recessed so not all replacement cables will work.
Comfort (8.5/10): The Beats Studio is a circumaural headphone similar in size to the V-Moda Crossfade LP. Like the Crossfade, the Studio is on the heavy side as far as portable headphones go but the padding is ample and long-term comfort is quite good. It does get a little warm after a while but not too bad.
Isolation (9/10): The passive isolation of the Beats lags just a tad behind that of the V-Moda Crossfades and other mid-size circumaurals but the ANC functionality makes up for it for those who travel. Personally, I don’t think the ANC is very impressive compared to the higher-end Bose sets but it does work as advertised.
Sound (6.75/10): I’ve read multiple times that the Beats by Dre Studio are vastly superior in sound quality to the Beats Solo I happen to have reviewed recently, but I just don’t hear it. The problems of the Studio are all the same ones that the Solo suffers from – slightly bloated bass, mediocre clarity (considering the price), and a congested presentation. Like the Solo, the Studio has emphasized, omnipresent bass that is nevertheless tighter than the muddy low end of the V-Moda Crossfades. The bass is aggressive and, at time, intrusive. Impact is good but the texture and detail leave some to be desired, especially considering the price of the headphones. The cheaper Sennheiser HD25, for example, sounds much faster, cleaner, and more controlled than the Beats without giving up much impact. As with the Solos, I feel that the bass of the Studios, while powerful, is not true to source, glossing over detail for the sake of moving more air. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the drivers Monster used in the headphones are slow, but for the price tag I expect a lot more resolution from a set of full-size headphones.
There is some mid-range bleed with the Studios but it is limited by the slight forwardness of the mids (at least when compared to the Solo). Midrange clarity is about on-par with the Solos and on-level with the $40 Sennheiser PX90 I’ve been listening to, which is not terrible for a headphone with the bass bloat of the Monster Studios but certainly very disappointing for the asking price. There is a very slight but constant veil over the midrange and treble regions, which is made all the more annoying by the constant hiss of the ANC circuit and the additional interference it picks up from some RF devices. At their quietest, the Beats Studio are about as silent as a very sensitive headphone with a huge impedance mismatch. As a result, they really do not impress during quiet passages. Detail and texture are again fairly average as far as portable sets go – certainly no better than with the $60 Sennheiser PX100-II or the $90 AKG K430s. On the whole, the Beats sound a bit smoothed-over, as if designed to hide poor mastering and compression artifacts – not traits I normally associate with headphones named ‘Studio’.
Expectedly, the treble of the Studios is a bit laid-back compared to the midrange but not missing altogether. Detail and clarity are similarly mediocre and the top end seems to roll off a bit earlier than with my HD25-1. The lack of notable treble emphasis does mean that there’s no sibilance or harshness to the sound of the Beats but some information is missing at the top, resulting in a slightly dark and muffled overall treble presentation without much air. Tonally, the Studios are on the warm side of things but not quite up there with the Phiaton MS400s. The soundstage of the Studio Beats is slightly larger than that of the Sennheiser HD25 but the Sennheisers are much better at separating out spatial cues, largely due to their greater clarity and detail. While the Studios do beat the Solos in presentation, they are still not what I would call spacious or three-dimensional in presentation. Most annoyingly, the Studios get overwhelmed fairly easily on busy tracks due to a lethal combination of congested presentation and overblown bass. Interestingly, the Studio model is a bit more efficient than the Solo model and the slightly greater dynamic range means music played through them is still enjoyable at safe listening volumes.
