Bad Beats: Why was the original Beats Studio headphone so popular?

The Audiophiliac ponders the staggering success of a rather mediocre design.

The original Beats, the creaky plastic headphone hasn't aged well. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

There's no denying the Beats by Dre Studio's success, and how it so radically changed the headphone landscape. No other headphone manufacturer could have imagined that it could sell millions of $300 headphones to non-audiophiles. Before Beats those buyers were content with cheap and utterly disposable headphones, headphones that all too often would stop working in a few months, get thrown away, and get replaced with another set of cheap headphones. Of course, those cheap headphones sounded pretty bad, so moving up to the Studio meant the sound was a revelation! Bass, dynamics, and treble detailing were so much better, and Studio sales took off. It didn't hurt that the slick and glossy Studio struck a chord with young, fashion-conscious buyers; the Studio was exactly the right product for its target market.

Audiophiles were a much tougher, harder-to-please crowd; they had grown up with Sennheiser, Grado, Beyerdynamic, and Ultrasone headphones, and they dismissed the Studio en masse. To them the Studio came off as a triumph of marketing over sound quality.

The Studio's build quality is nowhere as robust as, say, V-Moda's M-100 headphones. I borrowed a set of original Beats from a friend, and they haven't aged well. The creaky plastic headband is barely holding together, the hinges have lost a few screws, and the headphone is on the verge of falling apart (Monster, the original manufacturer, claims it repaired or replaced defective Beats). This headphone is four years old, but I remember folks having problems with their Studios even when they were new, which is extra sad because some of those buyers might have assumed that other brands' $300 'phones were equally flimsy. Sure, some are, but my 15-year-old Sennheiser HD-580 headphones are in much better shape, and sound a lot better to my ears.

The one thing you might expect from Studio is maximum bass punch, but even there it's not world-class. The $199 Sol Republic Master Tracks 'phones' low-end digs deeper; it's fatter and stomps all over the Studio.

No matter, the ongoing headphone boom market owes a lot to the success of the original Studio; it's just too bad that it was such a mediocre design.

Comments? Share your thoughts about Beats by Dre here, about the Studio or any other Beats. If any Beats buyers out there have moved onto other brands of headphones, and discovered better or worse sound, share your thoughts here.

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