Celebrity Headphone Deathmatch - Winners and Losers
Celebrity Headphone Deathmatch Winners and Losers
I reckon that since this is a deathmatch, we need to declare some winners and losers.
Soul by Ludacris SL150 - Of the big three rapper can company headphones (Beats by Dre, Soul by Ludacris, SMS by 50), I found the Soul by Ludacris SL150 to be the best of the bunch. And fairs pretty well when compared to all headphones of it's price/type. I like this headphone.
V-Moda Crossfade M-80 & V-80 True Blood - When it comes to the concept of celebrity itself, I think V-Moda nails it by giving you the ability to celebrate anyone --- even yourself --- with custom engraving and colors on their headphones. Add to that really great sound, a swarthy style, and tank-like build quality, and I think you'll find the M-80/V-80 are truly winners.
Skullcandy Mix Masters - Simply put, these were the best sounding celebrity headphone I've heard to date. The great sound and comfort will please all, and the cool DJ features will keep turntablists happily scratching.
Sync by 50 - One of the worst sounding $400 headphones I've had the misfortune of putting on my head. Other than the fact the KLEER is a very good wireless/lossless audio transmission technology, these headphones fail for me in almost every way.
AKG Quincy Jones Q460 - The rapper companies have produced numerous headphones that sound worse than these, but I feel AKG has other more laudable headphones that could have been rebranded for Quincy Jones.
Beats by Dre Solo - For me, the most miserable fail of all. These headphones are available everywhere, and play the part of a great headphone very well ... that is until you put music through them. I think they're giving quality headphone listening a bad name.
House of Marley - The difference between receiving, unboxing, holding, and experiencing a House of Marley product as opposed to any of the other products in this report is dramatic. I really think these guys "get it," and I can't wait to try more of their products.
Skullcandy - Anybody who thinks Skullcandy is just a toy maker is in for a rude awakening. The Mix Master and Aviator are great sounding cans. I suspect we're going to see a lot of very good headphones from this company. Keep your ears and mind open for future Skullcandy product.
V-MODA - By far, I think the biggest win in terms of celebrity in this "Celebrity Headphone Deathmatch" is V-Modas ability to let you customize your headphones so that you can celebrate whatever or whoever you want. Personal audio made more personal ... I love it!
Koss - I don't want them to lose, and I think they've done okay with their Tony Bennett headphone, but I do think in the grand scheme of things it's too little too late. I just don't think there's enough pizzaz in the product, company, or endorser to turn these into a popular headphone ... even among the older crowd.
SMS by 50 Cent - I've developed products professionally before (headphone amplifiers), and I've never completed a product development in less than about a year. To start a new company and bring two new products to the mass consumer marketplace in about four months is, in my view, reckless to the health of the company. I think 50 is going to have a tough road ahead.
Beats Audio - In my mind, the biggest loser company of all is Beats Audio. They have the money and the talent to produce perfectly good audio product, but for me, they fail regularly. I think they should get artists and executive management out of the way, and let the engineers do what they've been trained to do.
Wins for Consumers
I think the interesting observation here is that it's young companies with a vision (V-MODA, Skullcandy, House of Marley) that won out. Old guard companies like Sennheiser, AKG, and Koss, have approached lifestyle headphone development in a rather lazy and unimaginative manner by simply signing up a celebrity and rebranding existing product. The rapper companies with their gangsta sensibilities have produced plenty bling, but little of substance. It's the fresh-faced companies on a mission that have done some really innovative and cool work. I think this is a big win for consumers because we now have products from these companies that are markedly different and uniquely pleasing in ways traditional headphone company's products are not.
Losses for Consumers
Unfortunately, I think the drive for lifestyle/fashion/celebrity headphones has netted more increase in price than it has increase in user value. Headphones are now more expensive, but they don't perform commensurately better. Consumers, on the whole, are simply not well enough informed to separate the performance these companies put on the stage of pop-culture, from the performance their products deliver at the ear. I'll keep working on clearing that up.
I'm going to keep doing these types of reviews, that's for sure. It was very informative for me going through the process; I hope it was for you as well. Please feel free to comment below on your experiences with any of the cans covered in this report, or to ask me for further clarification.
As time goes on I will continue to evaluate these celebrity cans, and will do full length reviews as I find worthy products. I will also likely update and expand this article as I hope it will be widely read for a some time to come and I'd like to keep it's information as current as possible. So, if you find yourself with a yen for some celebrity cans, please check back again for the latest info.
Again, I want to thank Brian at Headphones.com for heroic efforts to get these headphones to me at a time when they are just appearing on the market. I couldn't have done the job without his help.
Alrighty then! Video first, then a long list of resources about celebrity headphones. Thanks for reading!
If you'd like to see "Celebrity Headphone Deathmatch" up close and personal, check out this interview between myself and Scott Wilkinson on TWiT.tv.
NY Times article: Beats Headphones Expand Dr. Dre's Business World"
Celebrity Endorsements Help Boost Sales of Stereo Headphones, According to The NPD Group
Billboard article "Beats by Dre: Secrets Behind a Headphone Empire."
Financial Times "Could a pair of headphones save the music business?"
Madame Noire "The Business of Celebrity Endorsed Headphones
Time Out Hong Kong interviews the Beats team.
For a look inside Skullcandy, read their Form S-1 SEC filing.
PR Web press release on IBISWorld Headphone Manufacturing Report
The Daily Beast's "Have you ever heard of Sennheiser?"
CNN Money "What 50 Cent sees in headphones."
CNN Money, "Skullcandy's delicious ride."
Complex interview with HeadMonster Noel Lee and son Kevin of Sol Republic.