Value (6/10): The original Monster Beats by Dr Dre model, the Studio is the headphone responsible for introducing an entire generation to high-end portable audio. As with the Beats Solo, the Studio is not a hi-fi headphone no matter how many times Monster tacks “HD” to the name – fidelity was clearly not a design criterion when they were tuned. Like the cheaper Beats Solo, the Studio is a bass-heavy set with relatively good presence throughout and a congested, but not claustrophobic, presentation. Those who have heard other Beats models should also not be surprised to learn that the clarity and resolution are not particularly great and that they tend to sound a bit murky at the top. However, an entire generation is now more open-minded to spending upwards of $150 on a set of headphones and that’s a victory for the entire industry. As for the Beats themselves, I see no reason to pay $275 for them. The ANC feature may be of value to some, but if ANC is the goal, Bose does it better anyway in my experience. Attention to detail is good but again the cheaper V-Moda Crossfades are packaged and accessorized better than the Beats, which just leaves build quality and comfort. The build quality is reasonable but the construction is not bulletproof – any of the popular DJ cans in the $100-200 range will last longer if abused. The comfort is probably the most competitive aspect of the beats, but again many other large portables do comfort just as well for less. I can see why the Beats are popular, I really can – the combination of features and marketing has always been a large part of Monster’s brilliance – but I can only hope that in planning to purchase the Beats, a small fraction of music lovers will stumble on a truly hi-fi set instead and make an educated purchasing decision.
Frequency Response: N/A
Cord: 4.3ft (1.3m), single-sided, detachable; Angled Plug
Space-Saving Mechanism: Collapsible
Beats monster dre
Monster Beats Solo by Dr Dre review: Monster Beats Solo by Dr Dre
The Beats Solo headphones follow in the tradition of Monster's other Dr Dre-branded earphones, right down to the black and white colour options. This set looks very similar to the original model with the full-size earcups, except the overall size of everything is noticeably smaller because of the on-ear design. The earpieces, which feature the customary red lower-case b logo stamped in a fashionable brushed-chrome circle, are circular and measure just 5.6 cm across. The earpads swivel a bit in the base for a more comfortable fit and are designed to rest on the outer ear. While we found the Solo headphones quite comfortable for an hour or two, some may experience uncomfortable pressure from this design, as we did after a couple hours.
From the earcups to the headband, the Beats Solo headphones have a nice, quality feel to them. The adjustable band is metal-coated in a soft, matte plastic and features a bit of padding on the top as well as the Dr Dre logo stamped on the outside. A single, removable cable in the Beats' signature thick, red coating attaches to the left earcup via a gold-plated straight plug. Following this 127 cm to the other end brings you to an uber-reinforced gold-plated L-plug that attaches to your audio source. The cable appears to be exceptionally durable and is not at all tangle-prone, a definite plus in our book.
The Beats Solo headphones have a couple of additional features that are worth mentioning. Foremost is that they include ControlTalk, which refers to a small square module a few inches down the cable that has an integrated mic and call-answer button for use with music phones. This button also doubles as playback controls for the iPod or iPhone, with one-click playing or pausing music, two clicks skipping forward a track and three skipping back. The module also incorporates a volume-rocker, which appears to work only with the aforementioned Apple devices. Finally, the headphones fold down into a compact form for storage and transport and Monster includes a case for these purposes as well.
While the original Dr Dre Beats headphones rather underwhelmed us in the bass department, the Beats Solo set takes things in the complete opposite direction. Indeed, the low-end can be quite overwhelming, especially on first use. Although the thumpiness mellows after the earphones have "burned in" a bit, there are still several tracks that tend to suffer from muddiness, Five Deez's "Afghanistan Dan's Skating Stand" being one example. As such, if you tend to listen to a lot of beat-heavy electronica or even dance pop (such as Scissor Sisters), you will likely be disappointed with the audio reproduction here.
On the plus side, not all songs sound overly muffled. We had a fair amount of luck with alt dance (Cobra Starship, 3OH!3), clean alt punk (No Doubt), some rap (MC Solaar, 50 Cent), and folk-like music (Dan Hicks). With these tracks, the Beats Solos offered reasonably clear audio with defined low- and high-ends and a smooth midrange. And yet it's hit and miss: T.I. tends to sound muddy, for example, and Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" is lacking in crisp response. We'd expect more of a genre-friendly pair of headphones given the AU$279 price tag. The design alone may be enough of a convincer for some, however.
