Sunday, January 15, 2012

On how Dr Dre and Apple killed music, or: some thoughts after Thailand visit

So first of all - why headphones? The answer is pretty simple - they are cheaper. I can buy very good headphones (note - not top-of-the-line) for about 500 US$. These will give me very, and I mean very good quality sound. And to match the same quality with speakers you need to spend over 4000 US$ on speakers alone, then you have to have proper amplifier and these are the cheaper parts of the equation. Because next thing that you need is good listening room that will not introduce standing waves, distortions, unwanted reflections and resonances. This thing called acoustic room adaptation is an art in itself. Or you can delegate this to DSP machines like TacT RCS, but some purists would argue, besides there is problem with hi-def FLACs (like those sampled at 192 kHz at 24 bits). Bottom line is - if we want to replace headphones with speakers then we're talking here about increasing the price point tenfold to achieve comparable sound quality.

Then Apple came along and with their ipod and white in-ear headphones made using headphones fashionable. And suddenly hardware manufactures realized people want headphones and the market was flooded with headphones. Mostly very crappy. If you listen to 128 kbps MP3s you will not benefit from 500 UD$ Sennheisers HD650 because you are listening to signal already distorted before it even reaches your Bose (or whatever you'd be using).

And then some people realized that most of headphones on the market are crappy and the marker was saturated with awesome products like Beyerdynamics T1, Sennheiser HD800 or Denons 5000, HiFiMans, etc...

And we had funny situation - there were headphones available for 12 US$ which were not worth their 12 US$ and there were headphones priced at 1000+ US$ worth every penny if - and only if - you were able to utilize their potential (read again: no 128 kbps MP3s ;-).

And then poor Dr Dre realized he's lost it when it comes to creating music, so to make some dough for his new Lamborghini or pink R'Royce he branded his line of headphones - the Beats. Unfortunately most of them deliver just... amazingly poor quality of music. I know it's hype, especially here - in Kenya - to be black and walk around the 'hood with new Nike Jordans and Dre's Beats (and preferably in tight gay'ish yellow t'shirt). But the Beats, apart from the name, design and show-off price tag, have nothing to offer when it comes to sound quality. All of them are just very, very badly designed. Beats Solo (and Solo HD) are probably the worst sounding headphones you can buy for over 100 US$. Or - perhaps the other way around - anything you buy for 100 US$ or more is almost guaranteed to sound better (I know Beats Solo HD are listed for 200 bucks, so what?). All of them Beats are this bad or worse, except... the very first ones - the Beats Studio. Somehow the original Beats are... actually pretty good headphones. For its price. They are distinguishably better than many other headphones at this price point.

So how does Thailand come in? Well, if you walk around Khaosan or Phatpong in Bangkok you will notice some dudes selling Dre's Beats. Starting price point is 3000 Baht (roughly 100 US$), but if you push them a bit they will go down to 700 Baht (yup, about 22 green ones). Of course these are very low quality copies.

And then you will notice a lot of white dudes with long dreds walking around in flipflops and wearing the very poor quality copy of Beats Studio feeling dope for they think they are in the know...

Travelling is fun ;-)

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