The sneaky designers at Beats by Dre employ a clever trick to make you think that the company’s plastic headphones are durable products worth the premium price.
Beats by Dre headphones are garbage. Besides their crappy sound, they’re basically designed to break. And yet they sell millions of pairs of headphones. It’s practically a perfect business: Take crap and sell it for a fortune. How do they do it? In part it’s marketing, and you know, Dr. Dre. But there’s more.
A detailed teardown (via PopMech) of a pair of Beats’ immensely popular Solo headphones conducted by hardware-focused venture capital firm Bolt has some answers buried beneath. The headphones are incredibly cheaply made. The company cuts corners everywhere it can; gluing pieces together instead of using screws, and reducing the amount of tooling wherever possible. Amazingly, for all the company’s claims about precision sound design, the headphones use freaking off-the-shelf drivers!
None of this is all that surprising because Beats are, after all, terrible and fragile. The crazy part is that the headphones are so cheap that Beats actually needs to add weight to make them feel heftier. From the Medium post:
One of the great things about the solo headphones is how substantial they feel. A little bit of weight makes the product feel solid, durable, and valuable. One way to do this cheaply is to make some components out of metal in order to add weight. In these headphones, 30% of the weight comes from four tiny metal parts that are there for the sole purpose of adding weight.
Here is an image illustrating this point:
On the left, all of the components that actually do something. On the right, four pieces of metal designed specifically to add weight to the product. Image courtesy of Bolt.
I was not aware of this particular trick. Obviously, product designers use all sorts of aesthetic design cues to make things look fancier than they really are, but in this case, it’s downright deceptive. Mostly though, it’s amusing. The cans are so dainty, Beats felt the need to beef em up a little.
Update June 26, 2015: Some people are contending that the above teardown is based on knockoffs. I contacted the design firm behind the original Beats at the time of publication, but I recieved no response. I’ve reached out to Apple/Beats on this matter, and I’m investigating with our in-house pair of Beats Studio headphones. If we definitely learn that these headphones are knockoffs, I’ll update.