Monster Beats by Dr. Dre, the definitive review
It’s not hard to design headphones that win raves from bloggers and customers. Just give people a big, fat bass line and you can expect to be showered with praise for “phenomenal” beats, “exceptional sound quality”, and “blissful, skull-vibrating pure bass”. It’s a much trickier proposition, though, to design headphones that give you all of the above, deservedly winning plaudits for the booming basement – while sounding just as good in every other department: Rocking the house and stomping the beats one moment, bringing out the best in fragile folk and spine-tingling sonatas the next, that’s the real trick that few headphones manage to perform.
Producer Dr. Dre either felt the same way or was persuaded by a sufficiently sweet pay package to lend his name to a new contender in the high-end headphones category. Beats by Dr. Dre Headphones are made by premium audio brand Monster, which has so far specialized in offering oversized cables for hi-fi enthusiasts – making people believe, some critics say, that the sound must be better simply because the cables are bigger and every inch or centimeter of cord costs a relative fortune.
The “Beats” are far from a bargain either, selling for around $350 in the U.S. But if you have discerning ears they may well be worth the money. Once you get past the Ubersized price and the awkward, marketing-inspired name, you’re free to enjoy the music – and I generally found the good doctor’s hearing aid to provide plenty of listening pleasure. There are some minor glitches, which we’ll get to in a moment, but overall the “Beats” deliver a sound experience that many people may find positively ear-opening.
Here’s what you get for your money: First off, the “Beats” are actually more than just a pair of headphones. Thanks to a built-in microphone in one of the two provided cables, they also double as a headset for musical mobile phones, such as certain Blackberry models and Apple’s iPhone (the plug fits first-generation iPhones, too). Secondly, the “Beats” offer a certain amount of noise isolation and are clearly intended to compete with Bose’s Quiet Comfort models, which are particularly popular with travelers and command an equally high-flying price. Consequently, Monster provided its new kid on the block with everything it needs to have a fighting chance. So you get a travel case, a couple of adapters that let the “Beats” play on planes, and even a cleaning cloth – which, mind you, is not just any sort of cloth, but a “Monster Clean Cloth with Aegis Microbe Shield”. Shure, whatever. (Oh, sorry, that’s a different brand.)
Out of the box, the “Beats” didn’t wow me at all. In fact, we were off to a bad start. The “iSoniTalk” cable with its built-in microphone has a button that lets you answer phone calls – basically, it’s a little plastic box with a clicker, and it’s not sealed. At first, I thought this was a manufacturing defect, and when I lightly pulled on the cover to inspect this “defect” more closely, the cover immediately came off. Monster says there was an issue with the glue in the initial production run that has since been fixed. And sure enough, a few drops of extra glue quickly reversed the damage to my review unit, too, but you have to wonder why the designers decided to leave the talk button contacts open to moisture and other outside influences.
Next step: power up. Two AAA batteries are included – this isn’t some cheap China toy, after all – but I wish Monster had gone with a rechargeable solution, like Bose did. The battery compartment’s cover feels cheaply made for a high-end headset, and putting it back in place was more fidgety than it should have been. However, once you get past the preliminaries the “Beats” become a much more pleasant proposition. I found them comfortable to wear for hours, even though at 270 grams – roughly half a pound – they’re not exactly featherweights.
The earcups are nicely cushioned and completely enclose the ear – a design that helps to lock out ambient noise. In addition, the “Beats” come with “active noise reduction”, which is just another word for noise canceling and requires enough power that there’s no music unless the headphones are switched on; in other words, if you run out of batteries you’re out of luck. This is similar to Boses’s Quiet Comfort models, but different from certain other noise-canceling headphones, for example Sennheiser’s PXC 250, which can be used without batteries as well. (Naturally, in that case there’s no noise-cancellation effect; you need power for the electronic circuits that do the heavy lifting.)
