Beats Electronics, the company that catapulted a moribund premium headphones market from audio geek to audio chic, is releasing an updated version of its original 2008 model, the Beats By Dr. Dre Studio headphones.
Those first headphones went on to claim just under 50% of the U.S. market for premium headphones priced above $200, last year.
But the problem when redesigning any successful product is deciding what to keep and what to update. Beats' president Luke Wood said the company wanted to take an evolutionary approach with the look, but "be revolutionary with the sound."
The result is that the two Studio models look very similar. Where they differ more are in their internal components. A rechargeable lithium ion battery replaces the AAA battery-powered set-up. The noise cancelling function can now toggle between two modes: using the headphones as a way to block out external noise and using it to listen to music, which requires a less aggressive approach to eliminating ambient sound. In addition, Beats built a new digital signal processor, which it calls the Beats Acoustic Engine, that can be used to tune the sound quality to the physical configuration of the headphones (audio can sound very different depending on the materials used in the headphones themselves).
Wood said the new headphones gives more clarity to vocals and the higher frequencies. One of the raps about the original Beats headphones is that they gave too much emphasis to the bass.
"When we first started this company, we wanted to create emotion, power and excitement," Wood said. "It’s like a band making its first record. You’re not quite sure how far you can take it. The Clash was all energy in their first album. This headphone is our "London Calling" [The Clash's seminal double album]. We have a lot of experience now, and this is a clearer articulation of where we want to take sound."
That's not to say that there aren't any visual updates. The Santa Monica audio company went so far as to test the new headphones in a wind tunnel to make sure it had the right curves. "You won't find a flat surface on these headphones," Wood said. Tiny LED lights give users an idea of how much power is left and whether the headphones need to be recharged. Beats integrated a rubber gasket in the new version that's designed to provide a better seal around the ears.
Beats is hoping that those updates will be enough to drive sales of the $299.95 headphones after they hit store shelves in August.