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.

Winning Headphones
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.

Losing Headphones
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.

Winning Companies
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!

Losing Companies
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.

nunh's picture

article and site - thank you!

MrSaikes's picture

Gotta love the image, Tyll =D

jvlgato's picture

Great article, and great picture! Thanks!

Brentagon's picture

A lot of work obviously went into this article. Nice job, Tyll! Here's hoping that, in 2012, we'll be able to see a similar round-up of all the new headphones being produced by speaker companies, which seems to be the trend for the next year.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
It's a dirty job ... but someone's gotta do it.
RPGWiZaRD's picture

Haha, epic picture!

Draygonn's picture

I hope the V-Moda custom engraving catches on.

Pars's picture

Keep it up, this is great! And love the pic, BTW :)

JoeMarioZ's picture

Hi Tyll! Are those GREEN V-Moda a special edition they sent you? Or can you costumize them besides de engraving? Because I see the bezel is green also... I love green but I can't seem to find them at any online store...

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I'm afraid I don't know. Val is coming up with new stuff fast and furious at the moment. Just call V-Moda and ask, I suppose.
shstrang98's picture

headphones endorsed by Dr Dre to actually sound decent?

Dr.Phil's picture

Reading the comments on youtube I find it amazing that the crowd looking for this kind of headphones can be so lazy to the point of watching your video and then go asking how the headphone you just reviewed in the article sound.

What does this tell us?

dalethorn's picture

I bought a couple of expensive headphones partly because of the look. I say partly as my personal disclaimer, so I don't come off looking dumb here when I look so smart and natty with my bling-bling headphones.

The sound? No problem. You don't have to buy the worst of them, after all. That's how Innerfidelity helps, by screening out the crud so we can make these decisions with a clear conscience.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
So wudja buy, Dale?
dalethorn's picture

Well, er, the Vmoda V80 for one. I couldn't resist the extra red and the True Blood insignia. However, I didn't get the extra custom plates yet. But since I use it every day now, I'm gonna have to take the plunge. Note to Dale: Order the plates.

The other was the red/blue earcup Beyerdynamic.. Pure indulgence? No, no - it was, ummmm, it goes good with my red and blue netbooks. (It does, actually...)

helluvapixel's picture

Can someone tell me if the Marley Stir it Up are truly decent? I tried the others in the line and found the bass too bloomy... too artificial.

I'm looking for something more smooth and laid back to compliment when I'm not using my P5's and while I'd like the Senn HD25-ii, $300 is hard to drop.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
The Stir It Up is very bassy and has very withdrawn highs. I thought the Exodus was great though. May I suggest the V-Moda M-80 or V-80, very nice for $200.
helluvapixel's picture

Tyll, I am tempted. I liked the Crossfade LP for their construction but found the bass a bit boomy and the highs too subdued. Although, funny enough decent enough to watch tv/movies since shows seem quite amped in mid to high.

You mention the new M/V-80 are more neutral. I may give them a shot, I'm a sucker for just buying headphones... it's almost an addiction :)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Addicted maybe, but you won't be the only one around here with that afliction.
dalethorn's picture

I don't use the V80 (M80) in the house a lot because I have a couple other items I use more, but it's my exclusive portable headphone. There's nothing I can think about it that I don't like. It looks pretty good as is, and you can snazz it up with custom side-plates too.

helluvapixel's picture


You find the isolation good too? I thought they were quite good, definitely more so than P5 since they have the large ear cup.

dalethorn's picture

I tested the isolation of the M80 in my small apartment with someone in the kitchen making kitchen noises about 15 feet away, and there was not much isolation. Now that's a plastic earpad and the humidity was low, so I'm wondering if I waited longer if maybe the earpads would seal a little better when they got warmer and conformed better to my head. But it still isn't as good as a lot of closed circumaural 'phones.

MittWaffen's picture

If you could buy the Stir It Up for 99 instead of 199 would you recommend them over the M-80's?

Let me know ASAP so i can order them or not.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
MittWaffen's picture

Thanks, I tried a whole bunch from future-shop.
Bose, were OK.
Beats, they sucked.
Marley, they sucked.

I ordered the M80s, thank you VERY VERY much for your advice and reviews; seriously you must save thousands of people from making product purchasing mistakes.

jimmyjames's picture

Tyll, as always, U DA MAN! but the AKG K701's were the worst sounding headphones I ever owned and I've owned a lot in the $0 to $600 price range. Maybe they never broke in but if not then I would never have lived long enough for them to do so.

Your article is very timely as it seems Consumer Reports just came out with a Xmas Headphone round up and it came out just like you might expect any CR review of audio equipment would. Argh!

Cheers! Merry Xmas! and keep out of my neighborhood, I mean keep up the good work!

souluser12's picture

I was choosing between the skullcandy aviators and the soul by ludacris sl 150. i ended up getting the souls just because the passive isolation was there where as with the skullcandy it wasnt and also because the bass was a lot more prominent. thank you for helping me with a big decision your reviews are very helpful considering you know what true audio is. Thanks again.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
You're welcome, mate.
amateriat's picture

...is that it's basically lifting a page from the athletic-shoe marketing playbook: Monster's Beats by Dr. Dre are the audio industry's Air Jordans, overinflated price-tags and all, with others falling over each other for the proverbial piece of the action. It might be a bit cutting to liken Noel Lee to a 21st-century P.T. Barnum, but I'm having a hell of a time shaking that analogy.

I recently auditioned, among others, AKG's K450s while in search of an iPod-friendly headphone, and, like you. found their sound quality close to execrable. Putting Quincy Jones' imprimatur on those 'phones was a major marketing misfire from a company that should know better. (I ended up with non-rebranded Sennheiser HD 25-1 II 'phones...love 'em.)

Great work you've done here, and great site!

Shop's picture

Great article by the way. Would like to find out which one would be better out of the two, Soul sl150 or the V-Moda V-80? I've tested the sl150, and they were great, just wondering if the V-80 would be similar or better. Thanks in advance.