To test the noise-blocking effect, which Monster puts at a maximum reduction of 14 decibels, I took the “Beats” to a busy intersection where a construction crew was at work. The headphones did an admirable job of shielding me from the ruckus – a slightly better job, actually, than Bose’s Quiet Comfort 3, which may be due to the fact that the QC3 sit on top of the ears rather than encasing them (as their sister model Quiet Comfort 2 does). By comparison, Sennheiser’s PXC 250 barely managed to provide any insulation from the commotion at all – not surprising, actually, as they are a compromise between basic noise cancellation and compact size. The “Beats”, in fact, are so effective at isolating you from your environment that you may find the mute button in the right earcup very helpful – once pressed, it allows you to hear what’s going on in the outside world without taking off the headphones.
Still, it was at home, under more relaxed listening conditions, that the “Beats” truly started to shine. Their balanced sound and broad spectrum of musical talents quickly won me over. New Order’s “Blue Monday” sounded appropriately energetic, almost metallic, while the Thievery Corporation’s “Un simple histoire” floated by as calmly and smoothly as a cocktail hour on the Copacabana. On Jack Johnson’s “What You Thought You Need”, the Monster headphones plunged deep into the cellar the moment the bass drum kicked in, but at the same time never threatened to overwhelm Johnson’s subtle acoustic guitar strumming. The Last Shadow Puppet’s “My Mistakes Were Made For You” bathed in full symphonic glory, and trance classic “3rd Earth” by Scott Bond and Solarstone exploded into pure thomping energy after a very calm, casually playful piano intro – once again showing that the “Beats” are the rare breed of headphones that manage to handle various musical styles equally well.
By comparison, my Sennheiser PXC 250 sounded thin and nasal (while still being better than a number of other headphones I’ve tried), and the Bose Quiet Comfort 3 often seemed to lack in transparency. Listening to the same song, instruments felt crammed together when I was wearing the QC3 but distinctly separated when I picked up the “Beats”. It’s the difference between walking through a narrow corridor or over a wide open field – suddenly you feel the air. And while it’s a bit like comparing apples and peas, I also gave my Bang & Olufsen A8 earbuds a try. They held up surprisingly well, considering their design puts them at a natural disadvantage in bass reproduction – as expected, their greatest weakness compared to the “Beats”.
The only headphones in my collection that truly gave the Monster pair a run for their money were Denon’s AH-D1001, which sell for abou
t $200 less. On the “Locust Mix” of Phillip Boa’s “Deep in Velvet” they dived right down into the same depths of bass as Dr. Dre’s creation (some 20,000 leagues under the sea), and the next moment they treated Yann Tiersen’s delicate “Goodbye Lenin” score with equal caution as Monster’s, careful not to break anything. Only in direct comparison did the “Beats” manage to nudge ahead from time to time – not by much, but overall they just sounded a bit roomier and more natural.
Whether that – and the better sound insulation – are worth the extra money you’ll have to decide for yourself. Much of this is a matter of taste anyway, so be sure to listen before you buy, for example at an Apple store or Best Buy outlet (Monster’s official retail partners).
The one troubling issue I found was that the “Beats” seemed to have a tendency to create interference noise, similar to what you sometimes hear when you place a mobile phone near a loudspeaker. Initially I thought the problem was related to using the Monster headphones with my iPhone, but the issue occurred with several iPods as well. It was enough of a concern that I contacted Monster. The company sent a second review unit for comparison. This one showed similar symptoms but much more more rarely – once or twice a week at most during many hours of listening – so the initial pair of “Beats” may have been defective.
If you mostly listen to classical music you might also find the faint background hiss distracting – it’s no more than a slightly elevated level of white noise related to the noise-reduction electronics, typical of this kind of headphones. Still, sensitive ears may notice it in quiet passages.
None of this, however, is to take away from the fact that Dr. Dre and Monster have managed to design a truly impressive set of headphones – one that kicks bass without neglecting the rest of whatever music you’ll let it play with. The raves are already pouring in, and this time they are justified.
From the same author: V-Moda Vibe Duo Review and Google’s First Steps
Publisher’s note: Karstern Lemm is also a photographer. Here are his original photos for this review, check his photo site.
Filed in . Read more about Hands-On.
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