Beats by Dr. Dre Holiday Preview
S+V dropped by the Beats by Dr. Dre/Monster Cable holiday product preview last night, to check out what the company had to offer to follow up on the Beats Pro headphones we looked at in this month's headphone shootout.
The Vegas-style event, presided over by Head Monster Noel Lee (who worked the room on his signature blinged-out Segway) with support from a bevy of spokesmodels brandishing HTC Flyers running Beats-branded media players, introduced some refreshes to the existing Beats line, a new boombox, two all-new headphones, and a pop-up retail shop. An early Christmas for sure, and it seems clear that Beats' recent deal with HTC hasn't slowed down the existing partnership with Monster Cable.
Things kicked off with a panel presentation from the brain trust behind Beats: Lee, Beats president and COO Luke Wood, and partners Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre. The talk, moderated by MTV's Sway Calloway, was for the most part a restatement of the Beats core philosophy - bringing better sound (by whatever criteria those are defined and whatever adjectives are used to describe it) to an audience who've grown up on lowr-res digital downloads. The Beats sound may not be for everybody, but we can certainly get behind the principle.
First up in the product demo was a line of Beats Studio headphones in a full range of colors - these are intended in part, according to Luke Wood, to fend of the challenge posed by counterfeiters, who are selling droves of "Studios" and "Solos" in every imaginable color scheme these days. Many will be available nationwide through retailers, while certainly limited editions will be sold in the temporary Beats shop in downtown Manhattan, which will open in November and remain in operation through early January.
A beatbox was also on display; a refresh to the original Beats iPod dock, this comes in at a similar price point ($400-ish) and adds wireless - though not, as some in the audience had hoped, AirPlay. Instead, Beats have gone with Bluetooth, though the high-quality aptX variant is used. If a lot of support emerges for aptX in source devices like phones and tablets at CES this year - and recent deals with Nokia, Samsung (who are already on the case), and Apple indicate that there might be something in the works - dongle-free high quality Bluetooth streaming may take off, and this kind of product may begin to satisfy skeptics. If you don't mind dongles, you might already be satisfied with this.
Also on the wireless front, Beats announced the Beats Wireless, its first wireless headphone. Modeled physically on the existing Solo, the $329 headphone is also a Bluetooth device (full specs are forthcoming, so it's unclear at this point whether aptX is on board here as well.) The control pad is located on the left earcup; performance was impossible to assess in the crowded preview room, but we're hoping to get our hands on a pair soon.
More interesting was the new Mixr, a traditional headphone endorsed by superstar DJ David Guetta. It's a slimmed-down, lightened-up version of the Beats Pro we looked at in our headphone roundup earlier this month. Noel Lee told me that in addition to increased portability (and the new hinge mechanism) the headphone was voiced with a more neutral bass response than its big sibling - all very intriguing, since the Pro's heft and forward bass were divisive issues for our testers, and a headphone that addresses those points is promising. We're very anxious to get a real listen to these as well.